Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
University of Earth

February 1999 | Draft

Narrative Biography

- / -


Prepared at the Union of International Associations, 40 rue Washington, B  1050 Brussels, Belgium.
See overview of other biographical documents


I am a third generation Australian, born in Port Said (Egypt) in 1940. I grew up in Zimbabwe and was educated in the UK, reading chemical engineering at Imperial College (London). I have been resident in Belgium since the 1970s. My wife is German. We have a son employed by a multinational group of lawyers (so that they could be honest about paying a judge!).

I came to Brussels to work with the Union of International Associations (UIA). This is a non-profit clearing house for information on international organizations, on the problems they perceive, and on the strategies in which they engage (see http://www.uia.org/). The UIA was first established in 1910. It played a key role in the early stages of international documentation and efforts at coordinating responses to global problems and promoting creation of the League of Nations. Since 1951, its primary membership consists of coopted persons with experience in the international activity of nongovernmental bodies (academics, diplomats, executives of international agencies, etc). It is essentially self-financing through sale of information products.

My functional role is as Director of Communications and Research. In that capacity I have a long-term responsibility for the continuing development of the 20 station local area network (started 1984) through which various editorial teams (mixing skills and languages) maintain a variety of interlinked databases (currently containing over 30,000 international bodies, 25,000 international meetings, 13,000 world problems, and other types of information: strategies, concepts of human development, human values, etc). Data is used to generate major reference publications (with CD-Rom and an 11,000 page website).

Ongoing publications for which I am responsible include: the 4-volume Yearbook of International Organizations (36th ed. 1999); the 3-volume Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (4th ed. 1994-5). My focus is currently on the development and adaptation of this data to decentralized participative editing in a web environment, partially under a contract for the period 1998-1999 (Information Context for Biodiversity Conservation) with the Info2000 program of the European Commission (DG XIII).

Since 1970 my responsibilities have included design and implementation of several generations of computer systems to facilitate processing of information received from international organizations into forms suitable for various publications, and general responsibility for the operation of the systems and the associated publication programmes. Concerns have included making this data available on CD-ROM and developing automatic translations facilities to render texts into other languages, especially French.

Consistent with the long-term preoccupations of the UIA, areas of my research have included current and future uses of the information held electronically and on the implications of the development of the network of international organizations, especially in terms of the future challenges to knowledge dissemination, visualization of knowledge structures, and the design of organizational forms more appropriate to the complexity of the network of world problems. Some of this research was first conducted under contract as part of various programmes of the United Nations University (Tokyo) in the 1980s.

As part of this activity, and partly in response to the opportunities of a variety of international conferences, I have produced several hundred thematically interrelated research papers (see website). These are relevant to the strategic position of international organizations and the organized response to world problems. This currently includes work on organization and community design, transformative conferencing and dialogue, information system design, relevance of metaphor for governance and communication, transdisciplinarity, and concepts of human development. A special interest is in issues common to understanding of problem networks, human development, and the design of appropriate organizations, information systems, and conceptual frameworks.

A special concern of mine with respect to the Encyclopedia programme is the use of metaphor in reframing policy-making dilemmas in response to world problems. For this reason I have explored the possibility of a "marriage" between policy-making and the arts, notably poetry-making, through which more organic, rhythm-based understanding could refresh the sterility of modern policies. I have also explored many new possibilities of visualization to catalyze new approaches to social organization, notably through the use of virtual reality techniques. In the case of meetings, I am especially interested in transformative conferencing and new approaches to dialogue which I have explored with colleagues in a "School of Ignorance" for the past 7 years.

My involvement with the futures movement dates back to participation in Mankind 2000 in the early 1970s, and the founding of the World Futures Studies Federation (WFSF). Mankind 2000 in fact provided the funding for the development of the first edition of the UIA Encyclopedia. I have contributed papers to a number of WFSF congresses since that time (available at http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/aadocnd5.htm#fut). These have tended to focus on the need to reframe the way we think about problems, organizations, values, strategies and governance, the use of information, as well as the dialogue processes through which these matters are explored. One of these explored the cognitive role of aesthetics in governance in the Year 2490 (http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/gov2490.htm). I am especially interested in what has not been achieved by many remarkable international initiatives and what knowledge organization processes might have made a difference.

In addition to those named above, I have been associated over the years with a number of international bodies in consulting and other capacities. These have included: UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR); UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); UN Environment Programme (UNEP); UN University (Tokyo); Commonwealth Science Council; International Studies Association; Committee for Conceptual and Terminological Analysis; International Foundation for Social Innovation; Society for General Systems Research; International Society for Knowledge Organization; World Academy of Art and Science; Findhorn Foundation.

Unusual, cross-disciplinary conferences with challenging aspirations have long been a fascination of mine and a source of learning. I have been involved in capacities touching on facilitation of the dynamics of events such as the: First World New Age Congress (Florence, 1978); Inter-Sectoral Dialogue in the UNCED Process (Rio de Janeiro, 1992); First World Congress towards Spiritual Concord (Alma Ata, 1992); Parliament of the World's Religions (Chicago, 1993); First World Congress on Transdisciplinarity (Lisbon, 1994) (see case studies at http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/aadocdia.htm#ext).

My principal biases are towards comprehensive overviews and synthesis, marrying such perspectives to the detailed real world preoccupations of the widest variety of constituencies across cultures, and enabling people (within such frameworks) to reorganize action-oriented knowledge in the light of their particular cultural preferences and abilities. I am especially interested in discovering ways of holding patterns of disagreement as a basis for more realistic organization initiatives, rather than in premature closure through superficial reconciliation and consensus (http://www.uia.org/values/common97.htm)

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