Complex collaborations: Interpreting and translating for the UK police

Joanna Drugan

Interpreting and translation are increasingly provided in the public sector via large-scale outsourced framework contracts (Moorkens 2017). In the UK, one of the largest recent framework agreements for interpreting and translation was introduced between 2016 and 2017 in critical contexts for justice, including the Home Office, the Ministry of Justice and the police. These agreements involve new types of collaboration between new partners and agents in the delivery of interpreting and translation, who each have different aims, expectations, standards and working methods. This contribution examines these emerging complex collaborations, and is the result of a rare type of complex collaboration between academic researchers, framework contract-holders and managers, interpreters and translators, language service providers, professional associations, and users of translation and interpreting services, within the Transnational Organised Crime and Translation (TOCAT) project.

The article reports on original research conducted during the TOCAT project, and outlines and evaluates some novel, complex and ethically challenging ‘translaborations’ in police settings. The collaborations discussed are complex because of the range of parties and actors involved and because of the challenging content and settings in which the police rely on interpreting and translation. ‘Translaboration’ is used here to encompass multiple evolving collaborations between different providers and users of interpreting and translation, policy makers, trainers and researchers. Important questions of translation quality and ethics in the management of large-scale framework contexts for public service delivery are raised.

Publication history
Table of contents

Interpreting and translation are increasingly provided via large-scale outsourced framework contracts (Moorkens 2017), mostly as a result of the global spread of competition laws (also known as anti-trust or anti-monopoly laws), particularly since the 1990s (Büthe and Minhas 2015). This shift in how interpreting and translation are procured has resulted in new types of collaboration with new partners and agents, who may have no prior experience of the language services sector, and who have different aims, expectations, standards and working methods. These new collaborators are diverse, ranging from private equity firms attracted by the potential for profit, to established multinational outsourced service providers whose experience lies in unrelated sectors, such as cleaning, information technology or security. Contract-holders must usually manage communication to and from dozens of languages, or be able to do so for any of the world’s language pairs that might be requested. They may be required to supply specialist linguists at short notice to work across a wide range of specialist fields and settings, and the agreements need to be profitable within a relatively short period, typically two to five years (Wills 2000; Grossman and Helpman 2005).

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