Tag Archives: Japan

The Art and Skill of Academic Translation: it’s harder when you move beyond English

I have been writing about the idea of ‘translation’ in terms of ‘knowledge transfer’ or ‘diffusion’, which often suggests that there is a linear process of knowledge production and dissemination: knowledge is held by one profession which has to find the right language to pass it on to another. This approach has often been reflected in the strategies of academic and government bodies. Yet, the process is two-way. Both groups offer knowledge and the potential to have a meaningful conversation that suits both parties. If so, ‘translation’ becomes a way for them to engage in a meaningful way, to produce a common language that they can both ‘own’ and use. Examples include: the need for scientists to speak with policymakers about how the policy process works; the need for ‘complexity’ theorists to understand the limits to policymaker action in Westminster systems; the separate languages of institutions which struggle to come together during public service integration (key to local partnership and ‘joined up government’); and, the difference in the language used by service providers and users. We might also worry about the language we use to maintain interdisciplinary discussion (such as when ‘first order change’ means something totally different in physics and politics).

It’s not the same thing, but translating into another language, such as when conversing in English and Japanese, reinforces the point in an immediately visible way. In both directions, English to Japanese, and vice versa, it is clear that the recipient only receives a version of the original statement – even when people use a highly skilled interpreter. Further, if the statement is quite technical, or designed to pass on knowledge, the gap between original intention and the relayed message is wider still.

This point can be made more strongly in a short lecture using interpretation. As academics, many of us have been to conferences in English, and witnessed a presenter trying to cram in too much information in 15 minutes. They give a long introduction for 10, then race through the slides without explaining them, simply say that they can’t explain what they hoped, or keep going until the chair insists they stop. You don’t really get a good sense of the key arguments.

In another language, you have to reduce your time to less than half, to speak slowly and account for translation (simultaneous translation is quicker, but you still have to speak very slowly). You have to minimise the jargon (and the idioms) to allow effective translation. Or, you need to find the time to explain each specialist word. For example, while I would often provide an 8000 word paper to accompany a lecture/ workshop, this one is 1500. There is no visible theory, although theory tends to underpin what you focus on and how you explain it. It took 40 minutes to present, largely because I left a lot of topics for Q&A. I still had a hard time explaining some things. I predicted some (such as the difference between ‘federalism’ and ‘federacy’, and the meaning of ‘poll tax’ and ‘bedroom tax’) but realised, late on, that I’d struggle to explain others (such as ‘fracking’, or the unconventional drilling used to access and extract shale gas).

This sort of exercise is fantastically useful, to force you to think about the essential points in an argument, keep it short without referring to shorthand jargon, and explain them without assuming much prior knowledge in the audience, in the knowledge that things will just mean different things to different audiences. It is a skill like any other, and it forces on you a sense of discipline (one might develop a comparable skill when explaining complex issues to pre-University students).

Indeed, I have now done it so much, alongside writing short blog posts, that I find it hard to go back from Tokyo to jargon city. Each time I read something dense (on, for example, ‘meta-governance’), I ask myself if I could explain it to an audience whose first language is not English. If not, I wonder how useful it is, or if it is ever translated outside of a very small group.

This is increasingly important in the field of policy theory, when we consider the use of theories, developed in English and applied to places such as the US and UK, and applied to countries around the globe (see Using Traditional Policy Theories and Concepts in Untraditional Ways). If you can’t explain them well, how can you work out if the same basic concepts are being used to explain things in different countries?

Further, we don’t know, until we listen to our audience, what they want to know and how they will understand what we say. Let me give you simple examples from my Hokkaido lecture. One panellist was a journalist from Okinawa. He used what I said to argue that we should learn from the Scots; to develop a national identity-based social movement, and to be like Adam Smith (persevering with a regional accent, and a specific view of the world, in the face of snobbishness and initial scepticism; note that I hadn’t mentioned Adam Smith). Another panelist, a journalist from Hokkaido, argued that the main lesson from Scotland is that you have to be tenacious; the Scots faced many obstacles to self-determination, but they persevered and saw the results, and still persevere despite the setback (for some) of the referendum result (I pointed out that ‘the 45%’ are not always described as tenacious!). Another contributor wondered why Thatcherism was so unpopular in Scotland when we can see that, for example, it couldn’t have saved Scottish manufacturing and was perhaps proved correct after not trying to do so. Others use the Scottish experience to highlight a similar sense of central government imposition or aloofness in Japan (from the perspective of the periphery).

