What exactly is a ‘rapporteur’?

A few of my clients and colleagues have asked, from time-to-time, about the side of my work that I describe as being a ‘rapporteur’. Sitting in my hotel room waiting for a flight home, I thought I’d share the story and outcome of one quite straightforward example.

This didn’t involve much of the political contention and negotiation that many other events do, and the outcome is pretty simple, but it serves to illustrate the added value that engaging a rapporteur can bring to almost any conference.

From the 28th to the 30th January, the Institute of Directors in India, convened their 21st Annual World Conference of Total Quality. Whereas, in the west, TQ has pretty much disappeared off the radar, in Asia it is still very much in the forefront. It has evolved through ‘corporate governance’ and ‘corporate social responsibility’ to embrace a raft of societal issues and the relationship between organisations of all sizes, kinds and shapes and their communities.

This conference was attended by a little over 200 delegates, and included all the usual elements of a modern conference, including over 60 presentations and the presentation of about 30 national awards (the “Golden Peacocks”) for aspects of management, leadership, innovation, health and safety, and quality improvement. Twenty or so of these presentations were from people whose political, judicial, academic, or activist roles have placed them in the forefront of public and media attention. Although the conference was ostensibly in English, there was a fair smattering of people whose preferred language was something else.

My role was to participate as an observer, wandering the aisles, speaking to delegates and presenters, reading and re-reading the proceedings, absorbing the atmosphere, and picking up the subtler messages beneath the surface. Over the course of the three days, I have gathered business cards from 40% of the delegates, and can’t guess at the number of person-hours of interviewing that I’ve engaged in.

Given the scale of the event, there were two of us acting as ‘rapporteurs’. When this happens, we usually have a few conversations during the course of the event, and then one prepares a draft ‘summary and recommendations’, which we will both review and then co-present.

Andrew Dakers and I have worked together in this way before, and I certainly have total confidence in his work (and hope that’s reciprocated!) so, as logistics were a bit complex, he prepared the draft then flew off, and I did a little editing down before presenting it.

The very last presentation of the day is the summary and recommendations. If the topic is contentious there may be an extra step or two, and there may be a Press Release or statement to be prepared to finish the process after the delegates have left.

It isn’t usually rocket science but it does involve a lot of one-to-one interviewing, fairly rapid assimilation of ideas, and so on.

Here’s the outcome of the 21st World Congress on Total Quality, which focused on achieving a transformation in Society (especially Indian society) through the intervention of corporates.

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