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1990

Transformative Conferencing

re-enchantment of networking through conceptware

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Paper prepared for the 5th Conference of the Electronic Networking Association
San Francisco, May 1990


Contents:


1. Introduction

Much has been written about the crises of our times and the urgency with which imaginative approaches must be identified and applied. Much has also been written about the inadequacies of the international systems with which attempts are made to engender and implement such approaches.

Before getting into the central concern of this paper it is appropriate to note the dimensions of the challenge. It is usual to point to the quantity of information generated each year. The associated problem of information overload is well-recognized, as is the problem created by hyper-specialization at a time when integrative conceptual approaches are in practice weak or non-existent. These conceptual weaknesses are matched within organizational systems.

The Union of International Associations (founded in Brussels in 1910) acts as a clearinghouse for information on some 27,000 international bodies. These are both governmental and nongovernmental and are active in every field of human activity. Although they include trade associations, they do not include multinational enterprises. There are some 65,000 links between these bodies and some 192,000 links from them to their national membership. Descriptive information on them is published annually in the 3-volume Yearbook of International Organizations. This is a standard reference work within the United Nations system and the international community. Information on the 5,500 planned meetings of these organizations is published quarterly in an International Congress Calendar.

As a complement to this information on the organizations themselves, information is collected on the 'world problems' which they recognize and on which they choose to act. These range from the most-publicized, such as poverty, through to minority concerns such as abduction by extra-terrestrials. Information is currently maintained on some 13,000 perceived world problems and on 60,000 relationships between them. It is published irregularly in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. The organizations and problems are grouped by some 3,000 subjects in a yellow-page format in an annual volume entitled Global Action Networks.

All this information is maintained as a Revelation text database held in a Novell environment on a local area network with some 20 workstations and 500 MB of disk storage.

These details are given to make the point that, despite the relative sophistication of the database, it is questionable whether it would be more than marginally useful to provide direct access to it at this time. And, despite the key role that the many international organizations play, it is clear that only a small proportion use computers at all and that an even smaller proportion make use of any form of electronic networking, other than fax or telex.

The remainder of this paper addresses the question of the inappropriateness of the form in which key information is held and circulated -- including that described above. Specifically the concern is why that form hinders social transformation.

2. Organizational handicaps

Much has been made in a variety of reports at the international level concerning the organizational inefficiencies of the international system of organizations. Most striking are the reports on the United Nations and its Specialized Agencies. Typically reference is made to duplication of effort, unnecessary quantities of information, inappropriate dissemination of information, unproductive rivalry between departments, mismanagement, and the general ineffectiveness of programmes. The problems of coordination within an organizational system such as the United Nations, or even within one of its Agencies, are quite depressing in the light of the challenge on which these bodies are mandated to focus.

The problems of coordination are considerably aggravated in the case of networks of independent organizations all endeavouring to respond to aspects of interdependent problem areas such as disaster relief, environmental issues or human rights. As at the national and local levels, rivalries, personalities and institutional empire building, when associated with evaluations of competence and experience, constantly undermine the emergence of a healthy response to the crises of our times. The situation is rendered even more difficult due to the added complexities of ideological,cultural and linguistic concerns.

Standard responses to this complexity include:

At the same time strong arguments are advanced for the mobilization of all organizational resources, stressing the importance of the participation of all, and the need to respond to the issues recognized by those who are marginalized.

It is relatively easy to lose sight of these handicaps in the complex dynamics of the life of the international community. Crisis management avoids the need to focus on 'abstract' organizational issues. But these issues are brought into much sharper focus in the organization of meetings.

International meetings, especially those involving a wide range of bodies, disciplines, cultures and languages, can be usefully considered as very sophisticated laboratory models of the organizational challenge at this time -- and the success of efforts to deal with them. Most of the problems noted above tend to be reflected in the meetings designed to articulate issues and to focus the efforts of constellations of organizations on them.

Despite the ease with which meetings are held, and the increasing number of such events, meetings are seldom as successful as those involved would claim. This is especially clear in the case of those meetings aiming to deal with aspects of the crisis of these times. Although extensive resources are mobilized, it is frequently the case for example, that many participants (often coming from distant continents) are not given the opportunity to participate, or only participate in a token or formalistic manner. Skilled factions typically devote their resources to manipulating the event in their own interests. Organizers use suspect criteria of importance and irrelevance to filter participants and issues. The agenda is manipulated to exclude discussion of minority interests -- often with well-rationalized pleas of shortage of time. People do not meet those with whom they could most fruitfully interact. As a result such events do not fulfil the expectations of participants or those whose future depends on their outcome.

