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 Home > Event-related > European SF > ESF 2008 Malmö

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Post-ESF report: Selection

Report on selection of volunteers, ESF2008, Malmö, Sweden
(Date: 13 November 2008)


  1. Coordination/selection of the CS/SK/RU and HU booth (Barunka)
  2. Last minute selection in Malmo (Lina)
  3. Babels-IT selection report (Giulia, Irma, Pietro)
  4. Babels-FR selection report (Grégoire, Philippe)
  5. Babels-TR/KR selection report (Ali)
  6. Points regarding call for coordinators and selection added from grazie’s report
  7. Open questions (including blacklist)

TO DISCUSS THIS ISSUE, use the forum: click here!

1. Coordination/selection of the CS/SK/RU and HU booth

By Barunka

What did I plan to do?

According to do the linguistic needs calculated by German and Julie I knew, that I had to look for 2 committed “real” (see: :What did I do/RU booth) interpreters for the CS/SK booth, 10 for the HU booth and 12 for the RU booth.

What did I do?

I had decided to have only three interpreters for the CS/SK booth based on the experience in Athens, where there was very little need for CS/SK interpreters. I had been in contact with the official delegation of the Czech and Slovak Social forum asking them all the time, how many interpreters they would need and offering them even interpreters for “individuals or groups”. Finally, I found out there were apx. 4 people knowing only SK or CS, but only one of them asked for our help after arriving in Malmo. So in the end we were able to do whispering all day long for the CS delegate who asked for interpretation, while one of the CS interpreters from Czech Republic was able to work now and then for the SV booth and I still managed to help at the Babels office. In short, I was very glad to have only two more (plus myself) interpreters for the CS/SK booth. They worked, they knew that they would be doing whispering mostly, so they were not even affected by the technical problems with the booths and one of the interpreters was able to help with the SV booth as well. On the other hand, I was disapointed by the fact that although I had hoped to get one interpreter from the SK Republic, since it was supposed to be a “mixed” booth, I got no response from any of the Slovak volunteer interpreters who were registered in the database.

As for the Hungarian booth. I was cooperating with Bálint Pinczés and Orsolya Liptay. Bálint and Orsolya were interviewing interpreters personally or on the phone being in Hungary and they sent their final list to Lina at the beginning of September, which was already a bit late, but, as other booths, we were faced with the problem of “holiday time,” when people were not answering our emails so that we couldn’t get in touch with enough interpreters earlier.

The RU booth was the most complicated one. We had had problems with this booth in the past. We had to deal with Russian interpreters at the forum, who not only were not interpreters but didn’t even speak any other language apart from Russian. We also had seen typical “tourist interpreters” who could interpret but preferred a walk in the center of Athens instead of interpreting at the slot they were assigned to. That’s why I offered to help Anastasya, who answered the coordinator’s call for the Russian booth. Anastasya has never done anything! She answered my email two or three times, telling me that she was not in Russia but still “in charge” of the RU booth. Very soon I found out that she was not going to help in any way. I contacted RU interpreters from the Malmo list and when I could I met and interviewed them in Russia, where I spent my holidays during the month of August. Approx. half of the RU booth were interpreters from St.Petersburg and half from Kiev. There had been an EPA in Kiev in June 2008 and all of the selected interpreters from Kiev had participated as interpreters at that EPA. All interpreters for the RU booth whom I selected were REAL interpreters who didn’t miss any of their slots and I don’t know about any problem related to the RU booth.

Lina: Regarding the selection of ES, DE, EL, NL, PL: Since we had no coordinators for the selection of the mentioned booths, I started selecting people to cover the needs for each booth. Since I’m not an interpreter and it was my first time selecting people, I asked for the help of experienced people for the ES and DE booth. Afterwards, I sent my selection to the coordinators list for them to comment on it, and if they all agreed, I proceeded to contact the interpreters for their travel arrangements. The EL, NL, PL booth I selected myself, because there was no one else to do it.

What could have I done better?/problems faced

CS/SK booth

I tried to convince the other members of the Czech-Slovak delegation to make use of our interpretation but they didn’t respond. I could have gone to see them personally to try and convince them but I don’t know if this would have helped as some of my colleagues tried to do so, but with little success.

HU booth

The HU interpreters didn’t get to work much as the announced HU speakers often didn’t come or there were no HU delegates in the room but they did whispering every time they could. I can’t say if it would have been better to have less HU interpreters. We based our calculations on the information we were given by the organizers of the seminars and we had no way of making sure that there would be work for everyone, not to mention the overall logistic problems all interpreters had to face during the forum.

I would like to mention maybe one problem related to the accommodation logistics. One of the HU interpreters who was half-sighted was unfortunately forced to wait almost 12 hours (also because of the delay of the flight of his flatmate - otherwise he would have needed to wait for 8 hours, which is also a lot) for the other HU interpreter he was supposed to stay with. This was because he was assigned an apartment outside of Malmo and needed to wait for his colleague to go with him. We need to prevent these things from happening next time. We definitely need more people to help with accommodation and it is absolutely necessary to write down not only the dates but also the time of arrival of all interpreters even if they are supposed to come midday. This is something we haven’t done.

