The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) conference is remarkable in its focus on results — commitments for effective action. And we are seeing a lot of that. As of Wednesday afternoon attendees had committed to $5.7 billion in funding toward solving specific problems with specific actions. I’ve been writing about the conference theme of getting things done in "bite-sized chunks," and this is an effective approach. For example, a $1 million commitment to inoculate 10,000 children against Hepatitis-A in Honduras.

This, as far as I know, is a different approach from most conferences. And I expect that one result of this conference will be experiments in new kinds of results-oriented events in all kinds of fields. To this end the "working group" structure of the conference is worth commenting on.

I was involved in a results-oriented conference in March, so I know some of the challenges involved. The Commonweal Institute put on its initial Progressive Roundtable conference, bringing leaders of progressive-oriented organizations together to identify missing pieces of a much-needed needed progressive infrastructure. Participants brainstormed and deliberated for two days, and identified "12 urgent infrastructure needs that will help progressives advance their ideas and values more effectively." Following the conference, attendees developed 17 proposals that addressed the needs. Funders who attended, plus a number of others, requested the resulting proposals for review.

The conference was structured with similar features to the CGI. In common are

  • Facilitated workgroups.
  • Workgroups follow a scripted process.
  • Discussions generated a list of ideas that was transcribed.
  • The transcriptions were analyzed, and reported back to the larger group.

    Tom Watson writes at News onPhilanthropy,

    I listened in on a few of the off-the-record conversations at the tables, and there was generally a palpable energy level that produced – at a minimum – a smart and well-considered laundry list of possible solutions.

    Both conferences followed a very results-oriented process, and the CGI places a very powerful emphasis on each attendee’s making a commitment and following up. The main complaint I heard about the Progressive Roundtable were that it was too intense, trying to get too much done in a short time. The main complaint I have heard about the CGI is that transcriptions were not well-recorded — that the transcribers might not have sufficient understanding of the topics to condense what is said to an accurate essence. And the extremely short period of analysis is not sufficient to identify the ideas generated.

    But one huge advantage the CGI conference has going for it is President Clinton. First, his prestige creates a conference that people want to come to. He’s had no trouble attracting world leaders and very high-caliber (and net worth) attendees. Everyone here understands that the conference is about getting things done, identifying areas where specific actions can trigger a high return, and that they are expected to make a commitment.

    I had a discussion with two of the people responsible for putting on the conference last night over dinner. They said that it is going much better that last year’s CGI conference – which is to be expected. We talked about some of the results-oriented techniques I outlined above.

    I’m wondering if any readers of this blog want to contribute ideas for ways to create results-oriented events like this one? Do you have specific successful examples? Know of experts or resources for making it happen?

    And, finally, will this conference "change everything" – raising the bar for philanthropic expectations?