The world is changing at an unprecedented pace, and the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management wants to bring the best of those changes into the conference management environment. Placing innovation at the front and centre of its strategy for continuous improvements, the Department continues to focus on, and enhance, its core business of delivering high-quality meetings and documentation services in an efficient and effective manner.
Over the years, the Department has introduced a wide range of innovations in all aspects of conference management and continues to harness the potential of advanced technologies and adjust its working methods in the constant modernization and improvement of its operations in New York and at the United Nations Offices at Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. New features were added to expand the scope, diversify the functions and increase the user-friendliness of existing tools. Novel mechanisms were launched to simplify procedures and improve the client experience. Original applications were developed to increase the generation of high-value business intelligence. Wherever possible, innovations were applied globally and integrated into existing enterprise systems. In some cases, they were also shared with other United Nations entities.
Intergovernmental services innovations
e-deleGATE: digital access to Secretariat services anytime, anywhere
In order to streamline intergovernmental services to Member State delegations and better facilitate their negotiations and deliberations, the Department developed the e-deleGATE portal and rolled it out in 2018. A single-entry platform for e-services provided by the Secretariat, the portal allows authorized delegates to access secretariat services at any hour from any location. The e-deleGATE portal offers a variety of digital services, including:
- e-Speakers: inscribe individuals to a list of speakers
- e-Sponsorship: open a draft resolution for sponsorship and join in sponsoring a draft resolution
- e-Submission: submit draft resolutions to the Secretariat
- e-Voting intentions: submit a voting intention to be reflected in the official records of the meeting
- e-List of participants: register a list of delegations for the respective intergovernmental bodies
- e-Credentials: submit electronic credentials for the sessions of the General Assembly and United Nations conferences
- e-Decisions: post draft texts of decisions adopted by the General Assembly
- Candiweb: provide up-to-date information on upcoming elections in the respective intergovernmental bodies
- Committee Place: post documentation related to the work of the respective intergovernmental bodies
- Committee Announcement: post and record announcements from the Secretariat regarding the work of the respective intergovernmental bodies
The e-deleGATE services are currently offered to the General Assembly plenary, Main Committees and other subsidiary bodies of the General Assembly; the Security Council and some of its subsidiary bodies; the Economic and Social Council and some of its subsidiary bodies; and at times, United Nations conferences.
By its resolution 72/313, the General Assembly encouraged Member States to make, to the extent possible, full use of e-services provided by the Secretariat, in order to save costs and reduce the environmental impact and improve the distribution of documents, and in this regard requested the Secretariat to further improve, harmonize and, where appropriate, unify such services, under e-deleGATE, including the continuation of the practice of making available all official correspondence of the United Nations addressed to the Member States.
Meetings management innovations
Over the past 15 years, the Department has been using and continuously improving the gMeets system which is the central tool for managing meetings to cover the entire spectrum of meeting-related activities in New York, and at other United Nations entities, including the United Nations Offices at Geneva, Vienna and Nairobi, the Economic Commissions for Europe and Africa, the Economic and Social Commissions for Asia and the Pacific and Western Asia, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
gMeets is used throughout the life cycle of mandated meetings, offering a true beginning-to-end conference-planning experience – starting from the review of draft resolutions for conference-servicing implications to calendar planning through execution and post-implementation evaluation.
Journal of the United Nations
The Journal of the United Nations, a flagship publication of the Department, is the source for the most up-to-date and in-depth information covering daily and forthcoming meetings at United Nations Headquarters. It encompasses official meetings convened by intergovernmental bodies; informal consultations on draft proposals convened by delegations; and other meetings organized by Member States, Secretariat departments and offices and other United Nations entities. It also provides a wide array of useful information, such as the daily list of documents issued at Headquarters; signatures and/or ratifications of multilateral treaties; summaries of past official meetings; announcements by Secretariat departments and offices; and other critical general information. The "Other events" section, exclusively reserved for announcements by permanent and observer missions, showcases parallel briefings and side events that Member States wish to publicize broadly. All content related to official meetings, including their summaries, is available in the six official languages. This multilingual, user-friendly website with real-time updates, is also compatible with smartphones and tablets and features an automatically generated PDF version of the Journal.
