Bilingual facilitation – how can we be better?

National Eisteddfod of Wales / Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Cymru

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!


  1. Some more great posts coming through on the LinkedIN discussion:

    A good case study from Mary Alice Arthur (
    “We’ve just finished a 1.5 day meeting called “SOS” (Strengths of Slovenia), where the intention was to have Slovenians witnessed and supported by outsiders – we achieved that with flying colours, but also had a conversation about how important language is. We alternated between sequential translation (and it DOES take a lot more time!) and having native speakers sit near others who needed language support. In the 10 day Learning Village that just happened, we had more than 10 nations present. We used English as our connecting language and encouraged everyone to speak whatever they needed to when expressing themselves. There is of course more challenge when there is no budget for translation and we are working from goodwill and mutual support, as well as the desire to have everyone’s mode of expression honoured. ”

    And a fantastic point from Pamela Luption-Bowers ( about people having ownership of their input:
    “I’ll share with you what doesn’t work. Running the meeting in both languages yourself. Several years ago – actually my first real paid faciliation after going independent, I facilitated a strategic planning meeting for a group from Haiti. It was held in Norway with a number of international donors (UK, USA, Belguim, France, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland and a couple of int organizations. I thought it would be good to present and give instructions in both languages. Very quickly the group said ‘enough already’; this is taking too much time. Let’s sit the (volunteer) French interpreter with the Haitians who need translation and run everything in English. Another error (from my perspective) was the decision of the Haitian group to allow the interpreter to speak on their behalf e.g reporting back on group work. I noticed and felt that it reduced ownership of the content, and on day two we encouraged them to report back themselves in French and allow the interpreter to do his job of interpreting.
    Great thread. I really appreciate topics that encourage me to reflect on my own practice and to uncover subconscious and intuitive behaviour.”

    Plus Sherwood Shankland ( has participants summarise their own points:
    “Whether one language or more – communicating the experiential bite or swoon or pleasure of a statement is often “lost in translation”. So, I like to form writing teams of participant to summarize lists of ideas, or points of agreement in several ways, not just in sentences and their translations: Take a topic or recommendation and express it in:
    1. A word – one or two max.
    2. A phrase – 3 to 7 word headlines, sometimes dropping verbs, keeping adjectives and nouns.
    3. A sentence – long or short
    4. A graphic or pictorial expression
    In England, at a bank strategy session one of the root causes identified in a consensus workshop was “Onerous, relentless top down executive decision-making” (the phrase)
    This was accompanied by a cartoon drawing of a tiny employee being stomped to the ground by a huge black boot. The boot labeled “management” and the employee holding a piece of paper which said “recommendations”
    I’ll let you fill in the rest…/ Sherwood”

  2. Here are some further updates from on LinkedIN. Here’s Brenda M. Rodriguez (’s comment in full, as I think it’s great advice and well worth repeating from start to end.

    “I appreciate Fran O’Hara’s use of visual facilitation as wonderful reinforcement that does not rely wholly on verbal or textual language. A complementary approach because even visual facilitation depends on language and communication/conveyance of ideas and context is to develop a process for cofacilitation with members from the host language. Share in co-development of materials and facilitation. This is especially true if you are trying to bridge communities and languages. Prepare and provide materials, topics that you will be using to the the community in advance, and have as many items available for preview and by participants. Gather essential questions from each language community in advance and offer clarity at the beginning. Allow ample time for questions and group share to support clarity of ideas and a variety of ways for sharing information.

    Assess what the assumptions are in both language communities for communicating across either language and if there are cultural nuances that should be acknowledged and considered. If information requires interpretation, check in with members of the community you will be working with / serving.

    Foster and create experiences and opportunities for engagement. Depending on the size of the group, ensure that you have participants who are fully bilingual to help facilitate the sharing of information for visual presentation.”

    This reminds me of Participation Cymru’s evaluation toolkit (, which involves people from the beginning of the process so that they have a strong role in deciding what success looks like.

    Sherwood Shankland ( also has some great points:

    1. Dual Flipcharts in each language (In Kosovo, we used 3: English, Serbian and Armenian)
    2. Bi-lingual Cards or full A4 paper – Using Blue on top for Spanish and Green on the bottom half for English with a line in between the two phrases. This way either language group can follow be spotting their ‘color’.
    3. Budget 50% more time for sessions compared to single language meetings, more if you are using sequential rather than simultaneous interpretation;

    Many thanks both!

    – Dyfrig

  3. Had some great conversation on Twitter, especially with Martin Gilbraith (@martingilbraith) and Andi Roberts (@andi_roberts), both of whom are well worth following on Twitter. Martin suggested the International Association of Facilitators methods database (, which is a fantastic tool. The consensus building tools look like they may be particularly useful in this scenario. Martin also suggested that good use of smaller groups and effective use of plenary would be key.

    Andi also pointed out the importance of timekeeping, which is a great point as building trust and relationships takes time, plus there’s twice as much information to plan for!

    Many thanks both for your really useful input.

    – Dyfrig

  4. I recall attending a Communities First (CF) meeting in Brynaman on the Carmarthenshire/Neath Port Talbot border where the majority of attendees were Welsh speakers but a handful of people weren’t, including some guests to the meeting.

    There was an obligation on the group to minute its meetings and I expected there to be the traditional minute taker role performed by the group secretary or similar. Instead, and what I found fascinating, was that two of the CF team scribed the meeting on flipcharts, one in English and one in Welsh. This allowed for people to contribute in the language of their choice, for almost-simultaneous translation, and provided for visual engagement with the meeting rather than aural. It wasn’t a particularly technological solution and relied heavily on the bilingual dexterity of the CF workers; it also slightly constrained, I felt, their ability to participate in the meeting and guide and inform the group which is also part of their role. However, contribution to the meeting was broad with most people contributing, business was attended to and decisions were made. It is difficult to definitively say the extent to which the bilingual scribing contributed to the effectiveness of the meeting but to my kind it was a significant factor.

    Blog da, Dyfrig, fel arfer. Mi fyddwn efo diddordeb i glywed am dechnegau eraill pan/os wyt ti’n eu darganfod nhw.

    • Thanks for this Russell, the idea of a bilingual scribe would certainly open up the process, and make it clear that input is welcomed in both languages. I really like that idea, if bilingual staff are present that’s a great way of presenting information. I wonder if simultaneous translators would be willing to do this as well if they’re present as part of their fee? Most that I’ve spoken to have been frustrated at the lack of use of their service during meetings, so it may be something I broach in the future to encourage involvement in the Welsh language.

      On Edward Andersson’s suggestion I’ve emailed Worldwide Views for ideas (, and I’ll carry on hunting for tools to do with this.

      Diolch yn fawr am y sylw, mae hwnna’n syniad grêt ac yn bendant yn rhywbeth i roi ar waith yn y dyfodol.

      – Dyfrig

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