In the past, Bible translation was typically the work of small, closed groups of experts. Hindsight now reveals some significant weaknesses with this approach to translation.
A team of Bible translators would draft Scripture, and then bring the draft to the community. Through rounds of testing, they wanted to find out: Is the translation clear? Does it accurately convey the meaning of the original texts? And does it sound natural?
But because the draft was already semi-complete, community members could only participate in small ways, suggesting incremental changes to the draft here and there. Once the translation was finished, it was handed to the community for their use.
Crowdsource the Translation
But what if the translation process was opened up to full community participation from the start? Simply stated, the notion behind “crowdsourcing” is that a small group of experts can be smart about some things, but they can’t know everything. They also tend to think alike, so their ability to keep learning is rather limited. The group needs more minds.
Crowdsourcing is what Wikipedia does. When you open a process to a larger community of interested people, you end up with a far greater aggregation of diverse knowledge, insights, experience, and even areas of expertise that exceed the intelligence of the small, closed group of experts.
Diversity is the key: the larger the crowd (the community of participants), the smarter it becomes (see The Wisdom of Crowds).
Astounding Results From CrowdSeed Project
This year, The Seed Company, in collaboration with our partners in South Asia, conducted an experiment to see what would happen when a Bible translation project is opened to full community participation from the start.
The results were astounding. Within months, over 3,000 people participated via their own custom-designed Web site where the translation work resides. About 78 people were confirmed by the community as quality drafters. Over 100,000 votes were cast, answering essentially the same questions: Is the translation clear? Does it accurately convey the meaning of the original texts? And does it sound natural?
All segments of the community participated. Significantly, women and youth were able to participate, adding their perspectives which are typically missing because of cultural constraints. Non-literate people were able to participate because the people chose to work in groups. People from seven regions, across denominational boundaries, worked together with surprising unity and harmony. And most importantly of all, they view the translation work as their own from the very start, and it is already making an impact in their community in ways we could not have guessed.
Next Step: Confirming Accuracy of the Translation
Now, we’re working with experienced consultants to confirm accuracy of the translation. It should be much easier given the rich and intelligent involvement of the crowd.
If you were invited to participate in a new, crowdsourced revision of an English translation, or in whatever language you read, would you join? Why or why not?
Crowd photos in images courtesy of Bayhaus and Anirudh Koul on Flikr.