Interrelating Viewpoints in Complex Meetings
the Horus wall-display technique
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Produced with assistance from David Horton Smith and published in Transnational Associations 30, 1978, 12, pp. 542-548 [PDF version]. Paper presented to the workshop on new forms of presentation (Geneva, February 1979) of the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development (GPID) project of the United Nations University, Human and Social Development Programme.
Horus stands for: Holistic Overview and Representation of Underlying Structure. This note responds to the problem encountered in meetings of many kinds when a complex of interrelated issues is discussed by participants having very different standpoints and approaches. Usually each participant's contribution is received politely, but very little is achieved towards linking it to others presented, especially when the papers and presentations are lengthy and somewhat difficult to digest. No satisfactory integrating perspective exists (a) to guide the evolution of the meeting; (b) to help participants to see the points of agreement and disagreement in context, or (c) to show participants what they have achieved (or failed to achieve). The note outlines a proposed method for maintaining and developing, during the course of a meeting, a visual representation or overview of the basic substantive points which are determining the evolution of the meeting. The method is presented here in a way which permits one or more different methods of representation to be selected for use on a particular occasion, depending on need.
Type of meeting
The display envisaged should be useful for a wide variety of meetings
Limitations appear to be :
Use of the display is indicated when :
Distinguishing basic points (1)
A conventional presentation of whatever kind contains basic points and associated comments. The various kinds of basic point can usually be briefly formulated in one sentence statements. The associated comments tend to require many sentences or paragraphs. The challenge is therefore to extract the basic points from a presentation and to display them in relation to those from other presentations or interventions. In Table 1 is given a structured list of the kinds of suggested basic points (or primary elements of inquiry or concern).
The list of items included under each heading is not necessarily complete, nor are the items necessarily mutually exclusive (i.e. there may be overlaps). The headings themselves are merely the result of a first effort to distinguish between different types of basic points. An effort has been made to respect the kinds of points which emerge in "rational" discussion as well as those which emerge in other (or broader) kinds of interaction. Clearly in a given case it may only be useful to extract a few of these points, or to regroup them into a small number of categories. Of course, other kinds of points could also be selected. The associated comments, or secondary elements of inquiry and concern, include the following :
This proposal is not concerned with developing any new method of handling this type of information.
Relationships between basic points
Relationships are established or emerge between basic points either
(a) during the course of a conventional presentation. (b) in the discussion stimulated by it, or (c) as a result of group discussion initiated independently.
The challenge is to find a way of representing these relationships as a means of providing a contact within which the significance of any particular point can be seen in relation to the whole. In Table 2 relationships have been grouped under headings. As with Table 1, the grouping is only tentative and the list of relationships under each heading is not necessarily complete. It is surprising that research has not yet established a comprehensive typology of relationships, although partial typologies abound (2).
Clearly in a given case it may only be useful to distinguish a few kinds of relationship, regrouping them into a smaller number of categories (e.g. agreement, disagreement). Alternatively, others could be added reflecting different kinds of linkage. Representing the basic points and relationships The display envisaged would consist of a large wall-space, e.g. 2 metres by 3 metres, or more (3). This could be :
If desirable, cards may carry additional information like "originator of statement" (e.g. group, session, or participant name or number). Participant numbers could also be indicated on card pin heads, particularly for evaluative comments (see below).
Allocating significance to display possibilities
This description deliberately avoids stressing a particular display formula since it is much better for the organizing group to adapt the possibilities to the scope and preoccupations of their own particular meeting (and/or to adjust the display in the light of usage). However, as a guide to the process of selection. Table 3 is provided. This matches the basic points and relationships against the display possibilities. It may be filled out in the light of particular requirements. (N.B. - This table is not the display, but a guide to designing one).
Table 3 - Display design : Matching wall-display options with meeting content
N.B. - Mark appropriate positions in this table to aid in design of display. Only a few categories need be used; they may also be grouped (see Table 4, for example).
As a guide to further reflection about the possibilities, one interesting distribution of areas is presented in Diagram 1. A circular form is convenient because it allows interrelationship between concentric and sectoral zones; in addition the centre can be highlighted as a point of focus or integration. The ellipse is slightly more practical in that it is easier to read cards (with typescript) pinned high up on such a wall-display rather than a circular one (4). In Table 4 two possibilities for using the areas in Diagram 1 are given. Table 4 is a simplified form of Table 3. The differences between the two formulae illustrate the flexibility of the techni-que.
Use in practice
There are of course a variety of ways in which the display could be used in practice. Although not necessary, it is probably desirable that the display be prepared before the meeting on the basis of background capers or ideas.
Clearly, the last approach makes the whole exercise much more participative, which may be highly desirable in certain meetings. On the other hand some thought should be given to protecting the display from casual or deliberate misuse. This is specially the case if use is made of the evaluative option (Table 2 : A or B as a vote). Some of the possibilities for this include :
It is with the last approach that difficulties may arise, depending on the nature of the group and the capacity for self-restraint (in the absence of filters and gatekeepers). On the other hand, the openness is a considerable stimulus to a new form of participation which combines some of the advantages of voting and wall messages (5).
An appropriate choice must be made by the organizing group and modified in the light of on-the-spot experiences. It is important to note that a very simple form of the display may be used by grouping categories to correspond with the visual tolerance of participants
Table 4 : Examples of two formulate for the display form above (Diagram 1, p. 544)
N.B. - This is a simplified (and modified) version of Table 3 with options taken for the two cases. Switching the significance of the sectoral zones and card colours results in very different displays.
1. In certain circumstances it may be worth using parallel or subsidiary displays, particularly where it is necessary to handle questions internat to some issue area.
