News from the ISO front (ISO 23155:2022)


Last Sunday I spent 5 hours attending a very useful webinar organised by AIIC Training and Professional Development (ATPD) in which Verónica Pérez Guarnieri explained the ISO standard development and negotiation structure and process, including all the participants in such negotiations and the relative weight in the discussions of stakeholders whose services (in our case) are subject to these standards, as well as the specific meaning of the verbs ‘shall’ and ‘should’, and Haris Ghinos took us through the new standard itself and the work involved in it.

Given I dug deep into my pockets to get hold of a copy of the standard, let me share with you what I take from it as a novice ISO reader. Please forgive me that I cannot quote directly from the standard due to copyright rules (I wish people were as pedantic about my copyright when recording my interpreting work which I am often required to waive completely if I want the job, which is by the way not in the spirit of this standard, more on this later), so I shall just pick out the pieces that address my biggest question marks regarding my status as a conference interpreter and certain requirement that CISP (i.e. anyone who puts me on the interpreting team for an assignment) ‘shall’ and ‘should’ provide me with at different stages of the assignment for me to be able to fulfil my own obligations under it.

Let’s begin with a basic recognition in the General Provisions, albeit a little vaguely phrased, that interpreting done at a distance from the event and/or also at a distance from colleagues and technical support potentially increases the mental strain of interpreting with the logical consequences on interpreters’ mental wellbeing and health. 

Furthermore we see the additional observation that the daily working time for conference interpreters should be no more than 2 sessions of max. 3 and a half hours each with an adequate break in between of one and a half hours. This is one of the ‘should’ clauses, hence it is not binding but has the ranking of a recommendation, and interpreters might do well to keep an eye on working with conference interpreting service providers (CISP) who are ISO 23155 certified as then it would be easier to ask them to consider following the recommendations therein which were, after all, formulated by CISP negotiators as well and then unanimously adopted by all stakeholders. It also strikes me as a good argument to use in feedback to the client that interpreters are recommend to give under the article that sets out their requirements and recommendations.

But back to the general provisions, they also advise clients and go-betweens to plan for additional mitigation in the case of tougher than normal working conditions, such as in cases where interpreters are physically nowhere near each other or the client, by adjusting working time, breaks and the number of interpreters accordingly, to make sure the performance of interpreters doesn’t suffer unduly.

The clause defining interpreter teamwork was interesting in my opinion in the sense that the standard is quite clear that during conference interpreting, no matter which modality, the interpreters ‘shall’ (so must) be in a position to help each other out in the usual ways we all know from the physical booth.

Another clause refers to the interpreter’s obligation to adhere to professional ethics and points to an annex for an example which in my opinion contains interesting points as it puts some of the onus for securing adequate working conditions onto the interpreters themselves. The sample code of ethics obliges interpreters among other things to keep an eye on the ISO conformity of audio, visual and general comfort provisions on assignment, it requires them to not normally work alone but to have a colleague available to take over should the need arise, and obliges interpreters to require scripted texts and other material to be provided to them before the event. Just so as to drive the message home, all this is affirmed in a final declaration that interpreters shan’t accept conditions different from those set out in the code.

On we move to the article defining interpreters’ competences. Apart from the ones that we all know and practice every time we step into a physical or virtual booth, it also recommends (the famous ‘should’ clauses) interpreters to be in a position to cope with stress (without detailing who should put interpreters into that position).

What is not up for discussion are the necessary qualifications for conference interpreters. They are all ‘shall’ clauses, and without preempting the standards for CISPs too much, one clause in the article dedicated to them obliges the CISP to make sure the interpreters they provide for an event meet the requirements in this section on qualifications for interpreters. Hint: they do not cover interpreter students who haven’t completed their degree course yet. They also don’t include merely speaking one or several foreign language(s).

In the next article we find the definition of requirements and recommendations relating to interpreters on assignment. Under them interpreters are advised to insist on travel arrangements that are not detrimental to their own ability to act in compliance with this standard. Thank you! So I was right to turn down that over-night flight that would have had me arrive at 5am in a different time zone with the event starting at 9am on the same day! Just one of the more extreme examples. Well, next time some offer like this comes in, I know exactly where to tell them to go, namely to ISO23155.