In general, this problem of academic translation is difficult enough when you share a common language, but the need to translate, in two ways, brings it to the top of the agenda. In short, if we take the idea of translation seriously, it is not just about a technical process in which words are turned into a direct equivalent in another language and you expect the audience to be informed or do the work to become informed. It is about thinking again about what we think we know, and how much of that knowledge we can share with other people.

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Filed under Academic innovation or navel gazing, Japan, public policy, Scottish independence, Scottish politics

The World is Watching the Scottish Independence Debate

This appears on the ESRC website: http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/world-watching-scottish-independence-debate

The Scottish independence debate may, at times, seem parochial, but its reach is global. We often seem to focus on narrow Scottish issues but the big questions travel well: what should be the size of a nation state? Should large countries have central, regional and local governments? If so, how should we share those responsibilities and coordinate policymaking between levels of government? Which policy areas should be centralized and which devolved? Should regions have taxation and spending powers?

I was struck by this global interest when invited to speak about regionalism in the UK, and Scottish devolution in particular, to a Japanese audience (in meetings with policymakers, parliamentary researchers and the general public) at the National Diet Library last month. This type of exchange shows you how the big questions matter, because a large part of the Scottish experience does not apply to Japan at all: proponents of ‘doshu-sei’ want to use it to foster economic policymaking powers in regions and to help reduce the national debt by slimming down central government. There is almost no equivalent in Japan to something that we generally take for granted in the UK – the groundswell of popular support for a degree of Scottish self-government. Instead, the lessons are about regional policymaking:

  • Scotland has shown that regional governments can make policy differently and introduce different policies. They can foster meaningful networks between governments, business, professional and voluntary groups, and they can use those networks to gather knowledge to inform the production of policies more suited to a specific region.
  • The Scottish experience shows that central and regional governments can work well together. Although the UK and Scottish governments do not learn from each other very much, they have a remarkably smooth relationship. Adding a new layer of government does not cause a confusing or crowded policymaking environment.

The UK is also a potential source for broad inspiration. In Japan, the devolution of powers from central government has been piecemeal and difficult for the public to see. Some observers from Japan saw UK devolution as a major high profile event (even though we often call it a ‘process’) and see Scotland in particular as a hub for regional policy and economic innovation. This experience may be used to sell regionalism in Japan as a necessarily ‘bold’ step, to engage the public imagination and address political crisis.

So, the next time you see what looks to be a parochial and inward looking argument in Scotland, remember that the world is watching too. What we often take for granted and treat as humdrum may be viewed very differently elsewhere.

This is where the role of the ESRC Future of the UK and Scotland programme is crucial. External observers need a way to condense a huge amount of information and experience into a set of ‘take-home’ messages. We have shown that research is as much about external engagement as knowledge gathering – and that, even at this early stage, we are well placed to provide it.

See also The International Image of Scottish Devolution: a view from Japan

What Can Japan Learn from Devolution in the UK?

