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The Conference 2008

Transport and Communication
– Developing the 21st Century

A report on the ninth 24-hour
Agenda 21 NOW! Internet Conference
on 8 May, 2008

As every year since 2000, the Agenda 21 NOW! Internet Conference opened its doors for twenty-four hours, allowing registered participants – with the vast majority of them being students – to discuss worldwide and in real time about selected issues of sustainable development. This year there was a focus on “Transport and Communication – Developing the 21st Century”, which was the theme of the conference 2008.

This theme was developed by the Agenda 21 NOW! team as a result of the successful conference in the year before, when the participants discussed about globalisation (the 2007 topic was “One World, One Globe, Globalisation – near you?”). Globalisation is a process that matters in all parts of the world, in industrialised countries as well as developing countries. It affects everyday life, it influences lifestyles and individual decisions, it therefore has a great effect on the future life of today’s young people.

The discussion in the conference last year was a more general one, with many participants talking about such questions how and why globalisation influences their individual lives and how they think about these effects and their individual opportunities, considering that globalisation takes place on the whole planet.

This year, we wanted to go a step deeper: The two major drives of globalisation, apart from political decisions, are communication technologies and transport technologies. So why not talk about these two technologies and their influence on the personal life of the young participants in our conference? “Transport and Communication – Developing the 21st Century”, this very concrete theme of the 2008 conference was supposed to lead to concrete discussions, with a strong involvement of the individual lives and living conditions of the participants. This worked out pretty well. A lot of participants, especially when asked by the conference moderators or the international experts, liked to talk about their individual situation concerning transport and communication opportunities as well as their fears and expectations for the next decades. Individual behaviour, individual action for a more sustainable life were intensely discussed among participants living in different corners of the world, under very different living conditions.

To enable more serious discussions, we introduced a contribution rating: Every participant could once (and only once) agree or disagree to any opinion stated by someone else. In this way it was possible to find out in which direction the majority of the participants tended to think. Moreover we could see which contributions were considered interesting by others: Interesting contributions tend to get more agrees and/or disagrees.

A good discussion should end with a result. Therefore, during the conference a resolution text, reflecting the results of the conference discussions, was developed by members of the Agenda 21 NOW! team together with all interested participants. In our 24-hour-conference this is a special challenge, since the final resolution should represent the opinion of the vast majority of the participants, thus knowing that not all participants are online at the same time or even at the end of the conference period when the voting should take place.

We therefore decided to work on the resolution text during the whole conference day, with the Agenda 21 NOW! moderators having the special task to consider opinions from all corners of the world during the whole day, especially not discriminating contributions from the early conference hours. The voting took place during a period of 24 hours a couple of days after the conference, giving all registered participants from all parts of the world the chance to vote at an acceptable local time. 96 % of the voters said “yes” to the resolution, with a turnout of voters of 17 % of the active participants during the conference. The text of the resolution is available here.

A few words about the numbers: 599 participants from 52 countries fully signed up for the 2008 conference – significantly less than in the year before (1023 from 68 countries). An important reason seems to be that 8 May, 2008 was a celebration day in some nations which had intensely participated in the years before (such as Israel and France). The students of some other countries seemed to be too close to their annual exams. As a result, we’ll hold the next conference earlier next year. Apart from such date issues it is possible that our conference topic (“Transport and Communication … “) might not have been catchy or maybe even not interesting enough to really attract more teachers and students this year.

So far about quantity. Talking about the conference quality, it is very clear that compared to the year before, many of the discussions were more concrete, more life-related, more serious. Thanks to all registered participants for being part of our project!

Last but not least: The Agenda 21 NOW! team would like to very specially thank the four experts from Bangladesh, Denmark, Germany and New Zealand for taking part in our event!

Trier, Germany, 6 August 2008

Martin Jarrath

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