Monday, 2 December 2019

A few thoughts on linguistic adventures

The living lab approach brings with it a certain vocabulary that we are encouraged to use in our work. Some of it comes from design thinking, other parts are borrowed from reflexive approaches to monitoring. In general, this poses few, if any, problems when talking to other researchers who are familiar with this vocabulary. However, I was recently forced to confront the fact that even a straightforward concept like co-creation can cause some confusion. Let me explain. 

One of the outputs of the Agrilink project is what are called practice abstracts. These are concise descriptions of something that we have developed or been working on in the project. They are intended for practitioners (rather than academics or researchers) and authors should strive for clarity and simplicity in delivering their message. The authors are expected to submit the same practice abstract in two languages – English and their native language. Furthermore, the practice abstract should be both internally and externally reviewed. 

Recently the facilitator and I prepared a practice abstract on the living lab process. The main message was that it is sometimes a good idea to take the lead and provide other members of the group with something concrete to criticise and reflect upon. We used the word co-creation several times. The internal reviewers had no problem with it, but they read the English version. The external reviewer read the Latvian version, and he did not like our translation of the word co-creation (koprade) because he thought that it was not immediately clear what it meant. To him, this was a new word.

Normally, it would be clear what we had to do – revise the practice abstract in view of the feedback we received. However, the funny thing is that the Latvian word for co-creation is not new. A quick Google search revealed that politicians and journalists use it fairly regularly. While it is not common, it would be hard to argue that it is an esoteric term, used only by researchers and academics. What is more, koprade is the officially recognised translation of co-creation.

I tend to be biased in favour clarity and transparency, so I made a few changes to the practice abstract. If the reviewer thinks that people will not understand what the word means, I should take this comment seriously if I want my practice abstract to make sense to a wide range of potential readers. However, it made wonder whether I had become inured to the fact that I often use language which seems very transparent to me, but actually alienates more practice-oriented research partners.