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Home > Event-related > World Social Forum > World Social Forum 2005 > Debriefing reports
WSF05 Debriefing reports
(Date: 7 March 2005)
Original planning workgroup as was established after the November meetings: Bruno, Erica, Germán, Luciana and Yan.
I. Original plan
Please read INFO 7 ’Booth planning/Baboo’ for details. The original plan was sent to all the volunteers by email.
The planning workgroup advocated the use and development of BaBOO , despite its current limitations, to allow for a more decentralized management of the booth planning process. Instead of having two or three people in charge of planning, BaBOO was designed to allow a decentralized group of trained volunteers to organize the booth planning.
The planning workgroup thought that a self-organized group of volunteers was more respectful of the philosophy of the Babels network, which promotes horizontality and shared responsibility, rather than a more commercial-style, top-down approach.
II. Final planning process
Practically speaking, as we started working with the final WSF program and the final list of confirmed volunteer interpreters, we realized that we faced a serious shortage of EN- and FR-native speakers.
As the two BaBOO developers had had no time to develop one key feature which would have semi-automatically allocated interpreters to booths, we started allocating interpreters manually late in the process.
Germán and Yan decided to tackle the most difficult booths first: EN (Germán) and FR (Yan), as it was necessary to centralize the planning for each of these booths given the number of constraints we had to take into account. This process of planning took a lot of time: approximately 36 hours for the FR booth, and over 50 hours for the EN booth.
We had to abandon a number of innovations or to increase the workload of certain interpreters:
The rules observed for booth planning were as follows:
The EN and FR booths were done over the course of three days by Germán and Yan, while the planning of the PT and ES booths, for which there was no shortage of experienced interpreters, was handled by other volunteers. These volunteers were given the list of rules mentioned above.
The planning for all the other booths had already been prepared during the previous weeks (AR, DE, GN, HE, HI, ID, IT, KA, KO, QU, RU, WO). During the allocation of interpreters to these booths, we chose to put all the interpreters in the same booth so as to allow the interpreters to choose by themselves how to organize their work during the forum. For instance, if there were 4 people available for one IT booth, we scheduled all 4 people in the same booth for each session. These interpreters could then decide, amongst themselves, who would work and who would rest during each scheduled session.
The planning of the LIBRAS booths was organized by the LIBRAS volunteers.
III. Problems in the planning strategy
The fact that the Nomad equipment was unavailable for the most part of the Forum utterly destroyed the careful planning that had been done over the previous days. Since there was often no relay available, many interpreters could not work.
the program of events of the WSF had no clear mention of which speakers were expected or what languages the speakers were to speak in. All the information available was used to attribute language booths during the initial programming, but whenever the information was unavailable, guesswork prevailed. For more, see "Meetings in São Paulo with the Brazilian Organizing Committee". It is essential that a clear procedure concerning languages needed during an event appear in the program database used for future forums. We suggest that the secretariat of the WSF do not accept a demand for interpretation in an event when the organisations involved do not specify the languages they need. Requiring information from the organisations is easiest when they register for a space at the forum - it can be as simple as an obligatory field on the registration form.
the information on each interpreter’s language combinations in the Babels database is incorrect more often than not. This was extremely damaging as people were sometimes put in booths in which they could not work. In the future, a clearer presentation of how the database works, and a more rigorous verification of personal data by the interpreters themselves, as well as by the selection workgroup should avoid these problems.
the final list of confirmed interpreters arrived quite late in the process, in particular with new additions from Porto Alegre, Rio, and the north-east of Brazil sometimes during the planning process itself. This explains the fact that many people had no schedule at all: they had not been added to the proper lists due to a patchy selection and confirmation process.
planning of the EN booth took too much time (Germán), which delayed the whole process and made it impossible to have time to print one first batch of schedules and to check these schedules manually for gross inconsistencies.
