Higher Orders of Inter-sectoral "Consensus"
Clarification of formal possibilities
- / -
Proposal prepared for consideration by the International Facilitating Committee
for the Independent Sectors in the UNCED Process (chaired by Ashok Khosla) preparatory
to the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992). A version of this proposal was implemented
and resulted, notably, in a document entitled Configuring Globally and Contending
Locally: Shaping the global network of local bargains by decoding and mapping
Earth Summit inter-sectoral issues
There are many interweaving
strands in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development (the Earth Summit, Rio de Janeiro, June 1992) and its aftermath.
These may be evaluated with various degrees of hope and scepticism. They do
however offer a number of strategic windows of opportunity which are of value
whatever the overall success of the UNCED process.
In parallel with the intergovernmental strands, there are those of nongovernmental
organizations focussing on the Global Forum on the occasion of the Earth Summit.
This document is concerned with the challenge faced by the International Facilitating
Committee of "independent sectors" (identified in Annex
1) whose mandate is to raise the level of debate around the UNCED process.
The IFC is composed of approximately 25 individuals from the independent sectors,
so named to describe the plurality and diversity of the constituencies whose
input into UNCED the committee seeks to facilitate. They correspond to the constituencies
identified by the World Commission on Environment and Development (the Brundtland
Commission) as being required to play constructive roles in bringing about the
necessary changes to ensure a sustainable future. The secretariat for IFC is
based at the Centre for Our Common Future (Geneva). The IFC members were selected
by canvassing prganizations within each sector. They include representatives
from the full spectrum of "nongovernmental organizations".
The IFC problem statement is
currently as follows: "Clearly governments alone cannot be expected to
solve the new nature of problems that humanity faces. The ingenity and creativity
of all sectors of society must be brought to bear in finding solutions and
effecting the necessary structural changes. For this to happen, however, we
must recognize the need for human solidarity and commitment to common
self-interests. And we must move from confrontation, through dialogue, to
An "Independent Sector Summit"
A consultation with NGOs
during the UNCED PrepCom II (March 1991) proposed the organization of an
"independent sector summit". The rationale for this IFC project for
an "independent sector summit", developed as a response to
suggestions from 100 independent sector representatives on that occasion has
been stated as: "However, the culture of productive dialogue among the
independent sectors -- e.g. between business and environmental NGOs, between
industry and development NGOs, between development and environmental NGOs,
between youth and women, and the like --
has yet to be cultivated. This project is an attempt to give birth to
The proposal for the summit
was confirmed at the IFC meeting on the occasion of PrepCom III (August
1991). Subsequent informal consultations have concluded that:
(a) There is a need for a
forum for representatives of all sectors that will have had, by then, their
respective UNCED-related discussions. The purpose being to share post-UNCED
agendas and provide an opportunity for debate. This forum is needed, not to
attempt to forge unnatural alliances nor to force artificial alliances to
come up with a common, watered-down positions on UNCED issues. Its purpose is
currently considered to be the identification of genuine areas of common
interest and of fundamental difference between the sectors.
(b) There is also a need for a
forum in which the challenge towards inter-sectoral dialogue for the sake of
post-UNCED work will be discussed and debated.
Challenge and opportunity
It is possible to view any
such independent sector "summit" as "just another"
gathering in which expressions of agreement and disagreement will be
expressed. The tendency would be to formulate such views in yet another
document which, despite its intentions, would be of significance to only a
limited audience for a limited period of time. And in this respect it might
parallel the articulation of documents emanating from the UNCED
It is also possible to adopt a
much more radical approach to such a summit process, its inputs and its
outputs. This could be formulated as a challenge to a range of disciplines
which might be able to present their insights so as to open new ways of
raising the level of debate amongst the independent sectors. It should be
stressed that the insights to be sought relate to the formal properties of
any declaration or agenda, not to its content. The structure of any such
document can be described in abstract terms which can suggest alternative
forms through which the elements of content may be related more
It would be a tragedy if
appropriate use was not made of the best thinking on the problem of relating
conflicting and complementary viewpoints in endeavouring to design a more
appropriate human response to the planet. Engaging in this initiative might
indicate new approaches of relevance to the intergovernmental process.
It would however be naive to
assume that any such initiative could hope for success unless the political,
social and psychological dynamics of such events were taken into account with
1. "More of the same ?"
Many have recognized the
danger that the Charters and Action Plans emerging from the UNCED process
will be characterized by features such as:
- Pious sentiments and token phrases
- Marginal adaptations of existing initiatives
- Empty frameworks, postponing tough decisions
- Idealistic and inoperable proposals
- Responses to short-term political constraints
- Absence of catalytic and multiplier effects
- Uninspiring sterile detail aggravating information overload
- Unrepresentative perspectives
- Inhibition of unforeseen and local initiatives
In a period of increasing
cynicism concerning international initiatives like the UNCED process, it is
important to look to ways of displacing easy images, such as
"circus" and "jamboree", by more challenging metaphors
which highlight new opportunities. It is however important to take into
account the phenomena which encourage use of such derogatory images in the
2. Conceptual traps of the drafting mind-set
A multitude of declarations,
charters, resolutions and action plans have been produced over the past
decades. In many cases they have been adequate to the visions of their
producers, especially where the concerns were specific, local or
well-defined. This leads to the easy assumption that structuring such
documents is a relatively minor editorial task -- with which many in the
international community are familiar. Concern is focused on the conceptual
challenge of the content and not on the framework within which that content
This conceptual trap engenders
documents organized into neat series of points and sub-points that are the
epitomy of linear, hierarchically-structured, thinking. Whilst appropriate in
many circumstances, this structuring principle is widely recognized as quite
inadequate to the complexities of the global problematique. However
insightful the content, the simplistic structure of such documents encourages
the kinds of thinking that reinforce inadequate organization of institutions
and information systems -- and the inappropriate decision-making that
3. Declaration organization of a higher conceptual order
The challenge appears to be
- ensuring higher degrees of order to reflect the many non-linear (and non-hierarchical)
relationships between the parts of the document;
- embedding into the structure the organizing principles which more appropriately
reflect the operational challenge;
- preserving a degree of simplicity to ensure that the document is comprehensible
as a whole and as a set of parts.
