Radio K.A.O.S - report on interpretation in Nairobi 2007

January 2007: Discussions sur le FSM à Nairobi - Discussions on the WSF in Nairobi (Kenya)
judith hitchman
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Radio K.A.O.S - report on interpretation in Nairobi 2007

Postby judith hitchman » Mon May 21, 2007 8:17 pm

Radio K.A.O.S.
- lost in translation!

Report on interpretation for
World Social Forum 2007, Nairobi, Kenya


Prepared by Thomas Haaning Christiansen


1. Overview

2. Objective

3. Interpretation committee – instead of Babels

4. Interpretation equipment
4.1 Number of rooms with interpretation equipment

5. Radios – receivers

6. Organisation and planning during the Forum
6.1 Booth planning
6.2 Communication among coordinators and volunteers
6.3 Rest room – standby room
6.4 Water for interpreters

7. Interpreters – mobilisation and training
7.1 Mobilisation of local interpreters
7.2 Mobilisation of international interpreters
7.3 Training of interpreters
7.4 Number of interpreters during event

8. ALIS-Kenya team – mobilisation and training

9. Accommodation and transport

10. Per Diem

11. Recommendations for the future



1. Overview

Interpretation during the World Social Forum 2007 event held in Nairobi, Kenya from January 20-25 2007 was organised by a local Interpretation Committee, set up within the WSF2007 secretariat in Nairobi, on behalf of the East African Organising Committee. Babels, an international network of volunteer interpreters, which has a history of organising the interpretation for WSF events, played a supporting role, giving technical advice, assisting with the planning, and conducting training of the less experienced volunteer interpreters.

Organising the interpretation during the Forum faced a lot of challenges. The biggest problem was of a technical nature – concerning the radios purchased for the participants to receive the interpretation. They did not work – as they could not stay tuned on the chosen frequency. This resulted in a serious quality loss, as simultaneous interpretation from the booth was made very difficult. Shifting to whispering and consecutive interpretation was done many places, but adjusting to this improvised situation proved difficult.

Other problems concerned the actual planning of the interpretation. The booth planning – scheduling where and when each interpreter was to work – was a more time consuming task than anticipated. The group organising the interpretation never managed to plan more than half a day in advance, which resulted in people not knowing well in advance when they were working.

The size of the group of interpreters also caused problems. This was caused by a number of reasons – the primary one being that we had not been able to set a specific target number – in the different language combinations – based on needs. The fact that training of the not experienced volunteers took place too late to allow for a proper selection process, that several volunteers were working on the database of interpreters, and that we had a computer with the database stolen all added to this problem. For financial reasons we had to, on the second day of the Forum, inform a fairly big group that they were not to return to do interpretation the following days.

The final major challenges concern the per diem that the volunteer interpreters received. Having two different categories, depending on the other expenses the Organising Committee had on each individual on accommodation and transport, created problems. Treating people differently is not a good idea. The other issue regarding the per diems is the amount paid to the Nairobi based interpreters. Paying around 100 US$ a day does not support the notion of volunteering within the WSF process. At times it seemed as if there was too much focus on money and too little on WSF and interpretation. The modalities of how per diems were handed out had to be improvised and presented a serious safety problem.


2. Objective

The overall objective of the interpretation coordination was to secure a high level of interpretation for as many activities as possible during the WSF2007 event in Nairobi.


3. Interpretation committee – instead of Babels

The Polycentric World Social Forum held in Bamako, Mali in January 2006 was seen as the kick off point for the WSF2007 in Nairobi. This was particularly true for the planning and coordination of interpretation. Babels, an international network of volunteer interpreters, which is part of the WSF process and has a history of organising for the interpretation for the World Social Forum events, was organising the interpretation for the Bamako event.

The organisers of WSF2007 in Nairobi sent about three local interpreters to Bamako – to take an active part of the process and to learn from the experienced organisers of interpretation. This group was meant to form a local Kenyan section of Babels – and then return to Kenya and spearhead the process of mobilising interpreters, start training sessions of these and also organise for the actual planning of interpretation for WSF2007.

Work did seem to take place in the months after Bamako. Some mobilisation was going on around Mombassa, colleagues in Tanzania were approached, and in July a group from Babels in France came to Nairobi to discuss things further and to do some training on the interpretation equipment developed by ALIS – Alternative Interpretation System – from Athens, Greece. A huge budget for the interpretation was also developed and presented to the local Organising Committee.

Due to miscommunication between the WSF2007 Organising Committee and the Babels network and probably some fundamental misunderstandings on the budget, which was regarded as much too high by the OC, things seemed to come to a stand still. The local focal people – the Babels Kenya group – apparently left the process and therefore nothing much happened locally in Kenya in regards to organisation of interpretation.

Some time in October 2006 the WSF2007 secretariat realised that there was no real action happening in regards of mobilisation of interpreters and planning for the interpretation for the Forum. It did take several weeks to establish the state of the local Babels group – as the members of the group (including the main responsible technical resource person for the ALIS team) failed to show up at all arranged meetings.

By early November a local Interpretation Committee was put in place, convened by Thomas Haaning Christiansen. The committee was a loose structure with different people participating in the about five meetings held in the course of November, December at early January. The committee did have a core group – people from the universities in Nairobi who were forwarding names of lectures and linguistic professionals and other people who deal with interpretation professionally.

