With various demands on time and attention, sign language interpreters may find it difficult to keep abreast of the latest trends, research and practices in the profession. Laurie Shaffer describes how the field can apply collaborative Knowledge Brokering approach to stay current.
Whether you are a community interpreter working 50 hour weeks, a staff interpreter, or a Deaf community member spending hours engaged in local advocacy, little time is left for the pursuit of the academic side of the profession at the end of the day.
There is a level of risk involved in operating with blind spots in best practices, recent regulatory changes, or cutting-edge research on the field of sign language interpreting. The consequences of missing these evolutionary changes in the field cover the full range from minor to potentially life-changing. Utilizing Knowledge Brokers may provide the solution we need in the evolving field of sign language interpreting.
What is a Knowledge Broker?
A Knowledge Broker is someone who moves information from the research arena to various audiences (Meyer, 2010). The role appears to have emerged organically in response to information glut and time shortage in our modern world. There is a plethora of research out there, too much for one individual to stay abreast of even if one focuses solely on a particular discipline. Thus the Broker comes into being as one who not only makes the esoteric understandable but also applicable to the reality of the chosen audience. Where does a Knowledge Broker fit in the field of sign language interpreting?
From a historical perspective, Knowledge Brokering has played a critical role in the establishment of the field of sign language interpreting and the traditions within the profession. This process, based strongly in oral tradition, is the reason the field has progressed in the last 50 years. Without pioneering spirits in the Deaf community and interpreters in our field acting in a Knowledge Brokering capacity, the evolution and advancement of the field might look very different than the current landscape. It is also important to understand that we all can participate in the process on various levels.
In our profession, a Knowledge Broker would be one who moves between the rapidly expanding numbers of colleagues, both Deaf and non-Deaf, pursuing advanced degrees, spending countless hours producing research to better our understandings, and the people on the frontline. The Broker may help to harvest information from the world of academia that specifically responds to the query presented by the day-to-day practitioner. In addition, she or he may assist the practitioner in digesting information in more easily accessed pieces.
What are the characteristics of a Knowledge Broker? I asked several colleagues this question and although I collected several responses, this one in particular sums it up:
“For me, a knowledge broker is someone who has valuable, sought after, and/or in depth knowledge or experience—general or specific—and is willing to share. (Who) does so generously, completely; thoroughly and thoughtfully, (and who) has an attitude of advancing one advances us all.”
Another factor to consider is that not everyone is immediately aware of his or her question. Again one respondent says it best:
“In addition to trust, I value the ability to assist in finding the question, before looking for an answer. I don’t know what I don’t know. When discussing my questions with a valuable ‘knowledge broker,’ he or she helps me figure out my real need and then look for answers with me. I value the honest interest in my work and studies; the relationship of trust, so that I can ask the questions; the guidance and back-channeling to lead me to my real questions; the information sent, or resources suggested; and the follow-up to make sure I received everything I could from our conversation.”
How Does Knowledge Brokering Work?
Knowledge Brokers may not be used to full advantage in the field of interpreting at present. We, as practitioners, don’t always know what to do or where to go. We often know we need support but we can’t define it. Finding individuals who have more experience in the landscape should be part of the answer.
I have been on both sides of the interaction; as one seeking and as one providing.
As a seeker, there are specific things I am looking for:
- Providers – students, faculty, friends, family. Colleagues and community members may all be used as a constant resource and sounding board for questions
- Access – in person conversations, telephone conversations, as well as electronic interactions, may all be of benefit and can range from lengthy to telegraphically short.
- Resources – all kinds of communications can be valuable resources including conversations, articles, research links, opinion-sharing, etc.
As a provider, I work with the seeker to determine the need. Some examples of this type of work include but are not limited to:
- working with people to identify literature and/or evidence to allow for the creation of strategies for critical conversations.
- Assisting in the design of online coursework and assessment materials
- Collaboration with Deaf professionals on a range of topics (Deaf Professional/Designated Interpreter, Deaf/Hearing Interpreter Teams, etc.)
There may be circumstances where an individual acts equally as seeker and provider. These experiences can be very rich and enlightening experience on many levels. One critical note: It is important is to be clear about what can actually be accomplished. Asking the right questions about timelines and clarifying dates, setting boundaries and expectations clearly at the outset allow for a successful interaction. In this way, we preserve our resources and maintain the trust that is so critical in this process.
Considerations for Seeking a Knowledge Broker
It is important to keep in mind that to ask for Knowledge Brokering is not easy. Another who was kind enough to respond to my questions on the topic of Knowledge Brokering shared that there are several hidden factors when people ask for the support of a knowledge broker.
A seeker must:
1. Be willing to be vulnerable before asking for information
2. Be willing to admit they don’t have all the answers.
3. Be willing to be humble and ask for help
4. Seek out role models they seek to emulate
5. Build trust relationships over time
6. Rely on trust relationships to gather additional knowledge
7. Maintain a level of awareness of how privilege may enter into this process.
And so we honor each other; respecting our vulnerability, taking to heart the trust we have been offered, thanking the other for sharing their wisdom.
Paying it Forward
Reciprocity, language brokering, and knowledge sharing are not new concepts to the Deaf community, to the children of that community and to interpreting professionals who have worked to become aware of the values of the community. In her 1983 article, What goes around, comes around: Reciprocity and interpreters, in The Reflector, Dr.Theresa Smith, calls out the importance of reciprocity in our profession, stating,“…within the Deaf community, reciprocity is the norm…. In a reciprocal system, every person has a role…Interpreters, like Deaf people, are expected to contribute knowledge, skill, time, and energy” (Smith, 1983).
In a transcript of Bonnie Kraft‘s recent keynote speech for the 2014 Region I RID conference, she takes time to look back and reflect on experiences, both painful and encouraging, that inspired her to share her knowledge, wisdom and wealth of experience with others:
“sharing was the only way to go…. because not to do so intimately and ultimately hurts the Deaf and Interpreting communities…It was a time of sharing that knowledge as widely as possible, and hoping someone somewhere would learn something useful and pay it forward.”
Incorporating Knowledge Brokers in Professional Practice
In this modern age, we are living in a paradox of not enough time and exponential access to information. Today there is a great need to work together to truly advance us ALL. And as Bonnie said, ”If we don’t have two minutes for each other, then who are we and why are we here?”
- Consider the idea that knowledge brokers are all around you, not limited to academia. The Broker you need is influenced by the knowledge you seek.
- Aim for a frame of abundance rather than scarcity. In this case, we often feel we don’t have time to seek a Knowledge Broker. However, while I provide for you, another is doing the same for me. A Broker who already knows saves time I would have spent spinning my wheels.
- Don’t be afraid to not know – this applies to providers as well as seekers. It may be that we end up seeking together which only creates more learning.
- Come to the conversation open, listening deeply and respectfully to each other.
And keep in mind, the opportunities are endless.
I would like to thank Bonnie Kraft, Pam Whitney, Carrie Humphrey, Jean Miller and Brandon Arthur for working with me to craft this article. And of course, thank you to all of my knowledge brokers and to those who have honored me by seeking me out as a broker for them.
Namaste to you all.
Kraft, B (2014) Keynote speech delivered at Region I RID conference. Transcript quoted with permission from the author
Meyer, M. (2010). The rise of the knowledge broker. Science Communication, 32(1), 118-127.
Smith, T. (1983). What goes around, comes around: Reciprocity and interpreters. The Reflector 5 (Winter) 5-7.