Friday, December 14, 2007

About the Cost and Value of Conferences

Dear Colleagues

I would like to know a lot more about the cost and value of conferences. I just got the following invitation:
> Just thought I'd let you know that after the fantastic success of the
> Anti-corruption Summit in Amsterdam, Ethical Corporation have developed
> another unique and compelling agenda for the Global Anti-corruption,
> Compliance and Ethics Conference to be held in Chicago the 16-17 of April
> 2008.

But I wonder what "fantastic success" really means. I have asked the conference organizers about this, and it will be interesting to see the reply. I wrote as follows:

I am curious how you have come to the conclusion that the Anti-Corruption Summit in Amsterdam was a success, let along a fantastic success.

Our group is working on the cost effectiveness of critical activities in our global society, with a focus on the rather poor performance of the international relief and development sector.

Clearly, the issue of curruption is a subject that needs to be addressed ... just as there are issues in health, education, trade, workplace rules, and a whole lot more.

A powerful tool in all of this is understanding the value chain and the fund flows ... but this is rarely visible. The UN and a growing number of corporate organizations are running conferences, workshops, seminars, training courses ... and it is clear that they are profitable otherwise they would have stopped growing long ago ... but are they valuable?

The first set below shows what seems to be driving conferences:
Funds raised ---> funds used ---> conference held
Funds raised exceed funds used

This is what ought to be going on:
Funds raised ---> funds used ---> conference held ---> valuable change achieved
Valuable change exceeds funds raised or funds used.

Are there any organizations that talk about the valuable change achieved? The UN might argue that their conferences put the UN's work into the media spotlight ... but in all honesty, what tangible good does that do?

I would be interested in your take on this

I see an urgent need for economic and financial analysis to include the value dimension. Economic activity that produces profit for stockholders at the expense of the commons must, it seems to me, be brought under control. And where society needs investment in the commons, as in the relief and development sector, I would argue that there needs to be a much larger interest in the value of the activities that are funded, not only how much they cost.

It will be interesting to see whether there is a substantive response to my question.

Peter Burgess