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The International Image of Scottish Devolution: a view from Japan

When I gave my talk on the lessons that UK regionalism might provide for Japan , it was followed by commentary by my co-author Professor Mikine Yamazaki and some questions from the audience. I know that a few people are not representative, but the comments are still interesting, since they reveal an image of the UK and Scottish devolution based on a very different and sometimes surprising perspective. Some highlights (based on my notes from interpreted Japanese) include:

1.Others May See Scotland in a Very Positive Light

  • Scottish devolution is one of the most successful in the world (a point made before two main qualifications: it is only one of many regional outcomes in the UK and Europe; it was not inevitable – rather, there is a long history of devolution movements).
  • Scotland seeks to be globally competitive by pursuing innovation in scientific research and energy. It is one of the world leading countries in life sciences (remember Dolly the Sheep?) and has many world class Universities. Many of its medical schools are world class. It invests extensively in R&D and its companies are often acquired when they become successful (sometimes by Japanese firms).
  • Scotland is capitalising on its renewable energy potential (making good use of its bad weather) and has some of the most ambitious targets on the proportion of electricity produced via renewable sources (including the aim to produce 100% of its energy needs from renewables by 2020).
  • Overall, the Scottish Government is capitalising on its regional characteristics and developing a unique policymaking style in a ‘new era of globalisation’ (note Japan’s focus on regionalism and fiscal devolution as a way to address trends in economic globalisation).

2.Others May See Scotland as a Source of Inspiration for Regionalism

There is a recognition that Scotland’s history and particular circumstances cannot be replicated in Japanese regions, which lack: high levels of regional identity; popular demands for a degree of self-government; the pre-devolution sense of a ‘democratic deficit’ (voting in Scotland for one government, Labour, but receiving another, Conservative); and, the perception that a Conservative government imposed unpopular policies in Scotland and exacerbated the democratic deficit. However, some of the language about Scotland was revealing since, for some, it provided a broad source of inspiration:

  • The UK experience shows us that people have to be able to feel that devolution has taken place, which requires a comprehensive devolution of legislative powers from central to local (the context is piecemeal devolution to local government in Japan).
  • The Scottish experience can inspire regions to be bold and to make a leap.
  • Even if some regions might be worse off economically, regionalism requires the courage to act.

Overall, the Scottish experience and attitude has become, for some, a beacon of hope (as opposed to a source of detailed reforms). This is an image that you might struggle to find within Scotland.

See also: The World is Watching the Scottish Independence Debate http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/world-watching-scottish-independence-debate

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Policy Concepts in 1000 Words: Policy Transfer and Learning

(podcast download)

‘Policy learning’ describes the use of knowledge to inform policy decisions. That knowledge can be based on information regarding the current problem, lessons from the past or lessons from the experience of others. This is a political, not technical or objective, process (for example, see the ACF post). ‘Policy transfer’ describes the transfer of policy solutions or ideas from one place to another, such as by one government importing the policy in another country (note related terms such as ‘lesson-drawing’, ‘policy diffusion’ and ‘policy convergence’ – transfer is a catch-all, umbrella, term). Although these terms can be very closely related (one would hope that a government learns from the experiences of another before transferring policy) they can also operate relatively independently. For example, a government may decide not to transfer policy after learning from the experience of another, or it may transfer (or ‘emulate’) without really understanding why the exporting country had a successful experience (see the post on bounded rationality). Here are some major examples:

BOX 12.1

It is a topic that lends itself well to practical advice; the ‘how to’ of policymaking. For example, Richard Rose’s ‘practical guide’ explores 10 steps:

Rose 10 lessons rotated

The descriptive/ empirical side asks these sorts of questions:

From where are lessons drawn? In the US, the diffusion literature examines which states tend to innovate or emulate. Some countries are also known as innovators in certain fields – such as Sweden and the social democratic state, Germany on inflation control and the UK on privatization. The US (or its states) tends to be a major exporter of ideas. Some countries often learn consistently from the same source (such as the UK from the US). Studies tend to highlight the reasons for borrowing from certain countries – for example, they share an ideology, common problems or policy conditions. ‘Globalization’ has also reduced practical barriers to learning between countries.

Who is involved? Apart from the usual suspects (elected officials, civil servants, interest groups), we can identify the role of federal governments (for states), international organizations (for countries), ‘policy entrepreneurs’ (who use their experience in one country to sell that policy to another – such as the Harvard Business School professor travelling the world selling ‘new public management’), international networks of experts (who feed up ideas to their national governments), multinational corporations (who encourage the ‘race to the bottom’, or the reduction of taxes and regulations in many countries), and other countries (such as the US).

