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 Home > Event-related > FAME 2012 Alternative World Water Forum

[ en ]

FAME 2012 : post-event report

(Date: 18 May 2012)

Babels Report - FAME 2012 (14th-17th March)

Pre-event communication

The decision to participate in FAME was taken early 2011 following Babels protocols. This would be Babels’ second FAME after Istanbul. Babels was partially informed of the evolution of FAME 2012 by email, but definitive information regarding the programme, language needs, available budget and equipment arrived quite late in the process, with regular changes among the people responsible for liaising with Babels.

Initial contact with prospective volunteers was made as early as December 2011, and a call was sent out on 8th January 2012. However, waiting for further confirmation of language requirements and available budget and equipment, selection did not begin until the end of January, and the first pre-selection emails were sent on 13th February. A second round of pre-selections was made later, as soon as information was confirmed regarding budget and equipment and after a first-round of confirmations was made.


Preference was given to professionals and people with low transport costs. The final mix was as follows

Professionals 38
Experienced 24
Occasional 10

There were a couple of first experiences listed as occasional, and some not included in these figures. There were several very promising newcomers.

As final confirmation of language needs arrived very late, selection came a long time after the initial call, which unfortunately meant that a fair number of interpreters were no longer available. Fortunately transport costs were not too badly affected.

We missed out on selecting one or two strong interpreters because their address in the database was out of date or because the database indicated the wrong place they would be travelling from.

The need for extra passive languages (PT, IT) was anticipated, and we selected people to cover them effectively.

There were few locals - 4 came directly from Marseille, of which one did a no-show and one freaked out. Many local professionals had been pre-emptively reserved to work in the official (i.e. ‘pro-globalization’), well-funded Water Forum.

The geographical location of volunteers can be summarised as follows:

Rest of France 20
Spain 15
UK 12
Marseilles / South of France 11
Benelux 5
Switzerland 5
Germany / Austria 1

Booth planning

Booth planning was carried out over the weekend before the event by Joel and Annabelle. Thanks to the hospitality of Sabine Laurent in Marseille, we had a space to work.

Single-direction booths were used for FR, ES, EN, with passive PT and IT in rooms where this was required. Less experienced interpreters were placed with professionals, and sometimes two “experienced” interpreters were put in a booth together. This standard approach seems to have been effective. In many cases, personal knowledge of the interpreters involved was used to team interpreters. A particularly strong team was sent to the sessions on fracking, as we knew these would be especially technical.

An email was sent asking volunteers to confirm their languages, and this meant some changes were later required, as the wrong A language had been entered in the database. Bi-active interpreters were very useful for these changes, but we found the database was not always reliable in this respect.

A couple of changes in language requirements for sessions also meant extra changes to the booth planning.

As the precise language information was not available for all sessions, planning aimed for each booth to cover the other languages more or less equally, which meant there was sometimes an imbalance (as one or other language was not used), and sometimes strong interpreters were wasted in booths that had no work to do (if the entire session was in their language).

Many interpreters came back to the Babels office and volunteered to cover an extra session, which was extremely helpful.

There was a slight shortage in the ES booth, due to cancellations and freak-outs, but this was covered.


Generally this worked out OK, with a couple of very problematic cases. After some initial problems, we had clear contact people for solidarity accommodation and hostels, which made it easier to handle problems.

Hostel reservations were made by FAME, with the following agreement: only 2 volunteers were to share rooms, leaving occasionally 2 beds empty in 4-bed rooms. This request was meant to guarantee some peace for volunteer interpreters. In the end, some of these empty beds were used to accommodate interpreters in need: for example when we realized the hostels contact had not noted the proper dates of arrival and departure, this meant extra spaces had to be found for 11 interpreters for Tuesday night, and for 8 interpreters for Saturday night. This issue was solved, although communication did not always run smoothly.

Solidarity accommodation was initially organised by FAME, with Babels allocating spots to volunteers by pairing information received from hosts (availability) and guests (allergies, special needs…). All solidarity accommodation reserved for interpreters had to guarantee a proper bed in a separate room. Most solidarity accommodation was good, but there were some problems. There was also a problem with communication on dates, but as interpreters had been asked to liaise directly with their hosts, they were able to resolve this personally. Some interpreters said that as there were a lot of emails, they had not read everything in detail, so they were not aware of this.

Unfortunately, a couple of the hosts were not really in a position to be welcoming guests, and should not have been on the list. Some interpreters complained of erratic behaviour from their hosts, and unacceptable living conditions that should have been picked up on as part of a sifting process. These interpreters were rehoused where necessary.

Working conditions

There were 2 rooms for Babels, a lounge and an office, which after some haggling was supplied with a cable internet connection. We also had to negotiate to keep this connection which was of vital importance.

There was coffee for the interpreters in the general volunteers’ area, and water was supplied in the booths. This water was generally bottled mineral water for logistical reasons, which seemed a shame at a water forum in a town with drinkable tap water. An email had even suggested to the volunteers to bring their own empty bottles to drink tap water.

The schedule was challenging – starting at 10 am and finishing as late as 10 pm. The sessions were also very tightly packed, with only 30 minutes for lunch and no pause between afternoon sessions. This made it hard for interpreters to get food, as they had to queue at peak times. Access to volunteer food might have made this situation easier.


During the months of January and February, with the support of Germán (Babels-Tech and COATI), FAME analyzed needs and estimates for the equipment, trying to select the best possible technical options at the most affordable rates. All messages were forwarded to the Babels coordinators for information.