This leads to the conclusion that, where social transformation is a concern, current meeting procedures themselves constitute a principal obstacle to social change. In a very real sense meetings model collective inability to act and the ineffectiveness of the action they enable. A new conceptual framework is required with which to perceive meeting processes, to highlight specific obstacles and to clarify hidden opportunities./

3. Networking vision

Since the 1970s, networking, and specifically electronic networking, has been seen as offering a way out of the organizational morass described above.

In what follows, it is useful to distinguish between:

The 1980s have seen an explosion of messaging facilities, with the fax being seen as a viable alternative to electronic networking or viewed as an integrated adjunct of it. Electronic networking has been successfully integrated with joint task management primarily within well-defined constituencies. Typically this would be most successful in a network of geographically dispersed corporate affiliates, or university departments with a very specific shared concern.

The argument here is that electronic networking has been most successful in facilitating communication tasks which would otherwise have been carried by less sophisticated technologies -- or not done at all. It has considerably speeded up operations which were previously done in a more cumbersome manner. In this sense it has reinforced existing modes of organization, even though patterns of work may have been modified. But although technically feasible, the original vision of distance working has not emerged as feasible for more than a few.

Despite the apparently ideal facilities it offers to the international community, the use of electronic conferencing outside the multinational business community remains relatively marginal. Obvious explanations include cost, technical problems in developing countries, political and security issues concerning the location of the files and control of the system, and problems relating to accented languages and scripts. The incompatibility between rival systems has not helped. In addition the responsible government authorities in many countries have been more concerned to protect lucrative monopolies than to facilitate the development of a technology which might facilitate alternative modes of social organization.

These issues are far from being resolved -- especially that of the increasing gap between those with access to such facilities and those marginalized by lack of such access.

Whatever the reservations about such uses of electronic networking, of much greater concern is that even in the most ideal settings where resources and other complicating factors are not the issue, all is not well. It must be asked whether the facilities offered respond to the needs for new ways of articulating conceptual and organizational structures -- appropriate to the challenges of the times./

4. Conceptual challenge

The original excitement of the conceptual implications of computers in the early 1970s was inspired by statements such as the following:

'Concepts can be viewed as manifolds in the multidimensional variate space spanned by the parameters describing the situation. If a correspondence is established that represents our incomplete knowledge by altitude functions, we can seek the terrae incognitae, plateaus, enclaves of knowledge, cusps, peaks, and saddles by a conceptual photogrammetry. Exploring the face of a new concept would be comparable to exploring the topography of the back of the moon. Commonly heard remarks such as 'Now I'm beginning to get the picture' are perhaps an indication that these processes already play an unsuspected role in conceptualization...' (Dean Brown and Joan Lewis)

'Unfortunately, my abstract model tends to fade out when I get a circuit that is a little bit too complex. I can't remember what is happening in one place long enough to see what is going to happen somewhere else. My model evaporates. If I could somehow represent that abstract model in the computer to see a circuit in animation, my abstraction wouldn't evaporate. I could take the vague notion that 'fades out at the edges' and solidify it. I could analyze bigger circuits. In all fields there are such abstractions.' (Ivan Sutherland)

'Concepts seem to be structurable, in that a new concept can be composed of an organization of established concepts... A given structure of concepts can be represented by any of an infinite number of different symbol structures, some of which would be much better than others for enabling the human perceptual and cognitive apparatus to search out and comprehend the conceptual matter of significance...Besides the forms of symbol structures that can be constructed and portrayed, we are very much concerned with the speed and flexibility with which one form can be transformed into another, and with which new material can be located and portrayed...With a computer manipulating our symbols and generating their portrayals to us on a display, we no longer need think of our looking at the symbol structure which is stored as we think of looking at the structures stored in notebooks, memos and books...In fact, this structuring has immensely greater potential for accurately mapping a complex concept structure than does a structure an individual would find it practical to construct or useon paper. \The computer can transform back and forth between the two-dimensional portrayal on the screen, of some limited view of the total structure, and the aspect of the n- dimensional internal image that represents this 'view'.' (Douglas Engelbart)

It will be possible to use computer devices as a sort of 'electronic vehicle with which one could drive around with extraordinary freedom through the information domain. Imagine driving a car through a landscape which instead of buildings, roads and trees, had groves of facts, structures of ideas, and so on, relevant to your professional interests. But this information landscape is a remarkably organized one; not only can you drive around a grove of certain arranged facts and look at it from many aspects, you have the capability of totally reorganizing that grove almost instantaneously.' (Nilo Lundgren)

Re-reading these early texts in the light of the achievements of 20 years, it is possible to argue that we have access to these features if they are understood simplistically. Much manipulation is indeed possible. A user can indeed 'drive around' an electronic network, dipping into and out of conferences and examining arrays of ideas.

