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October 1996

Electronic Context of Future International Meetings

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Presentation to the of the 16th Associate Members meeting of the Union of International Associations (Brussels, 7-8 October 1996)


We hope that you have come out of our meeting on the Future of Meetings in an Electronic Era with a feeling that tomorrow's meetings might be different... Using 50 interconnected notebook computers has certainly marked the beginnings of further evolution in international meetings.

After the experiments during our meeting a few years ago with Open Space Technology (OST), any such computer assisted meeting offers much food for thought.

For both techniques the emphasis is placed on participants, their interaction and communication between them. But here the similarities seem to end.

OST can be thought of as a "light" system using as hardware, only a few bits of paper, pencils and several small meeting rooms. With minimum facilitation and preparation, it gave participants complete freedom and responsibility to organize their work and create their own dynamic -- on their own initiative.

By contrast, at our latest meeting, the computer assisted technology helped to gain understanding of many new possibilities. But in the form we experienced this week, we were both thrown into the most advanced technology, while in other respects we were back 20 or 30 years ago, before the infrared era, in a room full of wiring and invasive hardware. And, for the first time in the history of our meetings, we had no "simultaneous interpretation". But, when allowed by the facilitators, we did have the possibility of communicating all our ideas and thoughts simultaneously -- "simultaneous communication".

For some of us, the degree of structure imposed by the facilitators demonstrating the technology was greater than that which is acceptable in many international gatherings -- where at least provision is made to challenge the decisions of the chairperson through a "point of order". Clearly however such structural formalization is appropriate to some styles of meeting, even if it would be less than welcome in others.

As part of the UIA team, we feel that we now have a better view of what future meetings might have in store. We would like to continue our own meeting by taking advantage of the facilities offered by Internet and the Web.

To start the discussion, we should like to communicate with you some of the "lessons", experiences, and reflections that we derived from the meeting:

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