Well, not per se. It’s the words and what they imply.
I was walking past a well respected community building last night and noticed a sign saying ‘Council Community Involvement unit’. This made me realise how much the word involvement implies a really unbalanced power relationship.
Don’t think so? Can you imagine a Community or Resident Control Unit? No council or housing association would countenance that combination of words because they imply either residents in charge or more likely being controlled. A very wise man once said that language structures reality. The use of the tepid ‘involvement’ real suggests that any organisation is being rather gracious and letting you be ‘involved’. Given that residents of a council or housing association, by the fact they live there, are already involved this seems just a wee bit paternal (or possibly patronising).
Of course, this is being simplistic because what most organisations probably intend with the word involvement is involvement in decision making and shaping services. However, this still does not signpost a more equal relationship. For quite awhile organisations played with the idea of a ‘menu’ of involvement. Maybe we should take this further with a little chilli like warning symbol to imply how much power you are given:
Resident Survey – 1 Chilli (you maybe listened to)
Mystery Shopping – 2 Chilli (they can’t really ignore the comments)
Scrutiny Panel- 3 Chilli ( you get to ask the awkward questions)
So what’s the suggestion for a better approach. Well, it would help if your landlord or service provider could be honest about what you really can have power over, what you can have a say on and what you can comment on. By being upfront this can at least open the dialogue on where the influence / control line sits. Are you viewed as a customer, a shareholder or an owner? See language does imply different power levels!
And yes I know we use involvement on the website, it’s the current jargon. Let’s change it.