The first two call upon levels
of insight which have been articulated over recent years, and recognized by
many disciplines as breakthroughs in understanding. These breakthroughs have
occurred in response to the complexity of natural phenomena and through
recognition of the inadequacy of the simpler conceptual frameworks in
handling them. It would appear vital that such understanding be reflected in
documents purporting to organize our response to the future of the planet.
The third aspect of the challenge calls for new ways of relating such insights
to those of the handling and presentation of information.
4. Simplistic consensus as a dangerous constraint
As with many international
programmes, the UNCED process has a very heavy investment in achieving some
form of consensus to be enshrined in the form of charters and agendas. This
is seen as the key to the organization of appropriate future initiatives. The
nongovernmental organizations have also invested heavily in a parallel
process. It is important to question the assumptions underlying this concern
with consensus -- to the extent that they may be in fact be inadequate to
future initiatives, if these are to be more successful than those of the
past. There is a danger to belief in consensus "at all cost".
There is a very powerful
belief that it is possible, necessary and appropriate to formulate a
checklist of value-laden principles on which widespread consensus can be
achieved. It is hoped that any such charter or declaration can then become
the vital set of guidelines for a coherent plan or agenda which will govern
the actions appropriate to sustainable development.
This approach is powerfully
supported by many religious traditions, each with their basic set of
principles (the 10 Commandments, the Eightfold Way, etc). It has not however
proved possible to reconcile them, whether over past centuries or during
"dialogues" in recent decades. The approach is also powerfully
supported by those concerned with recognition of the set of universal values.
Again it has not proved possible to reach universal consensus on what these
are. But these initiatives have heavily influenced those advocating the
"rule of law" (and even "world government"), and
therefore committed to enshrining such principles in declarations and
charters. It must be asked whether the Earth Charter would be considered
adequate to the current crisis if it was honoured to the same degree as has
been the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, since its signature. Whilst
breaches of charter principles may be deplored, is it not useful to explore
whether more could be achieved by improving the form of such documents?
Without intending any disrespect, there is a danger of being trapped in what
might be termed a "10 Commandment Syndrome" and the lack of urgency
that has implied.
This mode of thinking is also
very powerfully reinforced by the policy, planning and management sciences.
These call for consensus on principles, on the basis of which strategic
objectives may be formulated, thus providing a framework for a coherent plan
of action. This is the 3-stage pattern which governs the actions of both
multinational corporations and intergovernmental agencies. Given that the
condition of the planet is partly the consequence of action (or inaction)
based on this mode of thinking, it is appropriate to ask whether some other
approach is not more appropriate.
Confronted with the many
failures of initiatives emerging from this thinking, the tendency is to
assume that the content (principles, strategies or actions) has been
inadequately identified or acted upon. This is the case whether from a
religious, legal or programme perspective. The contribution of the form of
any declaration of principles to such failure is considered of little
5. Beyond simplistic approaches to coherence
There are a number of
indications that simplistic approaches to coherence are inadequate when
dealing with the complexities of planet-wide policies:
- The failure to agree on universal values, notably amongst religions and
- The recognition that the checklist or hierarchical formulation of principles
emerges from a particular mind-set, namely that of Western culture, which
finds such ordering natural. Although this mind-set dominates international
debate, it is not natural to other cultures amongst which at least three or
four other ordering principles are favoured (see Annex 10).
- The reaction against efforts to enshrine any one language as the international
or world language (whether English or Esperanto). Political considerations
aside, it is recognized that languages carry other modes of thinking and that
this variety is vital to cultural pluralism. Differences are also enshrined
in various forms of non-verbal language, ignorance of which has jeopardized
many international initiatives (cf E T Hall).
- The failure of world modelling initiatives, based on the full resources
of systems analysis. After more than two decades, these have not been able
to converge on a coherent model or even to model the co-existence of competing
models. Even on a smaller scale, the systems approach has only been successful
in cases where disruptive variety could be designed out or repressed, namely
in the qestionable successes of techno-science (eg computerized systems of
- The difficulties of "harmonizing" legislation between different
countries in the light of agreed principles. This is most clearly seen in
the case of the EEC.
- The notable failure of negotiation procedures in ensuring timely response
to regional tensions (cf Kuwait, Yugoslavia, Middle East, Cambodie, Ethiopia,
Sudan, Mozambique, Northern Ireland) in order to avoid tragic loss of life.
- The failure of centralized planning, even when fully enforced by totalitarian
power structures. The desire of the constituent republics of the USSR to function
independently within a less coherent structure is a recognition that the over-arching
structures were not adequate to the complexities of the situation.
- The reaction in many non-Western cultures against approaches to organization,
management and control imported from the West and which have proved remarkably
inappropriate to the needs of particular societies. The conviction that the
dominant mode was the only appropriate one has effectively limited the further
development of modes of organization natural to such cultures.
Recognition of complementary approaches
1. Types of statement: In considering the possibility of an inter-sectoral
summit, it is important to recognize the different kinds of statement which
characterize discussion of substantive issues and any formal declaration or
charter reflecting a new level of understanding on which future action can be
based. A first step is therefore to clarify the range of such statements along
the lines suggested in Annex 2.
