The 2020 Summit: ‘The Future of Governance’

Anne Twomey[1]

Table of Contents

The composition of the Summit
The number of Summit participants
The imbalance between presentation and substance
What worked well
The lessons
Conclusion

The 2020 Summit was a mixed success. On one level it successfully encouraged the discussion of Australia’s future, as well as supporting the propositions that ideas matter, that the community may contribute to government, and that change may be positive, rather than something to be feared. It also produced a great deal of public engagement through local, school and youth summits, public submissions and public nominations for participation in the summit. Televising the full proceedings on ABC2 permitted many people to feel involved in the Summit from their own homes. As a public education and participation process, it could therefore be judged a success.

If, however, the purpose of the Summit was to harness the ideas of the ‘best and the brightest’ and develop practical proposals, then its success is more doubtful.

There are a number of reasons for this.

The composition of the Summit

The Summit was not composed of the ‘best and the brightest’, despite the propaganda to the contrary. It comprised an eclectic mix of people who fell broadly into two groups: on one hand, academics and experts; and, on the other, people with community or ‘on the ground’ experience. Both groups had valuable ideas to bring to the table. As one academic remarked to me, the people from the community group were not only more enthusiastic but far more creative, as they were neither boxed into long-held positions, nor burdened by familiarity with failures of the past.

To bring out the best from each group the Summit should have been run differently. If it had been solely a Summit of experts, then the discussion could have commenced at a high level, with no need to address the fundamentals or background. It would have been more focused and more likely to produce well-reasoned and practical (albeit predictable) proposals.

If the Summit had solely comprised representatives of community groups and members of the general public, it could have been structured so that participants became informed of the issues, either in advance through briefing papers or through short presentations at the Summit. Once a common level of understanding had been achieved, participants could have drawn upon their own experiences and knowledge to develop the ideas that were sought. This is the approach taken in ‘deliberative polls’ and ‘citizens’ assemblies’.

Either approach would have been likely to have been effective. However, the combination of these two different groups produced much frustration. There simply was not sufficient time or opportunity for explanations to be given as to why some proposals were impractical or would probably be ineffective. Nor was there sufficient time for people to be persuaded to shake off entrenched views and prejudices.