So I’m very excited to have the opportunity to attend tomorrow’s “Tackling Corruption Together” conference in London (a civil society event to precede the government-organized Anticorruption Summit on Thursday). It looks like a great program, and I’m looking forward to doing some substantive posts on the conference discussion after I return home. And given how grateful I am to be included, I probably shouldn’t say anything critical about the conference program in advance. But I just can’t stop myself from pointing out that for the opening session has allocated a total of 45 minutes total for: a welcome address by the Rt. Hon. Patricia Southland (Secretary-General of the Commonwealth of Nations), a keynote speech by President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria, and opening remarks from three additional speakers (Jose Ugaz, Mo Ibrahim, and Jan Coos Gessink). That comes out to nine minutes per speaker, on average (assuming a punctual start, no delays between presentations, and no time allocated for remarks from the session chair, Axel Threlfall). And while perhaps President Buhari will prove unusually succinct, I’ve never seen a head-of-state manage to keep his or her remarks under half an hour. This strikes me as absurdly unrealistic time allocation.
The rest of the conference program suffers from similar problems, generally allocating around 9-11 minutes per speaker, on average (not including the session chairs, and again assuming no delays or dead time). And I strongly suspect that the most of these speakers will want to take at least 15 minutes for their presentations. So, what will happen (I predict) is that sessions later in the day will be rushed, there will be no time for Q&A or meaningful exchanges among the panelists, and the coffee breaks and lunch hour–often the most productive times of these meetings, because that’s when people really get a chance to interact–will be drastically compressed.
I’m hoping that I’ll be proven wrong, and if I am, I’ll post a mea culpa. But otherwise, we can add this to my litany of complaints about anticorruption conferences (and other conferences, for that matter): Overcrowded programs, with too many speakers and too little time–and perhaps an over-emphasis on getting “fancy” speakers giving prepared remarks, rather than creating opportunities for genuine dialogue. But, again, I fully expect some useful material to come out of this meeting, given the great lineup of speakers. This is hardly an unusual problem. Consider this not so much a criticism as a plea, for future conference organizers, to think carefully about what’s a realistic allocation of minutes-per-speaker.