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1980

University of Earth: Meta-organization for Post-Crisis Action

PART II: CURRENT OPERATIONS

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See Document overview. [See also website for University of Earth (2007)]



FINANCES AND BUDGETING 

The University's finances continue to develop in a healthy manner as indicated in the Financial Report (annex). The main sources of funds, or fund substitutes, are now as follows: 

Of necessity most of the financial operations are carried out through intermediaries and a network of suitable bodies. These operations are very closely supervised by three independent boards which each raise queries and formulate separate reports (see annex). Efforts are made to minimize the links between these operations to reduce the risk of exposure through trace-back. The University avoids financial opportunities which are contrary to its "good citizen" policy, provided that by so doing its resources are not actually diminished or otherwise rendered vulnerable. 

Budgeting continues to be a domain of extensive experiment. The system is so organized that alternative budgeting procedures are being used by groups. The search continues however for more effective ways to ensure budgetary flexibility for the University as a whole. 

The availability of funds to emerging programme initiatives, and the reallocation of funds between initiatives, are perceived as vital to the dynamism and creativity of the University. Given the nature of the University however, fund budgeting does not provide an adequate picture of the use of resources. In fact, of greater significance than the associated funds, are the human resources expended upon initiatives, as partly indicated by time. Current budgeting experiments therefore make provision for distinct resource categories (such as funds or time) without making the conventional assumption that these can all be expressed in terms of funds. Attention time often proves more valuable than money. 

In one way or another the budgeting experiments tend to pursue the goal of organizational "controlled spontaneity". This isenvisaged as a condition in which all resources can be refocused very rapidly onto emerging initiatives, even if only for short periods of time - without jeopardizing the resources necessary to nourish alternative responses. 

The ideal budgeting solution is not expected to be logically definable. For this reason budgeting is partly defined as a complex game with many players attempting to optimize their resource allocations at the expense of others. The conventional "under the table" practice of budgeting "deals" is incorporated as much as possible into the dynamics of the game. 

The great flexibility in the approach to budgeting is only made possible by the use of real-time computer systems. These permit a variety of experiments to be conducted simultaneously, as alternative ways of perceiving the budget picture, without any loss of control. They also facilitate the dealing process which is essential to budget gaming. 

The main expenditures of the University are detailed in the annex. 

INFORMATION AND PUBLICATION 

It is the information system which provides the necessary continuity between the shifting patterns of organization. It is therefore vital to the development of the University. The main features and functions of the information system may be grouped as follows: 

Resource and contract management: As a "conceptual holding company", there are a multitude of ways in which the University maintains contact with people, groups and resources which are part of its network. This calls for complex budgeting techniques which are only really possible with computer assistance. 

Programme initiative management: To increase the flexibility with which initiatives can emerge, and to reduce the administrative burden, special software has been developed. This reduces considerably the delays in fund reallocation. 

Profiles: In contrast with conventional university practice, profiles on individuals and groups are actively maintained in order to improve the patterns of communications rather than to evaluate performance secretively. It is in the interests of all concerned to refine profiles, since it is on the basis of these that other software channels many of the flows of information, requests and initiative proposals. Profiles have also acquired a very important symbolic function as a consequence of the de-emphasis of publication production (see below). In the conventional academic world an individual's list of books, articles and functions is the basis on which personal advancement is signalled and decided. This function is integrated here into an active profile which signals accomplishments and progress. Developing interests and long-term visions may also be signalled as an invitation for interaction. This approach has also given a more constructive context for the territorial behaviour and possessiveness frequently associated with creativity and innovation. 

Pathway mapping: At any one time the University's organization is most apparent from the patterns of information flow. Software has therefore been developed to map such flows on a short or long-term basis and in greater or lesser detail. These maps are as much a focus of attention as conventional weather charts. Not only do they indicate how information is being selectively distributed, they can also be adapted to function as learning pathways. Careful attention is given to the balance between confidentiality and openness and how these may be reflected on maps. There are many fragile stages in the initiation of change when complete openness must be postponed. 

