The Listening Zones of NGOs: languages and cultural knowledge in development programmes

Lead Research Organisation: University of Reading
Department Name: Modern Languages and European Studies

Abstract

In development programmes, NGOs traditionally position themselves as listening attentively to the voices of the beneficiaries and local communities with whom they work. Despite the fact that this relationship is normally presented by NGOs as a meeting in which local communities speak, and NGOs hear, the role of foreign languages in these encounters passes largely unnoticed. In International Relations and Development Studies there has been little interest in the inevitable 'foreign' dimension of these NGO/local meetings, and in the role which foreign languages and cultural knowledge may play within them. Whilst the language challenges of working with humanitarian NGOs have begun to engage the attention of language/translation scholars, the world of development programmes is one in which foreign language-related research is still largely absent. This lack of systematic study of foreign languages in development work has encouraged us to focus on the ways in which NGOs listen to their beneficiaries, and the language policies and practices that they adopt.

'The Listening Zones of NGOs' brings together specialists from two universities in an innovative association with a key body in NGO practitioner research and development in the UK, the International NGO Training and Research Centre, INTRAC, Oxford. With its record of over twenty years working with some two hundred NGOs, INTRAC offers the project unrivalled access to the NGO development sector. The lead investigators have an academic background in language policy and practice in conflict zones, and in NGO accountability and global governance, and their universities, Reading and Portsmouth, provide a supportive interdisciplinary environment for this research with specialists in Diversity, Rights and Representation, Literacy and Multilingualism, and Development and Security.

The project, focusing on four large and well-established UK-based NGOs, will examine their language policies and practices over time in three contrasting case studies- Malawi, Peru and Kyrgyzstan- chosen to reflect different language landscapes for NGO activity (particularly defined by the status of the English language), different historical periods of sustained intervention, and operational ease of access through INTRAC's current links. The project will use a range of different resources: the archives of NGOs and government/institutional donors; current NGO and Department for International Development (DFID) online documentation; semi-structured interviews with NGO international staff, in-country staff, staff of partner organisations, local communities, language intermediaries, and Foreign Office/DFID officials; and a session of ethnographic observation in each case study area involving a regular in-country audit meeting.

We believe that this project will enable us to develop a framework for analysing the role of foreign languages in NGO development work which could be used in the future as the basis for a larger comparative international study of NGO development programmes. 'The Listening Zones of NGOs' aims to ensure that the relevance of foreign languages in development enters into the public arena in a way which is backed up by robust academic research which will inform public debate and stimulate the future thinking of all those concerned, in particular development NGOs, government/institutional funders, and professional translators/interpreters. Through the Advisory Board, the extensive network of INTRAC NGO contacts, and dedicated workshops, seminar and conference, the project seeks to involve these groups in the on-going research, share results with them, provide tailored and practical advice to influence future policy and practice, and lay the foundation for follow-up academic research on the role of foreign languages and cultural knowledge in the global world of international development.

Planned Impact

'The Listening Zones of NGOs' seeks to contribute to three groups outside the academic research community - development NGOs, government/institutional bodies associated with and funding development work, and interpreter/translator professionals and their trainers.

NGO practitioners have pointed to specific gaps in their present understanding of the place of foreign languages in development work - in relationships with beneficiaries, in the use of local versus external language intermediaries, in the power dynamics of NGO-partner relationships, in programme design, and in the monitoring/evaluation frameworks expected by government and institutional donors. This project aims to address these concerns, and raise awareness of the role of foreign languages among the wider NGO sector by providing NGOs with a) detailed case study evidence of the role which foreign languages and cultural knowledge have played and continue to play in their development interventions, and b) a specially designed toolkit,' Managing languages in NGOs' which will offer advice and guidance on how foreign languages can be integrated into NGO policies and practices at each stage of the development cycle.

NGO practitioners argue that the accountability frameworks and expectations set for them by government and institutional donors are crucial in the attitudes they adopt to the role of languages and cultural knowledge. 'The Listening Zones of NGOs' aims to raise awareness of the importance of foreign languages in development work among those government and institutional donors that set the parameters within which NGOs interact with their local communities. By engaging with these government/institutional donors in the course of the project, and producing a lessons learned policy paper on foreign languages and development, the project will seek to suggest why foreign languages are important in development programmes, and how, in practical terms, they can be embedded in the vital funding, monitoring and accountability frameworks which major donors set for their NGOs.

