"Action plans": beware of more bumpf

Continuing my exploration of bumpf and how it obscures what we actually mean to say, and mean to do.

Some of the most prevalent bumpf (or jargonomics) in the world of wild salmon:

stewardship, conservation, action plans/steps, implementation plans, benchmarks, best practices, salmon collapse, ecosystem, ecology, ecosystem indicators, ecosystem integrity, ecosystem objectives, management, genetic diversity, restoration, extinction, extirpation, sustainability, etc. etc.

A quick look through a variety of documents, websites, books and other material exposes a dearth of:

  • eco-bumpf,
  • political bumpf,
  • business bumpf masquerading as scientific bumpf,
  • scientific bumpf masquerading as eco-bumpf, business bumpf, and scientific bumpf

It’s everywhere – maybe even on this blog….

I put “action plan” and “wild salmon” together in a Google search and the first item was the federal New Democrats (NDP) “Action Plan” to “immediately address salmon crisis”.

( As I’ve suggested before in posts, I’m not looking to mount personal or character attacks; simply looking to be hard on the problem, not the people – as the old saying goes).

Language is important – not that I am a strict grammarian by any sense – and it is important to try to say what you mean, and mean what you say. However, just starting with the phrase: “action plan“. Is there a plan that does not suggest ‘action’? Or, is it that maybe business-bumpf is taking over? Things like ‘strategic planning‘ – well, is there planning that is not strategic…?

And does calling it an Action Plan to “immediately address” – make it that much more immediate or crucial? If the NDP simply called it “suggestions for improvement” would that lose its rigour?

And why now? As I mentioned on an earlier post, some scientists suggest that the Fraser River used to have between 120-160 million salmon – and only a little over a hundred years ago or so. The time for immediately addressing has come and gone… (in my humble opinion).

The NDP Action Plan is backed by statements such as:

“The writing was on the wall, yet the federal government has consistently ignored the evidence and evaded responsibility by turning a blind eye to the ongoing collapse of wild salmon stocks,”

“Now that 11 million Sockeye salmon have vanished, a crisis of unprecedented magnitude is unfolding for the west coast ecosystem … The time for rhetorical debate is over. The Harper government must make this issue a top priority- now.”

Firstly, maybe eliminate the clichés – e.g. “writing on the wall”. Secondly,  I understand rhetoric as “the art of using language as a means to persuade…” (Wikipedia).  Is not exclaiming “a crisis of unprecedented magnitude” simply rhetoric as well?

Thirdly, the third “emergency step” in the NDP Action Plan is:

  • Initiate a task force for benchmarking the best practices for farmed salmon based on the precautionary principle.

Oh ghad!! Two of my least favorite business bumpf bullshit terms – benchmarking and best practices.

These two terms have become so prevalent that they are a scourge upon saying what you really mean. Let’s take a look at this…

  • “benchmarking”

It is suggested this term came from the time when things were actually made with wood. A carpenter building some shelves for example, would make a mark on her workbench to indicate the length of a cut, so that the next piece could be cut using the benchmark as opposed to having to measure again.

Now… well… the term seems to imply some objective reference upon which to measure performance or otherwise. In the business world, benchmarks can be chosen from past performance, competitors, industry standards, etc.

Seems reasonable. Just a few problems… what numbers (i.e. mark on the bench) are being used? Are those numbers accurate – i.e. was the mark on the bench for a table leg or a shelf?

In this particular case what would be the benchmark – media statistics, government of Norway statistics, industry statistics – whose benchmark – and whose ‘best practices’.

  • “best practices”

This term sounds nice – who doesn’t like being the ‘best’? and the ‘best practice’ well that sounds lovely… Yet, there is a big assumption in this – the old cliché that what’s good for the gander is good for the goose (or however it goes). Not necessarily true, what is a best practice in one company will not be the best practice in another. Every company, or jurisdiction, has different staff, technology, products, budgets, cultures, etc.

Sure there are general guidelines for what is right and what is wrong – but where else in the world has the same conditions as the BC coast. Nowhere.

Thus, what best practices and what benchmark?

“Best practices” as guidelines – yes.  As prescriptions – No!

And, ‘precautionary‘. Precautionary to what? I understand, the principle, as in the precautionary principle – the only problem is that we are far past what might be considered precautionary now….

Returning to the book that got this string of postings going: Why Business People Speak Like Idiots. A fitting quote:

Jargon is not about using big words to make small points. Sometimes it’s about using big words to make no point at all. For example, business idiots have figured out that when they don’t have a real strategy, they can just string together a bunch of nonsense and make one up. (pg. 24)

This is not to suggest that the NDP Action Plan is devoid of any real meaning – their idea to:

  • …convene an emergency summit on Salmon and BC fishing for rapid consultation with all key stakeholder groups including, governments and representatives of fishing, First Nations and Environmental organizations.

Is not a terribly bad suggestion (hefty, but not impossible) – I will elaborate on this suggestion in a future post. Maybe get rid of the “emergency” and other panic language.

Yes, it is a dire situation facing salmon – however, as I repeat time and time again, salmon have been around for about two million years; Pacific salmon have survived multiple ice ages and other geologic catastrophes – they will most likely be around another several million years.

Change – yes. Panic – no.

2 thoughts on “"Action plans": beware of more bumpf

  1. salmonguy

    true enough… like bafflegab, I’m working on getting bumpf as a recognized technical term. I suppose some might consider it an acronym.

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