But it is also possible to view current electronic networking as quite disappointing in the light of those early aspirations. Consider the following:

It should be quickly said that the existing software is obviously satisfactory to many users of electronic networking. Distinctions can usefully be made between:

It would seem to be the case that user satisfaction is due to the predominance of focused networking. Where users work within specific conferences or maintain contact with specific people, the question of conceptual organization is implicit in the text of the messages exchanged. But in the case of unfocused networking, the question is whether the networking environment responds to the conceptual challenge of the focusing process, namely interrelating complex networks of organizations and problems, articulating agendas, identifying conference participants. The view taken here is that the broader conceptual challenge is to provide an electronic networking system which facilitates the emergence and articulation of conceptual clusters as a prelude to focused networking, if required./

5. Conferencing weaknesses

It is useful to consider the following conceptual weaknesses in both electronic networking and in conventional face-to-face conferences:

In response to such assessments, it is usually argued that these difficulties can be avoided if the conference is appropriately organized with a 'strong chairperson' or 'moderator' to 'keep things in focus'. This is in effect a betrayal of the original non- hierarchical inspiration of networking. The further suggestion that the conference should have a 'clear agenda' tends to imply that the agenda is decided in advance, thus inhibiting the creative, self- organizing process whereby responsible people redesign the framework through which they interact in response to new insights emerging from that interaction. Most of the burning international issues call for conference environments in which the agenda is constantly redesigned as an evolving conceptual framework. A frozen agenda precludes creativity and implies a frozen, still-borne outcome. The formation of only the most probable coalitions is possible at a time when only the less probable are appropriate to the task. The emergence of more imaginative coalitions is not facilitated.

Is there no way that responsible individuals can get there act together without a 'police person' or a conceptual straitjacket ? It can be argued that much more could be done with networking software to facilitate conceptual activity.

6. Possibilities

One way to explore future possibilities for conferencing is to consider the implications of various possible marriages between modes of information:

Text and Data: The classic separation between text processing and data processing has severely impeded the evolution of conferencing. A fruitful marriage would allow users their current freedom of expression but would also enable them to navigate more effectively through the maze of messages. Various approaches could be taken:

The issue in both cases is how to code levels of the text and embedhypertext links in the text as part of the message generation process. This is an extension of the classic problem of how to motivate authors to provide abstracts. The long-term solution is to shift the focus of attention from the text to the representation of the knowledge implied by the text . A transitional solution is to develop what might be called a 'text compressor' or 'concept processor' based on artificial intelligence procedures.

As has been repeatedly noted, the desk-top publishing revolution and its conferencing parallel will more than overwhelm a saturated readership. Desk-top readers do not accomplish what we would like their name to imply. They do not help us to filter and comprehend the content. Some form of text analysis and restructuring by a concept processor is required to mine the conceptual ore from what needs to be dumped or filed at a lower priority level. The most practical approach would to provide users with a minimum facility which they could adapt and tune to their personal idiosyncrasies. Users could of course view and edit the structured product generated from their own outgoing communications. Such a processor might usefully be related to the need for machine-assisted translation.

Data and Graphics: Much has been accomplished with respect to this marriage in the form of representing data in graphical form (business graphics, statistical graph plotting). But this quantitative challenge for conferencing is possibly of much less interest than the non- quantitative one of how to represent graphically the concept networks being articulated within a conference. Possibilities include:

There are two challenges here: (i) enabling a group of users to address the emerging articulation on a shared map (possibly with personal overlays, etc); (ii) escaping the conceptual straitjacket of packages based on a directed graph or tree structure in order to use an associative structure (on which alternative tree structures can be temporarily imposed).

It is worth noting that a heroic attempt was made to do just this by Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask at the first international conference of the Society for General Systems Research (London, 1979) before the PC era. Both concept maps and participant network maps were produced and used to orient discussion. Such experiments would be infinitely easier now and many refinements could be incorporated.