Challenges and lessons learned
• Misunderstandings and lack of communication between Babels and WSF2007 secretariat delayed the process tremendously.
• The Babels Kenya group never really got involved.
• Unclear situation on budget for interpretation – and who were to fundraise.
• Too few people were working on the planning of interpretation and for too short a time.
• Anchoring the process locally – mobilising local interpreters was generally positive. It allows for an integrated approach between the Forum and the local community.

4. Interpretation equipment

Specific interpretation equipment is essential to facilitate any interpretation at big conferences. There is a need for microphones, consuls and transmitters for the interpreters to work with as well as receivers to be used by the participants. Traditionally such equipment is very expensive and therefore different groups and organisations around the world have developed alternative systems based on cheaper technologies.

In September and October discussions were going on at the WSF2007 secretariat whether to go for Indian equipment (used in Mumbai 2004) or the ALIS equipment from Greece (used in ESF in Athens in 2006 and small scale in Bamako Polycentric 2006). Considerations, at one point, were to take half from each side.

Eventually it was decided to go 100% for the Greek system – and an order of 150 transmitters plus sufficient equipment to supply these were made.

The ALIS equipment was ordered well in advance from Greece – probably in October or early November. Shipping it off from Athens took much longer than originally anticipated. Initially it was agreed that we would get both the technical equipment as well as the physical booths that the interpreters would be working in from Greece. Ideas about sending it all by ship or combining shipment with airfreight (of the less heavy equipment) were being considered by the logistical team.

Eventually the equipment only left Athens just before Christmas, which was more than a week after Spyros Niakas (one of the key technicians who have developed the equipment and who was also present in Bamako) had arrived from Athens to start the training on the equipment. Just before the New Year DHL could report that the equipment had arrived in Nairobi airport.

MS-Kenya had agreed to officially receive the equipment – a decision made for financial reasons, as we could be tax-exempted this way. However, it turned out that the clearing process through customs and tax revenue offices took much, much longer than planed. The clearing documents had to go through MS-Kenya, the Royal Danish Embassy, one of the ministries and a number of airport offices.

Eventually the equipment was released and brought straight to the Kasarani venue in the afternoon on Thursday January 18th – just two days before the opening of activities in Kasarani. The local ALIS-Kenya team was ready on sight (as they had been for a few days) – unpacking and checking if the equipment was functioning.

The original time frame had been to start installation of the equipment about ten days before the event. This, naturally, was not possible now.

However, another problem occurred that had not had our full attention so far. The part of the physical team responsible for installing electricity and power in the rooms was way behind schedule. Well, either behind schedule or working from a schedule that had not factored in that electricity and sockets were needed in the rooms to install the equipment and to calibrate it.

In reality this setback meant that only the smaller rooms (capacity of about 250) in the Main Stadium had equipment installed and functioning on the evening of January 20th. The rest of the rooms (the big tents) were installed as soon as power reached them – but in some cases this was only late in the day on the 21st.

Another problem related to the physical facility team that we realised a bit too late was the total lack of physical booths in all rooms except the aforementioned medium sized rooms in the Main Stadium. Eventually all rooms had booths – but they were certainly not in place when they were supposed to. In the beginning the equipment was just set up on tables – but without the necessary barriers to cover the interpreters from the general noise.

A final problem surrounding the installation of the interpretation equipment – and being able to test it in advance – was to total lack of PA-systems in most (if not all) rooms on the day before the event. The output from the PA-system is the way the interpreters get their input in the system and in their headphones, and this is needed to perform a complete test of the technical set-up.

Challenges and lessons learned
• The major challenges are related to time. The fact that we only received the equipment two days before the opening of the Forum was close to becoming a real disaster. The equipment (and booths) should have been shipped off sooner from Athens and more priority and pressure might have helped on the clearing process.
• No power, no functioning sockets, no PA systems and no booths in the big tents meant that equipment could not be installed on time – even less properly tested.
• There was a lack of communication between the group responsible for the equipment and the physical facilities team on this particular issue.

4.1 Number of rooms with interpretation equipment
Deciding on which rooms, and how many, that would have interpretation equipment installed was central in the planning of the interpretation for the Forum. The most critical input in this discussion is naturally the number of booths available. Another important component in this process is the decision on how many languages a particular room requires – or at least how many languages it will get!

The WSF2007 secretariat had purchased 150 transmitters from the ALIS team in Greece. This basically means equipment for 150 languages. The advice from Spyros Niakas from the ALIS team was to set aside about 30 transmitters for back up, in case of problems with equipment. In total this meant that we could do interpretation in about 120 languages at any given time.

The other component to the planning of rooms with equipment is the actual language needs as indicated by the organisations promoting the self-organised activities. The activity registration form had a logistical part where the interpretation needs were to be filled in. A detailed analysis of this information was done several times (the analysis had to be updated when registration deadlines were extended). One of the problems was that the form had been designed so that people were asked about the language(s) of the activity and the languages that the participants would understand. The information about spoken language(s) is essential, but the question about audience languages does not add any value to the planning. In stead organisations should have been asked what languages they would like their activity to be interpreted into.

