Obama’s NEA-Style Summit

I have just read the description of President Obama’s Financial Responsibility Summit (if I got the name right).  It was disturbingly familiar.

It was an NEA conference writ large (or at least upscale).

The formula has been painstakingly refined by NEA (and every other outfit besotted by facilitation consultants and best-selling management gurus).  It is the meeting format of choice for an organization committed to patronizing and indoctrinating in the guise of consulting.

You start by bringing folks together.  The conference leaders then lay out the problem, the parameters, the importance of their input.  The call is made: come up with three or five concrete suggestions to fix the problem.  Then the break-outs.  Either at small tables (usually 8 people at a banquet round table) or in separate rooms (if the budget permits), the small groups share their thoughts on the topic at hand.  A staffer stands ready to write down their every thought, usually on a chart board. (What the Chinese Cultural Revolutionaries called “big-character posters”). 

When time is up (Obama’s audience was given 2 1/2 hours to fix the economy), the “reporting out” begins.  One person from each table stands to share the table’s collective thoughts.  The leader thanks them, compliments them for their interesting and constructive ideas, and then dismisses them in an aura of mutual self-congratulation. 

Afterwards, the staffers compile a report from the table-posters.  In some cases, this report may resemble what the participants actually said. It will certainly mirror what the leader wanted to hear, to the extent that it contains anything beyond trivialities and vague bromides.

In NEA-land, the purpose of such events is threefold.

First, to flatter the participants that they have been seriously consulted.

Second, to keep the participants busy, and to divert complaints and troublous suggestions.

And third, to reinforce the leaders message and convince the participants that they thought of it themselves.  This is called “buy-in”. 

If the whole thing is done well, the participant never realizes that he has traveled across the country to engage in a two-hour conversation with seven others, with the results to be filtered and scrubbed clean before being printed and filed away.

NEA is good at this.  So, apparently, is the new administration.

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