A Community of Practice: the Public Service Interpreting and Translation Network Group

In my previous post, I presented the three essential ingredients for a Communities of Practice to exist, as presented by Etienne Wenger.
However, let's have a quick recap. Remember what they are?

 - a Domain
       - a Community 
 - a Practice

Excellent, you remember them all. Let's now try and see if these ingredients work 'in real life'. Today, I would like to illustrate the 'theory' with a concrete example: the Public Service Interpreting and Translation Network Group (PSITNG).

A few words about the PSITNG; the group was launched in 2008. Founding members of the PSITNG are mostly representatives of the PSIT industry who were consulted during the curriculum design of the new Master's in Public Service Interpreting - MAPSI (Health and Legal ) at London Metropolitan University. As course leader of Master programmes in interpreting, I invested quite a lot of time and energy making sure the MAPSI was meeting the needs of the professional PSIT market. In doing so, I realised I was speaking to isolated stakeholders, all in need of information sharing and the energy that could be generated by a collaborative approach. This is why I organised a first meeting to bring PSIT stakeholders around the same table, to talk, inform, and discuss needs and challenges, dreams and visions for the future. This is how the PSITNG was born.

But let's come back to our three main ingredients.

First question: what is our DOMAIN? What is our shared domain of interest? Are members committed to the domain? Does this commitment to the PSITNG differentiate members from non members?

Every member represents an organisation relating to public service interpreting and translation in the UK. These are the Chartered Institute of Linguists (CIoL), the Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI), the National Register of Public Service Interpreting (NRPSI), the Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Freedom from Torture, SLI representing Sign Language Interpreting, the National Network for Interpreting (NNI), Accent Language Consultant, and finally lecturers in PSIT and conference interpreting from UCLAN, Middlesex University, Manchester University and London Metropolitan University. Each member has a leading role in PSIT within their organisation. They have demonstrated long term commitment and a strong interest for PSIT. 
Our group is small. Many organisations in the UK and outside have asked to join. For the time being, we prefer to be small and manageable in order to establish and implement our remit. But since we are gaining experience and getting better at working as a community of practice, we are now looking into other forms of membership such as associate membership or observer, and even the possibility to help others create a PSIT CoP in their own country and communicate as a network. We continuously speak to other PSIT stakeholders in and outside UK and have helped PSIT courses get stronger, such as Cardiff University Centre for Lifelong Learning.

Possible roles and interactions with the PSITNG have been presented in the diagram below designed by Etienne Wenger which says it all;

I will discuss the levels of participation in subsequent posts. However, you can easily see that the PSITNG currently represents the core group as represented in the diagram.

Second question: is there a COMMUNITY? Are members of the PSITNG engaged in joint activities and discussions? Do they help each other? Do they share information? Are members building relationships that enable them to learn from each other?

The first thing we do when we meet about once every two months is share a standing lunch. This is great to catch up on each other as people. Even though we are all very busy, members do their best to attend. We have used Skype to connect with members and non members during our meetings. We mainly use emails and phones to communicate between meetings. Our meeting then starts with information sharing from all parties. This is my favourite part when we truly learn from each other. We can be totally unruly, move away from the order of the agenda, and even let our passion come first. But that's fine and this is what I like about the group. I truly believe that when you work as a CoP, the communication format changes. We listen carefully to each other, respect views and also express our opinions 'safely', share our passion and visions  in a way that may seem chaos to an outsider. Communicating as a CoP means that nobody is a threat, there is no hierarchy in the traditional meaning of the word. We all add value and have a role to play. No one is appointed, there is no vote. It is a more spontaneous approach. The energy and will to make the group work comes from the desire and vision of each member to learn from the others and work towards the interest of our practice.

Third question: PRACTICE. Are members of the PSITNG 'practitioners'? Do they develop a shared repertoire of resources?

The word 'practitioners' in the case of the PSITNG can be multiple. Are we all interpreters and translators? Do we all represent a PSIT organisation? Yes we do. However, we are also lecturers, managers, coordinators, but still within the PSIT field. We share our knowledge, skills, experience and ideas. We have also offered our skills to others with the organisation of training the trainers for PSIT sessions; we have organised a conference to present examples of good practice in PSIT. We are now in the process of organising a session open to interpreters from the NRPSI to reflect on the Code of Conduct and the profession.  

I hope I have illustrated how a Community of Practice model has been applied to a group such as the PSITNG. You may be working as a CoP and not even know it. The Domain, Community and Practice are essential. They are the key structure to the CoP. In my subsequent posts, I will continue to reflect on the CoP model and exchange my views with you.

I will be delighted to read your comments to explore this post further.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are the author’s own and should not be taken to represent the official positions of universities, networks or associations.


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