RU booth

I have received some insulting emails from Kiev interpreters who had helped at the EPA but couldn’t be selected since they hadn’t even registered at the Babels website or else had reacted very late to my call.

grazie: - This is absolutely great and I think all coordinations should follow such an example, both for selecting and monitoring the situation or ’their’ interpreters during the ESF. I believe that if we have stronger coordination we will increase the number of interpreters who are better aware of their role/where they stand;-) , this will solve in great part the problem of unprepared interpreters and tourist interpreters, and we might not even need real room coordinators ’spying’ who is working and who left to go sightseeing when he was supposed to work ;-) I also think we should use the same approach for mobilization, that is, try to have meetings and talk to people, not only send messages - when we see things working it will cause satisfaction for everybody. The only issue about this ’careful/closer’ selection is that it is impossible to reach many places. It was great that you took the trouble to go and see people in Russia. We definitely need to get more available, interested and committed people in order to achieve stronger coordination - as was the case fort the Italian booth. And we also need to have a more permanent mobilization process."

2. Last-minute selection in Malmo, last-minute travel expenses

By Lina

Problems faced

As soon as I came to Malmo on the 8th September I was asked to revise the number of interpreters in each booth and to try to find more interpreters for the EN, FR, ES and DE booths as we were facing a double problem- interpreters who were selected but didn’t answer their travel message or whose answer got lost because Sophie had no more capacity to answer her email, and a huge number of interpreters canceling their participation at the last minute.

What did I do?

Germán worked out a new “emergency” calculation on the minimum number of interpreters needed – calculating the number knowing that some interpreters were going to be forced to work 3 slots a day.

First of all I revised the number of interpreters in each booth and at each stage (stage 1- contacted and pre-selected by the local coordinator, stage 2- interpreters who had been selected but didn’t answer the travel message, or whose answer got lost, stage 3- interpreters who had been selected and whose travel costs were arranged and confirmed by Lina or Sophie, stage 4 – interpreters with assigned accommodation). We started by sending a message to all stage 2 interpreters asking them to answer us as soon as possible (Yan sent a message via the database) and then I started checking the whole Malmo list, sending messages and calling all interpreters on the Malmo list whom I couldn’t find listed at any stage. I did this work for all four booths and I was helped by Cathy Arnaud.

Following his arrival in Malmo, Rodrigo posted new calls for interpreters at Translator’s café and, and all of us mobilized all the personal contacts we had in order to reach more interpreters. After receiving some positive feedback, I “took over” travel arrangements and started to confirm interpreters for stage 3.

The price of the last minute tickets were significantly higher then the tickets bought weeks ago but we had no other option. Instead of apx. 450 interpreters needed we had less then 300 a week before the beginning of the forum, and we were desperately looking for new interpreters who could come.

The most problematic booth was the German booth. We had less than 75% of the minimum number of interpreters needed for the German booth and virtually all interpreters for german were to work almost non-stop.

Lina: Regarding the DE and EL booths: Indeed, we had many cancellations at the last minute, so we didn’t have enough interpreters despite the fact that I had confirmed more people than we actualy needed on purpose, having last minute cancellations in mind. We were also covering the needs of the big booths with interpreters from smaller ones. This was the case of the EL booth. So, again, I had to contact new people at the last minute for the EL booth, asking them just to book a ticket and come. There was no time for me to check whether it was the cheapest solution.

What could have I done better?/problems faced

It is difficult for me to say what could have I done better for the last minute selection as I virtually hadn’t left my computer and our skype account since I had arrived in Malmo in order to contact as many interpreters as possible.

We definitely faced two main communication problems throughout the whole process. First, July and August are holiday months and people were simply not responding to our emails. Secondly, some messages got lost as Sophie had no capacity left to answer all incoming emails before I came to Malmo. I think that September is a difficult month to hold a forum because of the holiday months. Taking this into account, interpreters should have been organized before July 2008.

As far as travel is concerned, we can’t have only one person responsible for visas, travel messages and communication with the Board. We should have had at least 4 people dealing only with travel and accommodation.

Another big issue was coordinators who let the others down by committing and not doing what they had promised. These coordinators should be blacklisted for their unfair behaviour.

Then there were coordinators who refused to use the database or didn’t extract the files properly which caused a lot of confusion and sometimes problems as well. I think we should really insist on all coordinators using the database. Maybe we could assign an “experienced database user” to each new database user in order to supervise his work at the beginning. We need to organize a training session for all coordinators willing to help.

Lina: An example of the problems caused by coordinators who refused to use the database was the fact that we had people arriving without us knowing about it. We didn’t know their travel costs and, of course, we had no accommodation for them, since we were not expecting them.

3. Babels-IT selection report

By Giulia, Irma, Pietro

Here’s how we handled the selection for the ESF Malmo Italian booth.

Once we were told the number of interpreters needed for the IT booth, we set up a new email address, so that all the IT coordinators would have access to the messages we would receive, and so that we could then write to interpreters from one address, to avoid confusion etc.

We then asked for the list of people with IT in A from the database who had ticked the malmo esf box , and we sent them the modilization email for the FSE. In that same email we asked people who were still interested and available to email us back with certain details by a certain date (we left about a weeks time).

Besides the usual, name, last name, contact details,and confirmation of their linguistic abilities (A, B, C languages), we asked them to come up with a temporary estimate of how much their travel to malmo would cost. Of course we specified the dates they had to be available in malmo; regarding travelling, we asked them to find the cheapest solution and if possible to use public transportation. We also specified that if people wanted to stay a few days after the forum as tourists they could, but that food and accomodation would only be available untill the end of the forum. We also specified the criteria that we would use for selection.

Then after a week had passed we put together all the info received and it was quite easy to then make a selection, and we even had the possibility of taking into account the travel costs.
Once the number of interpreters needed was confirmed, we emailed people saying: "we’re happy to be able to select you for the esf, shortly the travel group will contact you for the ticket, remember not to buy a ticket before then" and again we confirmed the dates of the forum. At the same time we sent those names to the travel group.

