It has been about a year since my decision to voluntarily leave the NRCPD register and I’ve done no freelance work during that time. All of the BSL/English interpreting work I’ve done since then has been through a public sector employer (this actually provides “consumers” with a higher level of scrutiny, support and accountability than any voluntary regulator can muster). Now that I’ve completed another degree and have more time to work again, it recently crossed my mind that I could re-register. And then today, NRCPD did three things:
- Announced a formal statement of regulatory intent, in which they set out their long-term but short-on-details plan to criminalise unregistered community interpreters
- Published a new Code of Conduct and complaints process
- Revamped their website slightly (I’d feel bad if I didn’t point out that they’ve stealthily removed all previously published correspondence between registrants and the Board) (Further note, 20/11/2015: the missing correspondence has now reappeared elsewhere on the site, prompting us all to remember the importance of Hanlon’s Razor.)
What do I make of all this? More below the break.
The new Code
One of the earliest things I did here at T9000 was create an accessible version of the cross-Code comparison I produced during my interpreter training, which looks at the Codes of Ethics/Conduct from several different interpreting and translation bodies (AIIC, ITI, NRPSI, NAD/RID and NRCPD). I’ve updated it again to include NRCPD’s brand new Code: you can download it yourself from the Resources page. I’ve left the previous NRCPD 2010 code intact, so that you can see at a glance what is new and what got chopped out.
And a lot ended up on the block. What’s striking about the new Code is how much shorter it is: a mere seven main headings and a further eighteen more specific directives. Still not as succinct as the Code of Ethics of new sign language interpreter regulating competitors RBSLI, but starting to approach the brevity of the 3000-member AIIC’s and substantially shorter than both the previous NRCPD Code and the draft version of this one which first circulated over a year ago.
Most pleasing to see gone is all of the practice-specific injunctions, especially the widely derided Ghost-of-Christmas-Past-like communing with “the spirit of meaning”. The new Code says nothing at all about how to interpret (or note-take or lipspeak or text-report). This is good, because how can it? What is training and research for, if you can fit all of best practice into a couple of sides of A4? There’s also the slightest of nods towards the not-very-new idea that any Code cannot be a replacement for professional judgement, ie. you still have to think about your work, Code or no Code. Interestingly the new elements – informing the Register about arrests and police cautions, engaging with formal complaints processes, respecting consumers, withdrawing (temporarily?) from the profession when mental or physical health “could” negatively affect your work, taking “appropriate action” when you have concerns about a colleague’s practice – are mostly found in only one other Code: the American NAD-RID’s. It also returns to being prefaced by nicely vague statements of quasi-Hippocratic/Wheatonesque ethical behaviour on the lines of “try not to be a dick“.
Generally, then, we can see a reduction on prescription of practice, except where maintaining public face is concerned. You could spin this negatively as a Code which is more concerned about the reputation of the profession itself than any individual best practice, but regardless, less is most definitely more. The only thing which remains especially problematic is the bizarre division between bits of Code which “must” be obeyed at all times, and those that “should” be met but it “might not be possible to meet the standard in every situation”. It seems odd that something which isn’t always possible should be on a list of professional directives, and it does beg the question of whether people will just see this as carte blanche to ignore all the “shoulds”, but I guess some level of acknowledgement that expected behaviours and actions can depend entirely on the situation is some kind of progress. We also see an overt acknowledgement that sometimes instructions from on high will come into conflict with each other, and instead of going on a Robocop-style rampage or just going into a coma (like that Next Generation episode where the crew seriously discussed shutting down the entire Borg Collective by showing them an M.C. Escher painting), professionals actually “have to make a judgement about what to do”. This is Not News to anyone that actually works in the real world but it’s still good to see it here. It’s almost like someone out there reads my blog.
The general point of the cross-comparison of Codes remains exactly the same: interpreters and translators the world over agree unanimously on no principles of conduct and behaviour beyond those commonly held by all professionals regardless of field and indeed by much of wider society. Professionalism is essentially a kind of performance, an enacted reification of the identity of professionalism, though it must be acknowledged that this isn’t an entirely pointless exercise. Or maybe I’ve just read too much queer theory.
Register or not? (TL;DR: not)
Almost exactly a year ago I wrote a long post about what I (as a relatively new practitioner) need from a register. Essentially it was a checklist of the areas where NRCPD does not meet my standards (if that surrounds arrogant I apologise, but I consider myself to have had the best trainers in the country). Here’s the progress since then:
- A twenty-first century register: the register as a “really useful” public-facing database interface, emphasising specific competencies
No progress. The web interface to the register still provides no access to the database of experience and competencies that was actually already part of the registrant “portal” back-end back in 2014 when I was last registered. Registrants were already providing this information (albeit probably quite haphazardly) but it’s locked up in a hidden database table gathering dust.
- Certification to work in critical domains: the death of the “pancake profession”, the birth of structure and progression
No progress beyond vaguely stated future possibilities (see FAQ at the bottom of this page).
- Pupillage/internships: mandatory hours of supervised work experience for full registration status, post-qualification
No progress: ditto.
- An end to deontology: no more stone tablets which contradict contemporary research and cripple us with dissonance
Some progress. See above. Could do better. B-
- Evidence-based decisions and practice: a permanent ban on blind faith and “off-the-shelf professionalism”
No progress. I’ve already flogged this horse to death (more than once).
That’s a lot of red lights. Instead of what I think we need, we have the wild goose chase of statutory regulation. So I will for the second year in a row be donating my £205 registration fee to NDCS and hope that tomorrow, I won’t be hauled off to jail for the crime of interpreting.