Document management innovations
The gDoc 2.0 project aims to create a single global document workflow and capacity management system to replace existing, separate systems (gDoc, DCPMS, CMA, etc.). gDoc 2.0 will consist of full sets of document client-facing, planning, management, processing and issuance modules to support globally coordinated document workflow and capacity management. The new system will be deployed to all four conference-servicing duty stations, the regional commissions and other international organizations. Its wide user base covers both Secretariat and non-Secretariat users and contractors. gDoc 2.0 will have a significant impact on the documentation management and processing chain of the Department supporting harmonized, modernized and streamlined business models and practices.
Certain common and support modules of gDoc 2.0 have been deployed since mid-2018, and several workflow components that allow users, among others, to submit and review conference-servicing implications of General Assembly and Economic and Social Council resolutions and to submit and review publication programmes for approval of the Publications Board have already been rolled out.
The global gText project provides internal and contractual translators at all four conference-servicing duty stations, regional commissions and other United Nations entities with a complete and uniform suite of Internet-based language tools, as well as seamless access to background information necessary for high-quality translation. It was developed to increase the quality and efficiency of translation and related processes.
By radically changing the working methods in the multilingual documentation-processing chain, the gText project has provided a set of tools that meet the very specific needs of United Nations language staff. Improvements and new features are constantly being integrated into the suite of gText tools.
At the core of the innovative tools developed as part of the gText project are two crucial applications: UNTERM, the United Nations terminology database, and eLUNa, a computer-assisted translation tool that combines automatic identification of all previously translated sentences and terminology with access to machine translation. Read more
Human resources-related innovations
Competitive examinations for language positions
Creating more career paths for language staff
Given that the language combinations and skills required of United Nations translators, editors and verbatim reporters working into the same language are very similar, combined recruitment examinations for translators (or translators/précis-writers), editors and verbatim reporters were introduced in 2017. This has not only reduced the number examinations that need to be held but also created rosters of candidates capable of performing multiple functions, which opens up more career paths for them and creates a more versatile workforce for the Organization.
Expanding the candidate pool/making United Nations recruitment examinations more accessible
1. Fully remote examinations
After the progressive piloting of remote testing in 2015 and 2016, the competitive examinations for translators, editors and verbatim reporters organized since 2017 have been held fully remotely, enabling candidates anywhere in the world to take the examinations from the location of their choice as long as they have access to a computer and the Internet. To ensure the integrity of the process, the examinations are held simultaneously for all candidates with tight turnaround times for each test task, and a proctored component is included whereby candidates are monitored by video and purpose-designed screen-recording software as they take that part of the examination. In addition, one task is done live during the final, interview stage. The shift to fully remote examinations has significantly increased the accessibility of the examinations for candidates who previously had been prevented from participating because they could not, because of financial, physical or other circumstances, travel to another city or country to take the examinations. The Department was awarded the Secretary-General Award in 2018 under the category "Innovation" for its role in the development of the United Nations online examinations system.
2. Waivers of third-language requirements to attract candidates from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean
Given the high proportion of translation work from English, the importance of specialized knowledge to translators and other language professionals and the mandate to increase the number of candidates from Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, where linguists are mostly trained in and work from only one other language, the traditional requirement to have excellent knowledge of two languages other than the main language was waived for holders of degrees in relevant subjects in the most recent examinations for French and Spanish translators, editors and verbatim reporters. The successful candidates with only one other language are requested to add a third language after recruitment, just as other language professionals add a fourth, fifth or even sixth language during their careers at the United Nations.
As a result of these two innovations, together with more active outreach to potential candidates, the number of applicants for the examinations has soared in comparison with the previous examinations held at designated test centres and for which three languages were required. The participation of candidates from Africa and from Latin America and the Caribbean, in particular, has risen dramatically in the examinations where candidates from those regions can be most expected to participate on account of their language combinations.
