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Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue

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Part A of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development (1991).


The following texts attempt in different ways to group together themes suggestive of ways of approaching the challenge of interweaving poetry-making and policy-making concerns as raised explicitly or implicitly in Parts I to III. The texts are adapted to the challenge of those large-group meetings or conferences which are not:

  1. Organized according to procedures considered reasonably satisfactory by most of those directly involved, possibly on the basis of experience of previous meetings in the same series;
  2. Deliberately structured by the instigators to achieve a certain objective, irrespective of the individual preoccupations of those who choose to participate under such circumstances;
  3. Conceived around a pre-defined set of topics, irrespective of any other topics which may emerge during the meeting as common to a number of participants present;
  4. Deliberately unstructured as an environment for spontaneous exchange between participants, but without any concern that such exchanges should lead to the emergence of some larger pattern.

The main concern is with highlighting problems and possibilities relevant to the organization of more mature meetings on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings in response to social development issues and the global problematique. Attention is only given to the "mechanics" of meeting organization (covered in the many books available on such matters) in so far as they directly affect the psycho-social dynamic of the meeting. The topics are therefore oriented around the possibility of maturing the power of a larger meeting to:

  1. reflect the complexity of the external environment in an ordered manner (representation), to reflect about that environment (conceptual processes), and to reflect about itself (self-reference or self-reflexiveness);
  2. focus the variety of perspectives represented, without destroying that variety in some simplistic formula of superficial consensus;
  3. transform the issues presented, and the organizational groups which take responsibility for them, into new configurations of operational significance;
  4. act, or empower those represented to act, in the light of the level of understanding achieved during the meeting.

In line with the general theme of this project, there is a concern that meeting innovation is being severely hindered by the limited vocabulary by which meeting processes and structures are defined: programme, session, speaker, participant, topic, organizer, etc. This is especially the case in that most of this vocabulary focuses on the logistics and administration of the meeting. The challenge is to find ways of enriching understanding of the range of meeting processes, including "conceptual logistics", moving beyond the limitations of that vocabulary, clarifying new distinctions and reinforcing those new distinctions by a new vocabulary.

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