Whilst translator/interpreter professionals and their trainers have become increasingly aware of the role of language intermediaries in crisis zones and have begun to engage with the implications of interpreting and translating in humanitarian emergencies, there has been less understanding of the role of translators/interpreters in NGO development programmes. By providing well researched case studies on the language policies and practices of development NGOs, 'The Listening Zones of NGOs' will offer evidence about the status, working conditions, training and security of language intermediaries working in this sector, evidence which can contribute to a better understanding of the professional needs and concerns of language intermediaries engaged by NGOs.
 
Description The role of languages in development programmes managed by large UK-based NGOs has not been considered by them in an holistic way, integrated into programme design, delivery, monitoring and evaluation, and aftermath of programmes. Through archival research, and interviews with NGO personnel in the UK and in the countries concerned, and after fieldwork in three countries ( Malawi, Peru and Kyrgyzstan), the research is pointing towards a number of recommendations of relevance to NGOs: organisationally, these concern the 'burden of bilingualism' borne by some NGO staff engaged in the informal work of language mediation, outside their agreed job descriptions; the discomfort felt by NGO staff outside the UK about their level of English; and the relative lack of institutional importance given to multilingualism. Languages/cultural understanding are seen by partners and communities to be key to building successful relationships of trust and respect, and the research pointed to the importance of explicitly including languages in project preparation/contextual studies, and the need for NGOs to develop databanks of language/cultural understanding support materials. To empower partners and communities, the research argued that more consideration should be given to languages of project application and negotiation, and that projects should include a visible budget line for translation/interpretation. Access to basic material in the languages of the communities concerned was vital if local ownership of projects was expected, so that time for translation needs to be met should be built into the project schedule, and translator registers established. The capacity of communities to engage confidently in the future with international interlocutors should be seen as integral to sustainability targets within exit strategies. INGOs have a major opportunity to confront different ways of being and doing which might have particular relevance to the problems we face, so that NGOs should build 'cultural learning' into their lessons learned processes. Donors should ask organisations to demonstrate their 'language/cultural respect' policies and expect to see budget lines relating to languages/translation. Universities, which have tended to give a low profile to languages/cultural knowledge in their courses on development, can draw on the database of cases presented by this project in order to stress the importance of languages in development.
Exploitation Route The research has made a number of key recommendations to INGOs, donors and Higher Education.
Recommendations for International NGOs:
Recognise the importance of languages within their own organisations (ensure that the multilingualism of the organisation is seen by staff to be institutionally valued and integral to an understanding of cultural contexts; recognise the 'burden of bilingualism' carried by some staff in the INGO ie the informal unpaid work of language mediation; address some of the discomfort felt by staff about their level of English; ensure translators/interpreters in the organisation are given visibility.
When planning projects: think about language at the design phase of a project; provide language support during early discussions with communities; include a budget line for translation and interpretation.
When starting a project and during monitoring and evaluation: translate successful project applications into local languages;feedback regularly to the community; work with local interpreters, and seek to establish a register of local language intermediaries; translate reports into local languages.
To support SNGOs and communities in developing local capacity: work with SNGOs to produce glossaries of key terms; share learning on the place of languages in communication strategies; consider providing skills in a language that is accessible; consider providing access to English language training.
Recommendations for donors
Donors should reflect on how to foster linguistic inclusivity and thus respect for local cultures.
- When issuing a call for applications;ensure that the language used is simple and straightforward; let applicants apply in their first language; translate the call for applications into local languages, with glossaries of key terminology; reimburse translations costs of successful applicants; explicitly state that applicants should indicate how they plan to ensure communication with local communities;invite applicants to include translation/interpreting costs in their budget; explicitly note inadequacies in communication strategies in feedback on failed applications.
- when selecting projects and in monitoring and evaluation: ask organisations to demonstrate their language/cultural policies; provide resources to pilot material in the local languages; ensure that monitoring and evaluation frameworks encourage reflection on how language issues affect outcomes; encourage INGOs to translate project proposals into local languages; provide opportunities for feedback in first languages.
- to support local capacity building and sustainability: make resources available for SNGOs to translate information into English; consider funding civil society support groups to set up English language courses.
Recommendations for Higher Education
- HE courses in development should give a greater emphasis to languages and cultural understanding : during curriculum review, address the importance of languages in delivering projects that are respectful to communities, drawing on the database of cases from the research; investigate possibilities ofsetting up support networks of student volunteers to assist in language/translation needs of SNGos.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Healthcare,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other