Agile performance management framework
In 2018, the Documentation Division joined a pilot project led by the Office of Human Resources (OHR) designed to test an innovative approach to performance management and staff development based on 360-degree (all-around multi-rater) assessments. A group comprising managers and staff from all translation services participated in the pilot. Their first task was to participate in training sessions on giving and receiving feedback using specialized software selected for the pilot. Staff members were then encouraged to exchange feedback with peers, managers and direct reports. The pilot included three scheduled feedback cycles where participants were invited to give feedback to their colleagues based on pre-defined categories and attributes related to the United Nations competency framework. Participants also exchanged feedback and gave praise and recognition to each other through the platform. During the pilot, the Division worked closely with the OHR team to tailor the project to the Division’s specific requirements, report issues and communicate concerns and suggestions regarding the features of the software tool used to exchange feedback. Once the pilot was concluded, participants took part in feedback experience sessions where they reflected together on the challenges of giving and receiving feedback during this exercise.
Convinced that a strong culture of feedback is vital to operations and staff development, the Division has played a proactive role in this transformative project having embraced it as a valuable tool with the potential to help improve performance and communication, build stronger teams and boost staff morale, ultimately contributing to improved quality of service delivery.
SPOT – self-paced online training for language staff
The Documentation Division in New York has developed an online training tool called SPOT (for self-paced online training) that contains materials, guidance, learning activities and other resources to support the continuous professional development of its staff. SPOT reduces duplication and expedites knowledge sharing across the language services and adds another tool to complement the other types of training arranged for language staff. The tool also serves as a central repository of training materials. The content is being created by small teams in the Documentation Division themselves, so it can be easily and quickly updated and expanded as training needs evolve. SPOT was launched in April 2020 in New York. At a later stage, the project could be extended to the other language services, such as verbatim reporting and interpretation, and to the other conference-servicing duty stations.
Study on data and the supply chain: integrated delivery of conference services
The Department has initiated a study of the design and delivery of conference services. This study, known as the single source of truth, examines how data flow and are enriched by various processes as they move along the supply chain. Through this study, the first of its kind in the area of conference services, the Department is looking at integrating the work that it has done for over a decade in the area of innovation to embrace the future of work, where machines can perform the insignificant tasks and staff can focus on tasks that add value.
Through the study, the Department is preparing to link the delivery of its suite of conference services including language (translation and interpretation) and technical support services, through a supply chain for the delivery of its processes and products, be it data related to voting, sponsors and statements by Member States, or documentation, official records, resolutions and decisions. The supply chain will support the use of data and metadata, gathered and/or updated in its primary location, to deliver machine-readable documents, robot writing and business intelligence. Enabling access to data that are authentic, relevant and referable where each data element is mastered and/or edited in only one place will not only break silos and identify duplication of efforts but also bring efficiencies.
The study, which is expected to be completed in 2020, aims to achieve a transformation in the culture of the Department as processes in the supply chain deliver services in an integrated manner, and where the Department makes a paradigm shift by adding data fluency as another language in its mix, making data hoarding a thing of the past.
Innovation at the Division of Conference Management (United Nations Office at Geneva)
As a conference organizer, the Division of Conference Management remains focused on creating an environment to facilitate productive exchanges among its delegates. High-quality interpretation and translation services, smooth administrative processes, the removal of logistical stress and the efficient flow of information and communication, remain its priority. Putting the needs of clients at the heart of its activities is what the Division endeavours to do. Continued investment in innovation helps the Division respond to those needs so that Member States can work more quickly and effectively. In the past few years, staff of the Division of Conference Management have initiated, driven or implemented innovation in key areas including: meeting participant registration (Indico), planning decision support (Pipeline Visualization Tool), digital publications (annual report of the United Nations Office at Geneva), administrative workflows and client relations.
In 2019, as part of its strategic focus on client orientation and adaptability, the Division conducted a detailed assessment of the needs of client organizations entitled “Conferencing today and tomorrow”. The project focused on how to enhance the conferencing experience of Member States and substantive secretariats today, and how their needs may evolve over the next 5 to 10 years. By looking at both existing and emerging requirements, the Division analysed the services, innovations and conferencing technologies that could be leveraged to support intergovernmental processes today and in the future.
