The death and re-birth of an authoritative translation quality framework


Translation quality is typically evaluated using a Cartesian paradigm with an evaluator on one side and an evaluated party on the other. At first glance, this works beautifully. Translation submitted; translation evaluated; people take action and the wheel keeps on turning. Under closer examination, this divide between the evaluator and the evaluated party brews mistrust has fundamental shortfalls:

  • There is an implicit expectation that the evaluator must catch and point out mistakes made by the evaluated party.
  • They are on opposite sides, adversaries, rather than collaborators.
  • The evaluator does not own the project success. Rather they are focused on error detection and have someone to blame in case of an unexpected outcome.
  • People on opposite sides focus on sharing information on a need to know basis rather than sharing things that may not seem relevant at first glance but that prove invaluable to the project success.
  • Focus on mistakes, produces errors, rather than promoting success. We can categorize and analyze all the errors, but what are we trying to accomplish with this translation? What are we trying to sell, to teach, to assure? An error free translation does not necessarily represent a translation that exceeded what the original asset sought out to accomplish.

Sure there are shortfalls, but is there something better out there? Short answer, yes. Here is a brief run-down:

  • When we jointly establish that the evaluator is happy with the evaluated party, with their credentials, skills, attitude, and abilities, we lay out the groundwork for trust. We create complicity and partnership. If the evaluator takes an active role in deciding whom they are evaluating they are no longer powerless and distant. They own the process just as much as the evaluated party.
  • Because they own the process, they are more inclined towards sharing past experiences that did not work well, best practices and valuable bits of knowledge that can go a long way towards accelerating learning.
  • People on the same side, focus on helping each other, on guiding one and other and on ensuring that milestones are met so that there are no surprises with the project outcome.

In order that this mindset works, the entire context must also be open to it. If the evaluating party embraces a collaborative, trust-based framework but in turn has their boss evaluating them in a traditional way, the format breaks down. The entire team and possibly even the organization need to buy into the model.

And what happens when things break down? That's the beauty of this framework- everyone is accountable and the solution is not as simple as replacing the translator or the provider. We need to examine all of the choices made:

  • the criteria for selecting the talent
  • processes & technology
  • knowledge management
  • timeframe
  • communication

This paradigm takes longer to set-up but once it takes on momentum, it acquires a life of its own and produces in the long run incomparable results. Why do people not use it? There is the matter of habit and most importantly our traditional way of thought is focused on having a clear dichotomy between teacher and student, boss and employee, buyer and vendor.

It gets sticky and complicated quickly once this dichotomy is dissolved. Collaboration is harder to manage, messier, more complicated, but in my opinion more sustainable, pleasurable and prone towards evolving and rethinking its own rules.