The number of rooms with interpretation and the number of languages can be seen from the table below.

Table 1. Booth capacity for WSF2007
Room capacity No of languages No of rooms Total no of booths
6.000 5 1 5
3.000 5 3 15
3.000 4 1 4
1.200 4 1 4
750 4 2 8
750 3 4 12
750 4 1 4
500 3 2 6
350 3 2 6
300 3 1 3
300 3 3 9
250 3 1 3
250 3 12 36
Total 34 115

Challenges and lessons learned
• Analysing interpretation needs and planning the number of languages in rooms is a difficult task. The needs as stated in the registration form do not always make sense and political decisions on how much interpretation for what kind of activities is needed.
• We decided to prioritise a booth in almost all rooms for Swahili – a political good decision in attempting to localise the process, but perhaps not always useful.
• Formulation of the logistical questions in the registration form needs to be revisited.


5. Radios – receivers

The whole concept of the alternative interpretation system builds on FM technology – and the fact that the transmitters transmits the sound of the interpretation on normal FM frequencies – to be picked up by the participants on small radios.

The WSF2007 secretariat had received specifications on what kind of radios to get from the ALIS team in Greece. Back in September or October the secretariat got hands on a few samples of possible radio receivers to be used during the Forum.

50.000 pieces of radios were ordered in Dubai – apparently based on a sample that the WSF2007 secretariat had. I am personally unaware of who made the actual order of the radios – based on what sample. They were, just like the ALIS equipment, ordered well in advance – with a promise that we would have them in Nairobi sometime in the beginning of December.

For whatever reasons (that I am not aware of) the arrival of the radios were delayed week after week. Eventually they arrived in Nairobi – and were offloaded at the WSF office in Lavington office late in the evening of the 17th or 18th of January. It goes without saying that such late arrival of the radios did not leave much time to test them – to assess how they worked with the transmitters.

The original idea was that the radios should be sold to the participants upon registration. The price discussed at several secretariat meetings was about Kes. 250 per piece. The idea was that people would be informed of the need for radios to listen to the interpretation and thereby be encouraged to buy a radio. Selling them at a price of Kes. 250 were a political problem – as it meant that a lot of the local Kenyans delegates would find it financially impossible to get a radio.

Radios were never sold upon registration, which was rather chaotic, but rather all brought to Kasarani and lucked up in the big storeroom. Some volunteers did walk around the venue on the first day trying to sell them – apparently charging Kes. 500, which was a clear violation of our agreement (and definitely too high for most of the participants and way too high for such a quality of radio). Exactly on whose order they were sold for Kes. 500 is unclear.

At an improvised secretariat meeting on the night of the first day, when the quality of the radio was addressed, it was decided that the radios should be distributed for free to the participants – based on the fact that they were of such bad quality that we could not sell them. It was decided to distribute them in all the rooms where interpretation equipment was in place – thereby distributing them where they were needed. There was no clear decision as to whether people should return them after each session or keep them for later use. Both systems were put in place.

A group of supposedly 70 volunteers were to be reassigned from registration to radio distribution – and I was given three team leaders who would organise for this.

I believe that far less than 70 volunteers worked on this on the morning of the second day. Definitely it was impossible to have thousands of radios in place in the approximately 34 rooms with interpretation for the first session at 8.30. In the course of the day – and with the assistance of a car – I do believe that quite a number of radios were distributed to the rooms – but whether each room had a radio distribution volunteer on sight all day, I do not know. Efforts were done in the evening to collect all radios and put them in the storeroom once again.

The following morning, when the same situation with missing radios in the rooms seemed to be happening, I was told that the three team leaders had be re-reassigned to other tasks and one new person was in charge. Work was done – radios being distributed – but often not in sufficient numbers. In some rooms there seemed to be a surplus of radios that just did not work and that participants would not even pick for free – even less keep!!

The whole process of distributing radios was more or less in vein because of the bad quality of them.

When Spyros Niakas saw the radio for the first time, after the first day of the event, his clear analysis was that it was crap and would not serve its purpose. There were basically two reasons for this – the lack of an antenna that allows the radio to pick the designated frequency and – an even bigger problem – that the radios had an auto-scan function that allows the radio to pick the clearest signal available.

For our specific purpose we needed to total opposite – a radio with a digital display that sticks to the frequency selected. Reality was that the radios had great difficulties staying on the chosen frequency and kept jumping between frequencies – mixing the interpretation with commercial radio stations. Pure disaster!

Challenges and lessons learned
• The choice of the specific radio. It seems clear that the type of radio purchased does not meet the desired specifications that were given by the ALIS team on two points – the lack of an antenna and the auto-scan function.
• The delay in receiving the radios in Nairobi. If we had received them as expected in December, we would have had time to address the issue of the quality and considered other options.
• The lack of a system of how to distribute or sell the radios. Op option would be to include the price of a radio in the registration fee and give out one radio with the bag, the program, the T-shirt upon registration. Alternatively there should have been well-advertised stalls selling/giving out radios in strategic places around the venue.
• There was also a lack of communication to participants about how interpretation would function. A lot of participants probably did not know that they needed radios to receive the interpretation.


6. Organisation and planning during the Forum

A big team is needed to assist with the organisation and planning of the interpretation during the Forum event. The people who made up this team were partly planned for and others got on board voluntarily and played invaluable roles.

