The five kinds of people you encounter on High Level Panels

With the UN’s new High-level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda due to hold its first meeting next week, the big question is which Panel members will emerge as the most influential in setting agendas and framing how the Panel thinks about development.

Having been involved in a few previous UN Panels like this one, including last year’s one on Global Sustainability, my guess is that Panel members will fall in to one of five categories:

  • Visionaries, who have a clear, and probably very strong, sense of what the overall argument of the Panel should be. This kind of Panellist can get everyone’s backs up if they approach it like a bull in a china shop (which is a risk – I know of Panel members in two previous Panels who turned up to meetings with full drafts of their own). But when they get it right, they’re the ones who really make Panels work. Typically you’ll only get four or five such people on any Panel.
  •  Experts and problem solvers. Panel members who know a lot about the issues, and can engage seriously on pretty much any subject anyone raises – even if they’re not trying to set out the overall storyline. This kind of Panellist can be extremely helpful in brokering language, spotting gaps, challenging silly or lazy thinking and so on.
  •  Single issue evangelists. Inevitably, there will be four or five Panellists who go on, and on, and on, and on about a particular issue. On the Global Sustainability Panel, if one particular Panellists raised his flag, you knew he was about to hold forth on the subject of oceans and the ‘blue economy’. These kinds of Panellist will soon elicit quiet rolling of the eyes from other Panel members, but need to be managed and kept on board.
  • Blockers. Particularly in Panels composed largely of serving members of government, some Panellists will bring major red lines with them. The co-chairs will need to evaluate rapidly what those red lines will be this time, and what the best handling strategy will be (e.g. proactive engagement to win them over / marshalling a coalition of other Panel members to get them to back down / accepting that it won’t be a unanimous report).
  • Dead wood. About a third of the Panel will fall into this category, if previous such exercises are anything to go by. The Panel will be doing well if it’s under a quarter. It will be clear which ones they are because they’ll have the heavy eyelids at about 3pm. Always kind of amazing that Panels on major global issues manage to get so many people in this category, but there we are…