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Dilemmas of Inter-Sectoral Dialogue Processes

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Prepared as a contextual statement (see others) on the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) for the International Facilitating Committee for the Independent Sectors in the UNCED process (Geneva). Portions of the text were published in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1994-5, vol 2) and in the online version of its commentaries (to which links below are made) shaping the global network of local bargains by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral issues. [IFCD51B ]


1. Common denominators: Inter-sectoral meetings readily focus on the lowest common denominator, rather than seeking ways of benefitting from the variety of perspectives represented. This is often the price of a certain form of consensus.

2. Repetition: Everything that is easy to say about development-environment issues has already been said and written many times. It is questionable whether the time of an inter-sectoral dialogue should be used to make these points again amongst people who have made (and heard) them before.

3. Statement fatigue: Many are tired of each others position statements, whether of their insights or of their distortions. There is a need to move beyond the phase of "flag waving", testimony meetings, and intellectual and personal positioning.

4. Communication styles: Each sector tends to be impatient regarding insights formulated in the "language" of another sector. Differences in communication style are important, especially in a multi-cultural setting.

5. Elaboration: Those presenting insights tend to fail to present them in a sufficiently succinct language. This tendency exploits the limited time resources of the meeting -- and is essentially unsustainable.

6. Illegitimacy: Sectors tend to have difficulty accepting the legitimacy of other sectors, even if obliged to create the impression of doing so.

7. Self-righteousness: There is a need to move beyond the easy posture of self-righteous blaming of particular sectors -- and the old pattern of scapegoating another to emphasize the innocence of one's own sector.

8. Over-selling: Sectors tend to "over-sell" the merits of their concerns, skills and special perspective. Excessive enthusiasm can strin credibility.

9. Over-confidence: Sectors tend to fail to recognize the limitations of their own perspective with respect to domains of importance to others.

10. Obvious solutions: Some continue to believe in obvious or magical solutions and perceive as unconstructive (or "negative") any attempts to note the limitations of such solutions.

11. Authorities: The traditional approach of using respected authority figures to impose order on a "disorderly" dialogue is increasingly questioned. But the challenge of "self-organization" has not yet been fully accepted.

12. Facilitation: Efforts to use non-authoritarian, "neutral" facilitators or processes to mediate interactions are considered suspect. Facilitators necessarily have particular cultural, linguistic, ideological or disciplinary biases.

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