• 1 person had the overall responsibility of the interpretation during the event.
• 1 person assisted with the overall coordination, troubleshooting, crises management, etc.
• 3 people organised and planned for the technical part of the interpretation – managing the ALIS-Kenya team.
• 4-6 people (at times more) were doing the booth planning throughout the event.
• 5 volunteers/runners assisted with the coordination, some working in the main coordination room, others being placed in the interpreter’s restroom. They also assisted with distribution of water, collecting papers with signatures from people working in the sessions, etc.

Despite the fact that this team had not been properly established, never had the chance to a proper coordination meeting, the whole team was wonderful and worked like hell to get things done. It was a mixed group of people, some with a lot of WSF experience and others all new to the process.

6.1 Booth planning
One of the important and difficult tasks when organising conference interpretation is the actual booth planning – the specific schedule of which interpreter with what language combination goes into what booth in what activity and with whom. Having no experience in this field, I was strongly discouraged to be in charge of the booth planning.

German Guillot, a professional Babels interpreter with a lot of experience in booth planning, volunteered to lead this process – in the beginning online from Germany and from January 19th onsite from Nairobi. I fed him the necessary information regarding program, language needs and lists of interpreters with their language combinations.

The big challenge was that the program was so delayed - that activities kept shifting around, new activities added and so on. In reality this meant that the work carried out before German’s arrival in Nairobi was pretty much wasted and we had to start all over again.

Booth planning proved to be a very slow process and indeed very time consuming. I had been under the impression that the planning could be done by a few people in one day or so. As it turned out, we had four to six (sometimes more) people working on this pretty much throughout the Forum – trying to stay ahead of the coming schedules – but only managing this by a close margin.

As we had not factored in the time resources needed to complete the booth planning we had not set up a specific team to deal with this. But as it turned out we had a very dedicated and enthusiastic international team doing this work throughout the Forum – pulling some all-nighters several times. The team consisted of experienced planners among the international interpreters and a small group of local volunteer interpreters who quickly learned the skill.

Planning for the interpretation for the 4th day was even more difficult as it kept changing throughout the Forum days. Activities that had been cancelled or overbooked were rescheduled for the first two sessions on the 4th day. Furthermore we never received specific language needs for the 21 proposal activities taking place in the afternoon, which meant that we just tried to give them all the standard package of English, Swahili and French with Spanish and Portuguese added some places.

Challenges and lessons learned
• The biggest challenge was not to be able to plan the work schedule further ahead.
• A team of experienced planners should start working on the planning about a week before the event. Flexibility to incorporate program changes needs to be there.
• The complete work schedule (with room for changes) should be ready before the opening of the Forum, so that all interpreters know exactly when and where (and on what content) they will be doing interpretation.

6.2 Communication among coordinators and volunteers
Efficient communication between the coordinators and the volunteers is critical when operating at this scale.

The original idea was to have about 10 walky-talkies, but we never got any. In stead the interpretation team was given 10 cell phones and 30 SIM cards – which should cover both the technical team (ALIS) and the coordination of the interpretation.

The phones seemed a little too few – but with the addition of SIM cards we did manage. However, the airtime was not enough and on the second and third day we basically all ran out before managing to get just a little more. Had the original plan with Kes. 1.000 worth of airtime for all SIM cards would have made communication more efficient.

Challenges and lessons learned
• Communication did work reasonably well despite too few phones.
• A system where airtime was uploaded automatically on the phones/SIM cards (as actually planned for) should have been functional.
• A complete wall chart with all cell phone numbers of all people involved (coordinators, ALIS-team and all interpreters) should have been prepared – so access to all would have been easier.

6.3 Rest room – standby room
Following advice from previous WSF events we secured a room, which could be used as a rest room or standby room for interpreters when not in session. The room allocated to us was in the Gymnasium and we tried equipping it with a few couches and sofas, so that the interpreters could rest comfortably. The furniture we got hands on was not as nice as we had hoped for – no cushions and so on …

Rather than serving as a resting or standby room, the room was also where we put up the work schedules as soon as they were ready. In that way the room became very central in the coordination of the interpretation and based on this it was a problem that it was situated at the Gymnasium – too far from the main coordination room in the VIP area on the second floor of the main stadium.

The room eventually also became the venue for our improvised meetings with all or most of the interpreters on issues regarding per diems and work schedules and it finally served as a bank, when paying out per diems to the local interpreters.

Challenges and lessons learned
• The rest room or standby room became more of a central point of information to interpreters than an actual room where they could relax between sessions.
• Being the central place for sharing information and distributing water it was situated too far from most of the venues where people worked and too far from the main coordination room.
• It was suggested that the room should be equipped with a booth with equipment to practise in.
• Having as many functions as the room had – it was too small.

6.4 Water for interpreters
Water for interpreters (to bring to the booth) is as important as anything else. Several plans had been suggested – like having volunteers distribute water to the booths at the beginning of each session. We decided to have the water in the rest room or standby room, which meant that the interpreters would pick a bottle from there before going to their booth.

We did, however, experience problems in the water supply. The water was kept in the storeroom close to the interpreter’s rest room – but often the volunteers working in the room could not find the person with the key for the room. On other occasions the water was off loaded another place in the Gymnasium. The result was that interpreters a lot of the time had to go to the sessions without water, which is far from ideal.

