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Summary of IFC Pre-Rio Preparatory Processes


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Prepared as a statement (see others) on the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) for the International Facilitating Committee for the Independent Sectors in the UNCED process (Geneva). Portions of the text were published in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1994-5, vol 2) and in the online version of its commentaries (to which links below are made) shaping the global network of local bargains by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral issues. [IFCD52]

Clarifying the nature of higher orders of consensus

A number of procedures and processes have been explored as possibilities to facilitate the inter-sectoral dialogue in Rio de Janeiro. Most of these were approved in principle by IFC, others emerged during the course of interaction with contacts interested in the challenge of inter-sectoral dialogue. Some procedures have been provisionally abandoned for lack of time or resources, others have been adapted within the resource and time constraints into a form of immediate value in Rio.

A draft proposal was produced for a methodology to clarify possibilities in the light of recent insights from disciplines and conceptual explorations concerned with this issue ("Higher Orders of Inter-Sectoral Consensus", 22 January 1992). The intention was to highlight the possibilities of structures based on "contention" between irreconcilable differences, rather than relying on consensus or the emergence of dominant perspectives. This envisaged several complementary initiatives included amongst those identified below. Elements of this proposal were included in the final project proposal (approved March 1992). The processes and tangible products considered are as follows:

A. Initiatives undertaken

1. Sectoral declaration processing: Analysis of sectoral declarations was seen as one approach to establishing the commonality and differences between sectoral positions.

(a) The possibility of undertaking both a critical and a comparative analysis was considered, notably by developing a typology of statements made in declarations. Consideration was given to the possibility of building a database of declaration statements to facilitate comparative analysis. Pre-Rio declarations were reviewed, including the extensive Compendium of declarations prepared by ELCI for the Roots of the Future Conference (Paris, December 1991). It was decided that the formal comparability of the declarations did not facilitate this type of approach and that the kind of analysis possible would not justify this approach within the time available.

(b) An alternative approach was finally undertaken based on the identification of key issues mentioned in declarations. These were coded in terms of strategic dilemmas (see point 2).

2. Systemic mapping of strategic dilemmas: This approach emerged from the work on polarizing issues (see point 7) in relation to the work on declaration processing (see point 1). It indicated the possibility of exploring patterns of strategic dilemmas, relating them to concrete issues, and representing them on new forms of imagery in two and three-dimensions.

3. Call for conceptual insights: Initially it was hoped to convene one or more workshops to clarify current understanding amongst specialists of new forms of inter-sectoral dialogue and higher orders of consensus. This proved impractical because of time and resource constraints. It was finally decided to initiate by mail a "call for insights" to a wide range of groups and individuals with specialized knowledge relevant to the challenges of inter-sectoral dialogue. The original intent was to process the results into a common format accompanied by a brief analysis. It was finally decided that wider distribution could be achieved by formatting them as earlier inputs to the participant messaging process (see point 4).

4. Participant messaging (Da Zi Bao): This process, recommended to IFC for the Global Forum as a whole in June 1991, was tested in Paris in December 1991 and at PrepCom IV in New York. Its use was approved to facilitate participant interaction during the inter-sectoral dialogue and as a means of initiating the flow of messages for the Global Forum.

5. Metaphors of inter-sectoral dialogue and sustainable development: Some texts were prepared to highlight the challenge in terms of metaphors. This can be seen as an outcome of the original initiative on catalytic imagery (see point 12).

B. Initiatives re-formulated or abandoned

6. Political analysis: This approach was originally envisaged as a complement to the computer-based analysis of sectoral declarations (see point 1). On reviewing the declarations it was however decided that they did not readily lend themselves to this type of approach.

7. Polarizing issues and strategic dilemmas: The identification of such issues or dilemmas was seen as a way of clarifying the positions of the sectors in relationship to one another. The intent was to explore ways of building on irreconcilable differences rather than attempting to avoid them. An initial set of Earth Summit "polarizing issues and euphemisms" was prepared but was finally considered unhelpful in terms of the underlying objective of raising the level of debate. However this approach did serve to focus attention on the need for a more systemic approach based on strategic dilemmas (see point 2).

8. Call for sectoral insights: In an effort to sharpen understanding of sectoral positions (beyond that supplied by sectoral declarations), both in terms of common positions and fundamental differences, the possibility of a pre-Rio questionnaire was considered as a basis for a meta-conferencing procedure (see point 9). The most systematic approach to this was to be based on a set of polarizing issues (see point 7). This approach was finally limited to an invitation for pre-Rio inputs to the Da Zi Bao (see point 4).

9. Meta-conferencing: The intention was to use an approach pioneered by Stafford Beer based on questions designed to polarize the pattern of sectors along different dimensions -- preferably on the basis of questions formulated by the sectors themselves (see points 7 and 8). The statistical possibilities of manipulating any data, in order to generate maps of the networks of issue connections and sectoral connections, seemed less helpful than envisaged with the resources immediately available -- especially in the light of late confirmation that the approach had been further developed by Stafford Beer.

10. Process facilitation: Consideration was given to a number of different approaches to facilitating the inter-sectoral dialogue meeting. Two main difficulties inhibited any major breakthroughs on this front. Skilled facilitators tend to be closely identified with particular cultures, especially North American, and their use therefore raised political and cultural issues in a context which was already sufficiently problematic. Many processes which might have been used normally require consensus amongst participants to engage in the process. However the nature of these processes is sufficiently controversial in a multi-cultural setting that no such prior consensus can be assumed. Engaging in such a process could then be seen as an unwarranted imposition. Several promising possibilities were rejected: Open Space Technology, "Syntegrity" process, Metaplan, ZOP. Time and resources were also major factors.

11. Computer-assisted dialogue monitoring: As a variant of the questionnaire possibility (see point 9), consideration was given to the use of a system whereby each participant could indicate via a set of push-buttons reactions to questions. Answers were fed directly into a computer which provided on screen a statistical breakdown of the responses, clustered in various ways. The system considered was rejected in part because of the invasive nature of the technology and in part because of the simplistic methodology which did not cluster participants in a sufficiently useful way.

12. Catalytic imagery: As a complement to various other initiatives, Network 92 was used as a vehicle for a "call for catalytic imagery" as a means of conveying Earth Summit insights. The intention was to obtain suggestions for inter-sectoral images which could best capture the Earth Summit insights and empower people to move forward in new ways. The number and quality of replies was not sufficient to proceed further with the initiative in the time available. The network map in two-dimensions, and its three-dimensional version, can be seen as one response to this search for new imagery (see separate document). The documents produced on metaphors could be seen as another (see point 5).

13. Structural visualization: There was a concern to move beyond the traditional text representation of the challenges of inter-sectoral dialogue and to endeavour to open up new possibilities by portraying sectoral and issue relationships in two and three-dimensions. This could have been one output from the meta-conferencing initiative (see point 9) or from the call for catalytic imagery (see point 12). Examples of this approach finally emerged from the work on strategic dilemmas (see point 2). Consideration was briefly given to the possibility of adapting an existing software package to provide a "structural outliner" as a means of capturing and reconfiguring patterns of sectors and issues.

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