Two years ago, while working on the Doing It Together Science (DITOs) project, Muki had an idea.
Sometimes, citizen science projects are able to get a small amount of funding for translation of written materials they produce, such as DITOs’s policy briefs and other deliverables. These documents might be very useful to other citizen science projects or organisations running public activities. But most of such materials are only available in English. This limits who has access to such materials. A country with a population which mostly speaks English is currently afforded the advantage of easy access to such knowledge. A country that does not might be left behind. We noticed, when we went to conferences or other international events, that someone from another country would sometimes tell us: “Nobody talks about this in my country. There’s nothing available in our language.”
Introducing the Citizen Science Translation Hub
I’d like to invite anyone who would be interested in changing this situation to take a look at the Citizen Science Translation Hub.
There are two intended audiences for this site. The first is whoever owns any citizen science projects. If you would like to see your project, or some important written material that has emerged from your project, available in more languages, then I’d like to invite you to get in touch. Please tell us a little about your project and which text needs translating so that more people can access it. I will then turn this text into a Word document (for reasons I will explain later!) and upload it into an area called “Translations in Progress”. If there is any particular language you would like (“target language”, in translator terms), we will say so. We will ask you to make the translations available on your website and to thank the translators.
The other audience would be the citizen science translators. You do not need to be a professional translator – you merely need to speak English and to be relatively fluent in any other language, and to be interested in citizen science. You have free choice of any of the items in “Translations in Progress” and you may download any text, even if you never translate it. I would suggest that you spend a little while browsing the projects and seeing what interests you in terms of subject area, length, difficulty, and intended audience (for example, you might be very interested or very uninterested in policy). If you see something you would like to translate, I would be grateful if you would send me an e-mail to let me know you are working on it. If you find that a text you like has already been translated into your new language, then you might be the proofreader, who checks the other person’s work for fluency and accuracy.
At the moment, it’s rather low-tech: you download the Word documents and send back a translation by e-mail. Ideally, there would be two parts to the screen, like there are in translation software: the original language on the left and your translation (or AI translation, which you would simply check) on the right. And perhaps one day things will be like that, but this project is in its earliest stages.
For those of you who want a bit more backstory, read on …
The History of the Citizen Science Translation Hub
Muki proposed that we create a network of volunteer translators, much like Translators Without Borders, but for citizen science instead of humanitarian work. This would function much like a citizen science project – volunteer translators would learn a great deal about citizen science as well as making it available to more people. And if they functioned as a network, they could also get to know and support each other.
I took on this project as a small part of DITOs. I wrote about it a couple of years ago when it was in its pilot stage. Because I knew absolutely nothing about translation, I spent many months creating a mailing list and questionnaire, to find out what needs a translator has. It was complicated: I did not even know what questions to ask. However, over 40 people signed up to my mailing list, and several people kindly provided translations of documents such as a BioBlitz evaluation and the old DITOs video, as well as took part in Skype calls with me. I was able to get in touch with the Astronomy Translation Network in Japan, who very kindly talked me through how they were going about it (they mostly work with students and have several thriving Basecamps, which I could not run on my own; but they also inspired a great deal of my questionnaire, for example). I also paid a visit to Federico Federici, who teaches Specialised Translation at UCL, who introduced me to translation software.
It has taken a very long time, partly due to issues of time and funding, but also due to a lack of knowledge and confidence! I also made a lot of mistakes along the way. I created a Slack workspace, but only one person came to chat on it. I put all the documents into a Google drive folder, but that wasn’t exactly very appealing. And before I knew what format translators liked to receive the work in, I put all the text very carefully into tables. Later, I found out that translation software does this automatically, and it’s best to keep documents as plain as possible.
A few people did indeed still very kindly undertake some translations – an exceptional person in Portugal did an enormous amount – but each act was one of individual kindness. The thriving community, the ability to “give back”, was not emerging. The co-creation I wanted to do of the project – where people more experienced than me got a say in the building of it – was not happening.
I decided to start again from scratch.
While at the 2018 ECSA conference, I heard a fascinating snippet of a study about co-creation. As Muki explains here on our course, in the fourth slide, co-creation is when scientists and members of the public work together to design a project. But, according to this research, co-creation usually happens when the motivations are extrinsic (for example, there is an environmental problem in somebody’s area, and people are motivated to start testing the air together. An intrinsic motivation would simply be a long-held interest in astronomy prompting someone to take part in Galaxy Zoo, for example).
While a lot of people might have a general wish for translations of citizen science material to be available, there was no powerful or immediate impetus to make a lot of people give up their time to get together and arrange it. In fact, the only really extrinsically motivated person was me, because I had been given the job and was taking a most mortifyingly long time going about it.
This doesn’t mean people aren’t interested in translation, however. The 10 Principles of Citizen Science has now been translated into 30 languages!
One of the most valuable aspects of my learning was when I met two MSc Scientific Translation students (introduced to me by Federico) who talked me through what the site might need. One of them commented that a discussion forum was “going above and beyond” – but I felt, as with any citizen science, that it is vital to provide people with sources not only of help but of cheerful support and networking. Both of them told me about extremely useful places to look for free translation software, and about UNTerm, where there are universally agreed translations for various words we are likely to need. They also told me that a student of translation wants to build up a “portfolio” to be able to show their work to future clients or employers, and such a project as this might be an excellent place to gather such material. My Resources page (which I plan to grow as people suggest more items for it) was their idea. I am extremely grateful to both of them.
This translation hub is one of the legacies of DITOs. The eventual plan is for it to become part of the EU-Citizen.Science platform. Exactly what shape that will take, we will soon see, but I do hope you like this basic website while it lasts!
(If you find you can’t access some areas of it, that’s because one or two places are still password protected while I fix some problems – the discussion forum area is still being especially stubborn. Please contact me if you would like that password.)