In the end, most rooms had three professional standard booths. One room only had two booths, which meant that consecutive had to be used when Italian was spoken there. The smallest room only had tour guide-style microphones and headsets. This room was particularly difficult to work in, because there was a lot of sound overlap from neighbouring rooms.

There were virtually no technical problems, and the few that occurred were resolved quickly by technicians.

Coordination team

There was one full-time on-site coordinator (Annabelle), one who was also interpreting (Joel), and one off-site coordinator who dealt with reimbursements (Yan). All had at least a working knowledge of the local language, French. It proved helpful to always have someone in the Babels office to handle queries.

Interpreters were also invited to help with local coordination if they were interested, and Emmanuel (in particular), as well as Alejandro, Antonio and Loman among others helped sometimes by going round all the booths to check all the interpreters were present and everything was working. This tour was carried out at the start of each session.

A coordination simcard was bought before the beginning of the FAME, and this was very useful to communicate with volunteers and organizers.

There were good liaison contacts for accommodation issues, but the team had to look around for contacts on other issues, such as Internet access, and it would have been good to have a more extensive list of contacts among the organisers, and to know who was responsible for what. Several times during the course of the FAME process, responsibilities were redistributed among the organizers, making it sometimes difficult to know whom to contact to solve issues.

The coordinators tried to be friendly, to listen and respond to needs.


It was generally very good – speaking to Philippe, the feedback from the audiences was unanimously positive.

On one reported occasion, a new interpreter was unable to work effectively, but the more experienced booth partner took over. It seems the problem was that an incorrect A language had been entered in the database.

Unfortunately, three interpreters, one local and two non-local, failed to turn up without advising the coordinators. This put an extra strain on the other interpreters. The coordinators explained to the volunteers in question that this had caused extra difficulties.

Budget and reimbursement

The budget allotted for interpretation was initially estimated properly, but FAME did not succeed in obtaining the grants expected to cover all initial costs. This meant FAME had to restrict the number of rooms and booths.

Yan discussed reimbursements for travel and food with FAME organizers and these agreed to let Babels handle these issues directly, rather than Babels having to greenlight every expense with FAME. Once the first tranche allotted to cover transport costs was wired to the Babels association account, Yan liaised with each interpreter to confirm travel costs and per diem needs, estimated at 25 euros for full day of work at the forum (Babels coordinators had initially estimated that 20 euros would be an acceptable minimum). No confirmation of volunteers was made until Babels had tangible proof that the funds needed to reimburse volunteers had been wired (again, to avoid the Malmö debacle).

A message was sent as FAME began to ask volunteers to confirm the total amounts due, with the possibility to lower the total of per diems for those who wished to do so, as a donation for FAME or to offset increased costs elsewhere. Some volunteers agreed to lower their per diems, lowering the total costs by a few hundred euros. Other volunteers had unexpected extra costs (missed transfer, need to take a taxi, etc.). These were factored in accordingly in the final reimbursement.

Reimbursements proceeded in two stages: all volunteers received by wire transfer the equivalent of their per diems before or as FAME began, to allow them to use the funds to purchase food and pay for local transportation (when necessary). The remaining costs were reimbursed in full within a fortnight after FAME.

Suggestions / Lessons learned

Pre-event communication/ planning

  • We need to push for general information very early
  • We need to know which languages speakers will use in sessions before booth planning
  • Having speaker contact details before the event would enable us to request documents directly.
  • Clearer, shorter emails, so they are read in full
  • Realistic break times need to be planned in, for interpreters and participants
  • Use photos of possible solidarity accommodation, and ensure someone has had a proper conversation with all hosts.


  • A core team can be selected very early, securing good interpreters at low transport costs.
  • It is useful to have some bi-actives to cover shortfalls in booths, but they need to be triple-checked!

On-site coordination

  • Have a coordination phone
  • Have someone in the office all the time, if possible
  • More part-time on-site volunteers for booth checking at the start of sessions
  • Clear contact persons are needed among the organisers

During sessions

  • Clear room management guidelines for interpreters (names, documents, 3 gestures, languages)
  • 1 interpreter from a seriously underworked booth could come to the office to check if there is more urgent need elsewhere.
  • A protocol for freak-outs


  • Important to double-check volunteers’ language levels and other information early on (it is perhaps time for the database to undergo a massive check-up)
  • Have an option in the event application for volunteers to specify where they would be travelling from and to give an estimate of travel costs.
  • Enter an evaluation on interpreters (Perhaps dated opinions from 2 people who have taught interpreting at university level? Possibly some polite information on personality type to avoid possible friction? - or maybe just ask people to say if there is someone they would rather not work with? – need for internal discussion of this point!)
  • Keep a record of no-shows (perhaps with a 3-strikes system?)
  • [is it possible to have a simpler way to access the database – user name and password rather than an email you need to keep?] (Answer: no, not with the current system.)

Equipment and budget

  • It is best when Babels is informed early on of equipment choices, to provide much needed guidance, guarantee quality and lower costs.
  • For medium to large-sized events, Babels can handle reimbursements directly and responsibly. Proceeding in this way also removes lingering doubts about whether volunteers will be reimbursed fully and quickly after the event.


The event appears to have been a great success, and Babels can be proud of its contribution. This is basically thanks to the dedication, flexibility and autonomy of all the volunteers in the booths, enabled by organisation of the necessary conditions.

We can improve by getting and passing on information further in advance.

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