After a while we emailed people that we hadn’t heard from since selection, "checking on them"; we also were able to ask all the confirmed people if they had been in contact with the travel group and if they had got the ticket. (in case they hadn’t been in contact we were able to point it out to the travel group).

As for the interpreters who initially expressed their availability by emailing us, but who at the very end were not selected, we emailed them saying "sorry but this time u’re not selected, since we only need a set ammount of people for the booth"; we stated once again the criteria used for selection (so that the process would appear transparent to all), and in case people were still interested in participating individually we gave the link to the esf website; we also wrote that we might contact them if new opportunities werre to arise.

Before the forum, we sent info from that same "new email address" (such as our mobile numbers and those of the babels offices in case of emergency) to the interpreters who were in malmo with the following statement: We are now going to close the selection email account for good so as not to create "doubles" to babels-it.

I/we think that this was a very effective way of selecting people, because it allowed us to select on the basis of actual and updated availabilities; it also created a channel of communication with selected interpreters to which all the coordinator had access and which was separate from the general coordination emails of the babels list.

I/we think it was much more effective and easy than to start selecting from the database, without a confirmation of avaiability, since people might tick the esf malmo interest box months in advance, but life is life, things come up and after a few months people’s schedules might change.

Also, using this system we were able to check on people’s status as for tickets bought etc
Problems still did arise, as they always do, but had we handled things differently it would have probably been even worse.

Not to praise ourselves too much (in Italy old ladies use to say: don’t praise yourself too much or you’ll become an air balloon!); here’s what we think could have helped you making the process smoother:

 in the initial email sent to interpreters, specify:

  • the chaotic nature of most social fora and the need to adapt to a changing and unpredictable interpreting scene
  • that they should answer the mobilization email *only* if they are fully available for all the days of the forum
  • that it is clear that once they have declared their availability, they cannot cancel it if selected, as in any professional setting
  • that they will need to be able to access their email account on a regular basis to check if they are selected and do all the necessary preparation

 having a final list of seminar and language combinations needed in the seminars before starting selection, in order to be able to start choosing people on the basis of their language combinations from the start, and not making rough estimates as we (the IT SG) did [even though we were quite good at that, since our estimates worked quite well]
 have people email back after they have bought their plane ticket (with the approval of the travel group); this should help keep an eye on things, and avoid discovering at the last minute through dozens of emails and late night phone calls that 2 or 3 people are bailing out at the last minute!
 in general I (Giulia) personally believe that if we dont let the SG green light flights, then we definitely need to have a good communication channel between the travel and SG groups . (on that note, if people’s tickets are lower than a agreed amount [this yr it was 150 i think] why not let the SG tell the person to buy it! before it gets more expensive? it would save time and work to the travel group.)

We hope sharing the way we handled things might help to create a more efficient and less stressfull selection process for the future; it’s just food for thoughts folks!

4. Babels FRENCH booth selection report

by Gregoire and Philippe

4.1. What we wanted to do :

4.1.1 Preparatory meeting : In March 2008, Sophie, who had been charged by the NOC to manage (among many many other things) the interpretation during the ESF, issued a call on the Babels list for a preparatory meeting in Malmö, between the NOC, ALIS and BABELS.

During this meeting (the minutes of which are on the Babels forum) we were presented with the planned infrastructure and logistics of the Forum.
Since most of the attendees had already participated in the previous ESF, it quickly became obvious that - as far as interpretation needs were concerned - the requirements for Malmö would be fairly similar to those in Athens (around 500 interpreters with similar language combinations, simply substituting Swedish/Danish for Greek).

This allowed us to start planning the major part of the organisation of interpretation, without having to wait for the final programme (only to be decided two months later).

During the meeting in Malmö, Grégoire and Philippe volunteered to organize the selection for the French booth, since they had already done it for the previous ESF. A call for coordinators for the french booth was also issued via the mailing list, to which three "coordination newbies" replied : Julien, Rhida and Muriel.

The task of selecting interpreters for the French Booth did not seem very daunting to Gregoire and Philippe, mainly because the "infrastructure" set up for Athens was still in place (see below) and because they had done it before. That is what they explained to the others who were slightly vary of sticking their fingers into something that may swallow them whole. All of us have jobs and families... time and availability is an issue.

Our main goal was to QUICKLY get the ball rolling and select the interpreters for this booth, in order to have more time to concentrate on the more "difficult" booths for which interpreters are harder to find (minority languages etc.). Having done this before, we knew that, in the last weeks before an ESF, there are thousands of other things to do and the more you can get done beforehand, the better it is.

Our other goal was also to get this issue out of the way as fast as possible, because of the dates chosen for the ESF, in September. We knew that we had to mobilize people before Mid-June, in order to avoid the traditional July/August lethargy. Not to mention the fact that we too had work assignments / holidays with our families planned for that period and therefore knew that we would have less time to devote to this in July/August. (in the end we still did devote most of our time to Babels)

4.1.2 Using the Athens 2006 experience

In 2006 we had tested a new way of selecting "newbies". Via the Babels mailing list, we had called the "experienced" and "professional" interpreters (i.e. mainly people who had already participated in a forum) to contact a given list of "newcomer Babelistas" in their area and meet them face to face in order to get to know them, chat with them about Babels, the Social Forums etc. and to assess their language skills. The idea was to get out of the electronic realm, back into human contacts, but also to "confirm" the skills of the many newbies in the Babels database, who were people we didn’t know.

This was in order to create a local network of Babelistas but also to prevent some of the problems that happened in Porto Alegre or Paris, where people did not perform in the booths because they had wildly overestimated their language skills. //You can find a complete explanation and report of this selection process on the Babels forum.//

The "human networks" of Babelistas created by this open process survived the ESF and - between 2006 and 2008 - Gregoire and Philippe had regular contacts with the team of about 80 interpreters that had been selected for Athens. The mailing-list "Selection French Booth" set up for Athens was still active and had about 300 subscribers.