URL http://www.reading.ac.uk/listening-zones-ngos/
 
Description NGO practitioners attending the first year project workshop in November 2016 began to critique some existing NGO policies on languages and translation, and to emphasise the importance of integrating language issues into considerations of power dynamics and relationships both with beneficiaries and within their own international organisations. NGO practitioners and translators attending a project workshop in October 2017 on 'Translating Development' began to argue about the ways in which translation could be integrated into their organisations and project schedules. Translation Scholars and Translation MA trainers attending the Workshop discussed how development studies could be more closely related to their training/translation research concerns. A seminar for NGO trainers and consultants in the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC) in March 2018 discussed how the findings could be incorporated into NGO training programmes in the future. In 2018, INGO practitioners reported that they were having internal discussions about raising the importance of languages in their development work, and had found that the research stimulated discussions across INGOs about the ways in which they handled languages and translation.With the support of the research, translation managers within INGOs had access to concrete evidence to make the case for translation/interpreting within their organisations. SNGOs reported that they were developing language policies/intending to include translation in their bidding proposals/examining their approach to languages. In May 2018,the research was presented to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Languages, and subsequently, Baroness Coussins asked a written question on the report which was answered by the Minister, Lord Bates. In discussions with the Minister, and DFID civil servants, the relevance of the research to DFID reviews of programme capabilities were considered, and DFID intends to include the findings of the research in programme manager briefings, and in future reviews of beneficiary engagement.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Government, Democracy and Justice,Security and Diplomacy,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Raised the importance of translation in the work of international development NGOs
Geographic Reach South America 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
URL http://www.reading.ac.uk/listening-zones-ngos
 
Description Raising profile of the role of languages in development programmes and practice
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Influenced training of practitioners or researchers
 
Description Written question in House of Lords, Ministerial reply, and ongoing contribution to DFID review
Geographic Reach Multiple continents/international 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL http://www.reading.ac.uk/listening-zones-ngos
 
Description Caroline Fellowship
Amount € 161,142 (EUR)
Funding ID CLNE/2019/295 
Organisation Irish Research Council 
Sector Public
Country Ireland
Start 06/2019 
End 06/2021
 
Description AIIC 
Organisation International Association of Conference Interpreters (AIIC)
Country Global 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution By working with AIIC, the research network raised the profile of language brokerage in post conflict and development zones.
Collaborator Contribution A IIC's participation enabled the team to work with interpreting professionals in the field.
Impact AIIC contributed to the conceptual development of the successful follow on bid.
Start Year 2012
 
Description Christian Aid 
Organisation Christian Aid
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution By working with Christian Aid, the project will develop a toolkit on languages which will be of direct use to practitioners in the field.
Collaborator Contribution Christian Aid is on the Advisory Panel, is recommending personnel to be interviewed, and has facilitated access to its archives.
Impact The project will produce a toolkit for practitioners. The collaboration is multi disciplinary: languages, development studies, cultural studies, International Relations, translation studies.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Collaboration with Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) 
Organisation Institute of Translation & Interpreting
PI Contribution ITI were invited to participate in a 'translating Development' Workshop held in Senate House, University of London, 12 October 2017
Collaborator Contribution Contribution to the Workshop and an account of the Workshop in their institutional bulletin
Impact Raising awareness of the role of professional translators in international development
Start Year 2018
 
Description Collaboration with Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) 
Organisation Institute of Translation & Interpreting
PI Contribution ITI were invited to participate in a 'translating Development' Workshop held in Senate House, University of London, 12 October 2017
Collaborator Contribution Contribution to the Workshop and an account of the Workshop in their institutional bulletin
Impact Raising awareness of the role of professional translators in international development
Start Year 2018
 
Description International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC) 
Organisation International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution INTRAC is a member of the Research Team for this project, and attends all meetings and participates in the research process
Collaborator Contribution INTRAC has enormous credibility in the NGO sector. Through its website/mailing-lists and blogs it has diffused information about the research and sought participation from NGOs.
Impact The collaboration has resulted in: diffusion of information to a wide range of NGOs; involvement of NGOs in research. The collaboration is multidisciplinary: development studies, International relations, languages, translation studies.
Start Year 2015
 
Description NGO OxfamGB 
Organisation Oxfam GB
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution By working with OxfamGB, the project will produce a toolkit on languages which will be of direct use to practitioners in the field.
Collaborator Contribution OxfamGB is on the Advisory Panel, and has facilitated access to its archives.
Impact The project will develop a toolkit for practitioners. It is a multi disciplinary collaboration: languages, development studies, cultural studies, International relations, translation studies.
Start Year 2015
 
