What worked well

Having made these criticisms, it should be said that there were a number of things that were done very well at the 2020 Summit. The reduction of costs was very cleverly arranged. By making the Summit a prestigious event and asking that participants volunteer their time and pay their own way for the honour of attending the Summit, the financial and administrative burdens of running such an event were significantly reduced. Similarly, the facilitators, scribes and guides were all induced to attend as volunteers.

The system of public nomination of participants was also clever as it increased public interest and involvement in the event. The only problem with the system was that some of the people with the greatest expertise would not contemplate self-nomination. This meant that they were either left out, or nominated without their knowledge, as occurred in the case of at least one former High Court judge, who ultimately declined to attend.

The idea of setting up a database for participants where they could communicate about issues in advance of the Summit was also sensible. Much discussion has continued post-Summit by way of email. The instruction that participants write 100 words setting out one idea, and another 100 words on a subject about which they had changed their minds in the last decade smacked of the psychological manipulation well beloved of management consultants. (At least participants were not asked to explain what type of fruit they would like to be.) In any event, the website was so badly organized that it was too difficult to find in advance the statements made by other members of one’s group. Every participant was given their own webpage and, instead of organizing them according to groups and in alphabetical order of surname (which would appear logical), the 1000 or so different pages were arranged by the alphabetical order of a person’s title. Hence under ‘A’ one found Associate Professors, ‘D’ gave us Doctors, ‘P’ was for Professors, but the biggest category was ‘M’ for Mrs Ms and Mr. I suspect most people probably gave up looking after the letter A. I certainly did. Public submissions were also accessible from a website, which listed each one next to the column intriguingly headed ‘possible profanity’. No doubt those marked as potentially profane were the first and only ones read.

Despite the website glitches, the mechanical organisation of the event was certainly done superbly, including the organisation of facilities, the catering and the movement of such a large number of people about the building. Given the short period of time between the announcement and the holding of the Summit, this aspect of the organisation was very impressive indeed.