2. Three-part discussion
arena: It could be useful to channel statements of a particular type into one
of three discussion arenas:
Conflictual arena: As its name indicates, this arena would be used
to hold inter-sectoral challenges and defences. Its dynamics would be essentially
adversarial, based on mutual accusation and the formation of alliances against
opposing alliances. The output of work in this arena would be a collection
of position statements, with each indicating other statements with which it
was in sympathy or to which it was opposed. Those in sympathy might indicate
Consensual arena: As its name indicates, this arena would be used
to hold efforts at inter-sectoral consensus and compromise. It would limit
itself to the types of statement on which the different sectors can all agree.
In this arena the normal processes of conflict resolution and negotiation
would hold sway. The output of work in this arena would a collective statement
indicating the options for further action.
Contention arena: As its name indicates, this arena would focus efforts
on configuring statements into patterns which reflected the strength of their
original positions whilst constraining their excesses in the light of other
positions. It is this arena which offers scope for new initiatives drawing
upon levels of understanding reflecting a higher conceptual order. The output
of work in this arena would focus on the nature of the pattern connecting
the sectoral positions (and alliances), whether in harmony or in opposition
to each other in any particular case. Successive drafts or approximations
of this pattern would be used to focus the level of discussion onto the formal
properties of the pattern in adequately reflecting the degrees of consensus,
conflict and mutual constraint between sectoral positions. It is the articulation
of shared tension which then reflects more realistically the conceptual characteristics
of an integrated global framework within which sectors can envisage their
future operations. For any such global declaration, to some degree at least,
the medium is indeed the message.
An assessment needs to be made
of the interest of potential participants in pursuing any or all of these
approaches. This document focuses primarily on the opportunity represented by
the third approach.
Conceptual challenge and unexplored resources
The problems and possibilities
of an "inter-sectoral summit" can be seen as a special challenge to
those disciplines concerned with the formal interrelationship of distinct (local)
perspectives within a more general (global) framework. It is curious that
although a number of disciplines are concerned with this formal problem in
different ways, the 1992 Earth Summit has not been seen as constituting any
special challenge to their insights.
The organization of the inputs
and ouputs of the UNCED process is seen as a political, administrative or
logistical problem. It is not seen as raising fundamental theoretical issues
which are at the forefront of the preoccupations of a number of disciplines.
In a real sense no comment is called for from these disciplines by the
organizers of the UNCED process, and the Earth Summit has not been defined as
a meaningful challenge to these disciplines by their practitioners.
The assumption currently made
within the UNCED process is that any "integration" of particular
perspectives within a general framework, as a basis for future action, can be
readily handled by the traditional techniques of United Nations conference
processes, conventional diplomacy and special interest lobbying practices.
However there have been a number of previous initiatives of this type, and
with a less challenging focus. These suggest that there is a strong
possibility that success in these terms can only be achieved by radical
over-simplification of the challenge and the nature of the solution that is
considered adequate. In terms of a fundamental law of cybernetics, for
example, unless the institutional response that emerges is of a greater order
of complexity than that of the problems confronted, then it will be unable to
fulfil its function effectively (Ashby's Law).
There is therefore a strong
case for expressing the formal challenge of the Earth Summit in terms which
open up the possibility of inputs from relevant disciplines in order to raise
the level of discourse. The disciplines in question are those concerned with
the formal problems of interrelating relatively incommensurable perspectives
or frames of reference.
It would indeed be a tragedy
if the most advanced thinking of humanity concerning higher orders of
complexity was considered irrelevant to the complex formal problems
associated with articulating the output of the Earth Summit. But equally, it
would also be a tragedy if such disciplines were unable to formulate their
insights in a manner which was relevant to the immediate challenge. Such
insights constitute an unexplored resource in relation to the challenge of
sustainable development (however it is to be understood). The traditional
psycho-social problems of integrating such insights into immediate policy
initiatives are themselves an aspect of the formal problem that needs to be
It is important to recognize
that there are also recursive and self-referential issues associated with the
formulation of an initiative of this kind. These are associated with:
- the necessarily partial knowledge base from which it is initially formulated;
- the progressive clarification in its scope that can only emerge in the
light of other inputs;
- the challenge of the initiative to comprehension, especially on any unfamiliar,
or hard-to-explain, aspects.
In a very real sense this document needs to be reshaped and refined in the
light of insights from the relevant disciplines. The "levels of approach"
associated with this proposal are presented from this perspective in Annex
The "contention" or
"mutual constraint" approach could benefit from the investment of
effort in the "conflictual" and "consensual" approaches.
Such effort may however be considered as having been made already in the
preparatory documents, declarations and charters, notably that which emerged
from the Roots of the Future Conference (Paris, December 1991) representing
some 851 citizens groups from 150 countries. This charter was elaborated on
the basis of a comprehensive compilation of 138 such documents emanating from
the sectoral and regional level (Compendium of Citizens Movements Responses
to Environment and Development Challenges). The third approach would then
call for an attentive juxtaposition of elements of those documents in the
light of the formal constraints to be explored through that initiative.
The stages in the contention
approach might be envisaged as follows:
- Circulation for comment: Comments would for example be sought to
amend and improve the statement on the desirable formal properties of declarations
(Annex 4). Successive drafts of this document would therefore
be circulated to those with relevant conceptual skills and insights from a
variety of disciplines (Annex 5). Notes would be accumulated
on other formal features to be considered (Annex 6) whilst
endeavouring to improve the tentative expression of the inter-sectoral challenge
in formal terms (Annex 7).
The comments would be incorporated into improved versions of the document
which would give successively clearer indications of the methodological possibilities.