Description NGO save 
Organisation Save the Children
Country United States 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution By working with Save the ChildrenUK, the project will develop a toolkit on languages of direct use to practitioners in the field.
Collaborator Contribution Save the ChildrenUK is on the Advisory Panel, has recommended staff for detailed interviews, and has facilitated access to its archives.
Impact A toolkit on languages will be produced for practitioners. The collaboration is multi disciplinary: languages, development studies, cultural studies, International Relations, translation studies.
Start Year 2017
 
Description NGO tearfund 
Organisation Tearfund
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution By working with Tearfund, the project will produce a toolkit on languages of direct use to practitioners in the field.
Collaborator Contribution Tearfund is on the Advisory Panel, and has facilitated access to staff members for interviews.
Impact A toolkit for languages will be produced which will be of direct use to practitioners in the field. The collaboration is multi disciplinary: languages, development studies, cultural studies, International Relations, translation studies.
Start Year 2015
 
Description 'Translating in danger zones' seminar series. 6 seminars on translating for the Red Cross, UN Refugee Agency, NGOs, and the police 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A series of 6 seminars on translating in danger zones, with contributions from Translators without Borders, refugee translation group, Red Cross translator, police interpreter.,
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.reading.ac.uk/listening-zones-ngos
 
Description All Party Parliamentary Group on languages 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact As a result of the presentation, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Languages asked a question in the House of Lords, directly associated with the research, which was answered by the Minister of State, Lord Bates.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
 
Description Article in 'The conversation' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Article in 'The Conversation': ' Many NGO workers on the ground don't speak the local language- new research'
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2008
URL http://theconversation.com
 
Description B,log post 'Translating development' 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog post on 'Translating Development' which raised awareness of the importance of languages in International Development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://modernlanguagesresearch.blogs.sas.ac.uk/2017/10/30/translating-development/
 
Description Beneficiary Feedback Mechanism Learning Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact Contribution to Beneficiary Feedback Mechanism Learning Event.
Through discussion, research group members were able to raise issues around the importance of languages in development.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description International Conference for stakeholders 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact An international conference, opened by the Chair of the European Parliament's Development Committee, attended by UK-based INGOs, and NGOs from Malawi, Peru and Kyrgyzstan, donor groups, professional translators and interpreters and academics. Reports from participants noted that they were intending to take back the issues raised to their organisations, and that the event had helped to stimulate sharing of good practice across NGOs, and established new relationships between practitioners and academics.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.reading.ac.uk/listening-zones-ngos
 
Description Webinar 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Webinar for the Scottish-Malawi Partnership and Scotland's International Development Alliance
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
URL http://www.reading.ac.uk/listening-zones-ngos
 
Description Workshop ' Do NGOs need a languages policy?' Reading (20.01.14) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Scientific meeting (conference/symposium etc.)
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This Workshop, co-organised with the International NGO Training and Research Centre, and the University of Portsmouth, was targeted at UK-based development NGOs and aimed to bring some of the issues raised by the LINGOs network directly into the policy discussions of development NGOs.

The Workshop, co-organised by the International NGO Training and Research Centre, was a knowledge exchange between network representatives and UK development NGOs around the practices of languages in NGO activity:reaching key audiences, working with partn
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014
 
Description Workshop for NGO practitioners and professional translators 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Over 50 people attended the Workshop, drawn from NGO practitioners, professional translators and Translation Studies scholars and tutors. At the end of the session, a number of issues were identified for further joint investigation.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.reading.ac.uk/leaning-zones-ngos
 
Description Workshop for NGOs on languages and power 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This Workshop held for NGOs reported on the first year's activity of the project, using archival material from 3 major UK-based NGOs as case studies to discuss 'listening' in NGO practice, and the role of languages and cultural knowledge in this.
A report was written on the outcomes, and the suggested next steps.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.reading.ac.uk/listening-zones-ngos
 
Description blog post on ' Why are languages missing from the sustainable development goals?' on website of the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact Blog post on 'Why are languages missing from the sustainable development goals?' raised the whole issue of the importance of languages in future work on International Development. The blog was seen as of such interest internationally that it was translated into over 15 languages (with the support of 'The Language Industry').
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL https://www.intrac.org/language-missing-sustainable-development-goals/