The University of Reading, with the University of Portsmouth and the International NGO Training and Research Centre (INTRAC), Oxford, have received funding from the AHRC for a major three-year project (2015-2018) on The Listening Zones of NGOs: languages and cultural knowledge in development programmes.
Language issues do not tend to have a high profile within NGOs. Discussions at previous workshops, held at the University of Reading and at Aston University, brought together academics and NGO practitioners and have highlighted the challenges the sector faces in using foreign languages in their work. Foreign language policies are often not in place, and funding for translation and interpreting needs tends to be limited. Moreover, evaluative processes usually omit references to languages.
The Listening Zones project aims to explore the role that languages and cultural knowledge play in the policies and practices of development NGOs. It focuses on some of the key issues highlighted by NGO practitioners at the Reading and Aston workshops, including:
- languages and power relations in the development process
- organisational awareness of languages and language policies
- language provision, including working with translators and interpreters
- communicating with key audiences and partners
The project aims to raise the profile and importance of foreign languages and cultural knowledge in development and to produce practical outputs which are of use to the NGO sector, language practitioners, and academics in International Relations, Development Studies, and languages and translation research.
The Listening Zones of NGOs is designed as an active partnership between academic disciplines and practitioners and aims to increase collaboration and discussion between these groups. Workshops, seminars, and an international conference will be organised to discuss results of the project, present suggestions and receive feedback. Updates on these events will be posted under News and events below.
The Listening Zones project brings together researchers from different backgrounds, creating an interdisciplinary research environment.
Professor Hilary Footitt (University of Reading)
Professor Hilary Footitt is the project supervisor and mainly has experience in languages research.
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Dr Wine Tesseur (University of Reading)
Dr Wine Tesseur is the research assistant and mainly has experience in languages research.
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Dr Angela Crack (University of Portsmouth)
Dr Angela Crack is the co-investigator and is an international relations specialist.
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Vicky Brehm (INTRAC)
Vicky Brehm is the project's research associate. Her background is in strategic research for INTRAC.
Carmen Delgado Luchner (University of Geneva)
Dr Carmen Delgado Luchner is a visiting post-doctoral researcher at the University of Reading with experience in interpreting research.
Advisory board members include
- Professor Christina Schaeffner (Aston University)
- Professor Barbara Moser-Mercer (InZone project, University of Geneva)
- Linda Fitchett (President of AIIC, Association Internationale des Interprètes de Conférence)
- Professor Jeanine Treffers-Daller (Centre for Literacy and Multilingualism, University of Reading)
- Dr. Julie Gilson (University of Birmingham)
- Dr. Vanessa Pupavac (University of Nottingham)
- Professor Tony Chafer (Centre for European and International Studies Research, University of Portsmouth)
- Rachel Hayman (Head of Research, INTRAC)
- Helen Machin (Translations Editor, Tearfund)
- Kate Bingley (Co-Head of Research, Evidence & Learning, Christian Aid)
- Taitos Matafeni (Head of Impact, Innovation and Evidence, Save the Children UK)
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.
The lack of systematic study of foreign languages in development work has encouraged the project to focus on the ways in which NGOs listen to their beneficiaries, and the language policies and practices that they adopt.
This project aims to interrogate the frameworks within which development NGOs listen to their local communities, and the role which languages and cultural knowledge play in this listening. It starts from the premise that NGOs create 'Listening Zones' which, like Apter's 'Translating Zones' (2006), are shaped by multiple actors, and by the particular local contexts of NGO activity.
As an initial step in exploring the role of foreign languages in the development dynamic, the project focuses on four large and well-established UK-based development NGOs.
The project will ask five research questions:
- Which actors (NGO international staff, in-country staff, staff of partner organisations, local communities, language intermediaries, donors) shape the Listening Zones?
- What role do languages and cultural knowledge play in this shaping?
- What are the language policies and practices adopted?
- How do these policies and practices shape power relationships on the ground?
- How have the characteristics of the Listening Zones changed over time?
