Consumer Summit European Commission

Consumer Summit - European Commission March 18-19, 2010

"The European Consumer Summit is a multi-stakeholder event organised every year by DG SANCO (Directorate General Health and Consumers). It gathers more than 400 participants in Brussels for 1,5 days. This event was previously organised as a ‘classical conference’: with lots of plenary presentations but not enough opportunities for participants to contribute and network. Not this year…

Our vision for the 2010 Summit was to get real policy output, including deliverables directly from participants and therefore much more interaction. The 2010 theme was "Services: access, fairness and choice" and the 6 workshops had quite different scopes:
• How can we help consumers to choose the right service provider?
• Web 3.0 - Challenges and Opportunities for Consumers in the internet of the future
• Bank Account Fees - How to ensure transparency and choice?
• The Adventure of Car Hire - Enforcement challenges
• The Green Energy challenge
• Going around in circles. How to improve urban sustainable mobility"

This report is written by Carina Törnblom, official in the European Commission. I don't know the right term for her function - sorry Carina. She has been part of the Art of Participatory Leadership training, offered by some of our Art of Hosting colleagues. Six other colleagues, of which I was one, were asked to host one of these six interactive workshops.

Her report continues:

Designing a successful event
In order to prepare the event, we set up an internal task force and connected this to a team of facilitators, practitioners of the Art of Participatory Leadership from inside and outside the Commission. Some of the workshops had more difficult starting conditions than others, e.g. high potential conflict due to very different opinions between participating stakeholder groups (industry and consumer organisations). Therefore facilitators were challenged to be very flexible and on the other hand to be enough convincing to ensure the interactivity in the workshops.

The outcome

On the D-day, each workshop was asked to address the challenges in the morning, the solutions in the afternoon and prepare 3 findings and 3 things for the Commission to do. This was reported on the second day (half day) in plenary followed by questions and answers session. In the Car Hire workshop industry agreed to involve consumer representatives and representatives of the European Consumer Centres network in the upcoming Alternative Dispute Resolution mechanism. In the Green Energy and Urban Transport workshops there was a call for more studies on consumer behaviour and multi-stakeholder working groups. In the area of Bank Account fees, the Commission will further explore how to improve transparency, including, for example, the idea of an independent on-line comparison tool, as well as financial education. The discussion on the internet of the future highlighted issues to be monitored closely, such as consumer friendly online contracts, privacy and data protection.

During the day, we could already feel from the buzz in the building that participants were in a great mood and the feedback was very positive. 95% of the participants were satisfied with the interactivity, the opportunity to voice their opinion and the increased understanding of other stakeholders' position. One of the participants told us spontaneously that in nearly 12 years of being on the consumer circuit, this was by far the best conference he had ever attended.

In SANCO we are also very satisfied with the output, the willingness of our stakeholders to commit themselves in the suggested directions. This was not only an efficient and effective way of working but it represents what the European project is about: close cooperation and real dialogue.

This success was a truly collaborative effort, thanks also to our colleagues from other services. This was the first time that a more participatory approach was taken by the Commission in such a large conference with external stakeholders. It has not gone unnoticed and has been a real chance for the Commission to be looked at differently. Let's hope this will inspire others so that it is just a start… What if the Commission would use this approach as a rule and not an exception? Would that not change how the citizens see us?"

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