Another clause confirms once more the requirement (‘shall’) on interpreters to pay attention, even when not interpreting, to keep preparing, to keep an eye on things and assist as required. This is a useful requirement to mention to clients who question having to pay us for the full duration of an event, seeing as we are ‘only working half the time’, at least in their opinion.

Now comes the final article of the standard which sets out what is realistically to be expected from conference interpreting service providers, be they consultant interpreters, agencies, or institutions.

Generally, they are expected to know the job in all its aspects and to be able to substantiate this expertise on their own behalf and on behalf of their supply chain. I know a few agencies who would therefore already not be ISO23155 compliant, and it might be worth to check which ISO certifications they claim to have when they sell their (and our) services.

Another clause talks of the responsibility (‘shall’) on the side of the CISP (apart from making sure that interpreters have the relevant qualifications, as mentioned earlier) to support interpreters in fulfilling their obligations under the article setting out obligations and recommendations for interpreters while on a job and to provide working conditions for interpreters that comply with legal requirements and provide protection against relevant risks. This seems to complement the legal due diligence obligations of the CISP or client (such as under the EU Non-financial Reporting Directive) to assure that all parts of their supply chain also observe relevant industry standards.

It also restates the necessity for the equipment provider to comply with the array of ISO standards covering their side of things. 

There are some practical examples given as to how to do this, namely by providing all essential information to the interpreters and checking such issues as visibility for interpreters but also, importantly, it obliges the CISP to make adjustments to interpreters’ pay in case of recordings or streaming of the interpretation. This passage is also prefaced with a ‘shall’, not a ‘should’, and we interpreters must begin to insist on compliance with this binding requirement.

An important further ‘shall’ provision defines the information interpreters need to be given, like who is on the team (some agencies who used to provide this information have stopped doing so in recent years. In this context it might be good to mention once more that this standard was developed by stakeholders from the entire industry and was adopted unanimously. Another binding requirement is to include travel and rest time in the billable time for an event on behalf of the interpreters, which is certainly a clause in this article that I will get to labour a fair bit from now on.

An interesting obligation on the CISP is the requirement to assess the interpretation and related service during an event with the interpreters who were involved.

Finally just some observations on the annex on team strength for simultaneous: there is a ‘should’ provision to have more interpreters cover an event in the presence of factors that make interpreters’ work harder, with distance interpreting being named as one of them.

Surprising for me was a footnote which demands (‘shall’) at least 3 interpreters per booth that also provides relay. I have never ever seen this in practice in 30 years on the private market, and I have nigh always worked in a booth giving retour!

It is good to know and cite to all platforms and CISP who demand that events of up to 1 hour be covered by only one interpreter that they are actually in contravention of a binding requirement of this standard which puts the maximum any interpreter should work alone at 45 minutes with the proviso that, if anything, this should be even shorter under certain circumstances. Again, remember that all stakeholders in the negotiations, including CISP representatives, negotiated this requirement and unanimously adopted it.

This is it, folks. Thank you for having stayed with me until the end of this lengthy article. And while I am thanking people, let me continue with my heartfelt thanks to Verónica Pérez Guarnieri and Haris Ghinos for their patient explanations of how the ISO negotiating process works and presenting the results of this process in this particular case. I would also like to thank Michelle Hof from AIIC Training and Professional Development (ATPD) for keeping it super real as a moderator and to AIIC in general for the diligent work on behalf of the profession, be it by taking part in the development of such standards or by providing the relevant training about the standards applying to us in events such as the one I took part in.

For information, AIIC members have free access to relevant ISO standards somewhere on the AIIC website, or so I heard.

Finally I would like to state for the record that this is my understanding of the standard. Quoting me to insist on your rights won’t do much good! So if you are a practitioner in the field, I would recommend you get a copy, study it and make sure you and everyone else involved in conference interpreting in your environment acts in accordance with it.