Speaking the same language; the rise of the buzz-term and how they can help.
Over the last year, I’ve been working on a research project exploring relationship-based practice for children and families living with alcohol and drugs in Scotland. This has involved chatting to parents, young people and practitioners about what support works well and what can be improved.
A topic that’s been popping up frequently in these conversations is buzz-terms. Those words or phrases we are all guilty of using, the sayings that become so fashionable we may forget their true meaning. While I don’t want to give too much away about the findings of the project (watch this space for an early Springtime launch) the considerable amount of time spent over tea and cake discussing the various effects buzz-terms have was deserving of its own small piece. So, what do they bring to the table?
They create a hype: buzz-terms serve a positive purpose of bringing everyday concepts into the public agenda. Nothing is new but packaging it makes it memorable. There is a flipside of this, that buzz-terms are merely highlighting concepts that have already been practiced for years. If they are already being practiced, what’s the need for further promotion?
They can get cryptic: One buzzterm that springs to mind here is ‘resilience’, a concept that has been growing in Scotland in recent years. Some practitioners suggested that resilience is becoming a term the voluntary sector frequently uses but doesn’t often enough discuss what it means. If we have a ‘resilient’ child, does that mean they need less support than others? And should we be using this to measure young people’s personal development and progress?
They can over-simplify: Buzz-terms can be perceived to state the obvious and verge on flippant – how is it that a life’s worth of trauma can be packaged into one acronym? This has been part of the feedback received through conversations with practitioners throughout the research – particularly in response to the rise in the use of ACE’s (Adverse Child Experiences) to calculate the likelihood that a child will need to be supported based on their early year’s experiences.
The can create a common language: Despite these obstacles, buzz-terms can help to make positive change. They can be useful to create a universal common language that draws in workers from different walks of practice to better understand each other. Principles found in GIRFEC (Getting It Right for Every Child) have been said by practitioners to be the new buzz-terms in third sector support and have been a valuable tool for improving the ways that third and statutory sectors communicate. Buzz-terms can also be useful to tackle stigma across sectors and explain difficult issues in a way that’s understood by those who may not otherwise recognise it.
So, where and when does this happen? Buzz-terms have appeared over the years through the media, academia and through individual sector practice. What’s beginning to emerge through these conversations, is that buzz-terms that appear through policy writing and political change seem to have more positive effects.
It works here because in policy making, they are usually grounded by valuable research, and published in a way that means the information is accessible across sectors. Alongside this, policy making tends to follow with principles that encourage good practice and set out achievable targets, giving the buzz-terms a more grounded explanation and purpose in practice. Buzz-terms can enable open, clear communication; something we are finding to be integral to maintaining good relationships. The GIRFEC policy framework has given us some of the most popular third sector buzz-terms: SHANARRI indicators, My World Triangles and more are among the most frequently heard terms that are coming out of the research. One thing that has been heard from the experiences of practitioners is that having these terms present has helped third and statutory sectors speak the same language and collaborate clearly.
So, while there is debate around buzz-terms and how they affect the way support is provided, I believe they serve a positive purpose in practice when used mindfully. What’s next is to ask those who use them to do so in a way that creates a common language and ultimately has a positive impact for people and the support they access.