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Participant Entrapment (Repetition of Learning Cycles)

Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue

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Part S 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).


In many social domains, reflected in conferences, time and a variety of collective experiences have created amongst those concerned an awareness of which actions are feasible, viable and useful and which are not. Such collective learning is difficult to transfer to others in such a manner as to enable them to understand the (usually relatively sophisticated) dynamics which limit the value of seemingly obvious positive actions.

Since there is a certain turnover of organizations, groups and individuals concerned with the problem in that domain, and represented at relevant conferences, those entering a meeting for the first time tend to initiate proposals, recommendations and programmes which past experience has shown to be a waste of resources or of otherwise limited value. They will however have difficulty in recognizing this and will attribute past failure to ineffectiveness of those involved at that time.

The consequence is that any group (possibly of institutions) with experience extending over several "programme generations" always has latecomers who are drawn together at a meeting in support of projects which constitute the repetition of a learning cycle. Such cycles must play themselves out in order that the latecomers may acquire the understanding as to why those particular actions are of limited effectiveness. They will however then be repeated when the number of newcomers again becomes great enough to make it difficult to redirect their attention during a meeting from such seemingly obvious courses of action, particularly when the obvious courses attract good press coverage with its immediate pay-off.

This repeated fragmentation of groups and the use of resources in support of ineffective programmes clearly limits the ability of meetings to respond adequately to any problem situation. It is also discouraging to those who have already acquired, through such learning cycles, the necessary knowledge base from which more effective programmes could be designed.

However, it is also the desire of the latecomers to apply their creative energies without regard for past experience which leads to the acquisition of new knowledge.

The situation is such that it is seldom possible to blend both forms of knowledge in a meeting in an effective response to the problem situation.

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