Meeting advisory and guidance services
A comprehensive compendium of services was developed in consultation with the Division and stakeholders of the United Nations Office at Geneva to meet the needs of clients and provide clear guidance on each step of the planning and execution phases of major conferences and events that involve multiple service providers.
The “Fully automated speech to text” project (FAST) was developed in collaboration with the World Intellectual Property Organization to customize its speech recognition tool for clients.
Feedback mechanisms on meeting servicing
This is a simple mechanism to provide immediate feedback at the end of meetings on the experience of meeting participants and key services received from the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Extrabudgetary conference cost estimate calculator
The Division has launched a self-service cost estimate calculator for extrabudgetary meetings. The purpose of the calculator is to assist clients with the financial planning of meetings and events by enabling scenario planning for the cost of conference services. Clients can select the services they intend to include in the meeting (such as interpretation, documentation, audiovisual, etc.), and instantly obtain a provisional cost estimate for the meeting. They are also able to modify their selections to obtain an alternate cost estimate based on the inclusion or exclusion of specific conference management services.
Standard operating procedures for the organization of accessible meetings
The Division has issued a standard operating procedures (SOP) for the organization of accessible meetings, with a view to implementing the United Nations Disability Inclusion Strategy at the United Nations Office at Geneva. The procedures provide detailed step-by-step guidance to meeting organizers for all stages of the process, from accessible conference announcements to accreditation procedures and delivery of inclusive events.
Building a culture of innovation
The Division has launched an in-house innovation team to foster a culture of creativity and provide a forum to take new ideas from concept to reality. Launched following a 100-Day Innovation Challenge, the agile format of the team enables current staff members to dedicate a limited amount of time to innovation projects, with the team composition rotating on a quarterly basis. The group researches how emerging technologies and methods can enhance service offerings to clients, incubates ideas and takes them forward to prototype. Pilot projects emerging from this initiative include explorations with academia on the impact of emerging technologies on conference services, and hosting events with international organizations and permanent missions on how technology is changing the field of intergovernmental conferencing. Other projects involve introducing an automated list of speakers for delegates in meeting rooms; revitalizing and modernizing documentation formats; and the use of predictive analytics to optimize queue times and automate speech-to-text solutions. Projects with a successful proof of concept are being taken forward within the Division and used to enhance service offerings to meeting delegates.
Innovation in publications
The Division is offering readers a richer experience by blurring the boundaries between print and digital products. The ISO certified printing team applies best practices to physical products, such as vegetable inks, original print formats, tactile enhancement using varnishes and cut-outs. The award-winning design and multimedia team delivers innovative and engaging experiences through immersive virtual reality, narrative-driven visuals and fully responsive online publications. The team’s web products ensure a seamless reader experience across platforms and devices. The team was designated to work on the past two editions of the Secretary-General’s report.
Innovations at the Conference Management Service (United Nations Office at Vienna)
The Conference Management Service at the United Nations Office at Vienna played an innovative role in the evolution of conference servicing by creating many of the information technology tools that are now used at all duty stations. These legacy applications helped to lay the foundations for integrated global management tools and many continue to support the business processes in the Department. In addition to gText and gMeets, information technology staff in Vienna also developed eCorrespondence, the Contractor Management Application (CMA) and eAPG, an interpreters assignment programme.
The Service also created a one-stop-shop for delegates called VIC Online, an accessible, intuitive and paperless platform where conference participants can retrieve current and historical information uploaded by Vienna-based organizations. In addition to parliamentary documents, digital recordings and journals, the platform also provides useful information on orientation, public transport and services at the Vienna International Centre (VIC).
Today, innovation in the Service is more important than ever. Creative solutions are helping the Service to absorb increasing workloads and deliver on its mandates despite the tightening of resources. Innovations are also helping the workforce to be more flexible and agile, to better meet the needs and challenges of the changing times.
