Participatory translation and anti-racism in NGO development work: a method of co-producing translations with community members

Michael Chasukwa, Angela Crack

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Motivation: This article argues that the NGO sector should prioritise translation as an anti-racist practice, because failing to tackle colonial language hierarchies replicates historic power structures, and undermine locally-led development. It responds to calls from the literature for more research into the role of translation in shaping development outcomes, and answers direct appeals from NGO practitioners for translation glossaries in different languages to improve communication between development stakeholders.

Purpose: We introduce a new participatory method for co-producing translations of development terminology with community members in their vernacular, which researchers and NGOs could adopt to embed anti-racist practice in their work.

Approach and methods: The study was based on the principles of community-based participatory research, and an Advisory Board of community members were instrumental to the design of the participatory translation method. The draft of the glossary was produced in two three-day participatory workshops in Lilongwe and Zomba, Malawi. These were attended by 36 people who represented potential user groups of the glossary.

Findings: The workshop participants created 385 translations of development terms, including 70 translations that are not listed in the Oxford Chichewa-English Dictionary. They also engaged in critically reflective discussions that challenged dominant discourses of development. We argue that participatory translation is a tool to transcend the language barrier in a way that simultaneously subverts conventional power hierarchies and offers access to different ways of understanding the world.

Policy implications: NGOs in different linguistic and geographical contexts could adopt participatory translation activities at the early stages of forming relationships with communities and local partners, to build trust and common understandings. In line with an anti-racist approach, this would help to combat systemic linguistic exclusion, which exacerbates other forms of disadvantage.
Original languageEnglish
JournalDevelopment Policy Review
Early online date20 May 2024
Publication statusEarly online - 20 May 2024


  • anti-racism
  • community-based participatory research
  • co-production
  • English
  • language
  • linguistic racism
  • Malawi
  • NGO
  • participation
  • translation
  • UKRI
  • AHRC
  • AH/V015370/1

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