Why transfer? Is transfer voluntary? The Dolowitz/ Marsh continuum sums up the idea that some forms of transfer are more voluntary than others. ‘Lesson-drawing’ is about learning from another country’s experience without much pressure (see the book to explain why I scribbled out some of the text!). At the other end is coercion. They place ‘conditionality’ near that end of the spectrum, since the idea is that countries who are so desperate to borrow money from the International Monetary Fund will feel they have no choice but to accept the IMF’s conditions – which usually involves reducing the role/ size of the state (although note the difference between agreeing to those conditions and meeting them). ‘Obligated transfer’ is further to the left because, for example, member states sign up to be influenced by EU institutions. Indirect coercion describes countries who feel they have to follow the lead of others, simply to ‘keep up’ or to respond to the ‘externalities’ or ‘spillovers’ of the policies of the other country (they are often felt most by small countries which share a border with larger countries).

figure 12.1 DM continuum

What is transferred? How much is transferred? Transfer can range from the decision to completely duplicate the substantive aims and institutions associated with a major policy change, taking decades to complete, to the vague inspiration (or the very quick decision not to emulate and, instead, to learn ‘negative lessons’).  It can also be a cover for something you planned to do anyway – ‘international experience’ is a great selling point.

What determines the likelihood and success of policy transfer? For an importing government to be successful, it should study the exporting country’s policy – and political system – enough to know what made it a success and if that success is transferable. Often, this is not done (governments may emulate without being particularly diligent) or it is not possible, since the policy may only work under particular circumstances (and we may not always know what those circumstances are). Much also depends on the implementation of policy, particularly when the transfer is encouraged by one organization and accepted reluctantly by another (such as when the EU, with limited enforcement powers, puts pressure on recalcitrant member states).

These questions are best asked alongside the general questions we explore in policymaking studies, including:

  • Bounded rationality and Incrementalism – do governments engage in trial-and-error and learn from their own mistakes first?  Is learning and transfer restricted to the ‘most similar’ regions because there is no point in learning from countries radically different from our own?  Do some governments emulate without learning? Is transfer from another, more innovative, government a common rule of thumb?
  • Multi-level Governance – does the existence of more policymaking arenas produce more innovation and a greater demand for learning? Or, does the diffusion of power undermine the ability of a central government to adopt policies from others?
  • Punctuated equilibrium – is transfer a rare opportunity produced by the sudden and unpredictable attention to new ideas?

Further Reading:

I explore these issues (and Rose’s advice) in a paper examining what Japan can learn from the UK’s experience of regionalism. It includes a discussion (summarised from Keating et al – Paywall Green) of the extent to which policy converges in a devolved UK and how much of that we can attribute to transfer and/ or learning:

Keating et al 2012 summary from japan paper

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Filed under 1000 words, agenda setting, Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), Japan, public policy, Scottish politics, UK politics and policy

What Can an Independent Scotland Learn From Other Countries?

Over the next few weeks, we (me and @EmilyStDenny) will be collecting a marvellous set of blogs, news stories and campaign statements about Scottish independence. We will focus on the discussion of Scotland’s potential to learn from other countries. For example, it feels like a long time since Alex Salmond mentioned the ‘Arc of Prosperity’ but, more recently, the Jimmy Reid Foundation has gained a lot of traction with its focus on the Common Weal. In both cases, the idea is that we can learn a lot from, and become more like, the Nordic countries (the Scandinavians – Sweden, Denmark, Norway – and, in some cases, Iceland and Finland). Indeed, this is the direct focus of Nordic Horizons.

The problem, in many cases, is that no-one really knows much about these countries and, therefore, what they might learn. In some cases, that’s OK since the romantic references to better countries is there primarily as a reinforcement for one’s own ideas. In other cases, it seems odd that we’d give so much attention to these ideas without doing proper research about what ideas we can gather and how we might adapt those experiences to our own.

