Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
University of Earth Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos

1996

The International School of Ignorance ?

-- an ongoing experiment in online dialogue meeting design

- / -



Background
Context
Framing a possibility for new dialogue
Focus and purpose
Participants
Why participate?
Why avoid participating?
Online advantages
Experimental message policy


Background

A series of eight experimental, face-to-face meetings have been held at various locations over the past decade -- partially inspired by an earlier version of the criteria indicated below. This has evoked the question as to whether an online version is possible and what form it might usefully take. Only one of these dialogues has been tentatively described in a document (Anthony Blake, A Self-Organizing Group in Dialogue, 1994). Several have been captured in "visual minutes" by Tim Casswell (Reduced version of colour flipcharts as PDFs: Wales, 1993 session, 9mb; Scotland, 1994 session, 6mb). Such records are contested as unrepresentative by participants. (See also an earlier variant of this document)

Context

Framing a possibility for new dialogue

There is a healthy concern that not enough is being learnt from past initiatives and, whilst many new initiatives are being explored, there is a frustrating sense that these may not be focusing on less tangible underlying issues and processes. A checklist of possible concerns might include:

Focus and purpose

The focus and purpose of the dialogue is, to a large degree, the nature of  "focus" and "purpose" in a dialogue amongst people with strong commitments, extensive experience, and a weariness with old patterns and efforts at facilitation towards consensus. The dialogue will tend to question easy framings such as this text. In a real sense the direction favoured by each participant will be considered, or experienced, as tangential to what will remain an undefined purpose. Such tangents will tend to be valued as intersecting baselines from which a common purpose may be inferred -- by some -- but not captured in words.

Participants

Potential participants will tend to be busy individuals, experienced in group process, with strong views and commitments -- and a wide range of interests. The need of each to "do" and to "accomplish" something through any encounter (especially where there are strong preferences on meeting organization) introduces a special tension in an agenda-less, leader-less situation where each is co-responsible and none wish any particular view to dominate.

There is no particular process or mode of facilitation. Most participants are only convinced of the merits of such a gathering by word-of-mouth discussion with others whose views or qualities they respect.

The decision on whether it is appropriate to participate can therefore really only be made intuitively. There are absolutely no guarantees on the value of the experience, the composition of the gathering, or the scope of the exchanges.

The urgencies have not gone away either, so the indulgence of participation will continue to be challenged.

The challenge is to describe the online dialogue in ways which will encourage some to participate and will discourage others for whom there are many more appropriate online contexts. Part of the challenge lies in reflecting on the design to ensure that it offers new opportunities -- whether or not these are implemented.

Online advantages

There are well-recognized advantages of online interaction over face-to-face encounters. These include:

There are of course well-recognized limitations where valued body language, personality and other factors do not communicate well.

Experimental message policy

The challenge is to overcome the well-recognized constraints of listservers, newsgroups and e-mail in general -- especially overload. Key factors are brevity, variety, focus and dynamics -- however these may be usefully interpreted. It is expected that the message policy will be treated as experimental and subject to continuing redesign. Features that may possibly be included are:

Outcomes

It is expected that participation would provide its own justifications -- which would be variously defined. Outcomes might include compilation into book form, preserving anonymity, although the website might serve this need.


Why participate?

Why avoid participating?

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