Challenges and lessons learned
• Access to water for those interpreters going into the booth should always be available for free.
• The water should have been stored in a place where the volunteers working in the rest room had unlimited access to it.
• The water should have been available in a more central place at the venue, as the rest room was situated too far from most of the action.


7. Interpreters – mobilisation and training

7.1 Mobilisation of local interpreters
The main focus of the members of the local Interpretation Committee was to forward names of potential interpreters – by far most of them who had never worked in the booth, but also a smaller group of professionals who had shown interest in participating in this process.

As the convener of the committee I compiled the names in a database, but it was a difficult task getting the correct contact information (email and phone) on all individuals. Being able to contact all volunteers individually was important to secure that any work related agreements were reached between the secretariat and the individual, as there was a tendency within the committee that people kept referring to ‘my group’ – a situation that was important to avoid.

The process of mobilising interpreters locally were good, even if it at times seemed to be moving a bit too slow. The biggest concern was that we would not be able to identify enough people to do interpretation during the event.

This fear very much changed in the course of the training sessions held in January. I am unaware of how people got to know about it – but word definitely got around – and suddenly we had all the people we needed – and more so.

The volunteers came from various broad categories, some of which were new to the WSF process: University lecturers, teachers, translators, professional interpreters, students, political refugees and activists, and members of the clergy of various denominations.

The volunteers also came from all countries in the region, giving us real linguistic and geographic diversity. This included people from Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania as well as some other countries. Languages covered were English, Kiswahili, French, Spanish, Russian, Italian, Portuguese and Korean as well as sign language. There was also an ability to use several local African languages.

Challenges and lessons learned
• All in all the process of mobilising interpreters locally was successful. The group included real diversity in terms of geography and languages.
• Mobilisation during the training sessions were a bit uncontrolled, and too many people that saw an opportunity of making quick cash got onboard.
• More specific focus on needs in terms of numbers and language combinations should have been built into the process.

7.2 Mobilisation of international interpreters
Despite the fact that Babels was not officially coordinating the interpretation for WSF2007, a good deal of communication was going on between the convener of the local Interpretation Committee and a small group of Babels members, spearheaded by Judith Hitchman in France.

We decided to issue a couple of calls for volunteers on the Babels email list. One call targeted those volunteer interpreters who already knew they were coming to Nairobi – either financed privately or by some organisation. We ended up having about 15 interpreters belonging to this group.

Another call was sent out to identity volunteer interpreters who would be interested in joining the team in Nairobi, but who would need their airfare and basic expenses covered. As we got closer to the Forum this list counted about 90 people.

Another group of volunteer interpreters was mobilised in West Africa – in Senegal and Mali. Mobilisation of this group was handled locally in West Africa – primarily by Nfally Badiane. We received a list of about 40 experienced and professional interpreters who were ready to come.

Most of the time spent on collecting data on the group of international interpreters – and a lot of time-consuming correspondence – seemed to be a waste of time, as nothing ever was indicated that we would be in a position to bring in any of these interpreters.

The surprise was therefore big when, in the beginning of January, I was asked give a list of 40 European based interpreters and 20 from West Africa, that we would now get tickets for. As for the first group, we focussed on Europe, as it is the cheapest place to get tickets from. We were only able to get tickets for Kenya Airways – which meant that the volunteers would have to get themselves from their home to one of the big European airports serviced by KQ – London, Paris, and Amsterdam. We ended up flying in a total of 20 interpreters from these three destinations. As for the second group, it was agreed that WSF2007 secretariat would pay for half of them, and the African Social Forum for the other half. Eventually we only received about 20 interpreters from this group – all apparently paid for by ASF.

Naturally it was a pleasant surprise – being able to bring in experienced interpreters from outside would both raise the level of the interpretation and it was a much-needed input in terms of languages like Spanish and Portuguese. However, this initiative just came very late. A great proportion of people who had initially volunteered in November now had other professional obligations and was no longer available.

Discussing on email with 20-30 people individually – about their availability, their preferred airport for departure, their preferred dates of travel and so on, is indeed a very time-consuming task. Had this been done a month earlier it would have been much easier – probably cheaper tickets and certainly more flights to chose from.

The actual purchasing of tickets was also left to the convener or the committee. Once again this takes a lot of time – discussing each case individually, and because of the late notice we did have some last minute changes – some cancelling after all, others getting on board at the last minute.

I would estimate that I spent a full working week just before the Forum buying tickets, communicating with the interpreters, sending e-tickets by mail, and bringing payment to Kenya Airways.

Spending so much time on a practical thing like buying tickets just before the event – time that could have been spent better on the planning process – is not very optimal. It would have been preferred that the decision to fly in a group of interpreters was taken much earlier – as it would have allowed us to get the desired tickets – probably even cheaper – and we would have been able to get more of the experienced and professionals here.

