What worked well:
- The open format and generally conflict-free timing of the plenary sessions provided ample opportunity for all voices to be heard. Few, if any, complaints were heard about anyone not being able or free to register opinions.
- The dialog, debate, questioning, commenting, and interactive exchanges fostered by the plenary sessions precipitated productive and valuable discussions. This was precisely what was intended. i.e., Good discussion ensued without necessarily leading to consensus positions, formal resolutions, or doing anything else manifesting or resembling a policy making process.
- The moderators of the plenary sessions were of immense importance inasmuch as they kept the discussion of inherently unwieldy and multifaceted topics moving apace, did not allow a dwelling upon footnote-quality asides, rancor, or migration into tangential topics (although access seemed to creep into discussions of all four topics).
- No time was wasted on presentation of elaborate biographical sketches of participants, introductory speeches by discussants, tutorials regarding the topics at hand, or other formalities. The plenary session discussions got up to speed almost immediately. This was responsive to the advanced state of awareness of the topics by most audience members.
- The focus on a finite number of topics, albeit broad ones, worked well, perhaps to the pleasant surprise of many.
What worked less well:
- The massive size of the plenary panels inhibited spontaneous inter-discussant exchanges, kept discussions more superficial than they might have been with fewer discussants (or panels composed strictly of discussants with points of view decidedly different from others on the same panel).
- Insufficient time was allotted to solicit and secure the participation of senior-level executives of real business firms. Such executives (both from firms that stand as users, e.g., financial services, as well as providers – ICT-centric – ones) may have added credence to some of the discussions. Self-professed business representatives/associations came off as weak and not necessarily credible substitutes for real corporate decision makers.
Suggestions for improvements:
- The format of the Athens meeting worked remarkably well measured against its objective of fostering multi-stakeholder discussion.
- Workshops should be solicited to provide well-defined opportunities for participants to explore in greater details particular aspects of plenary session topics. There should be more detailed criteria for workshops than there was in Athens, and complementary or topic-overlapping workshop proposals should be compelled to combine.
- Workshops should not be scheduled while plenary sessions or other closely related workshops are in progress.
- Invitations to desired speakers, particularly senior-level ones, should be extended far in advance of the meeting. Experience teaches that six months (even a year) is not at all too far-advanced a time to secure such busy and “over-scheduled” leaders.
Other comments suggestions:
The immediate benefit of the inaugural IG Forum meeting may be process-oriented. As the meeting progressed it became evident how truly grand an experiment the inaugural IG Forum meeting was. That it was conducted and concluded in as seamless and seemingly overwhelmingly satisfactory way as it did was testimony that it may, in fact, serve as a worthy model for duplication by others who are striving to address other important and inherently international issues, the resolution of which seem perennially stymied by different and conflicting interests of different nations and different societal sectors. Needless to say, discussion must precede agreement, and agreement must precede the making of effective conflict-resolving policy making. But how best to foster effective discussion? That is the process question toward which the Athens meeting may be regarded as having made as significant a contribution as any other.