2. In some cases it may be useful to relate such structural displays to displays of illustrative images (photos, etc.). Cards referring to locations on the image display could be inserted on the structural display at appropriate locations (and vice versa). Similar cards could be used to refer to film showings.
3. It would be useful to prepare standard roll-up displays (e.g. on a plastic surface) on which are faintly preprinted in some detail a complete range of basic points and relationships. Points made in the meeting would then be superimposed where relevant (6).
4. Displays, especially when pre-prin-ted, could give particular attention to time, from two completely different viewpoints :
5. If a display changes rapidly during a meeting, it can be periodically photographed as a visual record of the evolution of the meeting.
6. Special areas may be provided on the display :
7. A circular or ellipse display may be used to emphasize any integration between perspectives. Positions closer to the centre may be used for more central points. Relationships of agreement (or compatibility) between such points may be used to "pull" them to positions closer to the centre, whereas those of disagreement may be used to - push -them out to the periphery. The pattern of agreement/disagreement (coloured ribbons) could provide a very graphic indication of the relative integration/fragmentation of the meeting (7). The development of this possibility could be very significant as a chart of meeting progress.
8.The relationship to such meeting procedures as Syncom could be explored, since the display could provide a visual record of what is occuring within and between the Syncom sub-groups.
9. With the increasing interest in computer conferencing and conferences linked via satellite (8), there are two further possibilities :
10. The relationship of such a display to the computer-assisted production of participant group "mental models" could also be considered (9).
11. The relationship of such a display to the recording of the evolving relationships between factions or affinity groups (10) within a conference could also be considered. Such a display should facilitate such an evolution.
12. Especially when such a display is used in a small meeting room, there may be types of meeting in which participants can focus their comments in relation to the display (as with a blackboard). In the interplay between discussion and changes to the display, any evolution in the pattern of agreement/disagreement (11 ) can be visually supported to counteract tendencies to obscure integrative clarity when it has been achieved.
An alternative approach
A somewhat different approach that merits investigation may be envisaged in the light of network presentations such as for CPM (Critical Path Method), PERT (Program Evaluation and Review Technique) and in citation analysis. In CPM and PERT networks a single node is indicated as the start point from which the network develops, with a single node as the end point to which the network converges. However as illustrated by Diagram 2, if many independent start points are allowed, they can be positioned around the circumference of a circle by sector (e.g. according to topic, as discussed above). Points derived from (or subsequent to) others on the circumference are positioned towards the centre. Further development leads to convergence of the network as a whole on the centre from its circumferential Origins. Unlike CPM and PERT, at any particular time the "end point" remains undefined and dependent upon further development of the encircling network (12).
The difference from the previous displays is clearly that new contributions which do not build on existing achievements are seen as (a) reinforcing those achievements, either usefully or unnecessarily, or (b) undermining them, as the case may be. Two contrasting possibilities, for
example, are to use the circumferential points to represent specific factual details or, alternatively, abstract general standpoints. In the first case convergence on the centre can be used to record progressively more abstract points. In the second, convergence records emergence of more concrete practical viewpoints (e.g. a specific action programme).
The concentric rings can in each case be used to denote points at different levels of abstraction. If an effort is made to juxtaposition associated topics (represented by sectors), then citation links to points in distant sectors (i.e. across the centre) are less frequent. If a new approach is recognized, an extra sector could be added.
This is therefore a method of ordering information which makes it evident which points need to be considered in order to move on to a new level of significance or synthesis. Variations of it could be developed to focus group discussion or policy debates.
1. I am indebted to David Horton Smith for extensive discussion or the contents of this section and the following one. He should not be held responsible for their present inadequacies.
2. Eric de Grolier. A study of General Categories. Paris. Unesco. 1963.
3. In special cases it may be possible, or useful, to use a nonflat surface, such as a cone or a sphere, e.g. if it was desired to stress some integrative or wholistic lower the display to permit adequate access to the whole surface, particularly to read cards, (e.g. some blackboard systems)
4. Horus, the name suggested for this wall-display approach, is derived from : Holistic Overview and Representation of Underlying Structure. The eye, an ellipse, is a symbol of the Egyptian god Horus.
5. Yona Friedman has advocated a form of this for conferences of the World Future Studies Federation. Another form is of course favoured in China.
6. Since many of the basic points have been established in many meetings, such a display should be available anyway to focus discussion.
7. The "eye" of Horus could appear very "bloodshot" as a consequence of the degree of disagreement in some meetings - if red ribbon is used!
8. For example the World Symposium on Humanity (April 1979) is scheduled to link, via satellite, meetings of 3,000 people in Los Angeles. Toronto and London. Both video and computer conferencing will be used.
Anthony Judge. KnowIedge-representation in a computer-supported environment. International Classification, 4, 1977, 2, pp. 76-81. [text]
9. Peter Johnson-Lenz and Trudy Johnson-Lenz. Conference facilitation by computer-aided sharing. Transnational Associations, 29, 1977, 10, pp. 440-445
10. Anthony Judge. Emergence of interactive processes in a self-reflective assembly. Transnational Associations, 30. 1978. 5. pp. 271-275. [text]
11. Although hopefully more subtle patterns will become acceptable, based on complementarity between a diversity of "incompatible"perspectives. The agree ment/disagreement duality is crude in comparison.
12. The diagram could also be seen as representing a ringed tube or tunnel, with new segments appearing in the centre as one "advances" down it -- the old segments passing out of the field of vision. In some cases it may be useful to envisage the tunnel as looping back on itself in a circle (or even forming the throat of a torus). The sectoral dividers could also be envisaged as spiralling towards the centre (as with a rifle bore).
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.