A conference nightmare

Published in Insights, The New Zealand Initiative’s newsletter, 23 September 2022

Having attended too many public policy conferences, it was only a matter of time until they started haunting me in my sleep.

So, one night, I woke up from a nightmare.

I was in this big multifunctional hall. The atmosphere was airconditioned. There were mints, notepads and cheap plastic pens on the many round tables. And above the wide stage, a big screen showed a fancy slideshow on endless loop.

It was not immediately clear what the conference was about. It may have been something to do with infrastructure, financial markets, education, trade or development. It did not matter as all the topics blended into one.

The first speaker thought outside the box. He said in today’s world, low-hanging fruits were hard to find. To really add value, it was no longer enough to break down silos. Instead, he argued, we must get granular to leverage all our assets. Only this way, we could expect to raise the bar going forward.

The next speaker sang from the same hymn sheet. Well, not literally but she did encourage us to do some 360-degree thinking. At the end of the day, it was not rocket science to push the envelope on sustainability, creativity and diversity. Because we are all in this together, and togetherness is at the core of our community.

After the buffet lunch, for which the organisers had neglected to provide enough tables, we went back into the main auditorium. It was hard to tell if the audience was sleepy from digesting their conference food or from the presentations.

This did not make the Minister’s task any easier in delivering her keynote address. “In these times,” she solemnly declared, “the foundation is the bedrock of the base.” The key to stepping up to the plate was to aim for a paradigm shift, she opined.

The Minister underlined the importance of consultation with the sector and proper feedback loops. To stakeholders, her door was always open, she said, before rushing back to her limousine.

The MC, noticing a strange fatigue spreading through the audience, asked if people still had enough bandwidth to listen to the only economist on the agenda.

The poor economist looked meekly around the room. She warned of supply disruptions. She underlined the importance of cost benefit analysis. She said something about regulatory capture. And she had plenty of hard data to back up her points.

The audience was relieved when she left the stage. She had really disrupted the flow of things. She just did not speak their language.

Yes, it was a nightmare.

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