4.1.3 The first "informal" call

The preparation of the ESF within Babels took some time, with lots of information going back and forth, calls for volunteers being translated in various languages etc.
Early July, three months after the Malmö meeting, we were a bit worried that people might not book the ESF dates in their schedule if we did not somehow "warn" them of the upcoming event.

So we decided to issue an informal call to everyone who had been to Athens, via the "Selection French Booth" list, in order to inform them of the upcoming ESF and to ask them to tell us whether they would be available. A sort of "wake up call" since the summer holidays were approaching fast and we knew it would be hard to contact people once they had left their workplace. (See point 3, Lessons learned, below, for more on this)

This call was also done in order to insure the participation of a number of "quality" interpreters in the French booth : people with forum experience, people that had been previously assessed, people with language combinations that would be essential for the forum.

Last but not least, it was also a way to get the ball rolling in the face of upcoming work assignments : selection takes time and all of the coordinators have their own jobs. The sooner we start the selection, the less we risk being pressured by time and clients.

4.1.4 Selection of interpreters

The selection criteria were the same as in Athens :
Basic criteria :
 approx 50% professional or experienced or assessed - in order to guarantee that there is always someone in the booth who has done simultaneous before
 approx 30% somewhat experienced or occasional
 approx 20% first experience
This was not a fixed dogma as, particularly for Swedish, we had to rely on first experience interpreters a lot.

Selection :
In the beginning, we had ABSOLUTELY no information on how many interpreters were going to be needed and with what language combinations. It was only after the EPA in Kiev, in June, that a preliminary program emerged, allowing us to start defining linguistic needs. We started by basing ourselves on the Athens figures and rewamped the list when the final linguistic needs were established.

The first half of the selection was mainly taken from the people who replied to the first informal call for volunteers - which was a mistake, as many people who replied to this call were not part of the French Booth. The second half was taken from the database, after the "official" call had been issued. Here also, a number of glitches in exporting the database caused a number of mistakes, making us select people who had nothing to do in the French Booth (mainly because of a error in Excel, where we inadvertedly selected people based on their Written Translation information, rather than their Interpretation information).

Specific selection criteria :
 if Nordic language in A or B, automatically selected.
 if FR in A and "interesting" language in B, automatically selected (minority languages, eastern european language etc.)
 FR in A and EN in B - since it appeared that EN and SV would be the main languages for relay.

4.2. What we managed to do:

In August, due to changes in the linguistic needs/cancellations etc., the entire list of interpreters, across all booths, was changed and many people who had volunteered originally for the French booth ended up in other booths, compatible with their other language combinations.
It is thus somewhat hard to evaluate if our selection "did work" - that is to say if we managed to select a number of people that were appropriate. There was a number of cock-ups on our behalf, which we discuss in Part 3, below.

Still, in the end, we think we came up with a consistent list of people based on the predefined criteria by mid-august. The number of selected interpreters for the French booth was then appropriate with respect to the list of needs drafted by German.

But in the last two weeks of August the general selection process became confused. as a list of candidates for the English booth was selected (which was not planned initially), causing many candidates in the French booth to be de-selected. We thus had to quickly find "more French interpreters", forcing us to send last-minute emergency calls to our own personal network to try and rally the odd interpreters who might be available on a very short notice.

Also, by that time, the overstretched team who was working day and night in Malmö was buckling under the load of daily emails and distant communication was not optimum (this is not a criticism, mind you). We had submitted a list of interpreters that exceeded the requirements, but then were told we had to "find more". It took a couple of days to get the answer to "how many more" and "why our first list was ’no good’" - this was not due to bad will but simply because Sophie and the others in Malmö had thousands of others things to do... (and at one stage announced that they had stopped reading emails sent to certain addresses, because there were simply too much).

NOT ENOUGH TIME. Coordination was done by people who have paid jobs and can only devote a certain amount of time to this task. After a while, when the deadline started to get closer and closer, the time we had to devote to coordination became bigger and bigger, causing many issues with our clients and families. This could have been avoided if we had started earlier.

The lesson we learned that the earlier you start, the better it is. For future forums, we would suggest that we establish a kind of "model". The requirements for the French Booth in European Forums are usually quite similar, even in the needed combinations. Paris, London, Athens, Malmö... if you look at the figures, the amount of interpreters selected for FR and their combinations are "pretty much" stable.

So, as soon as the Organizing Committee asks Babels to organize interpretation, we should quickly issue a first "wake-up call", telling people that something is in preparation, more info will come later but in the meantime can they confirm or infirm their willingness to participate. And if they are interested, can they please book the ESF dates.

This does not work for all Booths. But it seems it could work for the French Booth and would allow us to "reserve" a certain number of people many months in advance. It also allows to "reserve" a number of "interesting" interpreter profiles, people of which we know - because we have worked with them before - that they have "interesting" language combinations, that they work well in Social Forums, that they are versatile, that they can help with logistics...

A word of warning : this does not mean we advocate only selecting people "we know". But, in a Booth population, there is always a stable core of people with experience, and among this core, there are some people which are good to have, for the above stated reasons. It would be wrong to ONLY select these people (we would end up being a club), which is why, in our process, we insisted on taking 40% of non-pro and first-timers.

A comment : the first informal call was issued by Gregoire, who was then accused by some members of "sabotaging the effort to mobilize new coordinators" and "not respecting the rules of Babels horizontality". Gregoire wishes to apologize if that is the impression that was given, since it was not his intention.

