Behind every meeting at UN Geneva, there is a team of specialists working in the background to ensure the successful and seamless delivery of every single component. Take the practice of delivering prepared statements, for instance. While this may seem straightforward to the outside observer – after all, doesn’t the speaker simply read a prepared speech into a microphone? – there are multiple teams coordinating behind the scenes to ensure the messages of representatives and delegates are communicated effectively in all six official UN languages.
Due to time constraints, prepared statements are often read at a dizzying speed during UN meetings. For interpreters to provide fast and accurate interpretation and for précis-writers to put together comprehensive summary records after the meeting, they must receive copies of prepared statements before the meeting. This important function is carried out by meeting services assistants, often in a high-pressure environment: traditionally, the task has involved countless hours spent copying or digitizing the statements in preparation for distributing them at meetings; attempting to track down individual or group email addresses for distributing the statements electronically; managing communications with a myriad of secretariats and participants; and wrangling many other logistical requests that are vital to the successful delivery of a meeting.
In March 2020, the world changed overnight at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The United Nations Office at Geneva closed its doors and shifted all in-person meetings online. As a result, the Division of Conference Management, or DCM, faced difficult questions about how to fulfill its mandate and adapt to a “new normal”.
Within DCM, however, momentum for change had already been long underway. “Interpreters and précis-writers rely on copies of delegates’ statements to do their job to the best of their ability. In addition, meeting services assistants are under immense pressure to gather and distribute copies of statements efficiently,” says Melanie Guedenet, English Reviser in DCM. “These issues existed long before COVID-19 struck.”
Along with her colleagues in the Languages Service, Guedenet had begun crafting the idea of an internal electronic platform for meeting services assistants to upload and organize prepared statements. The platform could serve as a one-stop-shop for UN staff to not only access statements, but also store information such as lists of delegation members, names and titles of speakers, and other documents that are crucial for précis-writers to do their jobs. They would call it the eStatements Hub.
Before the pandemic, the idea had been a “nice to have.” As members of the DCM Innovation Team, Guedenet and Alexandre Gadebski, an interpreter, pitched the eStatements Hub as a tool that would greatly improve efficiency, reduce paper usage, and prevent crossed signals among conference management staff. First, to shape the scope of the project, Guedenet conducted a detailed user requirements analysis, interviewing secretariats, meeting services assistants, interpreters and précis-writers, and consulting with other entities, both inside and outside the United Nations system. Next, Guedenet and Gadebski worked with a team of developers to build the eStatements Hub and prepared it for implementation, leading a series of training sessions for different user groups.
From précis-writers and interpreters to meeting service assistants and IT staff, a dedicated and diverse team worked behind the scenes to bring the eStatements Hub from concept to reality. Among them are Riin Koppel, Conference Services Officer, as well as Fernando Herranz Perez and Mirko Treutlein, developers at the UN Department of Operation Support. After the structure of the eStatements Hub was built, its contents are being populated by Meetings Services Assistants, who continue to work closely with it every day. They create user-friendly folder structures and rename statements to enable easier search.
The eStatements Hub was officially rolled out a few months after the beginning of the pandemic. It was an immediate success: within a month of launching, the Hub logged over 34,000 site visits, and UN staff accessed the site seven days a week – from 7 am to midnight. “The fact that the Hub was rolled out during the spring of 2020 meant that conference services staff were able to keep delivering as before, even when they could no longer attend meetings in person,” Guedenet says.
Over the next two years, as UN Geneva cautiously transitioned to holding hybrid and in-person meetings, the eStatements Hub remained a crucial resource for conference management staff, who describe it as a “must-have” to perform their work. As of April 2022, the eStatements Hub has been visited more than 212,200 times by over 550 unique viewers, and it is home to over 27,300 documents, with another 6,360 archived files.
The creators of the eStatements Hub envision that it will continue to evolve and improve to serve the needs of DCM in an even more effective manner. Potential upgrades include adding metadata for all documents uploaded to the Hub, which would make its massive collection of content more searchable. Another major innovation in the pipeline is the creation of self-service forms, which meeting participants and organizers could use to submit statements directly to the Hub. Ultimately, the goal is to continue strengthening the eStatements Hub as a user-friendly product that plays a significant role in helping meetings at UN Geneva run in an efficient, collaborative, and sustainable manner.
“Today,” Guedenet says, “we can’t imagine ever having worked without it.”