Avoiding Meeting Fatigue

How to make the numerous international meetings on Afghanistan more effective
Published: 
July 2, 2012
By: 
William Byrd

This paper is based on the author's participation in and involvement with the preparations for many of the high-profile international meetings on Afghanistan over the past 10-plus years and reflects his concerns about their shortcomings and the excessive expectations typically associated with them.

Summary

  • The numerous high-profile international meetings on Afghanistan since 2001 have helped keep attention focused on Afghanistan, elicit financial support, give a “seat at the table” to all partners, generate good strategic documents, and provide a forum for the Afghan government.
  • However, the meetings often have raised excessive expectations; lacked meaningful follow-up; undermined their own objectives; prioritized diplomacy over substance; focused more on donors’ issues than Afghan problems; oriented the Afghan government toward donors; diverted resources toward meetings; resulted in meeting fatigue; and sometimes seemingly substituted for action.
  • These meetings can be made more effective by: (1) keeping to realistic expectations; (2) not expecting meetings to substitute for difficult decisions and actions; (3) having substantive, disciplined agendas and avoiding co-optation by diplomatic priorities; (4) matching objectives with the issue(s) the meeting is supposed to address; (5) ensuring quality background work; (6) focusing follow-up on key areas and a few simple, monitorable benchmarks; and (7) keep­ing the number and frequency of meetings manageable.

About this Brief

William Byrd is a development economist and has worked on Afghanistan in various capacities over the past decade. During 2002–2006, he was stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he served as the World Bank’s country manager for Afghanistan and then as economic adviser. He is currently a visiting senior expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He participated in and was involved in the preparations for many of the high-profile international meetings on Afghanistan over the past 10-plus years. This paper is based on his experience with such meetings and reflects his concerns about their shortcomings and the excessive expectations typically associated with them.

July 2, 2012
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