This process would also permit assessment of the relative interest of potential
collaborators in succeeding stages in the process. The emphasis would be placed
on conceptual insights which responded to the concrete procedural challenge
of interrelating sectoral positions -- even if only from a formal or theoretical
- IFC Comment: Discussion of the possibility, in the light of an early
draft of this document, on the occasion of the IFC Steering Committee meeting
on 24 January 1992 in Geneva.
- Clarification of methodology: This would be done amongst a core
group of collaborators in the light of inputs and feedback from a wider group.
This would involve the circulation of successive drafts to interested parties.
It could possibly involve one or more working group meetings. This stage might
lead to the conclusion that it was not possible to accomplish anything useful
within current time and resource constraints and that this third approach
should be abandoned.
- Elaboration of techniques: The previous step could elaborate a technique
for interacting with the sectors so as to position them within the first draft
of a pattern of mutual constraint. This could be used, as a postal questionnaire,
to further refine the technique and provide initial feedback to the sectors.
- Patterning sectoral positions: Once the methodology was clarified,
deliberate attempts could be made to locate sectoral positions within the
- Patterns of bargains: The previous process would identify the domains
where mutual constraint or bargaining was required between specific positions.
This would provide a structured framework for the many bilateral "bargains"
envisaged by Jim MacNeill in his report (Beyond Interdependence) on the follow
up to the Brundtland Report and the implications for the UNCED process. Note
that in contrast to MacNeill's view, the concern here is not with specific
bargains but rather with the pattern of those specific bargains -- thus shifting
the level of debate out of the ad hoc (local) mode into a more systemic (global)
- Clarification of summit processes: The above stages would progressively
clarify the nature of a possible inter-sectoral "summit" and the
possibilities for post-summit follow-up.
Constraints and philosophy
It is important to be clear on the proposed method of work, the resources available,
and the nature of the window of opportunity.
Given the short time
available, many corners must be cut in order to determine the feasibility of
the initiative and to converge on a fruitful outcome. This is not a high
resource exercise, although adequate resources are available for certain
stages of the process.
In exploring the formal
constraints and opportunities of such an inter-sectoral gathering, there is a
parallel challenge of reconciling the theoretical contributions, and ensuring
mutual constraints amongst them. From a theoretical point of view this is essentially
an "inter-paradigmatic" problem, for which no single theory is
adequate. The concrete opportunity must also be used to severely constrain
the theoretical niceties which it might otherwise be interesting to explore.
It is important to stress the
challenging parallel between the sectoral issues of sustainable development
and the dynamics in the conceptual realm between disciplines committed to
(sustainable) conceptual development. In a real sense unless those capable of
articulating formal insights can apply them to constrain their own excesses
(notably relating to territoriality, dominance, and the abuse of meeting
resources), then such excesses at the conceptual level (by the most eminent)
will continue to reinforce similar excesses at the inter-sectoral substantive
level. Progress towards sustainable development will continue to be
This project is presumptuous
to the extent that it explores integrative possibilities marked by failure in
the past. Integration of incommensurable perspectives has not proven
feasible. This "expedition" may prove "successful"
precisely because it does not aspire to seamless integration. Rather it
attempts the paradoxical task of providing a framework for discontinuity
using insights from incommensurable disciplines whose insights need to be
held in juxtaposition. Furthermore, success may be assured by avoiding the
arrogant ambition of final theoretical closure and completion that precludes
the kind of sustainable conceptual development which the future naturally
This project can usefully be
envisaged in a "fail-safe" mode, namely that whatever is
accomplished will provide useful insights for the future, even if it proves
impracticable to bring it to fruition within the Rio deadlines. The problem
of inter-sectoral collaboration and tension will not go away. It does raise
major theoretical as well as practical issues.
A minimum achievement would be to formulate the problem in terms which attract
the continuing interest of disciplines for which it constitutes a meaningful
challenge. Identification of catalytic imagery to facilitate comprehension of
a new order of possibilities could constitute another by-product (see Annex
8, which has already been widely circulated). Articulation of elements of
a "solution" in the specifications of an accessible computer programme,
in order to facilitate the structuring of "consensus" documents of
a higher order, might constitute another form of achievement (see Annex
Annex 1. Sectors relevant to the UNCED process
As asterisk (*) indicates
those which have formulated declarations as a contribution to the UNCED
A. Recognized (represented in
- Architects / Town planners *
- Chambers of commerce *
- Consultative NGOs (CONGO)
- Development NGOs *
- Environment *
- Human rights
- Indigenous peoples *
- IUCN *
- Labour unions *
- Multinational corporations
- Religion *
- Science *
- Students *
- Women *
- Youth *
B. Other possible sectors (indicative)
Annex 2. Typology of statements or forms of intervention
It may be usefully asked to
what extent further repetition of statements of a particular type will shift
the discussion to a higher level of discourse. Many interventions simply reinforce
existing positions without offering a way forward -- especially when they fail to respond to
the context created by opposing positions.
- Statement of world-views
- Affirmations of belief, principles, support or solidarity
- Invocations: clauses, principles, deity
- Acknowledgement (recognition) of context
- Recognition of historical situation (recalling)
- Temporal constraints (urgency)
B. PERCEIVED TRUTHS
- Statements (perceptions, confirmations, denials, assertions) of facts or
- Explanations, answers
- Illustrations, parallels
- Evaluations, assessments, judgements
- Expressions of approval / disapproval
- Protest, reject, disagree, contest
- Expressions of blame or accusation
- Self-evaluation, self-criticism
- Recognition of limitations, constraints
- Self-justification, excuses
- Expressions of regret, apologies
D. APPEALS TO OTHERS
- Calls: for solidarity, subscribe to, believe in, support
- Calls: for action, research, intervention, sanctions
- Appeals for resources
- Injunctions upon others (should's or should not's)
- Decisions, action resolutions
- Acknowledgement of lack of knowledge or information
G. INTEGRATIVE INSIGHT
- Articulation of challenge or opportunity
Annex 3. Levels of approach / Rules of discourse
A. Reformulation and refinement of intent
This document, as an expression of intent, calls for ongoing refomulation and
refinement in the light of insights from particular disciplines (Annex
5) and the challenge of interrelating incommensurable perspectives (Annex
1). The document should carry, through successive drafts, a progressively
sharper formulation of the nature of the challenge and thus provide a structure
for understanding the strategy in response to it -- especially to the extent
that the challenge-response mind-set can be usefully called into question.
