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BIM language is holding us back says communications expert

20 June 2018 | By Denise Chevin

Dan Rossiter, the blogger and BRE BIM communications expert, says that using jargon-laden language more akin to academia than the built environment is creating a barrier to BIM becoming the norm in construction.

Rossiter, who is behind the “Constructing Plain Language Pledge” being adopted by the BIM UK Alliance said that new and refined standards, methods and procedures were leading to unfamiliar terms that were alienating for those who are trying to adopt BIM and support their organisation’s digital transformation as part of their job.

He also claims there is a perception in the wider construction industry that those who are at the forefront of BIM are a closed community and a “bit of a clique”, which is also acting as a barrier to wider uptake.

While he states that the UK BIM Alliance has significantly improved this perception, its affect can still be felt within the wider construction community.

His view is corroborated by a study last year from the team behind Designing Buildings Wiki, which found that BIM knowledge and practitioners are “isolated” from the rest of the industry.

Dan Rossiter: language barrier

The study analysed six million pieces of data generated from users of the site to find out knowledge needs and how it was connected across subjects to create a “heat map”. This showed that BIM is not connected with other subjects and is probably accessed by a breed of BIM experts, rather than embedded as a need across the industry.

“The findings of this study are one of the reasons I wanted to campaign for the use of the plain language in construction,” said Rossiter.

The campaign has launched the Constructing Plain Language Pledge, which provides guidance to try to stop people falling into the trap of writing and speaking in a way that instantly puts up a barrier and using terminology that is either unfamiliar or has garnered a meaning that to construction professionals might mean something quite different.

For example, one of the most common complaints about construction is the amount of abbreviations it uses. This pledge attempts to mitigate this by asking construction professionals to consider their audience, to only use them appropriately and to introduce them with their full term.

These aspirations will hopefully prevent any misunderstandings such as trying to guess whether industry foundation classes, intermediate form of contract, or issue for construction are being referred to when someone mentions IFC.

More information and access to the Constructing Plain Language Pledge can be found here.

Rossiter said that the feedback had been positive, and comments are being taken on board about the wording in the pledge itself. The messages it contains are now being taken to the BIM4Regions and specialist groups whose members will be asked to follow the principles.

Dan Rossiter’s language bugbears

  • Principle and principal. These are two very different words. Principle is a rule, principal is the main thing. For example, the principles of CDM require a principal designer.
  • Using big words incorrectly. I have nothing against big words (I use them a lot), but people look silly when they use them incorrectly. Recently, someone made a snide comment at me, saying I was part of the BIM echelon. Echelon just means “rank”, without “upper” to imply elite or “lower” to imply common-folk – it just shows that person could do with a lesson on what their big words mean.
  • Using jargon as a defence. There is a great quote misattributed to Albert Einstein: “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” We seem to have fallen into this trap with BIM, recycling complicated language instead of explaining ourselves simply. On my blog, I explain BIM only using the 1,000 most common words in the English Language.  Proof that jargon isn’t needed to talk about information management.

Image: Belchonoksun/Dreamstime.com

There is a great quote misattributed to Albert Einstein: ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’ We seem to have fallen into this trap with BIM, recycling complicated language instead of explaining ourselves simply.– Dan Rossiter