In 2019, the entity serviced 6,600 meetings, breaking the previous record from 2018 and doubling the number of meetings held in 2013. Such a growth rate would stretch the resources of any service provider, let alone one the size of the Division, which lacks regular posts for in-room servicing. Since the Division relies on a roster of short-term staff for in-room servicing of its meetings, an innovative approach was taken to ensure the highest standards of quality. The Meetings Management Unit created, for temporary meeting room personnel, a tailored training programme that covered disability awareness, safety, customer service and etiquette. As evidence of the programme’s success, 94 per cent of conference participants surveyed in 2019 gave positive ratings on the courtesy and professionalism of meeting assistants.
Documentation and publishing
For some time, clients from across the Vienna-based organizations have asked for a wide array of modern e-publishing products that convey information effectively and have minimal environmental impact. The staff in the Electronic Publishing Unit in the Division have the expertise to create such products, but capacity could not keep up with demand. The Service's management found the perfect solution by harnessing the talent in the text-processing units. Since 2018, text processors have received training in using Adobe InDesign software. This has made it possible for them to absorb typesetting work from the Unit, so that graphic designers can focus on highly technical projects. Clients are thrilled with the cutting-edge products that are now readily available and staff have been empowered to diversify their skills – a true win-win innovation.
In a similar vein, translators in the Division will soon be given an opportunity to expand and refine their professional skills. The secretariat of the Convention against Corruption in Vienna regularly submits executive summaries on behalf of Member States, to be processed in the Division. In the past, the Division provided translations of these summaries “as received” (i.e., without editing), as the Editorial Control Unit only handles English documents. As a result, it was particularly hard to ensure consistency of terminology and style of the summaries. On a pilot basis, starting in the second quarter of 2020, these summaries are being edited first in their original language, by translators, before being sent for translation in the other language sections. By fully utilizing translators’ skills in this way, the Service is aligning its practices with the idea behind combined recruitment examinations for translators, précis-writers, editors and verbatim reporters in the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management.
Clients at the Vienna International Centre are interested in developing multilingual websites and are calling on the Conference Management Service for high-quality translations. Transferring newly translated content to a website, however, is a step beyond the traditional translation process – one that usually concludes with Word and PDF files. This was a roadblock for clients who lacked the expertise to transfer multilingual content themselves. To meet this emerging need, the Division has been drawing on the know-how and flexibility of staff. For the recent relaunching in all official languages (and German) of the web portal of the Vienna-based organizations, text processors from the Arabic, Chinese and Russian sections entered translated texts directly into the content management system. While doing so, they also checked translation concordance and ensured the consistent layout of content. The Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna and Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime welcomed the web portal’s strong contribution to better global visibility for the United Nations family in Vienna and their work on the Sustainable Development Goals.
Small innovations can have a big impact. In June 2019, the Division introduced a new email signature block to promote multilingualism. Developed by graphic designers in the Division, the signature block features a megaphone icon, followed by “I am multilingual” and a list of all the languages the staff member speaks. The signature block, which now appears in the email correspondence of over 180 staff members, has garnered praise from across the Organization. Other offices in Vienna have also expressed interest in adopting the multilingualism component in their own signature blocks.
Infotainment quiz for delegates
Feedback from meeting participants provides valuable information on how well the Division is performing and areas that might need improvement. However, the Vienna response rate to the global eSurvey has always been low. The Division solved this by creating its own questionnaire, in an entertaining mobile-friendly format, that can be filled out on various devices directly outside meeting rooms. Since the launch of this “infotainment quiz”, the number of delegates who have submitted feedback has increased, providing a wealth of data on all aspects of conference services, including interpretation, documentation, in-room support, facilities and more.
The Conference Management Service is seeking to improve accessibility throughout the Vienna International Centre. The Service recently commissioned a study by the Austrian Disabilities Council to assess the needs for remedial actions to remove barriers to accessing conferences. The Council’s findings, the result of on-site visits by persons with vision, hearing, cognitive and mobility impairments, were shared with all conference-servicing partners at the Centre. Since the initiation of the report and the on-site visits, several recommendations are already being implemented, such as the installation of automatic doors and accessible elevators. Moreover, the Division plans to procure recommended assistive technologies and adaptive furniture as the basis for an accessibility centre for conference participants.