Scotland has form in this regard. In the run up to devolution you could hear similarly vague references to the Nordic experience as an example for our own. Yet, it didn’t go far beyond the vague. I have said, in a few academic articles and books, that we should reflect on the extent to which Scotland went down the intended Nordic route. However, to be honest, I have struggled to find more than a passing reference in documents written before devolution (such as by the SCC). People talked about ‘new Scottish politics’ as an antidote to ‘old Westminster’ but, in truth, we mostly imported a Westminster system. It would be a shame if we repeated that mistake this time round. If we want to simply continue the Westminster tradition, let’s do it with our eyes open. If we want to go Nordic, let’s learn a bit more about them.

I say this after spending time trying to do some work in the opposite direction. I was asked by the National Diet of Japan to reflect on the lessons that UK devolution/ regionalism might give to policymakers in Japan. At first, I could not really see the connection. The two countries seemed so different that I could not work out why they would be interested. Then, I spent some time looking into their political system and, more importantly, their reasons for pursuing regionalism – and I still wasn’t sure! Then, I looked again and talked to a few people in Japan while I was visiting last month (and while one researcher spoke to me when visiting Scotland). That discussion, plus the questions they asked, helped me understand the links and make some sensible points about the UK experience.

I hope the comparison is clear. Our contemporaries in the Nordic countries may currently have the same initial sense of bewilderment: ‘they keep mentioning us, but why?’. ‘What is it about our experience that they think they understand?’ So, if we are serious about learning from other countries, including the Nordics (and maybe the lesser-discussed but possibly important New Zealand), we need to be serious about drilling down into the details. We need to consider why their systems operate in the way they do. We need to know how and why they pursued the policies and institutions that have grabbed our attention. We need to talk with them, to show them why we are interested and what we are trying to do, so that they know how to translate their experience into meaningful lessons for us. We might have a good image of their experience from the outside, only to learn that they have a different experience from the inside.

In other words, the world is full of examples of failed policy transfer. Some countries emulate other countries because they think they are successful – but they don’t spend enough time working out why they are considered to be successful and if their success could be repeated; if their policy programmes could be imported in a useful and meaningful way.

Let’s not do that.

 

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Filed under Evidence Based Policymaking (EBPM), Japan, public policy, Scottish politics, UK politics and policy

What Can Japan Learn from Devolution in the UK?

NDL ppt front page

Japan’s interest in regionalism relates primarily to economic aims. Some policymakers want to reduce government spending and pursue a kind of ‘fiscal federalism’ in which central government devolves taxes and economic strategies to regions. The UK has minimal experience in this field. Devolution was driven more by local demand for representation. So why would policymakers in Japan be so keen to learn from the UK? That is the context in which Professor Yamazaki and I have written this paper, to be presented to the National Diet of Japan next month. This example reinforces the idea that ‘lesson-drawing’ is not straightforward – it requires a meaningful conversation between those who want to learn and those reflecting on their own experience.

The full paper is here – Cairney Yamazaki What Can Japan Learn From UK 23.10.13 – and the bullet point summary is below. Here is a link to one of the events, and here is my mug shot surrounded by some impressive looking writing – NDL Cairney poster. Here is the 2-language powerpoint – Dr. Cairney’s Presentation (it doesn’t match up entirely because I amended the version sent to me).

Policy Transfer in Theory and Practice: What Can Japan Learn from ‘Regionalism’ and Devolution in the UK?