The absence of such tools is an indication of the priorities of conferencing at this time. Questions such as the following need to be asked:

There is every possibility that users have different preferred cognitive modes (possibly under different circumstances) and that it remains important to cater flexibly for those who feel constrained by explicit structures.

One possible reason for the relative lack of interest in conferencing systems in the international community is that in the present form they do not reflect the dynamics of factional interaction. The action is perceived as being elsewhere. Even the texts produced can be viewed as conceptual shells discarded by a dynamic beast that has moved elsewhere. The consensus-mania pervading explicit conferences forces the real, tension-filled, business of factional wheeling and dealing into other arenas -- if only the corridors and bars outside meeting rooms or in one-to-one messaging. This clearly suggests the need for handling the public-private interface more flexibly, veiling and unveiling explicit structure when appropriate. The conferencing of the future may yet prove to be a conceptual dance of the seven veils !

7. Conceptual scaffolding

The above possibilities point to quite concrete possibilities which could provide a major new facility for conferences, whether electronic or otherwise. These possibilities are basicallyconcerned with the whole issue of what might be called 'conceptual scaffolding'. In the process of constructing a building scaffolding is necessary, especially to hold structures in position until appropriate permanent building elements can be inserted to lock them into place. Much can be learnt from architecture in considering the challenges of developing more powerful and appropriate forms of conceptual architecture.

Structurally an agenda or a conference programme, even a multi-track program, is rather simple -- even simplistic -- especially when considered in relation to the complex ecology of problems and organizations which are supposedly to be interrelated effectively through it. Is it any wonder that conferences are relatively ineffective at coming to grips with complex issues ? What is being attempted is in defiance of Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety.

The issue is therefore how to enable users to collectively design more complex forms of conceptual scaffolding to hold in place embryonic or unstable concepts until other concepts can be fitted into the pattern to lock them into place. Ideally, of course, it is the conferencing software which should provide such scaffolding. And, like the scaffolding for buildings, it should be adjustable to different structural configurations as the building grows.

A typical function of scaffolding in a conference is to provide a framework within which complementary perspectives can be articulated, especially when there is a major tension between them. When Concept A is formulated, the scaffolding holds a space for Concept B to counter- balance it. Such scaffolding is even more essential when more than two concepts have to be held in balance. As with buildings, the scaffolding provides a protection against disruptive forces in the conference process. A typical disruptive force in a contemporary conference might focus narrowly on 'industry is exploitative', when the larger issue is to provide a sustainable framework in which to balance the exploitative characteristics of industry against the socio-economic benefits that it provides in the light of environmental constraints. The more complex the balance, the more vulnerable is the conference to disruptive forces.

Four forms of scaffolding are especially interesting:

Symmetrical structures: Geometry supplies a vast repertoire of geometrical patterns which can be used to interrelate concepts. Of special interest are the symmetrical polygons in 2-dimensions and polyhedra in 3-dimensions. Symmetry has the merit of being in some way associated with global or integrative comprehensibility. To the extent that opposing perspectives can be mapped onto such structures, there is greater possibility of collective recognition of the distinct functions they perform in relation to one another. It is also possible that the more complex the structure, the greater its stability. Eastern religions have made extensive use of such conceptual patterns in the form of mandalas. These hold thecomplex relationship between a multiplicity of complementary insights, whilst maintaining an integrative focus on the whole. The software issue here is how to massage an associative network of concepts into the pattern (or a range of alternative patterns) which can give the most appropriate overall order to it. Maybe there is a place for marrying networking concepts to those of sacred geometry.

Tensegrity structures: A feature missing from such geometrical structures is any explicit recognition of the dynamics between the elements and of how they contribute to the dynamic integrity of the whole. Again architecture points to the importance of appropriately interrelating tensional and comprehension elements. In conferences the art is to creatively interrelate perspectives that are in sympathy and in opposition to each other. Buckminster Fuller pointed to the existence of a whole family of tensegrity structures which underlie the structure of his well-known geodesic domes. Tensegrity (or tensional integrity) has many suggestive implications for more effective conferencing:

It is clear that only with the use of appropriate software could tensegrity-based conferences be explored. The scaffolding problem is an ideal computer challenge. It opens the door to a totally new way of representing agendas non-hierarchically.

