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December 1991

Higher Orders of Inter-sectoral "Consensus"

Clarification of formal possibilities

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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 (1992)

An "Independent Sector Summit"
Challenge and opportunity

  1. "More of the same ?"
  2. Conceptual traps of the drafting mind-set
  3. Declaration organization of a higher conceptual order
  4. Simplistic consensus as a dangerous constraint
  5. Beyond simplistic approaches to coherence

Recognition of complementary approaches
Conceptual challenge and unexplored resources
Constraints and philosophy


  1. Sectors relevant to the UNCED process
  2. Typology of statements or forms of intervention
  3. Levels of approach / Rules of discourse
  4. Formal properties: challenges to the structure of declarations
  5. Set of contributing conceptual "sectors" (tentative)
  6. Formal properties: notes on further possibilities
  7. Tentative general formulation of the design problem
  8. Catalytic imagery: conveying Earth Summit insights
  9. Specification for structural outliner (computer programme)
  10. Alternative cultural structural preferences
  11. People (or References) (tentative)


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 cooperation."

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 that culture."

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 intergovernmental process.

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 appropriately.

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 exceptional sensitivity.


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:

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 first place.

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 is set.

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 results.

3. Declaration organization of a higher conceptual order

The challenge appears to be threefold:

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 interest.

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:

  1. The failure to agree on universal values, notably amongst religions and ethical systems.

  2. 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).

  3. 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).

  4. 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 administration).

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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 shared agendas.

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 addressed.

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:

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 3.


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:

  1. 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 perspective.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. Patterning sectoral positions: Once the methodology was clarified, deliberate attempts could be made to locate sectoral positions within the emerging pattern.

  6. 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) mode.

  7. 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 undermined.

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 demands.

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 9).

Annex 1. Sectors relevant to the UNCED process

As asterisk (*) indicates those which have formulated declarations as a contribution to the UNCED process.

A. Recognized (represented in IFC)

B. Other possible sectors (indicative)

Annex 2. Typology of statements or forms of intervention (tentative)

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.








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 overall design.

Difficulties, opposition, 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 representation.

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 of intent

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 output.

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 of declarations

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:

Annex 5. Set of contributing conceptual "sectors" (tentative)

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.

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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).

  4. 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).

  5. 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.

  6. Semiotics and language: The nature of inter-sectoral dialogue may usefully be challenged by the discontinuities of discourse signalled by paradox (Solomon Marcus).

  7. 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.

  8. 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. ****

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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).

  12. 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.

  13. Visualization of dynamics: The challenge of understanding complex dynamic systems may be clarified by the work of Ralph Abraham on their visualization.

  14. 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.

  15. 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."

  16. 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.

  17. 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).

  18. 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.

  19. 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 (Kathleen Forsythe).

Annex 6. Formal properties: notes on further possibilities

Contrast with theories of everything
Partial solution
Formal underdefinition
Tentative solution
Pragmatic solution
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
Disagreement indicates:
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

  • consensus
  • expression
  • time constraints
  • space
Event horizon effect on comprehension
Framework to position perceptions or projections

  • less global understandings
  • more limited understandings
  • alternative systems (cf Buddhist)
  • spiritual dimensions/perceptions
Relative globality of the comprehender's comprehension
Necessary "illusions"
  • 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:

  • reaffirmed in relation to larger whole
  • sacrificed in relation to larger whole
Hidden or "blindspot" dimensions
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
  • mutually constraining
  • zones of relevance
Distinguish kinds of conflict/consensus
  • immature, trivial, territoriality
  • mature, fundamental, revelatory
Constraints on "going on"
  • linear extrapolation / exploration
  • always need to pack
Conceptual aikido
  • use of constraints
  • use excesses to provide constraints
  • do without doing
Excesses requiring constraint
Special pleading (justified by "motherhood" statements)
Dominance strategies
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 been) found
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 kind).

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 other sectors.

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 conflicting interests.

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:

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 action programmes.

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 pattern.

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.

User approaches

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)

User chosen

User drawn

Structural templates

The user would be able to draw upon a library of structures and symmetric designs:

Text processor

Two main modes can be envisaged:

Both of these exist in simpler form in conventional text outliners

Thesaurus links

The thesaurus would be designed to provide facilities beyond those usually provided by such a function, notably complements

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