  • ‘Regionalism’ can be defined broadly as the creation of a governing tier between central and local government.
  • The UK experience could provide important lessons for Japan
  • However, we can only use the UK experience to give relevant insights to policymakers in Japan if we understand why they seek, and how they will use, that information.
  • Lesson-drawing will not be successful unless the borrowing government understands how and why policy developed in the lender – and if that experience is comparable to its own.
  • Our comparison of the UK and Japan identifies major differences in their politics and policymaking. These differences should be borne in mind when policymakers in Japan seek to learn lessons from the UK’s regionalism policy.
  • The main difference is in their respective reasons for pursing regionalism.
  • In the UK, devolution to Scotland and Wales reflects an attempt by the centre to address growing demands for self-government. In Northern Ireland, it reflects an uneasy compromise between unionist and nationalist actors.
  • Only in the English regions can we see an economic frame of reference. Further, the economic frame did not help sustain support in the English regions.
  • In Japan, it is difficult to identify equivalent levels of regional identity and popular support for regionalism.
  • The economic driver is much more significant. Regionalism is often presented as a way to promote more effective economic development and to reduce the size of the state and public debt.
  • In that context, the UK experience has limited information to offer. Instead, it can only offer negative lessons about the inability of an economic frame alone to provide sustained support for regionalism.
  • More relevant lessons can be found when we identify the likelihood of asymmetric regionalism in Japan.
  • Devolution may be extended primarily to Hokkaido, Okinawa and the Osaka/ Kansai region.
  • The UK has extensive experience of asymmetric regionalism, with varying levels of support for devolution translating to different arrangements in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions.
  • The most sustained and significant level of devolution can be found in Scotland.
  • Scotland’s experience demonstrates that policymaking can be directed, and meaningful networks formed, at the regional level.
  • The Scottish Government has developed its own policymaking style which often seems to benefit from its size and the ability of policymakers to develop relatively personal networks with actors such as interest groups and bodies such as local authorities and quangos which implement (and seek to influence) policy.
  • It has also developed meaningful relationships with business groups, albeit in the context of an economic policy reserved to the UK.
  • However, this style has taken some time to develop – it is not a quick fix to an immediate economic crisis.
  • The UK experience also shows that the centre can maintain smooth relationships with devolved governments. Their interactions almost never produce a need to engage in formal dispute resolution.
  • However, part of the explanation is that the UK centre has largely disengaged from devolved policymaking (a situation aided by its devolution of discrete policy areas – such as health and education – with relatively low levels of overlap in central/ devolved responsibilities).
  • There is considerable evidence of policy divergence (or, at least, similarities) but largely because each government understands and seeks to address policy problems in similar ways, or because UK policy for England puts pressure on the devolved governments to respond.
  • Meaningful learning and transfer between regions, or from regions to the centre, is unusual.

Overall, our analysis demonstrates the need to be clear about how and why one country can learn from the experience of another. It is not enough to transfer programmes. One must understand how and why policy was made in one country to understand if that process can be replicated in another successfully, or if it can only take broad inspiration.

See also:

What Can Japan Learn from ‘Regionalism’ and Devolution in the UK?

‘Representing’ Scotland and the UK at Japan’s PSA

Stereotyping Political Systems

The World is Watching the Scottish Independence Debate http://www.futureukandscotland.ac.uk/blog/world-watching-scottish-independence-debate

20131110-211630.jpg

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Stereotyping Political Systems

I have spent a fair amount of time arguing that the UK political system does not live up to its ‘majoritarian’ image. I mostly do it when comparing ‘new Scottish politics’ with ‘old Westminster’ and have recently extended the analysis to the ‘consensus’ Sweden. However, it has become a bit like getting rid of the bubbles in wallpaper: just as I feel like I’ve smoothed one out, up pops another. This time it’s Japan, after I found this (yes, I know it’s taken a while): Japan’s ‘Un-Westminster’ System. It contains a very interesting discussion about the need for prime ministers in Japan to negotiate with parties and bureaucrats to secure major reforms. So far, so good. However, then, it makes the assumption that they don’t do this sort of thing in the UK. No one needs to negotiate because power is concentrated in the centre. The more general sense I get is that many studies simply assume that Japan’s system contains unusual sources of inertia and/ or incrementalism  without making sure that the UK lacks those elements (see pp104-6 on incrementalism UPP pp104-6 from Understanding Public Policy) . Instead the comparison is between real life Japan – with case studies of, say, expectations and implementation gaps – and fairytale UK. It will keep me in work for years.

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