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Now it’s official: an ISO committee is breaking itself apart

The mood has been seething in the international standardization committee for translation for three years or so now.

The meetings – from Copenhagen via Vienna to HangZhou, and also the web conferences which (are supposed to) take place between the official attended meetings – have been characterized not by serious discussion of the matters at hand, but by complaints from the participants of inadequate moderation by the convenor and autocratic stubbornness on the part of the project leader on the one hand, as well as lamentation by both of them concerning the alleged lack of know-how demonstrated by the experts delegated from the member countries on the other.

A year or so ago there were also official complaints from individual country organizations against both of them.

But what does “breaking itself apart” currently mean?

Last week, all meetings of the ISO TC37 SC5 WG1 working group on translation matters scheduled for the June conference in Ottawa, Canada were cancelled!

ISO TC37 SC5 WG1 is currently dealing with two standards projects that are of great importance to translators, translation companies and, above all, customers:

Concerning the planned “ISO 20771 Translation services in legal settings”, following the meeting in China there was a web conference in August 2018 in which it was decided that a new draft text should be submitted within one month. Nothing happened for months. It was only this April that a new text was submitted and put to official vote (a defined process with fixed timing). The deadline for this is in the middle of the conference week in Canada, so neither the project leader nor the experts attending will have the opportunity to consider the outcome or the submitted comments on amendments.

The planned ISO 21999 for the evaluation of translation quality was last discussed in a web conference in September, but there was no substantive progress then either – though it was at least agreed that a completely new draft would be presented by November/December: nada, niente, nitchevo!!!

The German mirror committee at DIN had already officially proposed back in March that the working hours originally planned for 20771 in Ottawa should be used for a general discussion on cooperation. This was rejected by the convenor.

Then last week came the official cancellation of all scheduled events for ISO TC37 SC5 WG1 during the conference week in Canada – despite the fact that both the responsible and the higher-level secretariats had committed to the idea of holding meetings. The convenor’s reason for the cancellation was: “I also know that, for various reasons, the relevant leading experts will not be present in Ottawa, so there is no point in organizing any WG1 meetings to discuss the current two standards under development.”

18 experts from a number of countries around the world and from international organizations (all of them “relevant leading experts”) had already registered (and some of them had doubtless booked their trips as well). On the German mirror committee there are six experts who had already made preparations for the ISO meeting, and had optimally briefed the two registered delegates: Wolf Bauer, who has held positions in the largest German professional association, the BDÜ, for many years, and has been working as a translator since 1993; and myself, a university-qualified legal translator with more than 30 years’ professional experience, mainly in the field of quality assurance and quality management.

We will be travelling to the conference anyway …

… as we are also registered for other working groups, and will try to engage in dialogue with our WG1 colleagues. To that end, we will be sending out invitations to all the experts we know over the coming days.

As is demonstrated also by tekom’s commitment through the many contributions on the subject of translation standardization at its conferences and in the tekom magazine: the issue of evaluating translation quality is vital to both translation service providers (freelancers as well as companies) and their customers.

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1 comment on “Now it’s official: an ISO committee is breaking itself apart”

  1. STAR Servicios Lingüísticos Reply

    Not quite sure what is going wrong, but a pity. Should not be so difficult to find common ground and to cast already existing best practices and metrics into an ISO standard. If I can be of any help, let me know 🙂

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