Challenges and lessons learned
• Getting a group of international interpreters to join the team was essential to any success we may have had. Experienced interpreters, specifically with experience from previous WSF events, added a lot of value to the process.
• The fact that it is a World Social Forum should be reflected in the diversity among the interpreters and this was done to a certain extent.
• The decision to buy tickets for the international interpreters should have been made one or two months earlier. This would have allowed us to get the tickets according to people’s needs, allowed us to get more people (as we only got half of what we tried to) and probably allowed us to get cheaper tickets.
• A lot more clarity on the interpreters was coming from West Africa, and when they were arriving, was needed. Confusion about who was paying for their tickets was also enormous.
• The WSF2007 secretariat should have had someone in charge of practical issues like buying plane tickets. Far too much valuable last minute planning time went into this purchasing.

7.3 Training of interpreters
Training of local interpreters – or rather local bilingual people who have registered as volunteer interpreters – is a method that has been used by the Babels network previously. They have developed a number of SITPREP tools, where less – or non-experienced volunteers are trained in simultaneous interpretation using computers with speeches from previous WSF events.

It was always clear that the capacity to undertake this task was not readily available locally, and therefore we depended on the support from experienced Babels interpreters to assist us with these training sessions.

With Judith Hitchman arriving in the very beginning of January it was agreed that she would play a central role in the training program. Initially we also expected the assistance of a member of the Babels team with excessive experience in training volunteers, but for personal reasons he had to withdraw in the last minute.

Judith Hitchman was assisted by four local volunteers (who had registered as volunteer interpreters) during the sessions. This core team of trainers was not officially selected, but rather consisted of people who got personally involved in the beginning of the process. A volunteer from Uruguay assisted the team of trainers by compiling information of the volunteers and their language combinations on our database.

The training sessions ran for 8 days – dividing the group in four smaller groups – each participating in training for four half days.

More information on the methodology of the training sessions will, if needed, have to be added by the people involved!

Challenges and lessons learned
• The training sessions of the less experienced volunteers were successful in terms of the number of people trained and the amount of capacity that was left behind.
• By far most of the volunteers were very excited about the training – all participated on four days at their own expense.
• The team of assisting trainers worked perfectly – got involved and worked hard to complete the task
• The training sessions took place too close to the event, which seriously limited the time to assess the language and interpretation skills of individuals.
• The selection process was a bit too rushed – and the possibilities of being a WSF volunteer in other areas than interpretation were unclear.

7.4 Number of interpreters during event
One of the critical issues regarding the interpretation was the number of interpreters taking part in the Forum. Where as this should have been a very clear and well-defined group, in fact we did have some difficulties establishing exactly who were part of the team – among the local interpreters.

There were a number of reasons for this. One of the big problems was that the training sessions of the interpreters were taking place just before the beginning of the event, which meant that we did not have enough time to assess the volunteer’s skills in doing interpretation properly. All were screened doing a small ‘test’ on a laptop – trying to do simultaneous interpretation – and a number of people did not ‘pass this test’ and were therefore excluded from the group of interpreters.

The other problem was the very high per diem that interpreters were to receive during the Forum. Paying a per diem higher that most people’s monthly salary attracted a lot of people – claiming to have good language skills. As we were training about 400 people it was impossible to check the language skills of all of them.

A third problem was of a more technical character. As I was busy dealing with the overall coordination of the interpretation (and spending way too much time on buying plane tickets for the people coming in from outside) several other volunteers took charge of the database – adding names, removing others, inputting their preferred language combinations and so on. Work was for a number of reasons done on several laptops – also using several USB drives. I fear that we at one point have been working on two versions of the database at the same time.

Yet another very serious problem was that the main laptop that we were using for the database was stolen from the premises during the days of training. This meant that we lost a lot of our latest changes and the people involved had to recreate this data – with all the possible pitfalls that are there.

The intention of having a lot of interpreters was actually good. Based on the advice we received from experienced interpreters, people working in the booth for the first time will be struggling a lot with the pressure and therefore we might need to have three people sharing a booth at a particular time. Also the less experienced would be worn out before the experienced interpreters, which meant that they could not all work the projected two to three sessions a day. All these uncertainties made it seem like a good idea to have a broad group – to secure a high level of interpretation.

Another problem related to the number of interpreters was our lack of ability to finish the booth planning – the actual work schedule – for the following day. This meant that we were never in a position to inform people of when they were working the following day – of perhaps if they were not scheduled at all and therefore should not work on that particular day.

These issues – once again combined with the very high per diem allowance – made us realise, on the second day, that we had to tell a number of people that they were not to work on the following day. The selection was done by the international group responsible for the booth planning – purely based on people’s language combinations and interpretation skills (as much as we had the ability to assess them).

The letting go session was certainly very stressful and frustrating. However, in general people seemed to understand the reasons behind it, even if some were sad and disappointed. Paying them their per diem for the first two days at the same time did wonders in smoothing the process!

The technical problems with the radios that meant that interpretation from the booth was difficult also played a key role in the process of trying to shrink the group of interpreters. The problems with equipment meant that the interpreters needed to do whispering and consecutive interpretation rather than working in the booth. This particular skill is very exhausting and the interpreters get worn out even before they would from working in the booth. We needed to take this into account – the need for more interpreters because of the technical failures.