many of the last-minute planning volunteers respected little or nearly none of the planning rules that had been laid out. This was primarily caused by a lack of control and summary explanations given by the planning workgroup (Yan).
some of the last-minute volunteers who worked with BaBOO changed the planning of the FR and EN booth before verifying that all the data had been entered into the BaBOO database, thereby changing all the precise planning that had been done over the previous two days.
there were not enough fully-qualified volunteers to pursue the planning work after the schedules had been distributed. Since there were going to be modifications or corrections to do during the forum itself, the planning workgroup should have tried to spend more time training volunteers.
the "standby" sessions were not properly planned. Due to a lack of time, we attributed standby sessions without any consideration of skill level or language combination.
printing the schedules required important logistical means in terms of computing power and printing facilities which were unavailable at the Gasômetro. This greatly increased the stress during the final stages of the process. Despite repeated warnings from the BaBOO developpers about this issue, and despite a certain degree of preparedness (securing at least two laser printers), we finally had to outsource the printing of the 550 schedules to a commercial company. Printing one copy of 550 individual schedules took between one and four hours.
the printed schedules contained some inconsistencies due to the program used to create them: some people had the impression that they would be alone in a booth, when this was not the case. The printed schedules were also not always very legible. Since the schedules were printed at the last minute, the planning workgroup could not foresee how incomprehensible these schedules could somehow appear to interpreters who had not followed the whole process. These incomprehensions appeared the day the schedules were distributed, too late to print a clearer copy.
both Germán and Yan were expected to work in a booth during the WSF, and they could not work all day in the Babels office to correct the schedules of disgruntled interpreters. This was not said during the welcome meeting. This may explain why many interpreters had the impression that the planning workgroup was irresponsible, as the people in charge were not "at the helm" during the forum, correcting mistakes, etc. The proper way to deal with this would have been to have a planning team to deal with the job not only before but also during the Forum. This team never really materialised. Each booth (language) was planned by one or more people without regard to the people working on the other booths. Only too late was any thought given to the need for a team to solve the planning contingencies which would arise during the forum. The planning working group was too small and made up of the wrong people (people who wouldn’t be present to carry on the job for the whole forum), and in the end failed to properly transmit the information needed for the job, thus making a small number of people indispensable to the whole network. This was our biggest mistake.
Booth planning for the Youth Camp (Acampamento Intercontinental da Juventude - AIJ)
Julie S worked with the Program workgroup of the AIJ and sent the final program of events requiring translation as soon as it was ready — that is, quite late in the process. The languages required were restricted to EN, ES, FR and PT. Apparently nobody requested nor pushed for any other language. Putting the AIJ program in the BaBOO database this late in the process proved impossible, and a second-best solution was devised by Patrick.
The AIJ required too many EN and FR booths. Given the dearth of EN and FR interpreters, the planning workgroup informed the AIJ (through Julie S and Simon) that only one team for each language could be guaranteed. Simon thought that the 300 or so campers coming from Québec could try to fill the booths whenever Babels interpreters had not been guaranteed. This said, the planning workgroup in the Gasômetro did not liaise with the AIJ to determine which conferences requiring EN and/or FR booths should be given priority: the choice as to which conferences would benefit from EN or FR Babels interpreters was done without consulting the AIJ ’Program’ group.
The original schedule of AIJ activities did not correspond at all to the schedule of the rest of the WSF. This meant that an interpreter could not go from one event in the WSF to another in the AIJ, since one session in the WSF did not start/end at the same time as that in the AIJ. Simon later agreed to modify the schedule to fit in with the rest of the WSF, which made the planning much easier.
Because of these problems/delays, the planning for the AIJ booths was done only after all the other WSF events had been planned. Many interpreters/events were planned for the AIJ even as the WSF had already begun, and it is probable that a number of events in the AIJ had no Babels interpreters at all.
