Interpreting at a distance: translation by video communication (DK)

Project partners  Vejen Kommune's Jobcentre and Integration-team

Contact data
Simon Simonsen
Vejen Kommune
tel. +45 79966103
e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Key words Video communication, interpreter, public services, digital services, broadband

Main problems to be solved (analysis) In Vejen Kommune we are receiving and hosting groups of refugees from foreign countries as well as other immigrants, mainly from Eastern Europe, who come here to get a job. When these people are registered as citizens in the municipality they are offered different public services and education. Until they have learned a minimum of Danish language, all information has to be translated into their own language, so they are able to communicate e.g. with public servants from the Integration Team or the Jobcentre.

In this pilot project we established video conference facilities in Vejen Kommune's Jobcentre and Integration-team to enable interpreting at meetings with citizens who are not able to speak or understand Danish. By using video conferencing equipment we can involve an interpreter, who is not physically present in the meeting room at Vejen.

Until now we have paid the interpreter for the meeting as well as time spent travelling and travel costs. We wish to reduce interpreting costs whenever possible.

When a meeting has to be cancelled it will be easier to plan a new and shorter meeting without travelling time; perhaps another interpreter is available eslewhere in Denmark. Distance will no longer be a problem – no travel costs.

We also want to investigate e.g. for which languages and for which kind of meetings and situations interpreting via video phones can be useful.

In Vejen Kommune interpreting is used mainly for meetings in the Jobcentre and the Integration-team, but also cross sectoral meetings in many other departments. This means that we need to co-ordinate different  budgets and different routines in handling interpreting. Expected outcome from this pilot activity is: a)  a general reduction of costs for interpreting b)  new routines for meetings and administration c)  experiences from using video communication which can be transferred

Policy frameworks to be dealt with/fitting in This pilot project is part of a large Danish national project managed by MedCom, which is a co-operative venture between authorities, organisations and private businesses linked to the Danish health care sector. The project involves regional hospitals, General Practitioners and 10 municipalities from all over Denmark

Aim of the project Primarily to carry out a certain number of standard meetings using interpreting via videophone in order to evaluate usability and quality of this interpreting. Secondly when the pilot project period of six months has ended to estimate the potential cost reduction for the municipality concerning interpreting in general.

Our local pilot project in Vejen Kommune must contribute to fulfil the aims of the national project: More effective utilisation of resources and less time spent travelling; better accessibility of interpreting in urgent situations and by small/specialist languages; less probability that interpreter and citizen know each other (no personal relations).

Results Registration of monthly data from every meeting with interpreting during the pilot period of six months whether the interpreter is present or participating on distance via videophone

The staff members have been trained and can handle all routines concerning booking, registration, reporting as well as how to handle the Tandberg E20 videophones in a meeting with citizens

Based on experience it becomes clear when use of interpretation via videophone works well or when the presence of a live interpreter is preferable

From interviews with citizens, interpreters and staff, we will collect statements about usability, quality and preferences. Based on data and evaluation we will be able to estimate and agree potential cost reductions.

Experience from use of videophones for interpreting can be transferred to introduce the use of video communication for other meetings and other purposes

Outcome within the WP According to well-being, there is great  benefit in the use of video communication. Everybody involved: citizens, interpreters, staff members, are very satisfied and agree that quality has increased compared to the previous situation. We now have shorter and more focused meetings, no relations involved, less time wasted travelling, more flexibility and not least an estimated cost reduction of 20.000 € per year for interpreting services in Vejen Kommune.

Since we have a broadband network based on fibre with very high capacity for both upload and download we can easily use video communication for every public office or institution in the municipality. Based on experience from this pilot project use of video communication for a variety of purposes will increase during the coming months.

Experience in using video communication in general and specifically for distance interpreting has been exchanged with the partners in WP3.

Outcome for the region as a whole This pilot project was finished in January 2012 and has been evaluated in a report             (Danish language only). The results show that the project has been very successful, and interpreting via videophones is now used routinely in almost 40% of interpreting cases in Vejen Kommune. That means we will have a significant reduction of transport by car or train because the interpreters don’t need to be physically present at the meeting. This makes interpreting via videophones a more sustainable solution than ordinary meetings.

We will still have some situations e.g. meetings in citizens’ private homes when use of video communication for interpreting is not possible. We are investigating solutions for that e.g. use of iPads via mobile networks and we expect to increase use of video communication for interpreting.

In the longer term we expect to achieve a 40% reduction of Vejen Kommune’s total costs for interpreting.  At the same time, the quality of meetings, according to the evaluation report has been raised and everybody involved: - staff, interpreters and citizens, are all very satisfied.

Because regional hospitals, some general practitioners and other municipalities are involved in MedCom's national project, many people will become experienced users of video communication. This will be the basis for much more use of video communication for a lot of different purposes on local, regional, national and even on a global level, because many experienced users will prefer video communication as an alternative to physical meetings when it seems smarter and easier.

