You have recently been appointed Director of the Division of Conference Management (DCM) at UNOG. Could you share with us more information about your career path that made it possible for you to be selected for this important position?
I have had various roles since joining the DCM in 2007 in the Executive Office and then as Chief of PSS, mirroring perhaps my atypical background: degrees in chemistry; an MBA; a brief stint in manufacturing and a career in the U.S. Diplomatic service. I have had plenty of opportunities to develop my interests in DCM, particularly in the area of communication. When we pursue our passions, we find extra energy and enthusiasm, especially by engaging with people who share them too and can help us think creatively and find solutions. We have a lot of expertise in the Division, at UNOG and across DGACM and I regularly reach out to colleagues to deepen my understanding of issues and to refine my thinking through discussion. I have often taken on extra activities, where I could make things happen and fill an unmet need. I encourage people to be ready to volunteer their own time, above and beyond our “day-jobs” and look at things from the point of view of conference participants and organizers. While Chief of PSS, I supported staff by following up on their interests and bringing new ideas forward. The former Director-General’s request to modernize the UNOG Annual Report into something much more appealing for a broad audience triggered an outpouring of creativity and innovation. The product won a design award and was such a success that we were asked to design the SG’s Annual Report.
You took over the Division at a time of changes for both the translators (increase in their workload) and the interpreters (the introduction of online meetings). How do you intend to implement these changes while taking into account the health and the welfare of the staff?
We saw during the first months of the pandemic how quickly the technical landscape of the tools we use shifted to meet business continuity needs. This rapid evolution will continue, bringing further improvements. Currently there is a clear problem with poor sound quality over remote simultaneous interpretation (RSI) platforms. I expect that over time, perhaps 3 or 4 years, developments in technology should resolve these issues. In the interim, we must raise participants’ awareness of what they can do to improve sound quality. The DG has urged Member-States to invest in appropriate equipment and training for remote participation; our DCM colleagues are producing communications packages to raise awareness, which I truly appreciate, and a working group, with the ASG and OICT, is providing input for the next round of procurement of remote platforms. At UNOG, we also have a platform for reporting any health issues arising from interpreting audio coming over RSIs, which I would encourage interpreters to use to capture data so it feeds into future solutions.
About translation, I would like to emphasize that the USG and ASG’s engagement reflects the concern at the highest levels of management and I am confident of a positive outcome. Michelle Keating, Chief of the Languages Service, led a working group, which submitted a report to the USG, DGACM, who endorsed the recommendations. Several technical task forces have been set up to review differences between duty stations. Information about these task forces is available via Sharepoint. We are waiting to hear more about the harmonization group to which the task forces will report. Colleagues may wish to take the opportunity to engage with task force members. Now is also a good time for translators to take advantage of training opportunities. Having said that, there are clearly issues surrounding the quality of submissions and authoring which must be tackled.
Very often, when a new Director is appointed, changes are likely to be introduced. What are the changes you would like to introduce at DCM?
My core mandate is to implement the vision of the Director-General of UNOG, to whom I report, and the USG of DGACM, who sets the budget and policy for conference servicing. The SG recently referred to accelerating transformation through a Quintet of Change: better data, analysis and innovation of communications and digital transformation; strategic foresight; stronger performance and results orientation; and a work culture that reduces bureaucracy. These strategies will be help us navigate the future evolution of the Division.
I see three key issues on my desk. The first is the SHP, with which I am proactively engaged to ensure business continuity throughout the project for conferencing and a modern conferencing infrastructure that meets the needs of our teams who provide services, our clients who organize conferences and our delegates and meeting participants, who benefit from our work.
Secondly, preparing for the post-COVID-19 meeting environment through building on the Conferencing Today and Tomorrow (CTT) project to capture lessons learned and identify what should be kept and how it can be done in a sustainable manner. This second phase of the CTT will help us strengthen our preparedness for and reactivity to change, which as we have learned over the past year, can be thrust upon us without warning. The first stage will start in the Fall with the report expected at the end of this year with recommendations that can be considered in the 2023 budgetary process.
The third key issue is strengthening consonance and improving communication within DGACM and across UNOG. Information must pass in both directions, reflecting the duality of our budgetary and policy location in DGACM and our operational location in UNOG. I encourage all colleagues to take a Divisional level perspective and to see their role as a contribution to fulfilling the DCM mandate. We have a lot to gain as a Division, when colleagues join cross-cutting teams, such as the UNOG Disability Inclusion Team or the new UNOG Multilingualism Action Team. These cross-functional activities are opportunities to work on new issues and projects and expand professional networks. Seeing different perspectives can bring a true breath of fresh air into our working lives. In short, I would like to promote this sort of cross-fertilisation within the Division and beyond through much-needed “Community Service” as well as opportunities for learning and cross assignments.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our working methods. How do you see the future of the Division in light of the lessons learnt from the pandemic?
The future is certainly about strong connections across DGACM and UNOG, as well as other international organisations, to better support our clients and Member States in a sustainable manner. What the pandemic has shown us is how fragile our world is and how quickly longstanding practices can be upended. The Division successfully adapted and we supported each other through difficult challenges. Covid could have atomised us; broken down our interaction and relationships. Instead, we reached out through technology like Teams, which was effective, because we had resilient pre-existing networks. When we all get back to the Palais, let us focus on revitalizing our team connections and replenishing our teamwork capital. These got us through this crisis and will support us through coming changes. We know where we are heading our ship, but even the best crew cannot control the wind or the waves, so we must be ready to make adjustments to reach our goal in changing conditions.