GDS admits ‘Show the Thing’ catchphrase has lost meaning over time

Written by Rebecca Hill on 9 November 2016 in News

The Government Digital Service has said that the meaning of the buzzwords and phrases it uses have faded as the people who came up with them have left the service.

Over-use of certain phrases can end up stripping them of all meaning - Photo credit: Pixabay

Among these phrases is the oft-repeated ‘Show the Thing’, which means that instead of simply saying that something has been achieved, teams should show the service, either with a live demonstration or pictures.

But, according to GDS creative writer Giles Turnbull, the term is no longer well understood.

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Writing on the GDS digital engagement blog, Turnbull said that someone had asked what the phrase meant, saying "What 'Thing' are you talking about?"

The phrase, Turnbull said, had lost its meaning because the new recruits were no longer aware of the context it was developed in.

“Many people who were in the audience for the presentation when "Show the Thing" was first (ahem) a Thing, have since left GDS,” Turnbull wrote.

“And many people who joined since then don't have that shared context and understanding. The meaning of "Show the Thing" has faded with time.”

However, Turnbull stressed that the GDS team still believed that ‘Showing the Thing’ was “as important as it was when we first started using the phrase”, but that they needed to make sure people still understood it.

In his blogpost, Turnbull said that being tasked with ‘Showing the Thing’ resulted in people “avoiding waffle”, being more open about works in progress and making sure that others properly understand the work.

“If you use visual metaphors, there's a chance that not everyone will understand them in the same way,” Turnbull wrote. “The more often you use visual metaphors, the more chances there are for some of your audience to misunderstand what you're trying to say.”

Turnbull also offered advice for how to show an intangible “thing” – for instance, he said, if you need to show a database you could find the person in charge of the database and take a photo of them, then introduce them in the presentation – to bring the idea to life.

Other ideas could be to show what a team has learnt from a project, or to point people to somewhere else, such as making some research available somewhere and indicating where this is – rather than trying to explain or show the research itself.

“There’s no point putting all the research on slides, because no one will be able to read it,” he said. “But you could print it out, put it on the wall, and take a photo of it.”

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