B. Guidelines for discourse on the nature of the initiative
Within this context, the concern is with the scope and finality of the initiative
and with the constraints on the discourse about it. The prime focus is therefore
with wholeness and globality and with general rules governing how particular
perspectives are constrained to give it form (Annex 4). Insights
from the disciplines contributing to the "conceptual roundtable" are
expected to contribute to the articulation of these guidelines.
Within this frame, whilst many
perspectives are considered necessary (and simplistic marginalization is to
be avoided), none can come to dominate or be considered sufficient. Discussion
at this level must necessarily have a tentative, creative, even playful,
quality (that precludes ego-games). Design, goodness-of-fit, sensitivity to
constraints, aesthetic balance (elegance in its mathematical sense) are
concerns, as are perspectives natural to other cultures or frames of
reference (Annex 10). A degree of detachment from particular perspectives is
required to cut off or limit any excessive or inappropriate influence on the
resistance, incomprehension and negativity should not be ignored or
repressed. When encountered they should be seen as indicative of phenomena
that need to be "designed back into" a more powerful description of
the dimensions of the discourse. Of special interest is incomprehension, or
varying degrees of comprehension, and the manner in which these structure and
constrain the pattern of discourse. This is a typical challenge in
inter-sector dialogue. Similar attention needs to be accorded to judgements
of status, quality and value.
A conventional response to the
difficulties of discourse in smaller groups is to make use of a facilitator
(or consultant) who invites participants to resolve any problems through some
group process. This opportunity, and the strong resistance to it in genuinely
multi-perspective gatherings, should be incorporated into the formal
This context provides
guidelines to position, constrain, and evaluate the contributions emerging
within the "conceptual roundtable". Given the Earth Summit
deadlines, a strong emphasis should be placed on achieving a partial solution
ofsome form by that time.
C. "Conceptual roundtable" on desirable formal properties of declarations
Within this framework the art
is to allow influences from a variety of insights to configure the whole,
whilst limiting the propensity of any such insight to dominate the whole.
And, through a form of "conceptual aikido", to use those insights
to sharpen and formalize understanding of how incommensurable perspectives
can fruitfully constrain each other.
This requires adequate
articulation of contributions and insights relevant to new understanding of
the problem and the nature of possible responses. Such contributions need to
be seen as constituting "honourable" constraints on the domain of
relevance of other essentially incommensurable insights. Each contribution
needs to "honour" the constraints on its scope and expression
imposed by others. A sense of the strengths and weaknesses (advantages and
disadvantages) of each approach in relation to the challenge is one expected
It is expected that each
contribution will provide special insights into the part/whole, local/global
issue, whilst self-referentially indicating its own limitations in completely
defining the whole, if only by analogy. Of special value is the understanding
of the form of integration which emerges from the pattern of mutual
constraint on excesses of the particular perspective that simultaneously
reinforces their strengths.
The form of the set of guidelines emerging from this context would be a major
concern, if not the prime concern. Lengthy text contributions in the academic
mode would have to be diverted into conventional publications. But attention
could also be usefully given to channelling formal insights into the design
of a new type of computer programme (see Annex 9) and into
envisaging various forms of catalytic imagery to carry insights of a higher
order of complexity (see Annex 8).
D. Substantive "inter-sectoral summit"
Within this context
opportunities will be created for different forms of discourse and output.
These will range from conventional approaches (possibly leading to a
consensus statement of a traditional form) to those based on the guidelines
emerging from the "conceptual roundtable". Such guidelines
concerning the form of inter-sectoral output will suggest ways in which
essentially incommensurable sectoral perspectives can be positioned in
relation to one another such that the pattern of mutual constraints on sectoral
excesses (and special pleading) engenders a larger whole that reinforces the
importance of each sector within that whole.
Annex 4. Formal properties: challenges to the structure
Many perspectives need to
interact to clarify the content of global declarations and render them
appropriate. But there is also a need for expertise in new forms of order to
clarify the dimensions which could influence the conceptual framework within
which that content is presented. Such formal properties are a challenge to
ways of thinking that have proved inadequate. They might include:
- Consensus / Contention: Here the challenge is to move beyond superficial
expressions of consensus and solidarity. These obscure the real differences
that reflect complementary functional preoccupations vital to the survival
of any complex global system. The "conflict" between such preoccupations
needs to be articulated in the form of shared tension ("contention")
or strain ("constraint"). This then limits the destabilizing excesses
of each of them.
- Continuity / Discontinuity: Here the challenge is to ensure the coherence
and continuity of the form of the document whilst providing for the presence
of perspectives which are inherently incompatible with one another. The art
is to use the mutual rejection by particular perspectives as a structuring
device that creates the shared tension which expresses and energizes the sense
of continuity. The challenge may be framed in terms of embodying discontinuity.
- Simplicity / Complexity: Here the challenge is to ensure a form that
is comprehensible as a whole whilst embodying a degree of complexity that
honours the diversity of preoccupations. The art is to ensure the presence
of comprehensible symmetry effects at various levels to avoid the need to
focus on lower levels of detail unless required. It is the simplicity that
anchors the sense of coherence from which the various levels of detail may
- Completeness / Incompleteness: Here the challenge is to ensure that
the form of the document recognizes the limitations of the insights from which
it arose. Some degree of completeness is naturally essential as the basis
for any consensus. But the implication of "completeness" evokes
legitimate objections, both from those whose views were inadequately reflected
at the time, and in the light of insights that emerge after its completion.
