The big event and its pitfalls

Chris Corrigan has a good post reflecting on the Copenhagen climate conference and Big Event meetings in general.

I have been thinking about this for a while and the missed opportunity in Copenhagen combined with some other observations about over the top conference planning has led me to really question whether the ONE ALL PURPOSE GATHERING has not seen better days. We are so muich more able to work in local and disbursed ways that we don’t need to wait for the big conference to do good work. We can just get on Skype and start going at it. In fact I’m surprised how few people actually do do this. Instead they wait for the big gathering to start something.

I resonate strongly with Chris. I’ve been involved in too many events in recent years where the organisers seem to get into tremendous states of angst trying to make the event effective. One of the prices for this over-investment is that “failure” is so painful that mostly they end in denial of it. The pressure for “success” thus leads to an unconscious conspiracy to cover up “failure” (or, Plan B, find a scapegoat). This ends up being corrosive of spontaneity and real engagement.

And I’m putting “success” and “failure” in quote marks because I’m wary of the urge to classify the performance of a meeting on the day itself, as if we can really judge then its significance in a complex, unfolding world. I suspect that a lot of participants share my scepticism of the “happy” sheets soliciting feedback as they leave. To my mind, these tend to reinforce a notion that change comes from meetings, rather than – sometimes accidentally and unintentionally – from the passions and actions of various individuals in shifting alliances with one another.

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