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From an acorn…

Refugee Integration through Languages and the Arts, University of Glasgow charts the global influence of single project funded nearly a decade ago.

From an acorn...At some point it’s nice not to have to fund all your own research, and to actually have a bit of a budget to spend on developing news ideas.

Interdisciplinary research is beginning to mainstream at present, with funding councils favouring large interdisciplinary projects which are seen to be able to tackle ‘grand challenges’ or ‘global challenges’.

But interdisciplinary projects can’t just come from nowhere. Everyone needs time to allow for the proof of concept work and innovation, which comes from encounters between often radically different conceptualisations, methodologies, and literatures. Invariably there is a fusion and a spark which is produced from both friction with, and attraction to, new ways of surfacing ideas.

This was the case with a relatively modest £100,000 grant awarded by SFC through the ‘A Healthier Scotland’ fund over eight years ago, bringing together researchers from languages and intercultural communication, applied linguistics, translation studies, sociology, nursing and midwifery studies, psychological studies, primary health care, and arts.

The project’s – ‘Towards a Training Model for Effective Ethical Translation in Health Care Settings in Scotland’ aim was to examine the triad of translators and interpreters, patients who were seeking asylum, and primary health care providers – in order to see if qualitative research could enhance the understanding of good translation practices in care settings.

A series of five videos were produced with curriculum and training notes based in Freirean pedagogy models. These filmes using generative themes from the research and volunteer actors in films which staged – in a slightly exaggerated form, for pedagogical purposes – the kinds of themes which meant everyone could recognised their own practice, or scenarios they had experienced, which come with something of a ‘full body cringe’ as they are trapped in the tragedies of people’s lives and inside uncomprehending structures.

You can view the videos online.

In the intervening period since the project finished a number of academic publications have come forth but the real impact has come since. Films were subsequently made using the videos as a model, for foster care and interpreting in social services in London, and in New Zealand for trainee architects working in Maori communities.

They have been used to inform how medical students engage with ands use interpreters, and in advanced training across a range of providers. They are now embedded into the Medical training curriculum (no mean feat!), and this means that the kinds of safeguarding or misdiagnosis which is so often a difficult issue in interpreting settings, has a chance of being understood more widely.

The videos are used with large cohorts of psychology students and also in the training of Family Liaison Officers with Police Scotland. And the films continue to be circulated widely, with evidence of increased uptake from a wide range of local and UK-wide partners, such as Voiceover interpreting, Scottish Refugee Council, and Voices Refugee Network Nottingham.

Looking back, the initial seedcorn funding of this project from SFC allowed a risk-taking approach. That in turn assisted the building of interdisciplinary models for research projects of a grander nature. It became one among seven building blocks for a grant unprecedented in size, scale and complexity – Researching Multilingually at the Borders of Languages, the Body, Law and the State.

That served as a foundation for the first UNESCO Chair in Refugee Integration, which focuses on language and the arts. Most recently it has also been part of a work package in the world’s largest migration research project – the South South Migration Inequality and Development Hub, funded by the Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF).

In these further projects the work has led to an embedding of artistic work. Rather than its use as a mere pedagogical device, the artistic and multilingual forms of communication have become far more interesting than mere delivery vehicles for medical or legal content. The material has been integrated by Glasgow City College who work with NHSGGC in the training of interpreters specifically for NHS related work, and more generally in the programme of training in fulfilment Diploma In Public Service Interpreting.

At present Dr Teresa Piacentini, the original Research Associate on the project is working with NHS Equalities teams to develop  use the research insights to:

  • Embed an approach to learning about working with interpreters as skills-based interaction, rather than a transaction.
  • Build relationships with ‘real world’ users of the research.
  • Extend the focus beyond intercultural communication to anti-racist practice in health care provision.
  • Engage all parties (practitioners, interpreters and third sector stakeholders) in co-producing improved understanding of diversity, equality and anti-racism action.
  • T o energise and mobilise citizen advocacy (in the case of practitioners and interpreters) for positive change in approaches to delivering equitable services underpinned by a wider commitment to reflective practice

The work was also the foundation for the daring, practice-led production in the Dodowa Rain Forest which worked in 17 languages and privileged community translators and their agency in granting informed consent, but also developing generative themes around exile, migration and slavery.

Without the chance to dip a toe in the water with the work on this first grant, we’d never have got to a place where we could envisage upending so many deeply ingrained colonial, linguistic habits.

This summer I’ll be doing a keynote presentation on the work at a conference of anaesthetists in New Zealand – and so have wandered a long way from my how discipline of language study.

In short, the project funded by SFC nearly a decade ago stood at the start of a creative, synthesising approach to interdisciplinary research. It remains one of the foundation stones for a wide range of academic, methodological, and practice-led innovations, which we firmly believe will continue into the future.

It stands as testimony to the importance of proof of concept and experimental work in the Arts and Humanities and to the risk-taking approach taken by the funders. Restrospectively, we were a very safe bet… but at the time, who knows what the decision-makers were expecting, beyond what was in the original objectives. Oh for a crystal ball….!

For more information about Alison’s work and her publications, follow her on Twitter.

Members of the research team included Dr Teresa Piacentini, Dr Ima Jackson, Prof Kate O’Donnell and Prof Niamh Stack, with Dr Katja Frimber and Simon Bishopp of Showman Media producing the films, with additional support from the British Council.

Professor Alison Phipps, UNESCO Chair - 21 Jun 2019