As a result of the prolonged daily movement and general travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, teleworking and virtual meetings have become the norm for many organizations and companies as they try to maintain business continuity during this unforeseen and challenging period.
However, for ITU and in fact for most UN organizations, supporting remote participation is even more challenging as all statutory meetings are multilingual by Constitution and Convention and only authorized persons who have followed strict registration and accreditation procedures may participate. However, most web-conference platforms do not support language interpretation and many provide a very basic authentication and access control mechanism, lacking the possibility of integrating them with an individual’s existing registration, authentication and access control systems.
Another important consideration is the expertise organizations have in organizing virtual constitutional meetings. ITU has been organizing multilingual physical meetings officially since 1938. As such, ITU has very well-established Rules of Procedures, Immunities and Privileges, and Constitution and Conventions governing the running of physical meetings. It also has the staff and infrastructure to support them. However, this is not the case for virtual events and remote participation.
ITU implemented its first Multilingual Interactive Remote Participation (MIRP) solution in early 2010, which allowed delegates to participate in ITU meetings remotely during the 2010 eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland which had disrupted air travel across western and northern Europe. Later in the same year, a resolution on “Strengthening ITU capabilities for electronic meetings and means to advance the work of the Union” was adopted unanimously by all Member States which led ITU to continue its work on improving MIRP for ITU meetings.
While the MIRP platform continued to evolve and was used considerably to extend the reach of the physical meetings since 2011, MIRP for ITU meetings remained a pilot and no updates had been foreseen for the Rules of Procedures, Immunities and Privileges and Constitution and Convention.
Finally, the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference Dubai 2018 officially concluded that remote participants do not have the same legal rights as onsite participants, and in the event that remote participants would get disconnected from the web conference platform, the physical meeting would continue. The term “remote intervention” was adopted to that effect.
In spite of not having the same legal status, remote participation remained a very popular tool amongst ITU delegates and most ITU meetings are hosted with remote participation, with and without interpretation.
Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA) of the UAE saw the potential and benefit of MIRP and during the ITU Plenipotentiary Conference Dubai 2018 expressed its interest in helping ITU to further the development of the remote participation service, extending it to all meetings in ITU – any meeting held in a physical room at ITU and remote conferences, may be extended to include remote participation. Since then, there had been an ad-hoc exchange of ideas and towards the end of 2019, it set the wheels in motion for financial sponsorship, which coincided with the roll-out of a new MIRP platform that provides better security, functionality and reliability.
With the lockdown following the advent of COVID-19, many UN organizations felt the need to organize fully virtual meetings with interpretation. The matter was discussed at a meeting of the Digital & Technology Network (DTN) of the United Nations Chief Executive Board (CEB). ITU was seen by the meeting as the leader in this area and was appointed to lead the ‘Workgroup on Virtual Meetings with Interpretation’.
The workgroup was tasked to create guidelines and identify best practices on this subject for the entire UN community. The report from the group was distributed to the High-Level Committee on Management (HLCM) on 20th May 2020 for reference by all participating UN organizations. Since then, several organizations have adopted the same MIRP solution as ITU did and many more are in the testing phase.
 As per Resolution 32 (Rev. Johannesburg, 2008) of the World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA) on strengthening electronic working methods in the work of the ITU-T and Resolution 73 (Johannesburg, 2008) of WTSA on ICTs and climate change and thereof concerning energy-efficient working methods.
 ITU Plenipotentiary Conference (Guadalajara, 2010).