He also wishes to apologize if this call has "insulted" other coordinators who had the impression that he was not respecting their work by not waiting for the official call that was at that time being prepared and translated in many languages (Gregoire himself participated in that effort).

Again, that was not his intention. Apologies, chocolates and flowers will be sent to anyone who comes forward.

The informal call was issued for all the reasons stated above, and never was their any intention to short-circuit horizontality... still, there are many, many times when, in order to be efficient, Babelistas had to take non-horizontal decisions and restrict the decision making to a small number of people. One example is the declaration read by Babels in Malmö, which was not validated by all Babelistas present in Malmö, simply because there was no time to do it. Horizontality is a goal, not a dogma.

4.3. What did not work so well - Problems faced:

4.3.1. SELECTION STARTED MUCH TOO LATE. We had a preparatory meeting early May, and then we spent lots of time waiting for everyone to find the time to acknowledge, before finally sending out the formal call for volunteers.

Another issue was that the NOC only started giving out programme information after the Kiev EPA, which forced us to wait until after that date to start defining precisely how many interpreters and languages we needed.

And the Travel Group had to wait for confirmation from the NOC before being able to start confirming people. In the meantime, many people who had initially confirmed their availability, not getting any replies, had taken other commitments. This forced us to go back and find other people.

The ESF being early September, this is not only a month in which many professional interpreters are very busy, it also means that, right before the ESF, there is the big black hole of August summer holidays in which nobody is reachable by email. Many emails we sent or voicemail messages we left early August only received replies two weeks later.
That was a big problem when we had to fill in the gaps, once the precise booth requirements had been established.

And many people had given up waiting for a confirmation and cancelled their availability. We received many mails from people who said "I’ve given up waiting for more information/confirmation from you, I have now taken on another assignment and am not available anymore".

4.3.2. DATABASE PROBLEMS: In order to save time, we did not work directly on the database but did regular exports of the volunteers for Malmö and worked on a spreadsheet. (This was also in reply to some messages of concern from the Database admins who scared us, we didn’t want to make mistakes). There are a few problems with the exports from PHP List. People show up two or three times in the list and sometimes the columns get mixed up.

At one stage, the language combinations for WRITTEN showed up in the column for SIMULTANEOUS, so we ended up selecting people who didn’t have FR in their simultaneous combinations. It took us a while to sort that out and "de-select" people who had been wrongly selected (which required more email exchanges, more time wasted).

This is also the reason why, at one stage, we "selected" people (around 30) who actually "belonged" to other booths. In our Excel sheet, they had French in A1 or A2, so we thought they "belonged" to our selection. This caused some ill feelings, because some other selection teams thought we had "stolen" their interpreters to fill our booths.

It was not our intention to do that and - since nobody sent us emails complaining about our "theft", we only found out about our mistake when selected interpreters started replying saying "Why are you selecting me, I don’t have FR in A and have already been selected by the ES booth".

Sorry about that.

On the other hand, before launching accusations, it would have been good to inform us. We never received any emails from offended coordinators.

4.3.3. WRONG PEOPLE ANSWERING THE CALL: Many people replied to the informal call and to the official call, even though they didn’t have FR in A. This meant we had to check their profile individually and sometimes we selected people who were then claimed by other booths (Spanish and English mostly).

Also many people replied even though they did not meet the geographical requirements spelled out in the call for volunteers (maximum 300 EUR travel costs) and we had to spend many hours replying to them to tell them "no, thank you". (It takes 1 minute approx. to open, read and reply to an email, multiply that by 800 and you have 13 hours, meaning you did spent the entire day just replying to people who will not come - waste of precious time). And if you don’t believe us that we received 800 emails in a single day, we have our inboxes to prove it :-)

At one stage, we even were "afraid" to issue calls via the database, out of fear of having to handle the flood of emails that would come in reply, and that would force us to devote yet more time to replies.

Lesson learned : Double-check the info on the database. Get another coordinator to check the profiles of those you have selected, and you do the same for those he selected.

Oh, and don’t even think of "not replying to people who don’t fit the required profile".. that only generates more emails "why didn’t you reply to me ? how dare you send me an automatic reply", etc., etc. :-)

Lesson learned : If you have to select a "small" group (less than 50) - which is what we had to do in order to fill in the gaps, it is more effective to work via telephone and call the people you selected out of the database. While only one out 5 email call received an answer, most people who we called by phone did reply immediately "yes" or "no"... which is a great time saver.

4.3.4 PEOPLE DON’T READ EMAILS OR MISINTERPRET THEM: This one is a constant, whatever the project. Any email that is longer than 5 lines will not be read. If you give out too much information, you have to reply to hundreds of emails of people asking you questions whose answers are in the email they haven’t read. And if you write too short emails, people complain that you did not give them more information. You have to find a balance between the two.

Also, there was a major problem with people misinterpreting emails and requiring many email exchanges to straighten things out. One example, some people apparently went out and booked their tickets because they thought they had been confirmed by us, even though our message said "don’t buy your ticket yet, wait for the message from the Travel Group". These people would then require more attention because they mailed/phoned us to voice their not being reimbursed, refusing to hear the message that the selection group had no influence on the Travel Group.

Lesson learned: be aware that the main communication channels used by Babels (mail, web forum) are not always efficient enough to ensure proper communication. Messages to interpreters should be not too long and not too short and written with the objective of being clear and to the point.

For future forums, we should appoint someone to maintain a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) that we could point people to, and that would progressively compile information like "How do I know I am selected ?", "Should I buy my ticket right away?", "I’m from Farawaylandia, why did you not select me for the ESF?", "Which bus should I take to get to the Babels meeting place?", "Is someone going to pick me up at the airport"... etc.

