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2020 delegates an unpredictable but dynamic mix

Australia 2020

Most of the 2020 Summit participants have now been announced. The steering committee has selected as wide a range of people with something to say as could be expected under the circumstances.

Rather than arguing over particular individuals who might or might not have been included, it is more productive now to discuss the composition of the Summit as a whole in terms of the mix of personality types, and then to look forward to the process by which it might best be conducted. These matters seem to have been something of an afterthought for the organisers and are still being decided on the run.

It is fascinating to think about what types of people there will be among the 1000 and how they will pull together over two days. Some know one another already but many do not. Different types of expertise and experience are represented, but just as significantly there will be different types of personalities and approach to discussion. It will be important how those who are used to high-level leadership positions in business, executive government and the judiciary mix with those from academia, the NGO sector, the media and the artistic community.

Some participants will take their position as determined individuals with particular ideas they wish to present, or will come with a record of innovative thinking in their field. In each section there will be ideas merchants and advocates who, given the chance, will have plenty to say.

But to be effective in producing practical outcomes the summit must have many other types of people playing a role. There will need to be facilitators and mediators, experienced leaders, skeptics, wise heads and others.

The facilitators might include Frank Brennan and Geraldine Doogue. Among the experienced operators are the former state premiers, Geoff Gallop, Nick Greiner and Steve Bracks, and the former head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Peter Shergold.

Those of a skeptical frame of mind include Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute and Miranda Devine of the Sydney Morning Herald. And wise figures such as Sir William Deane will provide an invaluable perspective.

The ultimate productivity of the summit will come from dynamic interplay within groups, not individual performance. There are already many opportunities for individuals to make their submissions to government anyway. This is not that sort of occasion. The tension between ideas is more important. The winnowing of those ideas presented will be as significant as the individual ideas themselves.

The process of extracting the best outcomes from the whole exercise remains the biggest problem, whatever the composition. Both the location and the organisation of time make a big difference to the outcome, as any event organiser knows. Parliament House in Canberra is the obvious venue, but does not seem to be an ideal location for ten groups of 100 people, with each group needing room for both large plenary sessions and smaller breakout meetings. There are just not that many suitable rooms in a venue designed for another purpose.

The program itself will need to be tightly organised. Even then it will be a big job to prevent it becoming the pushiest and the loudest rather than the best and the brightest. Good listeners and networkers who are not dying to speak will be a valuable commodity. There will be no way that there will be time for each participant to speak for even two minutes each in a plenary session. All weekend conferences turn out to have only one and a half days at most of useable time during which decisions can be made.

Choosing the participants from the 8000 nominations was a hard job. The individuals selected are fine but the mix is still unpredictable. Creating an effective structure and modus operandi for the proceedings will be even harder.

2020 Summit

John Warhurst

John Warhurst is Professor of Political Science at the Australian National University and a columnist with The Canberra Times. He was nominated but failed to make the cut for the Summit.



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Existing comments

Prof Warhurst has defined half the problem, the gathering and gleaning of useful data problematically obtained. But there are also further problems: what will be done with whatever data is selected (and how appropriate and transparent will that selection process be). It seems to me that thought under such a tight timetable is highly likely to be forged hastily in the face of a deadline, not to say blinkered. And further, what winnowing and post-conference synthesis processes will be applied, and how debatable (and again, transparent) will they be?

Brian Dwyer | 07 April 2008  

What a farce this summit is; did they copy this out of Bill Clinton's manual of how to hoodwink the public?

Bill Clinton's small group discussion think tanks went nowhere apart from garnering the Clintons 108 million in special interest fees.

I guess it's better than Dubya's "Give me your freedom or it's death" doctrines (as opposed to "Give me freedom or give me death" of the forefathers).

chaz | 22 June 2008  

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