Resonance hybrids: There is a certain class of chemical molecules whose structure cannot be meaningfully defined by a single pattern of atoms. Thus the benzene ring, present in most organic compounds, is best understood as oscillating between 5 distinct patterns of bonds between its constituent atoms. The resulting resonance hybrid is much more stable than any of the 5 individual patterns -- even though that stability is dynamic. This suggests the possibility that there may be conceptual and organizational structures which can only come into existence by allowing them to alternate between essentially unstable (or unsustainable) extremes. The challenge of an appropriate response to the issues of sustainable development may depend on the ability to discover such structures. Computer conferencing may be absolutely essential in providing the conceptual scaffolding through which they can emerge. It is even possible that the legal and accounting structures to maintain institutions based on them could only be managed through some such environment. (Just as the newest aircraft can only be flown with computer assistance, it is possible that the most advanced organizations need to be conceived in the same light.)

Embedding data in images: It has long been recognized that some of the most complex problems of process control, call for a totally new way of presenting hard data to the human brain. Instead of a multiplicity of dials and graphs, use is made of the full range of visual images (landscapes, animals, imaginary objects) as vehicles onto which to project or hang complex patterns of data so that they can be more readily comprehended. Thus when the wind agitates a tree on a landscape image, a particular control action is called for. Very large amounts of data can be compressed into such images. Recalling Douglas Engelbart's vision, this suggests the need to explore how conference participants can embed their insights into comprehensible images. In particular it suggests the possibility that the collective task of a conference might also be perceived in terms of sculpting such an image -- with every conceptual contribution leading to a modification or articulation of it. This calls for a very special marriage between conceptual contributions and image processing. Of special interest is the possibility that the insights of some conferences could only be effectively carried by dynamic imagery, and especially by imagery governed by other rules than those of the physical world (as is the case with some computer generated imagery). It is clear that computer image manipulation skills are well developed, but much needs to be done to determine how to hang data on them such that changes to the data modify the image, and changes to the image modify the data./

8. Conceptual transformation

The need for conceptual scaffolding is clear given the kinds of complexity with which society has to work. The challenge of makingthe more complex structures comprehensible is also clear -- those most appropriate to the challenge of sustainable development may be beyond the ability of any single human mind to grasp. But any form of development implies structural transformation. Whilst transforming simplistic structures like conference agendas and organization charts may pose little challenge, the transformation of the complex structures described earlier are quite another matter.

The process of conceptual or social transformation appears to call for a form of dynamic scaffolding which provides some form of continuity -- from stage to stage -- through the transformation process. What we are looking for is a form of scaffolding onto which the conference's insights can be mapped at Stage I. The relationships in this mapping would then be stretched or changed in the transformation to Stage II, which might be some very different kind of structure -- suggesting new kinds of relationships between the concepts so bound (and between their proponents in the conference).

There are few examples of this kind of structure:

Presumably it will only be through such explorations that conferences can anchor their transformative insights so that people can recognize and have confidence in the structural continuity of appropriate change, rather than being threatened by change of any kind -- and therefore resistant to it.

9. Metaphors of transformation

This paper has stressed the special need for software capable of facilitating more complex forms of conceptual communication in a conferencing environment. This argument is based on the assumption that just as aircraft were faced with the technological challenge of the sound barrier, software faces the challenge of the imagination barrier. The sub-sonic conferencing problems have been largely solved. But we do not yet know how to ensuring the stability and integrity of conferences functioning at a high imaginative level. The conventional organizational and conceptual structures tend to get shaken apart.

There would seem to be a number of fruitful steps that can be taken, as pointed out above. When it is recognized what strategic advantage they offer to the networks that use them, it is probable that resources will be devoted to their development. It is very probable that such software will be restricted to those major corporations for whom strategic advantage is a vital consideration. It is also probable that versions of such software will be developed by certain alternative groups. It seems less likely that the core of the electronic networking and conferencing constituencies will have access to such facilities or perceive the need to do so. Unfortunately this is also likely to be the case with users in the international community of organizations.

The difficulty is that it is always possible to argue that concrete, short-term, simple procedures are sufficient in a crisis-management environment. Much of what passes for international projects and programmes is in effect reactive, crisis management. Upbeat reporting of their successes is always possible. But in strategic terms it is rather like a chess novice playing a grand master. The novice can be allowed to delude himself by many short-term gains as he progressively sinks into a more and more disadvantageous strategic situation from which recovery is hopeless. This is the dilemma of sustainable development.