This way, we could simply tell people to "start by reading the FAQ" — off course, anyone who has ever administered a forum or a BBS knows that most people don’t read FAQs, but hey, some people do :-)

4.3.5. SKYPE MEETINGS MAYBE NOT SO HANDY. Most of the coordination was done via Skype conferences. Sadly not only were these meetings often scheduled at times when the coordinators were not available (not easy to find common timeslots for 20 people living in different countries), but the technical conditions (noise, echos, interference, line-drops...) also made these meetings tedious and unproductive. It was often hard simply to understand what was being said and much time was wasted simply saying "hello ?".

It would probably have been just as effective if we had exchanged via a text-forum... or by email. But towards the end, coordinators and organizers had become afraid to even open their inbox :-)

This ended up with lots of information being mainly available to the people who attended the Skype meetings (even though, a huge effort was made by participants of these meetings to write minutes, but since these minutes were then sent out via email, they sometimes got lost in the ocean of emails) or to people who had the time to dig through the many, many emails that were exchanged daily, each containing bits of info.

Future coordination should appoint a secretary who drafts a list of issues and action-points that have been decided on during the meeting, so people who did not attend can quickly know what is going on - and they can know if they have been assigned a task or not. We are not speaking about "minutes" (which are long to take and even longer to write)... but a list of things that have been decided and tasks that have to be done before a certain date, and who has been appointed to do them.

Skype is incredibly handy for communication between two/three people but is harder to use for phone conferences. The use of dedicated software (like NetMeeting or OpenConf, which some of us use daily for phone interpretation work) would be more efficient.

That’s all folks, from the French Booth team

5. Babels Turkish/Kurdish booth selection report

(By Ali)


The TR/KR coordinators were able to raise a much greater number of volunteers than in Athens, although all of them may not have had the required level of preparation. They were also able to include both Turkish and Kurdish interpreters. Complications started already at the Swedish consulate with difficulties to obtain visas. There were some problems in booth team programming. Many interpreters had to leave early on Sunday, while programmers could not establish the date and time of their return. Many were also frustrated at not being able to test themselves in normal conditions, or work at all.

A) What TR/KR coordinators managed to do

1) Numbers OK

This time a sufficient number of interpreters was provided for the Turkish booth (this had not been the case in Athens). This was due to the fact we had a long list of volunteers lying ready in the Babels database. It would be interesting to find out how so many volunteer interpreters for TR/KR found their way into the Malmö volunteers list.

2) Kurdish was present along with Turkish:

Another positive and interesting development was the fact that the team from Turkey also included interpreters in Kurdish, which was probably (with Sami perhaps) the only minority or domestic language actually translated during the Forum, most other languages being official national or ‘colonial,’ if not Imperial languages.

In other words, the team from Turkey was one of the rare teams to implement one of Babels declared principles, i.e., the provision of interpretation for indigenous, minority or non-official languages. (See Barish’s note on the use of the word national)

B) What TR/KR coordinators didn’t quite manage to do

Selection and preparation process: Lack of selection, training & preparation process

We were three or four coordinators, myself (Ali), Barish, Eren and Mehmet Kuzu, with Barish and Eren being particularly active. I had hoped to gather us at some meeting to discuss how we were to work and coordinate, but we were prevented from doing that by our different activities and the fact that some of us were in Istanbul and others in Ankara.

In the mean time, while each of us was working on the sheets downloaded from the data base, preparing a provisional list of volunteers for our booth, Barish took the initiative to make up a list of people to contact out of the same Babels candidate list. Left with a ‘fait accompli,’ we waited for seminar programs as we were told to do by the Babels ’central’ coordination group. We could have used this time to refine our selection process, organising training activities and other preparation work but lack of available material, the fact that it was holiday time and complications related to visas which took up a lot of our energy and time, prevented us to do so. still, we did profit as we are still doing from another of Barish’s initiatives, the creation of a yahoo group for selected volunters. It would be useful to adopt the Italian idea of establishing a single mail list and ask candidates to comfirm the information about them - especially concerning their competences and availability, which we haven’t done, but would certainly have been useful.

There was one minor technical point that complicated our task. In the candidate database, the linguistic evaluation columns were situated quite far to the left of the column identifying the volunteers so that the two kinds of columns do not appear on the screen at the same time. These language columns are also quite numerous (A1 A2 … written, oral, experienced, beginner…) so that one had to jump back and forth between them which led - as I understand was more or less the case for the coordinators of the French booth - to losing track or confusion as to who could do what languages, how (written/oral?) and to what extent. Putting these columns closer could make things easier. Experienced Excel user can probably switch columns as they like, but still, some standard solution to this could make evaluation easier.

Another problem we had in the preparation process was that we were told to wait until the seminar programs were ready and we had the definite number of interpreters needed before contacting our candidates to confirm their participation and get on with tickets reservations etc. Then while we were trying to find solutions to our selection problems, we suddenly learned that we only had a few days to confirm the list of interpreters ready to come. Barish was off on a trip in Anatolia and could not be reached, so before we could actually all consult each other, Eren picked up from there, taking the initiative to directly contact the candidates to confirm their commitment. He followed things from there until final selection, regularly updating our list of candidates and doing most of the follow up. This had to be made hastily, without sufficient prior testing or training. Together with Eren, we contacted the candidates to make succinct evaluations based on phone conversations and confirm their readiness to participate. I organised one or two introduction and training sessions where only two people turned up, the others being too busy trying to get visas.