Planning 2011-2012

Costs Approximately 400 man hours = 16.000 EUR (only project activities – not meetings with citizens) Equipment (hardware and software clients) for video communication: app. 5.000 EUR

Financing Man hours are registered and co-financed via Vital Rural Area. Equipment is fully financed by funding from MedCom.

Implementation of the project (cf. CAA)

which stakeholders were involved? The main project has been managed by MedCom as mentioned above, and MedCom has arranged network meetings in Odense during the project period where we have met and exchanged experiences with other project partners from all parts of Denmark.

On local level the pilot project was organised and managed by a project manager from the Integration Team and supported by a steering group with members representing the Job Centre, the ICT-department and the Department for Development in Vejen Kommune. The steering group involved other staff members as required for practical tasks such as set-up of videophones, network and firewalls. The directors of Vejen Kommune were informed and said “go” for the project, and when the pilot project ended and had been evaluated the politicians from the City Council were informed as well.

what process did you run through to fit the project into local conditions? The pilot project was planned according to the situation in Vejen Kommune and we decided that the Integration Team and the Job Centre were the best places to start since they handle most of the meetings with interpreting.

Following advice from MedCom we decided to buy Tandberg E20 videophones because they are easy to handle for the users. The users spent only half a day completing training exercises on how to handle the videophone and how to use it for a meeting.

New booking and registration routines were set up with the interpreters’ company on how to handle video meetings, and staff members were informed about these routines

how did you sustainably implement the project (locally, regionally)?  After the pilot project ended experience has been spread to other departments in Vejen Kommune. More videophones have been bought and interpreting by video is now becoming a routine for more meetings.

Furthermore Vejen Kommune, in common with three other Danish municipalities, has asked for new bids and competitive tenders from interpreting companies. The outcome has been a new contract with lower rates. At the same time experience from Vejen Kommune on the use of videophones has been transferred to the other municipalities and they are now trying to copy our success. One of the municipalities has joined the MedCom project, but the other two are starting from scratch with video communication. They are happy to learn from Vejen and they are very satisfied with the remarkable reduction in costs they have achieved.

An important issue is that in Vejen Kommune we have access to fibre network with at least 100/100 Mbit/s bandwidth for all public offices and institutions. Because of that we can introduce and use video communication everywhere. If you don’t have access to fast broadband such as fibre networks, you must always be aware if your broadband connection, and in particular your upload speed, is fast enough for quality video communication.

Which related projects can be studied or consulted? No similar projects have been identified, but some projects contains similar aspects: From RUR@CT database (

“Installation of high technology appliances in flats for older and disabled people” From : NEDERLAND, Noord-Brabant - (including video communication) "Public Video Conference Spot (PVCS) Bringing public services to citizens in rural areas " From : FRANCE, Auvergne From RDP Project Database ( about broadband in rural areas: “Fibre to the Village – Bringing Broadband to Remote Areas”, Sweden “Internet Access for Rural Communities ('Broadband to the Villages' Project)”, Finland

MedCom, the Danish organization which runs the national video interpreting project has published a brief English text in a pdf-publication at their website:

Direct link to publication in English (look at page 16): MedCom8 - Dissemination and technological future-proofing 2012-2013, March 2012

Applicability and transferability Today video communication is used by many people for different purposes but based on our experience you must be aware of some technical as well as practical key items:

  • You and your interpreters need video equipment and broadband connections with proper download and upload capacity to be able to ensure the quality of sound and video streaming
  • The interpreters must accept  the use of video communication
  • Agreement on (new) routines for booking, payment, administration and how to manage the meetings
  • Training sessions for staff and information to citizens before the meeting
  • Preparation of meeting room to enable video communication and test of equipment before the meeting
  • Preferable: short evaluation when the meeting has ended to collect experience in order to develop a common routine based on best practice
  • And maybe most important: - change of mindset and change of habits for everybody involved

Video communication can be useful in a lot of situations as an alternative to physical meetings. Of course the equipment and the set up of the meeting can be different e.g. according to the number of participants, but the key items mentioned above must be considered in all situations.

Use of video communication leads to more sustainable behaviour with less travelling and fewer man hours. It is more flexible and will usually cause a reduction of costs and a quick return of investment. Use of video communication definitely makes Profit and advantages for Planet and People.

Tools used in this pilot project

  • A standard project format tool with business case and standard issues/questions (internal defined)
  • A project organization model (steering group, project manager,...) = standard procedure
  • Registration tool for collecting data (which categories, which language, duration of meetings, number of hours spent on activities,...) in order to make statistics
  • Evaluation tool (MedCom recommended use of “mini MTV” for this project – medical technology evaluation standard) - a management and decision tool to be used for evaluation of technical equipment, assessment by citizens, economy, organization
  • User manuals for all routines: booking, reporting, controlling bills, use of video phones

Last update of this format:  November 29th 2012