A sense of "incompleteness" is required to open the door to unforeseen
reinterpretations, rather than inhibiting such initiatives by creating a sense
that appropriate future action can be completely defined.
- Enfolding / Unfolding: Here the challenge is to ensure that the form
of the document is such that it may be "unpacked" to various levels
of detail according to the needs of users at the time. Similarly, it should
be possible to conceal such confusing levels of detail by "packing"
them away so as to present a relatively simple document. In this way, the
full complexities are always present implicitly, whatever the degree to which
they are explicated in any one version.
- Comprehension / Incomprehension: Here the challenge is to recognize
the problems of comprehending a document of global scope. This applies both
to the well-informed, sensitive only to particular preoccupations, as well
as to those who find much of its detail incomprehensible, whatever their background.
The form of the document should be designed with redundant and mnemonic features
to guard as much as possible against its "dismemberment" through
selective incomprehension. On the other hand, the form should draw attention
to the possibility of comprehending the conceptual challenges and paradoxes
of globality in new ways -- whether through personal insight or future discoveries.
- Constraints / Freedoms: Here the challenge is to interweave into
the form of the document an appropriate balance of constraints and freedoms.
Some may be seen as global constraints opening up local freedoms. Others may
be seen as local constraints that provide the guarantee of global freedoms.
However such a design needs to go beyond a mechanistic approach. To be appropriate
it needs to provide for a transformative or evolutionary dimension that reflects
changing understanding of the nature of constraint and freedom.
- Symbol / Sign: Here the challenge is to ensure that the document
can fulfil its function as a symbol of an appropriate new order. However at
the same time, for it to be of operational significance, it must also serve
as an indicator of a pattern of actions through which that order can be given
Annex 5. Set of contributing conceptual "sectors"
The following conceptual
"sectors" or "disciplines" can be viewed as offering
necessary insights into the nature of a higher conceptual order. The relation
between them, and the manner in which their perspectives can be used to
constrain each other, can be seen as analogous to the situation with respect
to the substantive sectors of the UNCED process.
- Connectivity / Comprehension: Within any sector, the statements
will tend to reflect the most widely acceptable understanding of the nature
and integrity of the sector and of the set of sectors. In practice this means
that some relationships will be considered as existent, others as non-existent.
There is therefore a communication/comprehension constraint on the recognition
of any larger pattern (cf Ron Atkin). This constraint then defines the nature
of the communications which it is considered appropriate to circulate to maintain
the identity of the sector in relation to other sectors.
- Multiple logics and inter-paradigmatic dialogue: Faced with the
limitations of classical logic, there has been exploration of multi-valued
logics, of fuzzy logic, as well as of the logics of non-Western cultures.
This has been linked to investigation of multiple realities and universes.
Such insights can usefully influence the organization of a document in which
the stress must be placed on relating incommensurable approaches in defiance
of conventional either/or logic. Each sector may be considered as operating
within a particular paradigm. The problem may then be seen as one of inter-paradigmatic
dialogue (Kinhide Mushakoji). Each may be seen as using a different logic,
making the issue one of multiple logics or of multi-valued logics.
- Pre-logical, temperamental or cultural "biases": The problems
of the dialogue between sectors may also be viewed in the light of pre-logical
or temperamental biases (W T Jones) or as cultural biases (Magoroh Maruyama,
E T Hall, etc). In each case such biases affect cognitive preferences for
ordering information and relationships (see Annex 10).
- Classification sciences: Faced with the limitations of traditional
hierarchical systems, the classification sciences have been obliged to explore
more complex approaches. These take account of such advances as the impact
of quantum logic on the organization of knowledge and the use of non-Boolean
lattices of complementary languages. Such insights can usefully influence
the organization of any multi-level, multi-part document where conventional
approaches would obscure the interconnections between its elements. This may
lend itself to clarification through work on non-Boolean lattices for complementary
languages (Patrick Heelan).
- Conversation theory: The possibilities of dialogue, and the integrity
of the discourse, can useful be viewed in the light of conversation theory
(Gordon Pask), especially as understood by Kathleen Forsythe.
- Semiotics and language: The nature of inter-sectoral dialogue may
usefully be challenged by the discontinuities of discourse signalled by paradox
- Self-organization: The challenge of understanding the conditions
of emergence of organization from apparent chaos has led to remarkable developments
in the theory of self-organization. Understanding of the ways that sectors
may act together to articulate a larger inter-sectoral whole may usefully
be explored in the light of current understanding of self-organization (Francisco
Varela, etc) and self-reference.
- Self-reference and self-reflexivity: The challenge of self-reference
in logic, language, the information sciences and psychology has led to a richly
articulated understanding of recursiveness and embedding. ****
- Physics: Fundamental physics has encountered and responded to major
conceptual challenges that have redefined understanding of: relativity of
frames of reference, singularity, discontinuity, symmetry, complementarity.
Such insights can usefully influence the organization of a document which
must radically reframe the relationship between local and global concerns.
- Mathematics: The many developments in mathematics, including non-Euclidean
geometries, provide a rich pool of insight from which to draw in identifying
new ways of organizing sets of elements, whilst preserving the multi-dimensional
richness of their relationships. Such insights can be used to open up new
opportunities for ensuring the presence of appropriate relationships between
a multitude of disparate elements in a document.