In short, with little time for testing or training, we ended up with sufficient numbers, but with some questions about preparedness.

If there is one criticism that could be made to my fellow coordinators for the TR/KR booth it is their tendency to take initiatives (a good thing) on their own without prior consultation among us (not such a good thing). They also seemed to be somewhat over optimistic as to the preparedness of our volunteers. Other than that, they were very actively involved and greatly contributed to the selection process. I must also say that I had a heavy load of professional work at critical moments - especially at the beginning of the selection process, which also kept us from establishing an efficient coordination process and explains in part why they were led to act on their own initiative.

C) What worked and what didn’t

All this way for nothing?

Thus, we arrived in Malmö with the numbers, but we (or at least I) didn’t quite know how we would ensure quality. Things were complicated by the fact that now that we had the numbers, there were practically no functioning booth (as we all know), and when there were, they were more than often occupied by interpreters of other languages.

In one case, one of the KR interpreter team got so frustrated as having to whisper during a seminar with a majority of tr/kr listeners while interpreters of other languages were working in the (relative) comfort of their booths, that they ended up storming one of the said booths, which happened to be the German one. Apart from frustration, this abrupt behaviour was probably due to the fact they only spoke kr and tr and could not find the polite words to explain their plight.

Generally, TR/KR interpreters were doubly frustrated since they had no way of testing themselves in normal conditions. Not only because of technical dysfunctions in the booths, or because they found themselves with more interpreters than needed or not enough, but also because some of the programmed seminars did not take place, or turned out to need other languages than the ones planned.

This was especially true for beginners, but experienced interpreters who had come as activists and who were looking forwards to be a part of what to them was an important event were also disappointed and frustrated at not being able to be of any use, leave alone testing themselves. As a result, we still haven’t been able to make a proper evaluation of our volunteers’ skills, even after the Forum.

6. Call for coordinators and other selection issues

By Grazie

In preparation of the selection process

i drafted a call for coordinators with María

ii suggested “more transparent/shared” (i), “closer” and “more careful/coordinated” selection, as linguistic needs were “defined” quite “early” (thanks German and Julie!), to better match linguistic needs and linguistic combinations

iii wrote the drafts for “conditions and procedures” messages (selection, travel) as discussed at skype meetings, which Sophie edited and concluded according to the situation/context, as an attempt to avoid more problems due to heterogeneity and diversity (diverse is beautiful, but it’s not easy when it comes to having some sort of organization!) and have a more uniform process/method for selection, travel, reimbursement

iv suggested broadening the diversity of languages (especially minoritised ones), according to some information I got about Basque and Macedonian participants

ii (in)conclusions:

By ...

i As for “more transparent/shared” selection, although calling more people to help with coordination was/is extremely necessary (as discussed at some skype meetings), potential newbies/people who answered the call either didn’t understand or got confused - we know it takes time to get used to Babels modus operandi… the main (but not only) purpose of the call was to have a more transparent selection process (more people involved, new people, etc), but in the end I think only Giulia Colletti :-) did help (correct me guys, if someone else is missing!)

ii the selection process as a whole has been complicated due to various issues:

  • no coordinators or not *enough* coordinators for most of the booths (apart from FR and IT booths who always do a great job :-) Barunka, Bálint were working on their own, for example, and then Lina and Sophie did emergency selection for some booths with Maria’s, Marta’s, Cathy’s, Erika’s, Julie’s, Greg’s and Barunka’s help.)
  • trying to have it more transparent and organized took too long and was confusing (I imagine some people like Manuel Souto Pico, Virginia, Dawid, David and Andrea couldn’t help, for ex. However, they could’ve told us they wouldn’t manage)
  • relying that we would find most of the interpreters in Scandinavia
  • vacation/cancellations

In any case, I think we should add to any protocol the issue of “de-selecting” people, and why not have a selection protocol/didactic selection ;-) ?

As for “closer selection”, like Barunka and Bálint :-) did, I have been insisting on it forever. If only all coordinators could do this (meet, have interviews, or do it during sit-prep/training)! On the other hand, due to the lack of time, enough people to help, more interested people (who answers e-mails or go to meetings/sit-prep/training/interviews) it can be quite limited (if we need more people for a certain booth, for ex.)

As for having a “more careful/coordinated selection”, proposing a better coordinators’ coordination, it seems time, not enough people and perhaps lack of interest prevented us from doing it

iii as for trying to have a more uniform method/process for selection, travel, reimbursement (as discussed at skype meetings) confirming, travel, reimbursement, to try to have some sort of organization (based on past experiences/issues), made me think of four issues:

  • sending excel files to “coordinators” (to the existing ones, that is, FR, IT, TR, and then CS/SK, RU, HU) proved too time consuming, not really feasible and perhaps not practical, in the case new people should register
  • waiting for “commands” (TR booth)
    The lack of guidelines and access lead to lack of precise “rules” and the impossibility of descentralized selection (if a certain booth doesn’t have the list of interpreters of a given project how is it supposed to start the selection process?)
  • starting selection before agreeing on selection, travel, reimbursement criteria (FR booth)*
    *Please note!!! Personally I am not against taking some prior steps, on the contrary, such as exporting and filtering the project’s database, pre-selecting, contacting, interviewing – something only *the selection group* should do, for organizational purposes, *but not start confirming people* or not do it without following the agreed criteria (of course it may vary from project to project)
  • trying to have some sort of organization X disorganization – demanding/promising X not fulfilling
    If we cannot fulfil what we promise/are supposed to, we should not promise at all (especially regarding organization and reimbursement)

iv As for diversity, it seems it was also a bit difficult to match needs or “convince” participants (see below proposal of utility/usefulness questionnaire), although it also seems there were better feedback from organizations (thanks Julie!)

