The Language Assistance Services (LAS) Project

Language assistance services - such as interpreting and translation services - are critical to bridge the communication gap and ensure people with limited English language proficiency can access public services and information to which they are entitled.

Central Government agencies are working together under the leadership of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) and the Department of Internal Affairs (DIA) on a multi-year work programme to:

  • improve the quality, consistency and coordination of language assistance services provided across the New Zealand public sector
  • provide equitable access to public services for those with limited English language proficiency
  • future-proof New Zealand’s public services to serve an increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse population.

The Language Assistance Services Project implements the recommendations of two reviews conducted by MBIE and DIA respectively.

Summary Report - Fair and Accessible Public Services PDF 112KB

Four key deliverables will be developed and implemented through the project:

  1. a Language Assistance Services Policy and Guidelines to set out best practice in the planning, funding and delivery of public services for people with limited English language proficiency
  2. a new procurement model to make purchasing language assistance services by central government agencies and their contracted providers simpler, more efficient, and more cost-effective
  3. professional standards and associated certification framework for interpreters and translators working across government
  4. a Language Assistance Services Portal and other systems to support the new model to provide simple access to a single depository of information about language assistance services in New Zealand.

The project will improve the quality, consistency and coordination of language assistance services provision across government.

Three workstreams have been established to advance this project. Their approach and progress is discussed below.

Project Information Sheet PDF 187KB

Project diagram PDF 241KB

Language assistance services policy and guidelines

The purpose of workstream one was to develop a Language Assistance Services Policy and Guidelines to:

  • provide best practice-based and consistent expectations across government agencies for the provision and use of language assistance in the planning, funding and delivery of services
  • ensure that the staff of central government agencies and funded services have guidance and practical resources so they understand what is expected, and can access appropriate language assistance for clients when needed
  • provide equitable access to public services for clients who need communication assistance.

The draft Policy and Guidelines were developed with the input of the project’s steering group - a cross-government working group comprising MBIE, DIA, the Office of Ethnic Communities, the Ministries of Health, Justice, Social Development and Education, New Zealand Police, the Treasury, Housing New Zealand Corporation and State Services Commission. The group was established to provide cross-agency advice and input, and ensures whole-of-government commitment and participation.

Feedback on the draft Policy and Guidelines was sought from a core group of central government agencies comprising public sector agencies, District Health Boards and Primary Health Organisations. Feedback was considered and reflected in the final Policy and Guidelines.

New Zealand Sign Language, which was initially out of scope of the LAS project due to a parallel work programme by the Office for Disability Issues (ODI), has since been included in the Guidelines at the request of ODI.

The Policy and Guidelines are in the final stages of completion. Training of government agency staff on these will be undertaken in the first half of 2019 with implementation in mid-2019.

New procurement model

MartinJenkins was contracted to develop a national market assessment of the language assistance services market in New Zealand and an associated business case to identify the preferred model to deliver language assistance services across Government.

This involved gathering information and feedback from both those who provide the services - interpreters and translators - and from agencies which use the services.

One way MartinJenkins sought this information is through a confidential online survey of interpreters and translators asking practitioners questions about what type of work they do and who for, how much work they do and the pay they receive and any issues or problems they may have.

At the same time Government departments and contracted agencies who use interpreters and translators were asked about what services they use, what is working well, and what needs to be improved in order to formulate options for how services are offered and paid for in the future.

The information collected was used to form the basis for a proposed procurement approach.

A request for information was issued to seek views and input from language assistance services providers and purchasers of language assistance services. The request for information closed on 8 November 2018. This information will help shape our understanding how to structure and deliver language assistance services. The next step is for a formal procurement process to begin. Implementation of the new procurement model is expected in mid-2019.

Professional standards and certification framework

Identifying options and recommendations for a common set of standards and an associated certification framework is the mission of workstream three. This workstream has identified a set of potential standards and proceeded to get these reviewed through a survey for interpreters and translators relating to the sets of competencies, comprising eight standards each and based on the new Australian National Accreditation Authority (NAATI) standards for interpreters and translators.

Australian National Accreditation Authority (NAATI)

These standards are integrated with a certification framework including levels of certification and descriptors of competence - and how this will be tested at each level.

Survey respondents were asked to indicate a level of agreement with each of the standards/competencies described, and highlight any issues they may see with adopting them as the standards for New Zealand.

The survey also gathered information on the nature and extent of the interpreter and translator workforce in New Zealand and the locations, qualifications and age profiles of current practitioners so that a planned transition can happen between the current situation and where the profession needs to be.

The survey was distributed through a number of channels including:

  • the New Zealand Society of Translators and Interpreters (NZSTI) to its Members, Associates and Observers
  • provider agencies of interpreting and translation services (e.g. Interpreting New Zealand, Decipher, New Zealand Translation Centre, Language Line telephone interpreting service, the DHB’s interpreting/translation services, etc.)
  • interpreter/translation coordinators across public sector agencies and government-funded services (e.g. MBIE, DIA, District Health Boards, Courts and Tribunals, Police, New Zealand Red Cross, etc.)

A high level summary of the survey findings will be provided on this page when the workstream’s work is completed.