You can’t stifle debate

At the Labour party conference today many of the guests were asked whether or not they thought Labour was right to “stifle debate“. Now, I do not and nor do I wish to understand fully the workings of the Labour party conference machine, and whether the changes proposed to or don’t stifle debate, but there were some interesting responses to the question.

The theme that kept coming back was that whatever the formal policy of the Labour conference as to what was and what was not officially debated, the conference has always been about discussions at fringe meetings and in the bars. People come to conference, so I was told, because it’s the one time of year when all the personalities are present and everyone can contribute.

This led to two thoughts – first about stifling debate. This is similar to what happens if a company bans social networking or instant messaging. It goes underground, people will install and use it anyway, and you won’t have any control over how they do it – the corporate equivalent of a fringe meeting or a hushed discussion in a bar. You can’t ban it, so you might as well have it out in the open where you can clearly hear and monitor the points being made.

Second – the idea that people go to a conference to meet people, rather than hear speakers. This is something that has been mentioned to me more than once, often by people who argue against on-line collaboration as face to face discussion is more valuable. They misunderstand the point, face to face discussion can be more valuable, but the two should be combined. You can use on-line collaboration to cement a relationship that may have formed at a conference, but continuous dialogue after the event only re-affirms the connection, and make the second face to face meeting one year later all the more valuable and rewarding.

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