— > action points for future projects

I. broadening pools of interpreters and coordinators, constant mobilization, strengthening coordinations (’hubs’) and improving the quality of selection

II. education/real knowledge transmission/didactibels :-) (thanks, María!)!!!

i understanding the different organizational bodies: WSF, ESF, IC, European organizations, OC, office, Babels, Alis…

ii “what is/how to be a coordinator”

 understanding babels
 understanding, improving and following protocols – why not, how to read babels protocols ;-) / didactiprotocols
 understanding and using babels communication tools – how to use babels tools/didactools ;-)

It’s absolutely necessary to
 ’centralize’ them and make use of what babels already has (especially having one email for the given project, lists, database), even if including new ones (skype, googledocs, openesf, etc)
 more constant/long-term/permanent communication – especially feeding interpreters, answering their emails and sending them a ’selection is over, you haven’t been selected’ message as we said (has it been done?) that is, keeping them informed, but in a way to try to make them more active, to make them look for information
 understanding and improving more permanent projects -> general (transtrad protocol/didactranstrad ;-) for coordinators and for translators)
; each new project, lexicons

iii improve

 memory and “documentation” (share documents, reports/assessments, interviews, photos…)
 real knowledge transmission so as to have ’rotation’ (otherwise we don’t have enough people to organize a project); balance between feeding/spoiling interpreters/coodinators and making them “have initiative” and go after information, so as to have self-organized/more active coordis and interpreters
 improve acknowledge/self-awareness duties and rights – having more involved and participative interpreters (as much as possible, of course)
 interpreters and coordinators assessment AND personal limits, availability, commitment and accountability – what we want, what we do, what we get — > theory X practice, ideal/plan X reality/feasibility

III. organization/selection

i how the host place may really share the work with other coordinations and is not “left alone” before, during and after (especially regarding political issues, the relation with the OC, personal life, etc)

ii how could coordinations share the work to have ’closer selection’

iii how could coordinations share the work to have ’more transparent’, ’careful’, ’coordinated’, ’joint’ selection

iv be careful about selecting ’friends’/people we know; having discussions on coordinators and interpreters assessment, also being careful about relative/partial/opinion/personal experience – we all have good and bad experiences and it might be relative (or unanimous ;-)). It’s great to have self-assessments, but this is also relative – some people said they couldn’t do it and they did, some people said they could do it and they couldn’t. If we always have a plan from the start and working groups with defined people in charge it is easier to verify in the end what was not done and why. The best thing is to try to be increasingly clearer about tasks, but always from a constructive point of view, and not “attacking” criticism with that “I-am-sure-I-would’ve-done-better” approach

v think about room coordination (or booth coordinators) so that ’general coordinators’ (or interpreters!) don’t have to worry about certain issues (interpreter’s pack content, accreditation, water, food, missing interpreter, checking the situation about accommodation on the first two days etc), which leads me to…

vi … improving the means to avoid tourists (declaration of commitment, quality/auditory/assessment and accountability)

7. Open questions

By ...

  • edit and add the selection criteria drafted by Rod to mention the quotas as appendix.
  • add the call for cordinators as appendix
  • With or without the call, the questions remain: a. how selection was supposed to be organized? If it was only FR and IT coordinations who were available to do it, what about EN, ES, ’Nordic’, DE, etc??? The only would-be coordinator (Giulia incorporated herself immediatelly, always very willingly and seriously) who answered the call and then was completely responsive and responsible was Antonio Morillo, since he clearly said he would be away after a certain date and he could ’only’ help with the romanian selection since it was what he had knowledge to deal with. The others never answered any of my several e-mails, so I think they should be blacklisted at least as coordinators.

b. even if it had started before (let’s say there was no call and no defnition of procedures and conditions): how would it be different, if there were only FR (I think 3 people) and IT (at that point only Irma and Pietro) coordinations?

The same goes for the rest...

c. even if it had started before, Lina was waiting weeks, maybe months to get her ticket!!! how would we have have travel arrangements launched before???

d. as for accommodation, as long as you don’t confirm travel, how can you confirm accommodation or e. reimbursement??? Let alone f. planning, if you don’t even know on which combinations you may count...

Therefore, I believe this was, indeed, a ’Babels’ issue. Could the NOC have helped us here? Only if the whole situation was different and they were not counting almost only on volunteers and ONE person was left almost completely on her own - Sophie - to deal with everything-together-at-the-same-time-now. Again, the miscommuniction with the would-be OC started last year at EPAs (and I tried, guys, I can tell you that I tried to contact people since the Lisbon EPA!). Babels didn’t have a plan, when Sophie wrote us and when we held May’s meeting we still didn’t have a plan and we never did have a plan! How was Sophie supposed to select almost all interpreters???

We should try to organize such pieces of info and come to a common conclusion, because in the end despite all NOC’s neglecting it was up to us too.


By Barunka

Every forum has to deal with “tourists”, unreliable or ruthless interpreters. A “Tourist” interpreter is an interpreter who comes to the forum and doesn’t work in the booth he/she was assigned to or doesn’t work at all. Unreliable and ruthless interpreters are interpreters who overestimate their capacities, who declare to know languages they don’t know, who let other people down, who behave ruthlessly towards other interpreters or do everything in order to make other interpreters feel inferior to them, who are unfair, rude etc. These are interpreters whose participation in Babels projects is not wanted. I never put people on the blacklist without being 100% sure that they belong to one of the above mentioned groups. Nor do I ever put people on the blacklist without consulting each case with at least one more interpreter or coordinator participating in the same event.

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