Three main sources of data will be worked with: NGO and donor archives and documentation, semi-structured interviews, and ethnographic observations in each case study area.
In January 2018, we plan to visit three countries to explore in more depth how NGOs listen to, learn from the people with whom they work, and what role languages and cultural knowledge play in supporting relationships in development programmes.
The countries we have selected are Malawi, Peru and Kyrgyzstan, and this is based on three criteria: linguistic (different language contexts for NGO activity, particularly defined by the status of the English language in each country), temporal (different historical periods of sustained NGO intervention), and operational (ease of access to NGO work afforded by the continuing involvement of INTRAC).
We are exploring UK NGO involvement in these countries and looking for organisations that would welcome a visit from us and allow us to interview partners, beneficiaries, and community members in situ. If you are interested in being involved in our case studies or have contacts in these countries who may be interested, please contact Research Assistant Wine Tesseur for more information at email@example.com.
Ethical approval will be sought before the visit, and case study participants will be guaranteed anonymity in publications. Based on our case study visits, we will produce recommendations to NGOs about good practice in listening and giving 'voice' to others. We want to promote learning in the NGO community in this important area of development work!
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If you would like to stay up to date on the latest news, events and developments on the project, please fill in the form below. If you have any questions about the project, please feel free to contact any of our project team.
Previous workshop organised at the University of Reading and at Aston University have addressed the lack of systematic study of foreign language use at NGOs and charities. These workshops were set up as opportunities for academics and NGO practitioners to meet and exchange ideas on knowledge gaps and research needs in these organisations, and to discuss how universities could assist in answering these needs.
- "Do NGOs need a Languages Policy", 20 January 2014, University of Reading
Co-convened by INTRAC, the University of Reading and the University of Portsmouth
- "Translation Policies at NGOs", Monday 22 June 2015, Aston University, Birmingham
- An international conference in London on The Listening Zones of NGOs with invited papers from NGO and translation/interpreting practitioners as well as languages/translation and IR/development studies scholars will be organised in summer 2018
Keep track of our webpage for updates on future events. You can also follow us on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates on the project's progress.
FROM PAST EVENTS
- 'Translating development' seminar, 12 October 2017, Senate House, London. A free seminar co-convened by INTRAC, the University of Reading and the University of Portsmouth, with the support of the IMLR. Click here for the full agenda and here for our pre-circulated note to participants.
- Read Hilary Footitt's blog post reporting on the event on the IMLR's website.
- Watch the video recording of Panel 1 'Translators in development NGOs' with: Alberto Sanz Martins (Translations manager, Oxfam GB), Jessica Matthews (Internal communications officer, Family for Every Child), Patricia Sommer (Freelance translator), Verity Leonard Hill (Translations manager, Save the Children).
- Read the report in the ITI Bulletin (Oct-Nov 2017) by translator Marga Burke-Lowe.
- 'Listening, Power and Inclusion: Languages in Development NGOs', 2 November 2016, SOAS, London. Read the report.
- 'Translating in Danger Zones seminar series', A series of six free seminars held at the University of Reading that explores translation and interpreting in a variety of global socio-political contexts, presented by practitioners and researchers.
BLOG POSTS AND ARTICLES
- 'Why are languages missing from the Sustainable Development Goals?', blog post by Wine Tesseur (August 2017)
- 'Towards a ‘Listening Organisation’? Listening, power and languages in international development NGOs', blog post by Vicky Brehm (April 2017)
- Read Vicky Brehm's blog post on the Listening, Power and Inclusion workshop held at SOAS on 2 November 2016 (Dec 2016)
- Read Wine Tesseur's article in the ITI Bulletin November-December 2015 (PDF).
- Read Vicky Brehm's first blog post, outlining the project (July 2015).
'Translation in non-governmental organisations', Special issue of the journalTranslation Spaces, Volume 7(1) 2018, guest-edited by Wine Tesseur. Read the full details here in the Call for Papers. Proposals for this special issue have now been accepted. Publication is foreseen for the second half of 2018.