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 Home > Event-related > World Social Forum > World Social Forum 2005 > Debriefing reports

[ en es pt ]

Selection and Travel: part 1

WSF 2005 Debriefing reports
(Date: 11 March 2005)

Part 1- Remote email and database based process

Part 2- Local coordinations: reports on the selection process.

1. Remote email and database based process

Report made by German (Germany and Spain), Laurent (France) and Monica (Colombia)

These two workgroups are interlinked. Nevertheless they corresponded to two types of workgroups: A general selection group and of course a travel group.

poa2005 and poa2005-viaje

Two addresses and behind which 4 people at the most were responding to incoming mails from all the interpreters. We failed to include more people behind these public-email addresses for various reasons but mainly because most of the people were devoting time to localized mobilizations and selection processes.

- Poa2005: initially 3 people were responding to emails sent to this address (Laurent, Mónica, Bruno). Laurent left by mid-October in order to take care of poa2005-viaje. Bruno left in November for personal reasons. Mónica was left alone to respond to all incoming emails in December and January.
- Poa2005-viaje: initially 1 person (Laurent). One more person arrived to help by the end of December (Germán). There was never more than 1 person really working on travel at any given time. In January, Laurent and Germán were both working, one was in charge of making the reports and the lists from the database, while the other was concretely working with the travel agency and with the interpreters.

The group was created early September. It initiated the selection process as planned and published on the Babels website (September 13). The people involved in this group created automatic emails sent to the people registered in the database according to critieria which had been chosen collectively.

These decisions were made thanks to an open discussion started on July 22 in the Forum and publicized widely: an e-mail was sent at that time to all people volunteering to the WSF05 and to all people who had volunteered to the WSF04, inviting them to discuss the selection methodology. This discussion was launched a month after the publication of the “Call for volunteers” (official start of the WSF05 project: See Intermediary Report explaining the stages that lead to the Call). This discussion generated 135 posts in three different languages, which were read 11 815 times (this number does not correspond to single users).

Long-distance vs. regional selection processes

The long-distance, e-mail-based selection process was launched in September. The regional selection processes did not start until mid-October or even November. The dates were set in order to minimize the risks of having an insufficient number of volunteer interpreters at the end of the first process.

All people marked as "Professional" or "Experienced" (they had defined themselves as such through the online registration form) in Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay, for instance, received an email asking them if they were still volunteers for the WSF. If they replied positively to this email, then the selection process continued. Following the criteria adopted collectively for the selection process, other volunteers around the world received the same, automatic, emails, asking them to confirm their availability. A large number of volunteers never replied to the emails inviting them to confirm their availability. Consequently, these volunteers could not be confirmed, and were not selected.

For a description of the remote selection process.

This long-distance process occasionally led to misunderstandings when regional groups started to work, because their work was mainly based on meetings, trainings and so on, and the results of these meetings was not automatically reflected on the Babels database.

The regional selection process was of much better quality, of course, and corresponded more closely to reality, and this process progressively replaced the long-distance/email-based selection process by mid-November.

Regional groups in Latin America did not exist at the beginning of the selection process. They appeared in many places because the mobilization process picked up very well, and also because the "geopolitical choices" made at the beginning of the project fostered the creation of regional groups. The "geopolitical" criterion was mentioned as early as July, when the selection process was launched. It consisted in redefining the geographical localization of the volunteers. It did not correspond to a budget item ("the closer to POA, the cheaper?"): going to POA from Colombia costs as much coming from Paris, for instance. Nor did it correspond to the reality of the network: most of the Babels volunteers, around 75% at that time, were located in Europe. But it did correspond to a political choice, and to the very nature of the Babels WSF05 Project, which was not defined solely around languages and the number of booths. The project was meant to foster the creation a Latin-American group of volunteer interpreters and translators. This concept was to be accepted by the WSF itself as part of the Babels project and integrated in the budget as such.

For more detailed reports on the regional selection process in Latin America, see Regional selection process. The report on the selection process cannot be fully understood without reading these detailed reports.

Travel process

By mid-October the Travel Group started its work since the easiest part of the selection process was over: the selection of people with previous experience with Babels and Social Forums was quickly done. The Travel Group worked like the Selection Group, remotely, thanks to automatic emails to which interpreters were to respond and confirm information already registered in the database and/or give new information. This distant process worked fairly well. Many failed to answer in time the emails, despite repeated warnings that their confirmation was required, and a few simply did not understand the emails they received (the wording of these emails is essential and should be considered carefully, and it is true that some of these emails were not always crystal-clear). By the beginning of November, 50% of the volunteers were ready to have their plane tickets booked.

