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My ITI wish list


Image courtesy of Wired magazine

The Institute of Translation and Interpreting will hold its General Meeting this Saturday (13 November). I urge all ITI members to attend if they can, or to vote by proxy if they haven’t already done so*. There are a number of important motions to be voted on, and I’m sure it will be a lively meeting. In my view, what many of these motions reflect is the need for greater professionalism and transparency in ITI as a membership organisation, which is a good thing. I want to be part of a professional body which represents real-life practising translators and interpreters, and which is represented by real-life practising translators and interpreters.

I intend to speak up at the meeting, but in advance of that I’d like to share some things I would like to see ITI introduce:

a) Greater transparency. The primary aim of this would be for ITI’s members, whose subscriptions sustain it, to have better knowledge of how their membership fees are being used.

b) Ensuring ITI’s leadership is similarly transparent, and that Council and Chairman are a visible team who members feel they can approach and who can be relied upon to represent their interests. Since the Chairman and Council represent members’ interests (without whom, of course, there would be no ITI at all), it is essential that they are able to interact freely with other ITI members as part of a two-way dialogue.

c)  Following on b), I’d like to see a permanently-available (perhaps on the website), clear  description of network coordinator, committee member, committee chairman, Council member and ITI Chairman roles. It doesn’t have to be lengthy, but should at least tell members what the roles involve, and how much time they would typically require. This would help members to decide whether to volunteer for them in future.

d) In order to ensure that these voluntary roles are performed by the best possible people for the job, drawing on the wide-ranging skills of ITI’s membership, I’d like to see a slightly more formal application process for roles, in addition to incentivising them (financially) where appropriate. This could involve advertising vacancies, for which a standard ITI application template could be distributed. This would seek to emulate the procedures used by other professional bodies, and I hope that with the new Equality and Diversity Committee in place, a new and transparent process will eventually emerge.

The ‘incentivising’ bit I sneakily slipped into my final point is a perhaps an audacious and controversial wish, but there is so much talent within ITI and I think it is currently underused and underrepresented. What proportion of that talent is unable to find a way to contribute because they are put off by the amount of uncompensated time they might have to give up? It’s not just that the roles (primarily that of Chairman) appear so cumbersome to members that’s the problem – I can’t imagine many freelance translators or interpreters earning a decent crust falling over themselves to sacrifice a large chunk of that income to act as Chairman, a vital and hugely time-consuming role, on a voluntary basis (or in return for ‘token’ money). I don’t think it’s money-obsessed to say this, it’s simply a practical observation based on the reality of the situation. I believe that practising translators can and should be able to be accommodated in order to sit on committees, on Council, and as Chairman alongside their normal work commitments. We should not rely on academic members and retired members to fill these roles. If proper financial compensation is what it takes to draw from a broad spectrum of the wisest people in the industry in this role, I believe that dismissing this idea altogether would be a serious misjudgement.

The topic of the role played by professional associations in their professional communities is so broad and open-ended that a single blog post will never begin to cover it. There is so much more to say, and I look forward to the discussions on Saturday! But for now my closing thoughts are these: what we as 21st Century translation and interpreting professionals need is a professional association that accurately represents us, supports us in our careers, and projects a positive image of our profession. If we really want to promote and strengthen translation and interpreting as professions then we must walk-the-walk and talk-the-talk.

* 11 November (tomorrow) is the deadline for receipt by the ITI office of proxy forms.

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9 Responses and Counting...

  1. Karen Tkaczyk

    November 10, 2010

    Nicely put, Philippa. I hope your wishes come true.

  2. Charles Rothwell

    November 10, 2010

    Seems as very good idea and in line with adopting a very ‘professional’ approach. The problem is, though, that a member of the Law Society would be able to tell you exactly what their time is worth in line with ‘normal professional rates’ (and would probably charge you for the time it took them to answer your question as well!)


    1) Who is going to determine the ‘hourly rate of remuneration’ when translators’ incomes are all over the place/only guidelines are the Annual Survey Rates (last/only one currently available from 2001)?

    2) Is paying people REALLY going to ensure a higher calibre of personnel occupying posts/offices? Will those who just want to do it ‘for the sake of the profession’ feel edged out? How can one be sure a freelancer being for a day’s attendance at a committee meeting would not, in fact, have been desperately phoning around to try and drum up some work on that day instead?

    3) MAIN query, though, would be the COST. If (as you know) paying presenters a daily fee of £1,000+ raises eyebrows very highly (and I was told by a RG Chair that arranging a group meal where the set menu cost £20.00 would be ‘a bit pricey’ for some members), I doubt that there would be the funding available without a very substantial hike in membership fees (i.e. doubling). How many would then drop the ‘MITI’ from their joint ‘MCIL/MITI’ titles?

    4) As you say in a later Tweet, a good START might be just looking at some kind of remuneration for Committee CHAIRS (but would this also include Network Coordinators as well?)

