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On Building Cultural Infrastructure

Last updated: Sep 20, 2022

While each project and each leadership team is different, some tendencies appear in the ways in which open technology projects approach plans to localize or translate a tool, resource, infrastructure. In the first cohort of the Digital Infrastructure Incubator (2021-2022), we collected some of these observations in the following list. We're sharing them thinking that it might help project leads feel less alone as they carry out the work of governance scoping, deliberating, and building. Be sure to check out the Cultural Infrastructure Bibliography for more readings and resources.

1. Tools, resources, support to address translation and localization are the least developed of all the capacity-building tools around social infrastructure.

2. The instinct in supporting localization work is to find or direct teams to other regions. Intra regional cross-sectoral comparisons very rarely emerge as viable examples to learn from (ie localization in a different industry in the same region/language/cultural context).

3. Social and political blockers to open work in the US and Europe, especially historically, are infrequently referenced and understood. This helps contribute to the impression that especially non US/European political systems, cultural mores, social expectations, and financial structures need massaging to create conditions for open work.

4. Local power dynamics and inequities are almost always underplayed in deference to global questions of representation. This includes local dimensions of colorism, class, gender, ability.

5. There are social literacies in addition to technical ones. 
Access to and success using open tools is not only about translation.

6. Projects based outside of the US/Europe most readily compare and contrast themselves with counterparts in US/Europe.

7. Facilitating access to communities in other languages works best when:

  • A single community is identified

  • A dedicated translator is provided

  • An intermediary who is not the translator is engaged - someone more familiar than the host with the target community’s language, discourse, way of engaging a set of questions who can help reframe questions and answers when needed.

  • Ample time is given for communication and preparation beforehand - to develop a shared vocabulary.


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