Sense Making Optimisation: an introduction

Have you heard of Search Engine Optimisation?  It helps ensure people can find your information online.

But what’s the point of making your information easy to find, if it’s too difficult to understand? Sense Making Optimisation is a new concept in accessible communications, providing a strategic approach to ensuring information is easier to understand and use.


The need for Sense Making Optimisation

Adult literacy data gives a bleak picture for communication practice: almost half the adult population regularly finds unadapted information too difficult to understand. There is also growing evidence that some traditional simplification techniques, popularised by plain English and Easy Read, can increase difficulty for people with lower literacy and disability.

Sense Making Optimisation enhances accessibility and understanding, whilst reducing misinterpretation and disengagement, by responding to your audiences’ language, literacy and knowledge needs.


A new communications approach

Sense Making Optimisation embraces, expands and improves on traditional simplification techniques, found in plain English and Easy Read, and increases inclusion for people with lower literacy and disabilities.

Sense Making Optimisation isn’t just for disadvantaged groups: it is for all audience groups.

Understanding your audiences’ language and literacy needs is a vital, and neglected, component of audience segmentation and communication planning.

Sense Making Optimisation integrates your customers’ knowledge needs with their language and literacy needs, takes the guesswork out of language adaptation, and bridges the information accessibility gap.


What is Sense Making Optimisation?

Sense Making Optimisation is a strategic approach to inclusive communication planning, delivery and evaluation. It maximises (optimises) how easy content is to understand and use, by recognising comprehensions as an interpretative process (sense making), influenced by multilevel factors.

Sense Making Optimisation addresses these elements in a structured way, using inclusive user involvement, evidence based frameworks, accredited training, and professional skills.


Benefits of Sense Making Optimisation

Sense Making Optimisation:

  • maximises audience understanding, and organisation resources
  • is based on customers’ needs and preferences
  • is evolving and responsive to new ideas and research
  • focuses on processing and interpretation (sense making), not reading
  • is suitable for traditional and digital media, including audio and video scripts
  • supports interpersonal communications
  • reduces the need for a dual system of adaptation (eg. Easy Read and unadapted), and removes arbitrary cut off points
  • promotes inclusion, by meeting the needs of all customers, including carers and support workers in health and social care
  • consistent with the social model of disability
  • increases validity of user testing
  • manages audience expectations, with realistic claims of accessibility
  • promotes professionalism in communication practice


More information and resources

For more information about SMO and training please contact us

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Department of Work and Pensions

Inklecomms was asked by the DWP to provide advice and adaptations to ensure letters to claimants regarding Employment and Support Allowance, and Jobseekers’ Allowance, were easier to understand.

Claimant representatives were engaged in content creation and feedback.

Working with users and other stakeholders, Inklecomms improved the content, flow, relevance and clarity of standard letters, using Easier English.

Inklecomms also provided an accessibility audit for a proposed Easy Read leaflet. The audit included analysis and recommendations on intended audience and writing style, including text structure, expository features, language and illustrations.

This work contributed to a review of information products, following recommendations by the independent Work Capability Assessment and Oakley reviews.

Northern Neurological Alliance

A questionnaire to measure outcomes, for people with acquired neurological conditions, was adapted using Easier English. Adaptations aimed to improve ease of use and validity of responses.

Advice was provided on further, staged simplifications of the questionnaire, so that it could be adapted to meet the needs of people with progressive conditions.

VisitEngland and VisitScotland

Inklecomms provided language consultation for VisitEngland and VisitScotland’s new Accessibility Guides website, enabling tourism operators to produce accessibility guides for visitors with disabilities.

The main focus of the work was to construct questions, and multiple-choice answers, that would automatically generate readable, relevant, public-facing, online information.

The final website was simpler and more standardised than the previous format. User testing showed the site is easier for businesses to complete, and easier for people with accessibility needs to use.

‘These new guides will give clear accessibility information to make it easier for disabled visitors to plan their trips with confidence.’
John Glen, UK Government

‘The new accessibility guides will allow travellers to compare attractions and accommodation before choosing their destination, enabling them to make an informed choice.’
Sally Balcombe, VisitEngland Chief Executive

Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust

Inklecomms provided advice and training, to combine a complaints leaflet, and its Easy Read equivalent, into one standard document.

Adaptations using Easier English improved understanding, and ease of use, for patients and carers with diverse language, literacy and knowledge needs.