Reflection aids: Considerable attention has been given to the ways in which software can effectively augment individual thinking capacity. Much of this has focused on ways to help an individual marshal ideas and discover new ways to interrelate them. Individuals have access to environments in which these processes are facilitated and some use such facilities during most of their working day. The facilities range from conventional statistical packages through mental mapping aids, to what are virtually visual and auditory aids to meditation. Users often adapt the packages to functions with their own private jargon, coding schemes or visual preferences. Some of the latter are art forms in their own right. 

Knowledge elements: The research approach of the University is organized around the production and ordering of "knowledge elements". These take the form of short statements, whether text, equations or occasionally diagrams. The format is designed to contain whatever is likely to emerge from creative insight into any problem situation. Such statements may refer to back-up data but any such material is usually stored separately. The statements are subject to extensive processing by a variety of software packages. This ensures that they are appropriately related to other knowledge elements and can be made the focus of critical or supportive comments. The information system is designed so that individual knowledge elements can be readily revised and drawn into relationships with new knowledge elements whose emergence they help to render possible. Since authorship of knowledge elements is usually clearly signalled, authors usually "register" their insights within hours, if they are not derived while working with the system directly. Insights may however be held in a working file when premature release is inappropriate. 

Publication: The immediate registration of knowledge elements changes the whole approach to publications. These are considered secondary to the research process and unsatisfactory in relationship to the up-to-the-minute status of the pattern of knowledge elements. It is the latter which are eagerly scanned for stimulus, inspiration and mutual citation. Publications are usually only produced for physical convenience when the pencil-and-paper mode is preferred. Even then they bear very little resemblance to conventional academic papers. For example, preliminary arguments or introductory explanations are taken verbatim from classic texts, whenever possible minimizing the amount of new material contextual to the new insights. Suchstandard texts may themselves be slowly amended in the light of new knowledge, thus making it appropriate for them to be embodied in learning sequences whenever required. 

Non-computer action: There is deep concern within the University at the dependence on sophisticated information processing initiatives. A variety of activities have emerged to counter this trend and to explore alternatives. A significant number of people completely refuse to make direct use of these facilities in their work. Many claim with justification that the human brain is in many ways superior as a data processing device and improving its use should be a preferred focus of attention. 

Frame-working: Whether using the information facilities or not, considerable attention is given to the design of "frames" to interrelate knowledge elements. The ever-present challenge is how to increase the perceived significance of such patterns of knowledge. There is much interest in frames which hold together elements, seemingly unrelated to each other, in such a way as to indicate valuable new patterns for information flow. Considerable use is made of both software and artistic insight in generating more powerful frames. One aspect of this work is the generation of frames for problem complexes, especially as a means of drawing attention to subtle meta-macro-problems whose existence could otherwise not be comprehended. A special feature of frame-working is the use of dimensions which generate seemingly empty cells suggesting the existence of problems and phenomena hitherto unsuspected. 

Data banks: The University has ready access through data networks to many data banks. In addition efforts continue to be made to build up data banks on selected topics. These are detailed in a later section. 

Interaction context: A significant proportion of the message exchange between participants is focused on the knowledge elements and is handled through that system. Other messages, especially of an administrative nature, can also be handled by an electronic mail type of service, particularly between distant locations or when it is difficult to match schedules. When long-distances are involved a variety of techniques are used to ensure that messages are discreetly carried "piggy-back" through existing networks, often disguised as other kinds of traffic. 

WORK PROGRAMME 

The orientation of the University is such that organization of the work programme into faculties or subject areas would be a severe handicap. It is the very process of distinguishing such categories, and rigidifying a structure in accordance with them, which is called into question by the method of work. The work programme is therefore not organized in terms of a particular pattern of disciplines or subjects. Nor is the other favoured approach adopted, namely organization in terms of pre-defined issue problem areas. Both approaches are seen as having become essentially unfruitful and repetitive in response to the global problematique and are considered unlikely to engender significantbreakthroughs. Part of the problem is believed to be inherent in the organization of the research, irrespective of the substantive content of it. 