We did, however, experience a lot of problems with this. The less experienced among the local interpreters seemed to find it difficult to adjust to this new situation – not necessarily working from inside the booth as we had focussed on during training, but rather to improvise and make themselves useful in other ways. We did spend a lot of energy explaining to people how they should be present in the activity room, announce their presence and language combinations and see if they could assist in regrouping the participants according to language needs to do whispering interpretation. Another possibility – all depending on the type of activity and the number of participants – was to go to the podium and do consecutive interpretation.

In the report from the Babels network (with the proposed budget) it was emphasized that we needed around 450 interpreters to cover the 150 booths.

During the Forum we had a total of 432 local interpreters –129 interpreters only worked on the two first days. Added to this number was a group of 59 international interpreters – the combined number of volunteers with own funding and the groups we brought in from Europe and West Africa. 10 interpreters from Mali only worked on the last two days of the Forum – and some of the volunteers from Tanzania and South Africa had to leave on the second and third day.

Challenges and lessons learned
• The analysis of interpretation needs based on registered activities should have been more focussed and linked directly to the number of interpreters we needed in different language combinations.
• More experienced planners should have played a central role in the needs assessment, as this is not as straightforward as it may seem.
• Rather than having one database of interpreters we should have developed one for each language combination – giving each interpreter an identification number that reflected his/her language combination. This could have eased the planning process.
• Being totally sure of how databases are handled is essential. The possibility of working on the same database simultaneously should not happen. Avoiding theft of computers with databases is impossible to guarantee.
• The process of informing a number of the local interpreters that they should not come back was very challenging. It was handled as professional as possible, open and honestly and with good management skills!


8. ALIS-Kenya team – mobilisation and training

The ALIS-Kenya team was mobilised primarily from the Kenya Polytechnic – at the time of the Forum the team consisted of students who had just graduated. Mobilisation was headed by two local lectures – Paul Murage and Blaise Kasongo.

Spyros Niakas from Greece, a member of the ALIS team that developed and created the interpretation system, arrived in Nairobi in the middle of December 2006 to start specific training sessions of the local team. It was a problem that the equipment still was in Greece, but training did take place on a number of consuls and transmitters that had been left in Nairobi after a meeting and training session in July and August.

There was another training session of part of the ALIS-Kenya team in October, but circumstances were difficult as the main resource person failed to show up. Proper training, conducted by Spyros Niakas, started just before Christmas and the whole team went through five training sessions – finishing on January 10th – ready to start installation of the equipment at the venue.

During the Forum the ALIS team consisted of a total of 59 people, including the coordinators.

Challenges and lessons learned
• The mobilisation process and the establishment of the ALIS-Kenya team were very successful.
• Training was successful and skills to operate the equipment are left behind.
• The ALIS-Kenya team experienced a lot of problems during the Forum due to the lack of facilities during installation and the general problems with radios, etc.


9. Accommodation and transport

Interpreters’ need for accommodation and transport differed from the Nairobi based interpreters (or those that found accommodation on their own in town) and those coming from outside. It was people’s accommodation and transport that determined the level of their per diem.

The Nairobi based interpreters took care of their own accommodation and transport. Transport to the venue did not seem to be as difficult as expected and the interpreters generally seemed to be on time.

All international interpreters were accommodated at the Athlete’s Hostel at Kasarani. In total we had about 59 interpreters staying there.

Booking people in rooms, having discussion with the Hostel management, being responsible for identifying who could stay there and who could not, took up a lot of time during the Forum. Clear division of labour apparently was not in place within the WSF2007 secretariat. I would have expected the people responsible for accommodation to deal with these issues.

Transport for interpreters was really down to airport transfers, as all international interpreters were staying at the venue. Despite having people in charge of this, we still experienced a number of cases where the volunteers were not met in the airport. Quite a lot of the interpreters had to find other means of transport from the airport – paying them selves (which we need to reimburse them for).

Also arranging for the airport transfer upon departure was long and slow process, sometimes working, several other times not.

Challenges and lessons learned
• Having all the international interpreters staying the same place – and even at the WSF venue was a very positive thing. This allowed for a number of formal and informal meetings among the interpreters to discuss the progress and challenges.
• Other people should have dealt with accommodation and transport issues. Too much time that should have been used on the overall organisation of interpretation was spent on these issues.
• Clear division of labour and procedures on how to inform of arrival details and accommodations needs should have been developed prior to the event.
• More flexibility was needed in the case of 10 interpreters from Mali that only had their return flight on January 28.


10. Per Diem

On of the issues discussed within the local Interpretation Committee and with the financial responsible people from the WSF2007 secretariat was the per diem that the interpreters was to be paid during the Forum.

After lengthy discussions – with the local interpreters part of the committee trying to push the per diem up – it was agreed that we would operate with two different levels of per diem – depending on the expenses that the WSF2007 secretariat had on each individual in terms of transport and accommodation.

The basic decision was that all interpreters would receive a per diem of Kes. 2.000 on all days they worked. If the WSF2007 secretariat paid for their accommodation and transport to/within Nairobi, this was the level of the per diem.

Accommodation was set at Kes. 4.000 daily and transport set at Kes. 1.000 daily. In effect this meant that local interpreters – based in Nairobi – or interpreters from outside who found their own way here and took care of their own transport – would receive a per diem of Kes. 7.000 on all days they worked.

It was also decided that the technical team – ALIS-Kenya – would receive the same per diem during the Forum as the interpreters.

