INTERACT: The International Network in Crisis Translation

  • Institution
    Dublin City University
  • Department
    DCU School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies. Partners included: University College London; Arizona State University; University of Auckland; Unbabel; Translators without Borders; Cochrane; Microsoft
  • Summary Impact Type
    Academic, educational, policy, community
  • Research Subject Area(s)
    Multilingual Crisis Communication and the role of translation and interpreting in enabling this; This research project included contributions from Translation Studies, Natural Language Processing, Health Communication, Disaster Risk Reduction and Response, Cognitive Psychology, Refugee Studies and Disaster and Humanitarian Ethics

Summary –

The EU-funded INTERACT project was led by Prof. Sharon O’Brien from the School of Applied Language and Intercultural Studies at DCU. This research brought together parties from academic, industry and the not-for-profit sectors to build cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral knowledge on the role and importance of translation in crisis and disaster settings and included contributions from Translation Studies, Natural Language Processing, Health Communication, Disaster Risk Reduction and Response, Cognitive Psychology, Refugee Studies and Disaster and Humanitarian Ethics. In addition to these academic disciplines, collaboration with commercial and not-for-profit organisations was a hallmark of the project and included the SME Unbabel, which is a language service provider and tech company, Microsoft’s Machine Translation research group, and the not-for profits Cochrane (health communication) and Translators without Borders.

Research Description –

We are all only too well aware now that clear, accurate and timely information is crucial in an emergency, crisis or disaster. However, the need for multilingual information, enabled through translation and interpreting, had been seriously neglected up to the commencement of the INTERACT project in 2017. This cross-disciplinary, cross-sectoral research project was funded by the EU through its Horizon 2020 MSCA-RISE funding mechanism, which aims for researcher collaboration, mobility and career development. The research network brought researchers and practitioners together from many fields to focus on the main topics of policy for crisis translation, plain language communication, training for crisis translation, machine translation and ethics. For the latter topic, the research team focused on language and translation as a human right in disaster response, on the ethical dilemma of not translating essential and life-saving information, on the ethics of using, or not using, technological supports such as machine translation, and on the topic of professional ethics and volunteerism.

Details of the Impact –


Academic Impact

From an academic perspective, we built transdisciplinary collaborations and carried out research on emergency response policies, on simplification of text and comprehension, on the use of machine translation for crisis settings and on the ethical dilemmas associated with all of these. This has led to the establishment of ‘crisis translation’ as a sub-field in Translation Studies and has raised awareness of the importance of language among disaster studies colleagues. The research has also led to the joint development of a Master’s module on Crisis Translation that is delivered to translation students and refugee integration students in DCU, as well as to translation students at UCL and University of Auckland. This module prepares linguists for collaboration in emergency response

Policy Impact

Our research into the lack of policy on multilingual crisis communication in official government policies led to a set of policy guidelines for the provision of translation in crises. The recognition of multilingualism as a risk in Ireland’s National Risk Assessment Strategy for 2018 arose from INTERACT’s direct contribution to that exercise. This was a small, but important, contribution that we hope to build on. Some members of the network have already started to build on this by researching Ireland’s multilingual response to the COVID-19 pandemic and creating further recommendations. The UNDRR makes reference to INTERACT’s recommendations and the UK’s ODI (Office for Overseas Development Institute also cites the team’s work in a report on Inclusion and Exclusion of minorities in humanitarian crises.

Societal Impact

During the project we built relationships and collaborated with not-for profits such as Cochrane, who work in health communication, Translators without Borders and New Zealand Red Cross. The latter, in particular, has led to ongoing collaborations whereby members of the INTERACT team have delivered training to NZ Red Cross for community translators who volunteer to translate disaster readiness information, for example, to migrants in New Zealand. The training on translation and machine translation for volunteer translators is available to anyone on our YouTube channel

Towards the end of the project, INTERACT team members provided recommendations to the Office of Foreigner Affairs, Municipal Government of Wuhan, China, regarding dissemination of crucial information on the spread of SARS-CoV-2 virus that has caused the Covid-19 pandemic. Their translation response was subsequently published in the Journal of Internationalization and Localization.




Some sample publications (a full list of publications / outputs is available here.

  • Sharon O'Brien, Federico Federici, Patrick Cadwell, Jay Marlowe, Brian Gerber (2018) 'Language translation during disaster: A comparative analysis of five national approaches'. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 31: pp. 627-636.
  • Federici, F. M., Gerber, B. J., O'Brien, S., & Cadwell, P. (2019). The International Humanitarian Sector and Language Translation in Crisis Situations. Assessment of Current Practices and Future Needs. London; Dublin; Phoenix, AZ: INTERACT - The International Network on Crisis Translation. Available here.
  • Rossetti, Alessandra and Sharon O’Brien (2019). ‘Helping the Helpers: Evaluating the Impact of a Controlled Language Checker on the Intralingual and Interlingual Translation Tasks Involving Volunteer Health Professionals’, Translation Studies 12, 2.
  • Catarina Cruz Silva, Chao-Hong Liu, Alberto Poncelas and Andy Way, "Extracting In-domain Training Corpora for Neural Machine Translation Using Data Selection Methods,” pp. 224-231, The Third Conference on Machine Translation (WMT18).
  • Patrick Cadwell, Sharon O'Brien and Eric DeLuca (2019) 'More than tweets: A critical reflection on developing and testing crisis machine translation technology'. Translation Spaces, 8 (2): 300-333
  • F.M. Federici and S. O’Brien (eds), Translation in Cascading Crises, London: Routledge
  • Hunt, M., O'Brien, S., Cadwell, P. and O'Mathúna, D. (2020). Ethics at the intersection of crisis translation and humanitarian innovation. Journal of Humanitarian Affairs, 1(3)



This was an EU-funded MSCA RISE project (Research and Innovation Staff Exchange), running from 2017-2020, with grant number 734211

* As a follow on to INTERACT, we carried out research on Ireland’s initial response to provision of multilingual information in the COVID-19 pandemic and we produced the short video  above to explain the issues. Project url is here: and the YouTube channel is here: