Reinvent high-profile global summits for a transparent, digital age

Reinvent high-profile global summits for a transparent, digital age
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This year’s Group of Seven Summit will most likely be remembered for the war of words on Twitter that involved some of the world’s most powerful leaders. The social media meltdown was the latest sign that the G7 and other major face-to-face gathering for heads of state, like the upcoming NATO Summit in July, are in need of a reboot. To be more responsive to the world’s problems and remain relevant in today’s highly-connected world, these high-profile summits must evolve to be more transparent, accessible, and, most of all, accountable.

It might seem that trying to reinvent such gatherings is a thankless task in a world where we can instantly communicate in so many virtual ways. Research and recent history, however, tells us otherwise. Look no further than a 2017 study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, which found that requests made in person were 35 times more successful than requests made via email. It’s clear that face-to-face is still the most powerful and persuasive form of communication because of the intimacy and the trust that accumulates from looking in another person’s eyes.

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There would be no peace between Egypt, Jordan, and Israel were it not for those country’s leaders meeting face-to-face over the course of many years, building the trust, familiarity, and respect that is needed for any successful relationship. This type of in-person trust-building is what will be required of President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden, Sanders lead field in Iowa poll The Memo: Cohen fans flames around Trump Memo Comey used to brief Trump on dossier released: report MORE and North Korea leader Kim Jong-un if they are to build on their historic summit and make progress on their commitments for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

 

So, yes, for the foreseeable future, the world’s most vexing problems will continue to be solved through face-to-face meetings, but that does not mean that technology does not have a critical role to play in reinventing global summits for the digital age.

Rather than using social media to undermine the diplomatic process, however, technology must be leveraged to open up the gatherings and make the agendas, debates, and results more  transparent and accessible. By using digital media to collect ideas and input in advance, as well as to disseminate information and solicit feedback afterwards, gatherings will be more inclusive and more responsive to the diverse needs of the world’s citizens.

Gatherings like G7 and G20 would also do well to follow the model of conferences like the One Planet Summit, which I helped produce. Held in Paris last December, it took transparency and accountability to a new level. At the culmination of the event hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron, World Bank Group President, Jim Yong Kim, and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, António Guterres, business and government leaders announced 12 major commitments to combat climate change and will deliver six-month and 12-month progress reports to ensure that progress on meeting goals and commitments is being made.

Think about it. There has been a massive amount of post-coverage of G7 about the joint communique that the U.S. did not sign, but beyond the dispute over trade, very few people could tell you what other issues were addressed in the communique. We must do better. Leaders, media, and citizens all have a role to play.

Technological innovations such as virtual reality and augmented reality should also be used to give leaders attending summits a deeper understanding of the real-world problems they are working to solve. For example, for countless United Nations and UNICEF events over the past few years, Clouds Over Sidra, a virtual reality film, has transported government and business leaders to the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan, where they were able to experience what life is like for a 12-year-old girl.

Twitter debates, Facebook forums, and Skype diplomacy will never replace the power of interacting and engaging with people face-to-face. But, if used effectively and smartly, new technologies can help reinvent summits for 21st-century, connecting leaders and citizens in a collaborative effort to create a better world and then hold them accountable on delivering results. 

Richard Attias is the founder and executive chairman of Richard Attias & Associates (RAA), a global advisory firm and minority subsidiary of WPP that develops communications strategies and live public events for governments, corporations, and institutions including Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Public Investment Fund, the Misk Foundation, the International Olympic Committee, and the World Bank. RAA is also the organizer of Transition Monaco Forum, hosted by Acqua Asset Management, an annual global platform aimed at accelerating the transition to cleantech across all sectors. He produced the World Economic Forum in Davos from 1995 to 2008.