Bilingual facilitation – how can we be better?
Last week Mike Palmer (who focuses on Sustainable Development for the Wales Audit Office) and I ran a workshop for the Public Engagement Working Group in the Eisteddfod in Denbigh. We ran a workshop where we looked at putting the National Principles for Public Engagement in Wales into practice.
Both Mike and I really enjoyed the workshop, which enabled us to share knowledge and to collate information on how we think the Welsh Government may want to involve people in their national conversation on the Future Generations Bill.
Afterwards both Mike and myself sat down and reflected on what went well and what we would change in future.
As I was working in a Welsh as a first language environment, I relished the opportunity to present in Welsh. You can see the original Prezi here, or you can see the presentation on which it is based on Participation Cymru’s website. This was a mistake, as I should have made slides bilingual. The first language of some participants was English, and whilst I translated my information as I went, having it readily available would have made the process much easier.
But it was the wider issues around bilingual facilitation and community cohesion that struck both Mike and I. As a Welsh speaker I have always been keen to make sure that people have an opportunity to contribute in Welsh, so I’ve set up separate groups as part of events I’ve been running. Whilst this has enabled people to take part in the language of their choice, it’s also meant that people who speak different languages don’t get to hear the perspectives of the other group. Of course we can get groups to feedback to each other, but how do we cross-pollinate ideas so that people truly develop ideas together?
If we do bring these groups together, how do we ensure that English speakers aren’t frustrated because they don’t understand Welsh, and that Welsh speakers aren’t frustrated because they’re forced to participate in English?
I’m very aware that this blog poses more questions than answers, so I’ve been googling my socks off and I’ve also tweeted various practitioners. Edward Andersson from Involve offered me some great ideas. We had a discussion around how Participatory Appraisal could help with this as the techniques are visual and are not reliant on language. Edward suggested checking out Oxfam UK’s Poverty Programme, which has produced a great guide called Have You Been PA’d? on this.
Mike and I also spoke about the issue of translation. Whilst we did our best to avoid jargon, some terms we defined at the start were public service specific (such as engagement and participation). What we realised was that some terms that were perhaps unclear were muddied even further by being directly translated into terms that are rarely used by Welsh speakers in their day to day lives (ymgysylltu and cyfranogi). If the citizen is truly at the centre of services, we need to ensure that we use terms that people understand. Edward made a great point here as well – that the translation shows the artificial nature of the initial word.
The Welsh Government has attempted to change this, where it’s changed the name of the Sustainable Development Bill to the Future Generations Bill. The name change is aimed at making sure that people have a better understanding of what the bill aims to achieve (making sure the decisions we make now don’t adversely affect people in the future), but many have been concerned that sustainable development, a term which is recognised internationally, has been ditched and is being watered down. Can we go down the same path with citizen engagement?
Psychologically and sociologically, it can’t be good to separate from each other based on language. The scale of the challenge is such that no doubt I’ll revisit this in the future, and I’m sure to blog again on this. I’ll post any further resources I find below, and if you know of any useful guides please feel free to do the same.
Thanks in advance for your help!
PS I know that Participation Cymru are available should Welsh organisations need any assistance around engagement – I’m going to approach them for help on this very topic!