The real challenge for conferencing in relation to the crises of our times is to provide people with tools to counter the imaginal deficiency from which we collectively suffer when dealing with complexity. The texty, linear-environment of messaging and documents has a poor track record. Eminent experts, with suitable budgetary encouragement, can now be found to negate the importance of any problem, whether over-population, acid rain, low-level radiation exposure, or smoking. Their 'facts' are no longer a reliable basis for action.

In this context, there is a most intriguing unexplored resource. That is the use of metaphor as a guide to the elaboration of more complex conceptual frameworks and organizational structures. In effect the arguments already made with respect to tensegrity, resonance hybrids and imagery rely to some extent on the power of metaphor, especially visual metaphor. Metaphor is renowned as a keyto creative thinking and innovation. Information systems have traditionally been ruthless in eliminating the ambiguity of metaphor from the communications they support. But the classical triangle of text, data and graphics processing is only 2-dimensional. Imaginative insight can be usefully placed at the apex of the (tetrahedral) pyramid based on that triangle. Metaphor is the prime vehicle for such insight.

How then can we marry metaphor processing into conferencing environments as a way of breaking through the imaginative barrier ? This paper suggests ways of doing so with computer assistance. But it seems doubtful that advances will be made fast enough on these fronts. However one great advantage of metaphor is that, like rumour and humour, it travels rapidly through any network, whether computer- assisted or not.

Consider the fashionable focus for the international community at this time, namely sustainable development. How is this complex notion to be carried and addressed in the imagination, and especially in the media. Metaphor can be used to highlight our collective difficulty in developing strategies to bring it about. Metaphors such as 'global village' or 'gaia' do not give focus to the strategic dilemma and the operational opportunities. Due to our imaginal deficiency, sustainable development is best understood at this time through the metaphor 'having our cake and eating it too'. This corresponds to the corporate interpretation of 'sustainable competitive advantage'. Both are tragic examples of poverty of imagination in a complex environment.

Imagine a conferencing environment in which text (including speech), data and graphics were treated as infrastructure 'plumbing' and the conceptual centre of gravity shifted to an imaginative level sustained and disciplined by the computer-assisted use of metaphor. A major concern in the conference would be to ensure the circulation of meaning through metaphor. Complex notions would be expressed briefly by metaphor. The challenge would not be who could dominate the discussion in quantitative air-time terms or resolutions passed. Rather it would be a question of who could produce the most seductive metaphor to capture the strategic complexities and the opportunities for the formation of hitherto impossible coalitions of bodies.

Moving beyond the limitations of competing metaphors, the complexity to be dealt with probable calls for sets of complementary metaphors to articulate facets of the challenge and the different modes of response to it. Examples of such metaphors have been given in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1986). An interesting example is that of crop rotation.

Computer could do much to assist the management of such creative environments. Essentially they have three tasks. Firstly to render a repertoire of metaphors appropriately accessible, in the light of their structural and patterning characteristics. Secondly, to provide a disciplined communication framework to channel forceshindering the emergence of imaginative new patterns, and providing a protective framework (a 'matrix') for such patterns in their embryonic stages. Thirdly, to give stability to the stages between the imaginative level and the organizational and operational implications (a sort of 'Jacob's ladder' or 'gearing down' facility), which need to be articulated at the 'plumbing' level.

10. Conclusion

There is a dearth of imaginative ideas to respond to the challenge of sustainable development in this period of crisis and crisis-management thinking. An immediate challenge for the West is how to respond to the radical transformation in the Eastern European countries. Given the scarcity of resources, what can they be given to catalyze the fruitful reorganization of their societies ? And even more challenging, how can advantage be taken of the very high level of education achieved by a high proportion of the younger generation ?

Rather than thinking in terms of how such societies can make use of various Western styles of organization, which have resulted in many significant failures in other societies to which they have been exported, is there an alternative ? Is it possible to provide some communication package, to run on standalones or small networks, which could provide them with the conceptual scaffolding that would enhance their ability to apply their own imaginative insight to their own problems ?

The challenge of the Eastern bloc is in effect a metaphor of the challenge that the world as a whole faces with respect to sustainable development. The economists will continue to be given every opportunity to apply their unimaginative insights to the task, whatever suffering their austerity measures imply. This will not change. And the degree of alienation of the population, and especially the young, will continue to increase. But in the many creative interstices, there is a receptive audience for devices which open up opportunities for more complex, and more fruitful, modes of thinking and organizing. With appropriate imagination, limited resources can be applied in new ways. Computers can provide an environment to assist that process./


References

Anthony Judge:

Union of International Associations:

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