Envisioning the Perfect Meeting
Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue
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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
Printed in Transnational Associations
, 1980, 4, pp. 201-206 [PDF version
In recent years many people have deplored the inadequacies of the visions of society in
the future. It is argued that credible visions offer a vital guideline to long-term
policy. Clarifying such visions is a useful focus for debate. As a central process in
society, meetings also merit this form of concern. Indeed if the problems inherent in
meetings cannot be solved, is it possible to move toward any better society? What could
constitute a perfect meeting in the future? Adequate images of such ideal meetings can
guide reflection on present inadequacies and on how they may be overcome. The following
points identify aspects which can be usefully borne in mind.
1. Inter-weaving resources
Rather than the present emphasis on isolated participant contributions, the emphasis
will be on interrelating contributions to form a pattern whose form evokes further
contributions thus bringing about an appropriate balance of perspectives. Representatives
of each discipline or approach will strive for better ways to evoke that pattern. Lengthy
contributions (in time or on paper) will become secondary to the contribution of specific
ideas, values, facts, problems or relationships. Those which significantly improve the
emerging pattern will be valued most.
Rather than the present hectic exercises in maximizing "communication", many
meetings or sessions will bear a greater resemblance to a public game of chess or go.
Periods of silence will be interspersed with brief contributions to the emerging pattern
on whose evolution all are reflecting.
3. Status and reward
Rather than status being accorded or acknowledged by protocol and "prime
time" privileges, it will be self- evident from the record of the relative
significance of the contributions made to the emerging pattern. This will be the prime
source of personal satisfaction.
Rather than the simplistic overt processes of present meetings (made possible by a
complex of covert processes), the range of processes will be understood to interweave as
they do in a complex but healthy ecosystem - of which there are many types.
Rather than the present possibility of immaturity in a meeting of the most eminent, the
maturity level of the meeting will be a matter of explicit concern and many will have
skills to evolve the meeting beyond the characteristic traps of the present.
Rather than the limited range of roles in present meetings, those of the future will be
characterized by a rich variety of supporting, guiding, informing, facilitating roles. The
potential of a meeting may well be judged by the "participant/supporting role"
ratio (cf the teacher/pupil ratio in schools) as well as the number of
"jargons" between which "interpretation" is provided.
Rather than the limited range of modes now permissable in a given meeting, it will be
possible for a meeting to move flexibly between many modes according to the energy
requirements of the participants - and without losing a sense of coherence.
8. Conceptual environment
Rather than the crude (lack of) awareness of meeting conceptual dynamics, participants
will be much more conscious of the "species" of each contribution made, the
effect it can have on the evolution of the conceptual environment, and the constraints on
9. Physical environment
To those involved in such perfect meetings, the negative effects of the many subtle and
less subtle design factors in present conference centres will be obvious. Conference
environment design will focus on enabling the many aspects of conceptual pattern formation
rather than "processing" participants and inhibiting synthesis. Flexible
settings will adapt to the changing conceptual environment.
Aside from the already evident move towards "electronic meetings" between
distant participants, much greater use will be made of technology to enable spontaneous
communication between participants (rather than at them), to represent graphically the
pattern emerging from the contributions made, and to facilitate synthesis whilst
11. New challenges
Because the environment will enable collective reflection on much more subtle questions
than at present, new challenges will emerge - possibly to be recognized as of greater (or
more fundamental) significance than the often simplistic preoccupations of present