New DCU research highlights translation as a crucial missing link in crisis communication policies
As Ireland’s COVID-19 vaccine roll-out plan aims to vaccinate 700,000 people by the end of March, researchers from Dublin City University have stressed the need to ensure all language communities, including Irish and Irish Sign Language, are aware of and understand essential crisis messaging.
“Communicating COVID-19: Translation and Trust in Ireland’s Response to the Pandemic” is the latest report launched by Professor Sharon O’Brien and Dr Patrick Cadwell in DCU’s School of Applied Language & Intercultural Studies (SALIS) which found that the provision of multilingual information in Ireland related to COVID-19 was at times slow, reactive and random.
Prof O’Brien believes the latest report is extremely timely to build on the learnings from the early pandemic phases in Ireland to improve the latest vaccine roll-out and all future crisis plans nationally.
Prof O’Brien said:
“With health crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, it is vital that everyone can access and understand crisis messaging because no-one is safe until everyone is safe. We don’t know what the next crisis will be and it is crucial that we leverage Ireland’s current experience. Our research on crisis settings confirmed that very little attention had been given to the increasingly multicultural and multilingual nature of Ireland’s society and the right to translated information was often absent or less of a priority in national disaster plans.
“Yet despite this oversight in our national emergency response plans, some good business practices relating to translation service provision were in evidence which are essential to build on for future crisis communication and the success of the country’s vaccine roll-out plans. Documented processes of successful multilingual communication developed by the HSE could benefit other government departments and could help to facilitate a whole-government approach to multilingual crisis communication.
The report findings showed that a one-way, top-down approach to providing information by state bodies was inadequate because many multilingual communities were unlikely to use websites such as the Health Service Executive’s to gather information, turning instead to resources in their own languages.
DCU’s researchers strongly recommended a whole government approach to multilingual crisis communication and to build on multilingual communication developed by the HSE during the pandemic.
Dr Patrick Cadwell said:
“The HSE made great efforts to provide translations across various content in as many as 24 languages, however this content was often very difficult for users to find online or elsewhere. If you are looking for Covid information as a non-English speaker, you have to go digging for it. Even though health-related information was and still is crucial during the pandemic, people also needed other kinds of translated information, relating to workers’ rights, mental health, and visa renewal. The HSE now has a good crisis translation profile for Ireland that should not be lost and that can be adapted and improved on in future (waves of) crises.”
Top 6 recommendations from the report are as follows:
- In a crisis, state departments need a coordinated approach to the provision of translated content.
- In a crisis, state communications in all official languages of the country need to be timely and consistent with existing legislative protections and language policy.
- As a preparedness strategy, have standard operating procedures in place with multiple language service providers.
- In a crisis, it is recommended that a diverse range of communication channels (print, website, social media, traditional media) is used.
- Establish strategic partnerships with relevant not-for-profit organisations in advance of crises so that communities are more likely to receive crucial information more rapidly and that they might have a higher level of trust in that information.
- Communication in crises should not be monodirectional and top-down only. Dialogue with communities, enabled through translation and interpreting, is vital to achieving effective behaviour change.
The rapid response research project was funded by the DCU Educational Trust through the DCU Covid-19 Research and Innovation Hub and was carried out between June and November 2020. The research team analysed documentary evidence of what was translated, and for whom, by the government and state bodies such as the HSE. They also interviewed various stakeholders including the commissioners, providers, and recipients of translated content, all of whom were living in Ireland during the pandemic.
Translated executive summaries: