Conference Diversity Index: The Sustainable Development Of The Liverpool City Region
A conference supported with public money on the sustainable development of a city region is obviously a matter of considerable public interest. It needs, therefore, also to be a conference in which deliberative democracy plays a part, and in which the diversity of all those ultimately involved is acknowledged. It also needs to support easy accessibility in terms of attendance and recorded output.
A Conference Diversity Index is being developed on this website to see how well these requirements are met by conferences such as this.
I have already written on this weblog (and in New Start magazine) about my intention to develop a Conference Diversity Index. I have also shared my concern on this site about how Liverpool, perhaps even more than other places, is a location where local women in visibly influential positions are not the norm.
How can organisations, conferences, presentations which concern public life and which involve public money (for instance, public sector attendance or speakers) offer maximum value when those actually involved do not at all reflect the composition of the population they seek to consider?
Is diversity essential for policy-making?
* How can genuinely wider engagement occur at a meaningful level when those most visible all reflect the power and influence
of only one part of the population?
* How can the understandings and experience of everyone be seen to be respected in such circumstances?
* How can we be at all sure that the decisions taken in the wake of these events offer best value for money when only small parts of the diversity even those well qualified to speak whose lives will be affected have been visibly involved?
What follows is a first attempt at a case study to arrive at possible answers to some of these questions. In it I have tried to establish the extent to which the conference addresses matters of public interest, and compared that with the extent to which it acknowledges issues of diversity of experience and accessibility of outcomes, awarding up to five ‘stars’ for good value.
The Sustainable Development of the Liverpool City Region event is a one-day ‘strategic’ conference organised by the Waterfront Conference Company of London, at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Liverpool on 5th December 2006.
The conference concerns ‘how Liverpool and Merseyside can develop sustainability’, discussing strategic development issues, removing the barriers to development, gateways to Liverpool and Merseyside and transport links, and getting the most from leadership structures.
>> Merseyside remains an area where there is considerable poverty, where fewer women , working class males and people from ethnic minorities have high educational qualifications and /
or well-paid employment, where public transport is a critical issue (fewer car-owning families), where health is a challenging issue, where there are very few women at the most senior levels of local public life and decision-making.
>> Diversity of experience and role models is therefore a central concern.
Score for relevance to public issues: ***** [5 stars out of a possible maximum of 5]
13 speakers, all well-known in their fields, are listed in the brochure. 12 of them are male. Liverpool is not the professional base of the only female speaker.
>> This gender distribution does not remotely reflect the
distribution on men and women living and working in the ‘Liverpool City Region’ – or, indeed, the country as a whole. Nor does the list of speakers reflect any evident ethnic or community diversity.
>> Discussions of sustainable futures, encouraging businesses, transport, environmental ‘friendliness’, ‘barriers to development’ and the like are all issues concerning everyone. These are not issues which can only be addressed at high levels by white males, however impressive their particular expertise.
>> The list of speakers (as opposed one hopes to the content of the speakers’ talks) offers no positive role model, or encouragement, for most people in Liverpool, to the view that their experience and opinions count.
Score for diversity of speakers: – [No stars out of a
maximum of 5: fewer than 20% of the speakers are not white males.]
Attendees and fees
Those who ‘should’ attend include private investors, local authority, regional and national public servants through to ‘environmental and other pressure groups’. Fees for these various categories are respectively £468.83, £351.33 and £233.83. It is however possible to purchase the CD-Rom of the conference papers alone for £179.19.
>> Large numbers of those attending can be expected to be public officials, or involved in financial dealings in the public domain. They must pay quite a lot of money frm the public purse to attend (and to be paid their publicly-funded salaries for their day’s work as attenders).
>> The reduced rate is too high for most local and community bodies to become involved; and the cost of the CD-Rom is, frankly, exhorbitant.
Score for accessibility: ** [2 stars out of a maximum of 5 : There is a reduced rate for voluntary bodies, and at least a CD-Rom is available, and therefore potentially accessible somehow.]
We have seen that this conference is about issues of central importance to Liverpool and Merseyside. It addresses matters which concern everyone. Yet it offers no acknowledgement of diversity of experience, and little in the way of accessibility in respect of outcomes. Significant opportunities to lead by engagement and personal example have here been lost.
I therefore award this conference an overall diversity value score of ONE STAR out of a possible five.