Care has therefore been taken to de-programme the organization of work. This is viewed as a way of increasing each participant's sense of responsibility in relation to the intent of the University as a whole. Participants are not expected to define their work in terms of an arbitrarily or abstractly pre-defined set of categories and thus avoid the responsibility of establishing the relevance to the social problematique. A collective programme too easily shifts the locus of responsibility away from the individual. Participants are viewed as responsible individuals who are already highly committed to discovering innovative responses to the problematique which, by definition, are unlikely to be closely related to any existing pattern of categories. 

The work programme is therefore not defined in terms of static macro-categories but in terms of "initiatives". This carries a deliberately innovative and action-oriented meaning. An initiative is what one or more participants consider as a useful direction or mode of exploration. Each participant may be actively involved in many initiatives, although the degree of interest and contribution to the work of each may vary considerably. Similarly participants may have a passive interest in many other initiatives to which they may contribute rarely, if at all. 

The method of work encourages the emergence of new initiatives. This process is seen as very closely related to the creativity of the University environment as a whole, but especially to advances in an individual's own thinking. If an initiative attracts no interest from other participants however, it is redefined as a private initiative, later to be rendered public again or simply eliminated. There is considerable movement of this kind, with a "morgue" as a final destination for "dormant" or abandoned initiatives. (The range of initiatives and their position in their probable life cycles are plotted for convenience on a map bearing some resemblance to the Hertzsprung-Russell diagrams of stellar evolution.) 

The emergence of initiatives is often a direct stimulus to other participants to define a counter-initiative, namely one which explores an opposing dimension. This process is viewed very positively as a means of sharpening the critical relationship between initiatives. Initiatives thus emerge with a variety of complementary, opposing or supporting relationships to each other. Much effort is devoted to facilitating participant sensitivity to the balance of the whole pattern of initiatives. For it is from this sensitivity that the overall significance of the work programme emerges. 

The fact that there are several hundred shared initiatives active at any one time in the University naturally raises the problem of how the whole is to be comprehended if categorization is avoided. The point is however to avoid a frozen system ofcategories precluding new understanding of the relationship between the parts. Classification and reclassification of initiatives does therefore occur and is in fact very active, but in no way is it permanent. At any one time there may be several classification schemes in use, and in process of revision, for the full range of initiatives. There may also be radically different alternative schemes advocated by particular groups of participants. Individuals frequently develop one or more private schemes to enhance the significance of the whole in their own terms. Each such scheme will tend to have different advantages for comprehension of the whole or for highlighting strategic opportunities. They all have an important function in determining the selective dissemination of information. 

It is from these classification schemes that macro-initiatives emerge more or less temporarily as categories through which the thrust of the University may be grasped. In contrast to conventional classification schemes however, as much emphasis is placed on the pattern of relationships of complementarity between categories as on the categories in isolation. It is these patterns which highlight the need for new initiatives or for the regrouping of existing ones. But by the same token a new initiative may well call into question the whole pattern of categories currently favoured. 

This degree of flexibility would be virtually impossible to handle within conventional "top-down" programme budgeting procedures. The main factor making it possible is that the University works on the principle of funding individuals in the present in support of their emerging insights. It is the creativity of individuals, rather than allocation of funds in the past for programmes defined in the past, which defines the active initiatives at any one time. It is making that creativity possible which is the main call on funds, however the person is related to the University. Given that the research is in most cases not technology-intensive, the other principal expenses are general costs relating to the information processing infrastructure of the work activity as a whole. 

Work on initiatives is monitored primarily to determine how resources are being allocated, not to predetermine their allocation. Whichever classification scheme is used, a corresponding resource allocation presentation is available. This is expressed in both units of attention time and in fund units. The presentation also takes into account the relationships between categories and the resources allocated to exploring them. Attempts are being made to refine these presentations. For example, one inspired by geographical maps, portrays movements of resources between categories in the same manner as river systems. It is the frequent exposure to such presentations which helps participants to reallocate their attention time if they detect an unfruitful degree of imbalance. From them it is fairly apparent at which points constraints must be built into the pattern of initiatives. 

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