  3. philippa

    November 10, 2010


  4. philippa

    November 10, 2010

    Hi Charles,

    These are all very good questions which would need to raised if this were a possibility. At the moment, I feel that only feasible possibility is looking at the Chairman’s stipend and how it can be updated. That role does not get many applicants (in fact, none, at the last election), despite its important contribution to the profession, and we need to ask ourselves why.

    However, my main point (which I hope came through) is that whatever ITI does, it needs to aim to emulate professional associations, and your example of the Law Society is a good one. Sure, lawyers charge a lot more than most translators do, but that shouldn’t mean we have to be defeatist about it.

    All the more reason for us to find better ways of raising our professional profile in a positive way, I say! To do that requires a strong, cohesive, high-profile professional association. At the moment I feel, unfortunately, that ITI is not performing that role and it needs to find a way to do so, urgently.

  5. philippa

    November 10, 2010

    I’ve just spent some long overdue time looking at comments on my previous post (in October). It struck me that they’re even more relevant now, in the run-up to the GM:

  6. Sarah Dillon

    November 10, 2010

    Excellent post, Philippa. Thank you for airing your thoughts on this. I wholeheartedly agree with pretty much everything you’ve said, especially the part about the volunteer application template and role descriptions.

    I think it’s a shame that the idea of financially compensating the Chairman of our professional association should be deemed so audacious. I appreciate it would be tricky to thrash out the precise details of such a system, but at the moment there doesn’t seem to be a willingness to even try.

    Of course a financial incentive doesn’t guarantee the calibre of people in any position (when has compensation EVER been an accurate reflection of skillset?). But the system we have at the moment leaves these essentially full-time positions* open only to those with the time, energy and goodwill to freely volunteer a considerable chunk of their time. That’s a tiny subset of members, and it effectively excludes those practising translators and interpreters who have chosen their profession as a means of making a reasonable living. (Yes, we do exist :))

    I like to think I’m enthusiastic about my profession, and I generally chose to look for the best in people. But I refuse to believe that anybody does anything purely and solely “for the sake of the profession”. Volunteers get just as much from their roles as they give, or human nature being what it is, no-one would do it. And there’s nothing wrong with this in the least. (This does not make me as cynical, just pragmatic). There’s no doubt that our volunteers work hard and deserve to be recognised for that. But being a martyr, a push-over or a doormat does the profession more harm than good, and is not something any professional association should be encouraging.

    The beauty of a career in translation and interpreting is that there is no traditional career path. The ITI aims to represent many different kinds of professionals as a result, but it is nowhere close to meeting this goal while it only enables a tiny number of its members to step forward.

    The ITI and indeed all professional T&I associations need to decide: do they want to represent those who won’t shell out GBP 20 for a professional networking event, or do they want to represent those who earn a reasonable living and have chosen a career in translation and interpreting? The former may seem like a larger and more vocal group at first glance, but it’s clear too that the latter will invest a corresponding degree of time, money and respect in themselves, their professional activities and indeed their professional associations as a result.

    * And note I am referring to essentially full-time positions here. There is a big difference between volunteering 1 – 2 hours a week, and 5+ hours a day.

  7. Sarah Dillon

    November 10, 2010

    Another thought: an alternative to/ variation on financial compensation for full-time volunteer positions within our professional associations might include top-notch management training/ coaching, or the option to gain a formal qualification in business administration, etc. That way, the association benefits, the profession benefits and the volunteer leaves with more than just a headache and a hole in their income. Again, not a perfect solution, but a way for a larger number of potentially suitable candidates to justify the professional and personal expense of coming forward.

  8. philippa

    November 10, 2010


    Thanks so much for your comments, they get right to the heart of it, in my opinion.

    I think your idea of an alternative to purely financial compensation is something that could be explored further. There are so many ways to reward and give recognition to people who volunteer their time to ITI. I think volunteer roles within ITI (or other professional associations) may already count towards MITI or FITI applications in some way, but more could (and should) be done on this.

    My point was that these roles need to be incentivised in some way, and one of those ways could include financial compensation where appropriate. It’s not necessarily something that will happen, but if we don’t even consider proposals to update the Chairman’s stipend, we risk consigning ourselves to a future as a professional organisation run solely by independently-wealthy people who happen to ‘have the time’. The Chairman’s role is by far the most time-consuming role here, and is really a job in itself. It is also vitally important that it is done well. Other volunteer roles in ITI, while also very important, are not anywhere near as time-consuming.

    Sarah is so right in saying that people are rarely 100% altruistic when they volunteer for things. And in my experience there’s also a very clear difference between volunteering for a charitable cause, e.g. helping the elderly, the young, the homeless etc., and helping out your own profession.

    Thanks again!

  9. Carrie Booth

    November 10, 2010

    I second “an alternative to purely financial compensation”…Very good feedback on this blog. Keep up the good work! 😉

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