IV. Parallell problems that were not due to the planning process itself
The "standby" system was totally ineffective due to the geographical location of the Gasômetro, and due to the ineffectiveness of the room coordination: there was no easy way to warn the Gasômetro that one interpreter was needed/ missing (talkie-walkie? phone? SMS?), and no easy way to dispatch an interpreter where needed (on foot? by taxi? by bus/’golf-cart’?).
After the first day, too many interpreters did not show up to work where they had been assigned. Absenteeism was rife. Also, a sizable number of interpreters cancelled at the last minute (a dozen interpreters from Rio, and a few other interpreters from the rest of the world).
While many interpreters started looking for work by themselves without awaiting for "orders from above", others did not respond to calls for help even while they were in the "standby" room.
Many sessions in the WSF program were altered during the forum itself, without anybody informing Babels. Many interpreters showed up for work and waited for the speakers or the audience to appear... Other interpreters showed up for work in a room in which a new conference had been programmed which did not require the same languages, and others were not told where their conference had just been re-scheduled. This was particularly damaging when an event was re-scheduled from the Auditório Araújo Viana, which was particularly distant from the WSF Territory, to some other room/space.
V. Temporary conclusions
The fact that the planning workgroup did not know which languages would be spoken during a conference does not invalidate some of the choices that were made to put "non-colonial" languages in a conference, even if nobody in the audience apparently "needed" these languages. For more information, see INFO 5 "Memory". For instance there being no Japanese-speaking people in the audience doesn’t mean that it is useless to have a JA booth. If the topic is of interest to a JA-speaking audience, TARG can stream it live onto the internet and archive it for future reference, for all JA-speaking people to download. However, this is dependent on the good functioning of Nomad-TARG, and though the TARG program is fully operational, its implementation in the WSF-2005 was patchy.
It is important to have a group of volunteers who know how to handle planning/scheduling problems during the forum itself, not only in the days before the beginning of the event. As it happened, the original planning workgroup was only able to do a pre-planning that required thorough revision for the reasons outlined above (incorrect or missing information on the interpreters’ linguistic abilities, etc.), but there was no second team to handle the second planning process (correcting the schedules which had problems). However, this does not mean that there should necessarily be a core group of volunteers solely in charge of booth-planning before and during the forum. We believe that this solution would tend to reduce the volunteers’ experience to the fulfillment of a specialized task, converting them into bureaucrats, not activists. The solution we tried to implement, with mitigated success, was to have a wider group of volunteer interpreters and/or coordinators deal with booth-planning, taking turns to deal with scheduling problems during the forum. This is difficult to carry out, but perhaps more inclusive as it allows more people to participate in the planning process: there are no planning bureaucrats, everyone learns how to do booth-planification, etc. All in all, instead of having only 3 people in charge of planning, as was usually the case in past forums, there were approximately 15-20 people who were able to help with the planning. Many interpreters hitherto unaware of the intricacies of booth planning are now knowledgeable in this field, even though the knowledge was gained the hard way: by making gross mistakes. This is useful for local coordinations, as they will no longer depend on "foreign knowledge" to do their booth planning as was the case in Quito during the first Social Forum of the Americas, for instance.
The technical problems that obtained during the first two days of the forum (there was no interpretation equipment) probably greatly increased the impact of the planning problems detailed above. Many interpreters were greatly frustrated by the fact that they were unable to work: they were scheduled in booths they could not work in, there was no relay, no booths, etc. However, many interpreters found out that if they wished to work, they were quite often able to do so. A sizeable number of volunteers even complained that there was too much work. Had the equipment been fully functioning, we believe that this would have been the most common complaint. The number of idle interpreters around the Gasômetro gave the impression that Babels had squandered the Forum’s budget by inviting too great a number of (useless) interpreters. But on paper, apart from 20-30 "extra" PT/ES interpreters who showed up unexpectedly during the last few days, we had the minimum number of interpreters required for the WSF: there was supposed to be no shortage of work for all those who had been confirmed by Babels coordinators.
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