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18th September 2007

History of Participant Interaction Messaging

1979 to 1995

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Introduction

The purpose of this document is to note the different stages in the development of messaging techniques between participants within larger conferences, notably prior to subsequent possibilities of interactive computer facilities. Whilst developments in computer technology now offer many new facilities, especially groupware and community intelligence facilities, these early experiments raised issues which remain unresolved.

Of particular interest is how participant involvement can be elicited and sustained -- especially in the case of people with different cultural and technical backgrounds. A detailed account is provided by Nadia McLaren (Participant Interaction Messaging: manual and guidelines, 1992).

Of perhaps greatest interest is how insights can be successfully captured and juxtaposed, particularly if the volume of communications of secondary significance is high. Such questions relate to the issue of how such communications can enable larger groups to self-organize in a manner which is subsequently rated as critical to the transformative value of the event.

It is appropriate to note that despite the experiments listed below, participant interaction remains a challenge for meeting organizers who may perceive it as a threat to a pattern of relationships they prefer to impose -- notably to give prominence to themes and speakers decided in advance, rather than in response to insights emerging during the course of the event. So whilst the use of mobile phones and laptops by participants is now a common feature of large conferences, the process whereby participants interact without the mediation of the organizers or their facilitators remains undeveloped. Participants continue to leave meetings without encountering the people they would have found to be most beneficial and perhaps the justifcation for their investment in long-distance travel.

Although the very first experiment noted below enabled participants to recognize their position on a thematic map in relation to the interests of other participants on the same map, such visualizations have not been explored by conference organizers or facilitators -- despite the technology now available (see Complementary Knowledge Analysis / Mapping Process, 2006).

Sequence of experiments (in date order)

Society for General Systems Research: International meeting (London, 20-24 August 1979)

United Nations Environment Programme, Information retrieval -  Infoterra Meeting (Moscow, 2-5 October 1979)

Findhorn Community: Annual conference (Findhorn, October 1979)

United Nations University (Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development Project): Networking Sub-Project Meeting (Brussels, May 1979)

Union of International Associations: World Forum of Transnational Associations (Brussels, June 1980)

Findhorn Community: Annual Conference (Findhorn, October 1980)

International NGO Conference: The World We Choose (Paris, 17-20 December 1991)

UNCED Preparatory Conference (New York, March 1992)

Earth Summit: Inter-sectoral Dialogue (Rio de Janeiro, 1-2 June 1992)

Earth Summit: Global Forum (Rio de Janeiro, 3-12 June 1992)

World Futures Studies Federation: Congress (Turku, Finland, September 1993)

Parliament of the World's Religions (Chicago, September 1993)

UNESCO, Division of Philosophy: Rencontres Philosophiques: What do we not know? (Paris, 14-17 March 1995)

International Peace University: Open Forum (Berlin, 3-30 September 1995)

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