- Symmetry and patterns of order: Challenges to engineering and architecture
have highlighted the significance of regular 2- and 3-dimensional structures
encountered in nature. These have proved of importance, notably in the design
of tiling, packaging, computer memory, and geodesic domes, where radical new
approaches to symmetry, balance, and resource optimization are required. Such
insights can usefully influence the organization of a document that call for
new ways of balancing the tensions between disparate and opposing elements
whilst enhancing global continuity and coherence. The integrity of the structure
of larger inter-sectoral patterns may be clarified by those working on notions
of order in space (Chris Critchlow), patterns, symmetry, and order in time
(Carlos Mallmann), possibly with insights concerning pattern languages (Christopher
Alexander) and the power of limits (Gyorgy Doczi).
- Map projection: The challenge of map projection is to find a variety
of techniques, according to different needs, to project the spherical surface
of the "globe" onto a 2-dimensional surface. In the search for "common
ground", it should not be forgotten that its commonality may only prove
realistic when it is understood in terms of a surface of more than 2-dimensions.
- Visualization of dynamics: The challenge of understanding complex
dynamic systems may be clarified by the work of Ralph Abraham on their visualization.
- Information sciences: Concern with the challenges of organizing
and penetrating complex patterns of information has led to the development
of such tools as "outliners", information rooms and information
visualizers. These have developed understanding of the various ways to pack
and unpack patterns of information to facilitate overviews and minimize overload.
Such insights can usefully influence the organization of a complex document
which must be open to exploration at many levels of detail.
- Complexity and its management: The issue of "complexity"
has now become one of common interest to those concerned with its description
and those concerned with its "management."
- General systems: Efforts have been made by the disciplines of cybernetics
and general systems to address the world problematique (cf Ervin Laszlo).
They have not been applied to improving the design of declarations and agendas.
- Governance: The focus of the previous points needs to be further
sharpened by the concerns and dilemmas of governance (Donald Michael, Yehzekel
Dror, Kenneth Arrow) and the male-dominated language in which these matters
are discussed (Janis Birkeland).
- Aesthetics: The formal principles governing the organization of
music, poetry and the plastic arts offer alternative ways of understanding
the challenges of harmony and global comprehension in the presence of rich
patterns of apparently discordant detail.
- Metaphor: Research into the cognitive function of metaphor highlights
its potential role in providing fundamental organizing frameworks for complex
patterns of information. Ways of using insights, such as those above, without
falling victim to their particular concerns, may be found through exploration
of the cognitive role of metaphor, especially in its relation to governance,
the recontextualization of problems (Donald Schon), and learning situations
Annex 6. Formal properties: notes on further possibilities
Contrast with theories of everything
Part of continuing process
Dont aim for closure
Family of structures (cf periodic table), classes of problem ?
Minimalist form (cf physics)
Classification that allows (and engenders) variety
Provide a transform between classification systems
Regroupings and alternative re-groupings (cf packing problem)
Difference / Incommensurables
Framework based on discontinuity: embodying discontinuity
Position each intervention within the formal framework
Relativity of frames of reference
Removal of judgement from formal description
separation in space/time continuum (not that one "holds" and
the other does not)
should lead to question where is each located
Incompatible resource priorities
- time constraints
Event horizon effect on comprehension
Framework to position perceptions or projections
Relative globality of the comprehender's comprehension
- less global understandings
- more limited understandings
- alternative systems (cf Buddhist)
- spiritual dimensions/perceptions
- global or appropriate comprehension
- not consensus: "illusion" of consensus
- not completion: "illusion" of completion
- illusions of: the formalist, the aesthete, the pragmatist
Need to have identity:
Hidden or "blindspot" dimensions
- reaffirmed in relation to larger whole
- sacrificed in relation to larger whole
Aesthetic dimension (architect/musician, music theory)
Highlighting the most elegant solution and clarifying its nature
Freedom and constraints; rights and responsibilities
Fluidity and resistance
Relaxation vs tightening
Show strengths and limitations of each perspective
Distinguish kinds of conflict/consensus
- mutually constraining
- zones of relevance
Constraints on "going on"
- immature, trivial, territoriality
- mature, fundamental, revelatory
- linear extrapolation / exploration
- always need to pack
Excesses requiring constraint
- use of constraints
- use excesses to provide constraints
- do without doing
Special pleading (justified by "motherhood" statements)
Exploitation of resources (attention time, reproduction)
Marginalization of alternative perspectives
Disproportionate projection of identity
Define problem in terms of ways in which solution may be (or have already
Where angels fear (Bateson)
Self-referential: reflect the position of respondents
Assumption that common "ground" is "flat"
Container for ultimate solvent?
Annex 7. Tentative general formulation of the design problem
Consider the case of a group
of S self-selected sectors.
Each sector defines its
boundary through a set of D statements (in a declaration or charter of some
Of the D statements for a
given sector, a sub-set of P statements will have positive (harmonious,
supportive) relationships to statements of other sectors, and a sub-set N
will have negative (discordant, opposing) relationships to statements of
Since S is a self-selected set
of sectors, for one reason or another a further set of R sectors may considers
themselves to exist, even though they have not been included in the set of S
sectors. They too will have relationships, both to the included set and to
the excluded set.
(To be developed)
Annex 8. Catalytic imagery: conveying Earth Summit insights
Information overload: One of the characteristics of the Earth Summit
in Rio de Janeiro will be the quantity of information, whether governmental
or nongovernmental -- and whether in the form of position papers, background
documents, handouts, reports or declarations. Both policy-makers and the media
will be subject to an unusual degree of information overload. Much of the
information will be underused, both at the event and in its aftermath.
Shifting awareness: The real test of the Earth Summit, as many have
suggested, will however lie in its ability to "shift the level of awareness".
