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Nomad: Report based on the experience of the WSF 2005 in Porto Alegre
Alternative Technical Interpretation Systems
(Date: 16 April 2005)
On January 2005 I was sent by the Greek Social Forum to Porto Alegre, to participate in the Nomad team, which would implement the interpretation system, in order to view the procedure and transfer the know-how to Greece, for the organization of the European Social Forum in Athens in 2006. This is the part of the report about the facts and the main conclusions of the Porto Alegre experience. - Thanasis C.
Introduction: Basic knowledge about the Technical Interpretation Systems
The basic issues that have to be tackled with the Technical Interpretation System are three:
Picture 1: The initial design for the interpretation system. We can see the FM transmitters and the consoles (mixers) in each booth. Those consoles would be connected linearly. We can also see the use of Targ for archiving and Internet streaming.
We should note that the 2nd and 3rd point are not separate issues, technically: the speakers can be considered as an additional interpreter’s booth, that we have to transfer its output to the other booths.
The initial plan
The expectations for the interpretation system in POA where high. There had been previous experience in Quito, Mumbai and Paris, and the International Committee of the WSF had taken the decision, early enough, that a “Nomad system” was to be used.
The initial design (see picture 1) was that:
We should note that the Nomad team had proposed the use of computers running the Targ software as the tool for the interpreters, instead of using the consoles, but this solution was not selected. We do not explicitly know the reasons, but we suppose those have to do
For the implementation of the initial design, the team that was named Nomad Brazil was formed, consisting mainly of people with experience on electronics and local community radios (radio activists). Some persons from “Nomad International” did two invited visits to Porto Alegre from May 2004 onwards, to discuss about the system, while one person came to POA two months before the Forum to overview the procedure. The whole procedure was under the responsibility of the organization committee, of the Communications section.
Picture 2: The “Itairtron”, interpretation console, of Nomad Brazil
Nomad Brazil was responsible for the design of the console. The construction of the about 130 consoles that where required, was given to a local cooperative, under supervision from Nomad Brazil. Regarding the FM transmitters, there was the problem that the normal FM band, 88-108 Mhz, is too congested in POA. The solution that was selected was to tune the transmitters to transmit to lower frequency, 82-88 Mhz, that is the frequency of channel 6 of TV, which was free in POA. That had as consequence that special radio receivers had to be constructed (more correctly: standard radio receivers had to be modified) to be able to tune to those frequencies. The construction was assigned to some companies (cooperatives).
The revelation of the disaster
The date for delivery of the equipment had been set to January the 20th (the Forum begun on the 27th). The radio receivers had already been delivered, in two models, one analog and one with a digital tuner. Problems that emerged were that on the one hand the digital tuners could not tune under 85 Mhz (to the frequencies 82-85 Mhz), which made them practically useless, while several of the analog ones shifted (gradually lost tuning) and one had to tune them periodically. Several more of the analog receivers were not correctly calibrated, and tuned to different frequency than the one indicated.
Given that the delivery of the rest of the equipment (consoles and transmitters) was delayed, on Saturday the 22th a meeting was held, among the person in charge of the Communications section, Nomad Brazil and Nomad International, in which it was discovered that only about 10 out of the 130 required transmitters were ready, and 5-6 consoles! The circuits for both were constructed and were in the cooperative, but they were not assembled. In essence, four days before the beginning, they realized that there was no equipment. The situation was critical and required special measures
The proposal of Nomad Brazil was for the Forum to provide more volunteers that could help in assembling the transmitters, so that the cooperative could devote itself completely to assembling the consoles. My own proposal was to abandon the construction of the consoles immediately and do the relay using radios, and to give absolute priority to constructing the transmitters in the cooperative, due to that we should have the equipment early enough to have time to do the installation. The
The plan was a complete failure: naturally, there was difficulty in immediately forming a group of technical volunteers to assemble the transmitters, while the construction of the consoles in the factory was having enormous problems and was not advancing, although it worked on a 24 hour basis. It seems that the designs for the consoles had arrived late, and the staff, excluding two persons, did not have the exact knowledge of how to do the soldering. The next day, the N.I. report for the situation in the factory was that there was no probability that the consoles would be manufactured within the next days, while there was a problem with the delivery of the transmitters as well. On January the 24th a new meeting was held, without the basic person in charge of the
The delivery of a first part of the equipment was on the evening of the eve, and the installation of the first rooms took place at night, and continued on the first day of the Forum, January the 27th. There had been almost no training of the interpreters to that devised system, neither of the volunteers that supported the sound system (many of whom did not have almost any technical knowledge), resulting to the system “crashing” continuously, a fact that demanded the presence of somebody from the Nomad team to handle it. The whole situation created enough annoyance to the people that had come for the Forum and expected to have interpretation, as well as enough anxiety and much fatigue to the interpreters, who really did heroic efforts to save whatever they could, using consecutive interpretation or whispering, wherever the system was not set up or was down. Another fact that cost heavily to the procedure of installing and operating the system was that while the Forum had started and it was on the second day, and many rooms where still with no interpretation equipment set up, there emerged an issue regarding the payment of the workers in the cooperative: the Nomad International perceived as their duty to secure the payment of the workers before they proceeded to do the installation and the operation of the system. Luckily, after almost a full day of
What went wrong
The Porto Alegre case gives many and useful conclusions to use for the next attempts. The positive in the whole procedure was that there was decision to apply alternative techniques, and there was action to that direction. The negative was of course the failure of the whole attempt. Below, we give the reasons, according to our opinion, for that failure: The basic reason was that the ones responsible in the organizing committee for managing the whole procedure did not have the technical knowledge required to cope with that duty. That fact inevitably led to assigning de facto the whole responsibility of supervising to the people who did the implementation, that is Nomad
Summarizing, we could say that the tragic fact was that the whole procedure of designing and implementing the system depended on void, until the dead-end in which it was driven was proved.
Thanasis C., Greek Social Forum
 There is also the issue of the “retour interpretation”, which was not addressed in POA.
 The claim by Nomad International is that the Brazilian Organizing Committee excluded them from the supervising process, while the BOE and Nomad Brazil claimed that NI was more interested in other things, than in participating in the process.
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