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May 2006 | Uncompleted

Tracing a Pattern


-- / --

The following note endeavours to identify and trace a pattern underlying production of papers over forty years. The question is what determined the evolution of that pattern and how are its elements related. For others this may be of passing interest given the variety of topics explored at different times. More important however, for myself, is whether that pattern as a whole provides a template or conceptual "aerial" from which more coherent and appropriate initiatives can be engaged.

An earlier, and very tentative exercise, to this end used a set of concetric circles whose various sectors represented the topics in the pattern. This website uses a tabular clustering of some 35 themes as a mode of access to the papers. A much more recent exercise, with the visualization technology of scalable vector graphics, used a single circle with each paper a point on the circumference -- and linked all the papers across the circle if the referenced each other. The intuition however is that there is also a spiral component to the pattern as particular themes are taken up again from a later perspective.

Beyond the learnings from individual themes, an important part of this exercise is to indicate the constraints and limitations experienced with each. These are the pressures to move to more fruitful themes -- as well as helping to redefine whatever was to be understood as "more fruitful", for whom and why.

As a first step, however, some of the thematic features of the journey, and the pattern, are presented in tabular form as follows -- in very approximate chronological sequence. Periods of years are indicative only: there is considerable overlap in time between A, B, C and D.

. Thematic development E: Emergent transversal themes
# A
relational knowledge
metaphor comprehension, consciousness, self-reference
1 synthesis classification, typology, interdisciplinarity,
general systems
integrative knowledge
knowledge organization, patterns, number (sets) x x x
2 variety / diversity complexity ecosystems feedback loops, cycles x x x
3 neglected
data set development
bibliography, organizations, meetings problems, concepts, modes of awareness values, strategies x . .
4 information systems computerization, facilitation relational databases, network support (LAN) software innovation, web, virtual organization x . .
5 organization networks, alternative forms configuration,
transformation, self-organization, virtual organization x. . .
6 strategy management, evaluation, impact, international institutions governance, strategic dilemmas, coherent policy-making conceptual challenge of dissenters,
terrorists and
. x x
7 conferencing conference organization conference case studies, techniques, participant messaging, insight capture dialogue (experiments), groupware x x x
8 communication visualization presentation (experiments), alternative media integrative multi-media x x x
9 envisioning futures studies culture, language, aesthetics,
alternative mindsets
present moment, time . x x.
10 comprehension critical thinking, critical questions, category manipulation paradigm change, conceptual
challenges, metaphoric
self-reflexiveness, metaphoric
. x x
11 difference, dissent polarization,
duality, schism,
alternation dynamics paradox . x x
12 human development lifestyle design,
sustainable community,
consciousness . x x

Exploring rows A1 through A12, these interests emerged in the approximate order indicated:

Synthesis: This focus was the first, and remains of enduring interest although how I understand it has necessarily changed. The challenge is how to understand wholeness, especially when there are competing understandings of wholeness. Initially this involved a preoccupation with developing data sets and challenges of classification of diversity -- consistent with the traditional concerns of the Union of International Associations (dating back to its role in the development of the UDC). This focus evolved into concerns with interdisciplinarity and the variety of (competing) forms of integrative knowledge. Of particular interest was the way authors of integrative models based their system on different number patterns in responding to the challenges of knowledge organization.


Variety / Diversity: A continuing concern has been to ensure that less well-recognized variants of any phenomena were not excluded from any overview. This applied initially to forms of international organization but was extended to the range of world problems, understandings of human development, and subsequently to human values and strategies in response to problems. One approach was through an appreciation of complexity and how to handle it without oversimplification. This led to an interest in how "ecosystems" of any form maintained their coherence. In practice this resulted in various attempts to identify and analyze feedback loops between various kinds of entities.


Neglected data set development: This was the practical consequence of the two previous concerns and was applied initially to the full range of international organization and their meetings, but was extended to the range of world problems, understandings of human development, and subsequently to human values and strategies in response to problems.


Information systems: Again this was the practical consequence of the previous concerns in order to find ways to manage and interrelate large data sets. Initially this focused on the computerization process itself, with a concern as to how organizations could make use of the information to enhance their operational abilities. Aspects of this work involved examination of the challenges for the UN systems of organizations as a whole, or for other organizations. With advances in technology this led to the challenges of providing a local area network in support of a network of people working on interrelated databases -- and the nature of the relations between conceptual entities of different types. Subsequently this led to ways of generating spin-off products directly from databases: CD-ROMs, web pages, dynamic maps (applets) and scalable vector graphics, as well as exporting to third party applications.


Organization: Initially the focus here was on the unique role of a central clearing house function, but moved on to the need to shift from a hierarchical mode of operation to a network mode -- and networking in general. Striking a balance between hierarchy and network led to exploration of alternative modes of organization based on tensegrity and a more general concern with configuration of complementary functions. Subsequently this led to concerns associated with the transformation process from superceded modes, and the possibilities of self-organization -- notably in electronic environments (virtual organization).


Strategy: Initially the focus was on strategy as a means of providing coherence to organized action in single organizations. In practice this led to an interest in management of large systems (United Nations, "planetary management"), the problematic issues of evaluation of international nonprofit organizations and their impact. This focus was superceded by the challenges of strategic dilemmas faced by governance -- and the possibilities for coherent policy-making. More recently this has been reframed in terms of the conceptual challenges for governance posed by "dissenters", "rejectionists", "terrorists" and hypothetical "extraterrestrials".


Conferencing: Initially the focus was on the technical and logistical challenges of conference organization. This developed into a concern with how to facilitate new styles of conferencing through communication between participants rather than to them -- especially in larger conferences. A number of unusual conferences were reviewed as case studies suggesting new possibilities. Subsequently the concern shifted to ways of improving the quality of dialogue, possibly supported by groupware. One series of dialogue experiments was made over a number of years under the name International School of Ignorance.


Communication: Initially this focus was on the possibility of visualizing organization and information as a way of improving the quality of communication relevant to social action. In the absence of appropriate technology this evolved into a more general concern with new methods of presentation distinct from conventional text styles. A variety of experiments were conducted. With the emergence of more accessible multi-media technology, the concern shifted back to generation of complex interactive relationship maps over the web (using java applets, SVG, and third party applications). The challenge remained one of using more integrative visual metaphors to facilitate comprehension of more complex patterns. The possibility of enhancing such maps with sound has also been explored.


Envisioning: Initially this focus was on ways of enhancing the operation of international bodies in response to problems. This became associated with the emergence of futures studies as a discipline and specifically with the opportunity to develop an Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential that highlighted the variety of understandings of human development and integration. The continuing evolution of this work broadened to take account of the alternative mindsets associated with other cultures and languages -- and the implications of aesthetics in sustaining such mindsets. More recent work has emphasized time in general, rather than the future in particular, notably with a more coherent focus on the present moment.


Comprehension: This focus has been concerned with the challenges to comprehension of more complex and integrated phenomena, whether systems of organizations, problems, strategies, modes of awareness, or values. An early focus was on questions that tended to be avoided and the nature of cayegory man,ipulation in the absence of critical thinking. In considering calls for "new thinking" and "paradigm shifts" the focus shifted to the challenge of understanding otherwise, and the nature of the metaphoric entrapment that inhibited this. More recent work has explored clues derived from metaphori "re-reading" of extant patterns of concept organization, as well as implications of self-reflexiveness and enactivism.

Difference, dissent:


Human development

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