Without a doubt, information is necessary to this process. But the shift will
be anchored and given credibility by those few images which can give coherence
to the complex insights that emerge to interrelate fruitfully the many powerfully
Beyond consensus: Much hope is being placed in the emergence of a
new consensus at the Earth Summit. It is readily forgotten that consensus
is easiest when it is superficial. Beyond such consensus there is the continuing
reality of the tensions between groups with incompatible goals and mind-sets.
It is the imagery that reconfigures that reality which will open opportunities
for appropriate action.
Penetrating power of imagery: It is the few key images -- "worth
a thousand words" -- which will focus an imaginative approach to the
wealth of information. It is around them that the media can build stories
meaningful to a wider audience. It is these images which ensure that the insights
are carried where information cannot penetrate -- whether into the interstices
of industrialized societies or to the far corners of the Earth. It is the
images which will be remembered long after the Earth Summit is forgotten by
all but its participants.
Meaning of "insightful imagery": To fulfil the function
indicated above, such imagery needs to go beyond "description" or
"prescription", beyond "naming problems" or "envisaging
solutions", and beyond "blaming" or "exhorting".
Clues to the "Factor X" which can catalyze more fruitful responses
may perhaps be found in one or more of the following:
- Parables ... for those of religious inclination, what are the "parables"
- Learning pathways ... for educators, what are the "learning pathways"
and "journeys" opened up by Rio?
- Wisdom stories ... for those aware of the power of the story teller,
what "stories" or "fables" can carry the insights of
- Case studies ... for those with a management orientation, what are the
"case studies" which evoke the policy dilemmas and opportunities
- Proverbs ... for those recognizing their power, what are the "proverbs" which
can guide initiatives emerging from Rio?
- Myths ... for those touched by the power of myth, what "myths"
or "legends" capture the dilemmas and opportunities of Rio?
- Metaphors ... for those convinced of the fundamental cognitive role of
metaphor, what are the "metaphors" which capture and reconfigure
the challenge of Rio?
On the one hand, we seem to need "catalytic convertors" for our
"exhausted imagination". But on the other, our cultural heritage
constitutes a huge "gene-pool" of the imagination on which we can
draw in response to the planetary dilemma.
Catalytic imagery: Care must however be taken in finding appropriate
images. Superficial images will not evoke new ways of acting. What indeed
are the "images" which will catalyze more sustainable forms of action
-- evoking and guiding appropriate programmes? How can such images best capture
and carry the insights emerging from the sectoral and inter-sectoral concerns
of the Earth Summit?
Multi-level imagery: The art of appropriate imagery is to permit people
to derive different levels of significance from it (by unpeeling it like an
onion). At its most superficial level it may offer succinct explanations,
or it may provide a symbol or slogan exhorting political action. Much more
is required of the imagery from Rio. Somehow it must also carry insights into
the nature of the appropriate balance between conflicting priorities. But
above all it must be the catalyst for creative insight into the way forward,
both for the individual and for groups -- whether in policy-making or in concrete
Complementary imagery: The Earth Summit is being organized in terms
of 3 working groups (Land, etc; Oceans, etc; and Institutional mechanisms)
and intends to have 6 outcomes (Agenda 21, Earth Charter, Conventions, Technology
Transfer, Financial Resources, and Institutions). Imagery is required to carry
the essence of each of these initiatives and the shift in attitude required
to empower them. But that imagery must also render comprehensible the essential
complementarity between these initiatives. Much more is therefore required
than the sort of unrelated poster images traditionally produced by the different
Specialized Agencies of the United Nations.
Annex 9. Specification for structural outliner computer programme
Many documents of fundamental
importance to societies, organizations and groups (or even to an individual's
creative processes) are based on sets of principles, values, qualities,
policies, initiatives or other points (eg declarations, charters, action
plans). These are usually listed out as a numbered sequence, possibly with
sub-points. The conventional method of producing such documents favours
linear thinking at a time when non-linear, contextually-oriented approaches
are often believed to be more appropriate to ensure higher levels of
integration amongst the elements of the set. A number of computer-based text
"outliners" are now widely available to facilitate production of
such hierarchically structured documents.
This proposal suggests the
need for a computer-based structural "outliner" to facilitate a
non-linear approach to the creative production of such "conceptual
keystones". The need for a more integrative approach may be seen in the
occasional efforts to group conceptual elements into a table, a pie-chart, a
diagram, or even into a form of mandala. In each case the structure is seen
as providing the integrative perspective that links a variety of disparate,
but complementary, elements that together ensure the viability of the larger
It is envisaged that the
proposed PC-based structural outliner would be used in a manner somewhat
similar to the conventional text outliners. However the software would offer
many ways of configuring the evolving set of elements within a variety of
non-linear structural frameworks, whether in two or three dimensions. The
geometric and symmetric properties of these would be used to suggest levels
of coherence and integration absent from conventional presentations.
The user would be offered a
number of ways of building up the conceptual "keystone". In each
case, the result would take the form of a geometric (and normally
symmetrical) structure in two or three dimensions with elements of text
attached to its features:
Text/List points (to be converted via template or rules into structure)
- tiling as in Wordperfect tables (to be converted)
- empty library shape (to be filled)
- filled library shape (to be edited / altered)
- shape (to be filled)
- mind map (to be optimized into a shape or structure)
The user would be able to draw
upon a library of structures and symmetric designs:
- Library of conventional structures
- Tables (Matrices) in 2D and 3D
- Library of other structures
- Traditional forms (mandalas, etc)
Two main modes can be
- Attach text to directly to structural features (and move text items between
- Convert text (outliner) points into features (lines, sides, volumes, great
circles) of selected shapes
Both of these exist in simpler
form in conventional text outliners
The thesaurus would be designed to provide facilities beyond those usually
provided by such a function, notably complements