This is a recent interview with Anders Norsker, Chief, Information Services Department, International Telecommunication Union. Anders will be speaking at the forthcoming E-Participation day on 19 June.
Anders, how does the ITU Remote Participation Service work?
ITU has been offering webcasting in six official working languages since the Minneapolis plenipotentiary conference in 1998. We are now moving from passive webcasting to more interactive methods.
Interactive Remote Participation started as a pilot project in 2009 at the request of ITU's Member States. Remote delegates can enter a virtual meeting room that provides them with the video and audio feed of the conference. They can access documents or presentations being discussed and interact with a remote participation moderator seated in the conference room. Remote delegates have the ability to ask the Chair for the floor and make oral interventions. On-site interpreters interpret these remarks which are then heard by all delegates (physical or remote) in the six official working languages.
In your view has remote participation opened up the ITU?
Yes, definitely. Most ITU meetings now provide remote participation as a standard offering. When registering, delegates can choose whether to attend the meeting in person, or remotely. Doing away with travel is a tremendous boon for developing countries and small island states who have neither the financial or human resources to physically attend all UN meetings.
What role has remote participation played in the World Summit of Information Society (WSIS)?
Remote Participation has been an important feature of the WSIS Forum meetings for the last four years. At the last WSIS Forum the ITU provided remote participation in over 130 sessions with up to nine parallel meetings. Many of experts that gave presentations at the WSIS Forum also did so remotely.
Can delegations attend ITU meetings both in person and remotely ?
Yes. Remote participation does not exclude physical participation in meetings. In many instances, there may be a delegate attending the conference, perhaps from the local Permanent Mission, but supported remotely by a colleague located in the capital. This is very helpful, for example, where a delegate in the room is not necessarily an expert in the topic under discussion.
How many delegates have used this service?
In 2012 we had some 1,100 interactive remote participation sessions with approximately 10,000 attendees. This resulted in savings of approximately 40 million kilometers of travel and 6 million Kgs of CO2 emissions.
Do you think this service is applicable to other UN agencies?
The slogan for the recent 2015 development agenda seems to be "leave no one behind". So, yes, all UN agencies can benefit from implementing tools that broaden participation in the work of the UN, support people with disabilities and reduce cost for traveling. In times of financial constraints these remote services offer very good alternatives.
What advice would you give to organisations that are interested in piloting remote participation?
Start with piloting this as a new service in addition to the onsite physical participation. You need the tolerance and flexibility from your stakeholders and to gain experience and build trust in use of technology. Go slowly. Don't try to force replacement of physical participation by remote participants. Don’t try to change rules and procedures overnight. Even if the technology may be mature, the cultural change effort should not be underestimated