We had chosen to organize prepaid tickets issued by a Travel agency selected by the WSF itself. This Travel agency was to receive names and dates by Babels and was financially linked to the WSF. This choice is a wise one: Babels is not a financial institution and it is not a travel agent. The advantages to this approach is that for the "travel" workgroup, the "Travel" process was over once volunteers had received their ticket: Babels volunteers did not have to take care of the reimbursement of travel expenses for weeks after the WSF was over. The budget was meant to be only a political agreement with the WSF before and during the project itself, and not to extend for weeks after the project, reimbursing hundreds of volunteers, dealing with travel agencies, etc. as was done for the ESF03, in which travel reimbursements (done by only a handful of courageous Babels volunteers) lasted almost 9 months after the ESF itself!


The WSF05 project suffered essentially from two factors: the lack of experience of the WSF organizers to have a proper cashflow before the event, and the financial structure of the WSF.

Because the WSF did not internalize translation and volunteers as one of the political components of the WSF itself, they were not fully aware, although we had repeatedly written and spoken about this issue, that cashflow would be a problem if it was not planned. 6 to 4 months before the event you need to have cash available to start paying plane tickets (the main expense by far) for volunteer interpreters. This led to many discussions when the WSF’s budget problems were mentioned, particularly in November, and intense negociations, even though the Babels budget had been collectively accepted in June and confirmed in August by the WSF (the same group of organizers).
On the pre-budget, see Babels report.

On top of this, some of the members of the WSF organizing committee in charge of the WSF’s finances did not play their roles as caretaker of the WSF budget, but behaved as though they were bank-managers: in other words, despite the fact that collective decisions had been made and a budget framework accepted by all, everything had to be re-discussed months later with the person with the checkbook, as though the decisions were his to be made. Each plane ticket had to be single-handedly validated by this person. This is mostly due to the way the WSF organizing committee functioned or, to be exact, malfunctioned.

This situation lead to weeks of delay in purchasing the tickets. Calculations have shown that this delay cost the WSF approximately $50,000 USD, as the price of the tickets increased for the 50% of the volunteers who were ready to have their tickets booked since early November. This represented a 70% increase on the forecast budget. Although we were planning on following the prices of the tickets, and to re-adjust our selection process if necessary, this was not possible. We estimate that we spent on travel nearly as much as we would have spent if we had carried through our first proposal made in June: this proposal aimed at covering nearly 50% of the rooms in the WSF with volunteer interpretation (instead of the 20% of the rooms in the WSF which we ultimately were able to cover).

This also led to a lot of stress for the volunteers behind poa2005-viaje as hundreds of tickets and people were to be taken care of in 4 weeks or so. The last ticket was bought 3 days before the event.

Babels database

For each of the two processes, selection and travel, the Babels database is a centerpiece.

Each process had 3 fields to check and 3 fields to fill in each of the personal files of the volunteers. Without the central Babels database we cannot exchange information between regional and long-distance processes, as the two are working in parallel. Without the database the other workgroups — Budget, accommodation, booth planning — cannot work properly either. Due to the lack of sufficient training of the volunteer organizers in the different workgroups, and due to the fact that we did not take this issue seriously enough, many problems of coordination occurred between all the groups. This lead to mistakes or different people repeating the same work over and over, nobody really knowing whether the others had done their work properly.

Proper training on the database should be strongly emphasized in future projects. People should be aware that committing his/herself to a Babels project involves a rigorous process with an electronic database that is at times unwieldy or difficult to understand.

Ideal timetable

We estimate that an ideal timetable should be set in order to provide future events with a reference point and to help Social Forum organizers to manage the budget well enough to avoid wasting large amounts of money because they lacked sufficient preparation.

Selection and Travel:

The selection process should start 5 months before the event and last 3 months.

The travel process should start 4 months before the event and last 2 months. Therefore 2 months before the event a minimum of 70-80% of the volunteers should be selected and have their tickets in hand. The remaining 20-30% corresponds to the volunteers coming from the city or the region in which the Forum will take place, meaning that it is possible to organize, later in the process, group-travel like buses.

This leaves two months for the Planning/Training processes and for meetings/exchange of information between volunteers to take place.

2- Local coordinations: reports on the selection process

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