The issue of per diems for interpreters and the technical team was dealt with in a very unsafe and insecure way. The issue of how per diems would be handled during the Forum was raised several times with the KSF management – unfortunately without any response.

Per diems were paid twice – every second day. Rather than sending the volunteers to some designated and secure office or bank to collect their per diem, it was decided that I should deal with ‘my own group’ – in reality meaning that I was given (and had to sign for) a total of more than 13 million Kenya Shillings.

Besides the risk of carrying such amounts of money in cash, it also meant that there was no system put in place as to how to distribute the money carrying envelopes. Within a few minutes we had to make up a system where the interpreters were lining up outside the windows of the restroom so that we had just a minimum of security. The group of volunteers that had been assigned to assist with the coordination of interpretation was suddenly in charge of insanely amounts of money. That alone seems like quite a security risk!

Not having a system in place for paying out per diems also meant that focus was being given to the biggest group – the local interpreters. The people responsible for the ALIS team took charge of per diems for this group. But no other system was created for paying the international interpreters, so they received their per diems rather ad hoc – only when I met them in the hostel or in the coordination room – some of them were only paid on the very last day.

An issue about how many days per diems should be paid to those volunteer interpreters from outside was raised. Fact is that we only paid the interpreters on the four working days of the Forum, as opposed to paying them (as a lot of them expected) on all days they spent on this WSF event – from the time they left their home to the day they returned – unless they chose to stay longer privately. A minimum of paying them for all the days of the conference – including opening and closing ceremonies would have been preferred.

There was a specific issue regarding the group of 20 interpreters who we flew in from London, Paris or Amsterdam. When the per diem levels were decided the intention was that those getting the lower per diem were people whose transport and accommodation we had paid for. Reality is that this group had to get themselves from their homes to one of these airports – which for a lot of them meant international flights (one even from Canada to London) at considerably costs for the individual. Other expenses included visa and vaccinations. They have all of them left behind a list of their individual expenses that they would hope to be reimbursed for.

Financially the per diems for interpreters and the ALIS team was spent like this:

Local interpreters 10.234.000
International interpreters 484.000
ALIS-Kenya team 2.006.000
Total 12.724.000

Challenges and lessons learned
• One of the key lessons learned is that paying out a per diem of about 100 US$ (especially in a country where this is more than most people earn in a month or more) is not a very good idea. Money like that attracts too many people who had more focus on money and less on interpretation and the WSF process.
• The modalities of how to pay the per diems were never very clear prior to the event. When, where and how volunteers would be paid should have been addressed and known by all coordinators.
• Operating with two different per diems for interpreters (depending on what expenses the organisers had had on their transport and accommodation) is another bad idea. The professionals and experienced interpreters from outside who carried a big part of the work load (as expected) naturally found it unfair that they received less than one third of the locals. This particularly goes for volunteer interpreters from other African countries, who would need to per diem as much as their Kenyan colleagues.
• There should have been a specific agreement on the number of days the international interpreters would receive per diems. It was a clear understanding from the international people that they expected to be paid on all days they were away from their home – or at least all days of the forum.
• The group of 20 Europeans that we paid for, paid a lot themselves to get here – connecting flights, visa, vaccinations and so on. In that light it was even more problematic that they received a much smaller per diem than locals who had basically no expenses.
• A system where volunteers could use vouchers to get food and water at the venue rather than being paid money might have been put in place.
• Ideally per diems should be paid daily – as people depend on it to survive.
• It was unacceptable that I personally had to account for and walk around with more than 13 million Kenya Shillings. This was an enormous security risk, both for the cash and for me personally.


11. Recommendations for the future

The following is a list of recommendations for the future – advice on how to deal with planning and organisation of interpretation for a future World Social Forum event. They should be seen in connection with the many bullet points throughout the report with challenges and lessons learned:

• Planning and organising for the interpretation for an event of this scale takes more than one person for two to three months. Bringing on board experienced planners and people who know the skill of interpretation (for instance Babels) is essential for the process in order to secure a positive outcome.
• Having more people sharing the coordination of this process is recommended. This would allow different people to fully engage in different areas such as mobilisation locally and internationally, planning and conducting training sessions, booth planning, logistical planning such as transport, accommodation, distribution of water, etc.
• Time is essential – as always. This basically goes for all areas concerned. Almost everything was done last minute – buying plane tickets, training volunteers, booth planning, etc. Not everything can be done months in advance, but those things that can, should!
• The purchasing of equipment needs to be approved by the responsible technical experts (in this case have the ALIS team in Greece approve the type of radio before it is ordered).
• Time should allow for technical equipment to be installed and tested before the event.
• Work within a budget – this will allow for clearer focus on overspending.
• Work within a budget – also to allow some freedom in decision-making. As it was now basically all issues that had cost implications (regardless of how small they were) had to be discussed with the management. The same two people who were spearheading the whole process politically also had to deal with small issues.
• Be clear on all issues regarding per diems. Treat all interpreters the same regardless of where they are staying. Decide and communicate the modalities of how people will be paid. International interpreters should be paid a per diem on all days they are away from home or at least on all days of the Forum.
• The level of per diem should support the notion of volunteering.
• Find time to do an evaluation among the interpreters after the Forum – before they all leave.

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