The logistics - impressions and suggestions

J Clive Matthews
15 October 2007
Leaving the European Parliament

The logistics of this last weekend were quite incredible - even more so than I had imagined. Yes, I may have been a tad critical of the pre-poll information distribution, but considering the sheer scale, it's surprising they got anything out.

Anyway, back to the main logistics. In the end there were 362 participants, each of whom had to be provided with transport, food and accommodation.

The 27 member states were all represented, as were the 23 official languages - necessitating a whole slew of interpretors to enable everyone to understand what was going on, using the European Parliament's fancy simultaneous interpretation system (with the most uncomfortable headphones in the world and numerous technical problems that then had to be swiftly overcome).

The 362 were then split in to 18 different groups, containing 2-3 different language speakers, with each group given a moderator and sent off to a room in the labyrinthine European Parliament building, where yet more interpreters would await them. Then there's the catering staff for the coffee, lunch and tea breaks, as well as the buffet dinners on the Friday and Saturday night, the production of all the information packs in all the various different languages, and the attempts to bring in interesting expert speakers that included Nobel Peace Prize winners and current heads of state.

Plus, of course, you've got all the various observers from the press, partner organisations, etc. getting in the way trying to interview people and the like - and with everyone other than the organisers given identity cards that, from a distance, looked identitcal, the whole thing could very easily have descended into chaos.

As it is, a few suggestions for anyone trying to organise something similar in future:

1) Have a larger core organisational team. Notre Europe put this together with a key team of just five people, and they all looked knackered beyond belief. It's too much - especially considering that due to the nature of the poll, most of the organisational work has to be done in the last few weeks as the participants are selected and finalised.

2) You need more than just a single, Part-time public relations person. Daniela did her very best, and was helpful and smiling throughout, despite looking about ready to drop - but press exposure is vital for this kind of enterprise, and much has probably been missed out on thanks to not having a larger team.

3) Participants and observers need to be better colour-coded. Organisers had red ribbons, participants and observers both blue. This meant distinguishing who'd who very difficult indeed. I'd also suggest, for any multi-language poll, that some kind of indication of the country/language the participants speak is indicated on their ID card - national flags or something. For the deliberation to really work, the participants need to discuss with people outside their core groups as much as possible - but at the social events in between sessions, no one could tell who they could speak to, so most ended up stuck with their fellow countrymen from their own small groups.

4) A better solution has to be found for questioning the experts than merely getting all 360-odd participants sat in the main chamber of the European Parliament in front of a panel of five politicians/academics, who then vaguely respond to a selection of 18 questions, one from each group. Even if - as they tried to do - you allow each expert only two minutes to respond (which is nowhere near long enough for a decent answer), that still means a solid three hours of Q&A, and you're still only getting a superficial response. A number of the participants seemed dissatisfied with the answers they recieved from the experts, and little wonder insuch circumstances.

5) The moderators need to be better trained, to ensure that everyone always gets an equal say. The groups I sat in on were mostly fine, but a number of people only spoke when called on, with more forceful personalities dominating the discussion. This is always the danger with any political debate - and the moderators need to reduce the impact of those domineering personalities as much as possible.

6) The moderators also need to be shown how to do a better job of helping the group select their questions to be put to the experts - the majority of these were bland and had obvious answers, ("How can the EU harmonise state pensions?" Answer: "It can't - pensions don't fall within the EU's remit"), some were incredible wastes of time ("What is the role of the European Parliament?" was a question on the final day - if after three days they still don't know that, there's no hope...)

Other impressions to follow soon - still recovering from a lovely combination of celebrating Saturday night's rugby result followed by yesterday's Eurostar back not getting in to London until 10pm - 11pm by my current body clock...

The results of the final survey are expected on Thursday - but in the meantime I now have the demographics of the participants - time for some number-crunching to test these claims of representativeness...

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