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Towards an appropriate architecture of global conference communication


Adaptive Hypercycle of Sustainable Psychosocial Self-organization (Part #12)


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It is of course the case that governance at any level of society tends to be organized through meetings, whether summits, mega-conferences, congresses of various kinds, parliaments, roundtables, or other events through which people are brought together -- to "confer". Equivalents of every form are increasingly developed in web environments.

Confrontational seating: In an effort to optimize communication, curiously the architecture of meetings -- specifically the seating arrangements -- may echo some of the design considerations above. Ironically the coding elements from which hexagrams are constructed -- yang and yin as symbolized by "unbroken" and "broken" lines -- can be recognized in "confrontational" seating arrangements in which "government" (in power) and "opposition" (in minority) are placed opposite each other, as in the Westminster parliamentary architecture.

Circular seating: The confrontational arrangement is frequently deprecated in favour of circular seating, typically concentric circles of seating, as in major intergovernmental institutions. A "pie-chart" approach may be taken to distinguish majority from minority factions (reflecting statistical and accounting representations). A segment of the pie may be omitted for the moderating authorities and speakers.

The circular distribution of hexagrams in Fig. 1 (above) exemplifies this approach as an ideal in which all are equally seated at a roundtable. The lines of communication, and even the possibility of communication, of course increase (exponentially) with the number of seats. A notable experiment was conducted in Berlin in 2006 by dropping knowledge -- a Table of Free Voices -- seating 108 people of wisdom at such a round table. However there is little sensitivity to the challenges and possibilities, despite the efforts of the Global Sensemaking Network and the widely available technology (Complementary Knowledge Analysis / Mapping Process, 2006).

The exponentially increasing disadvantages of a "roundtable", as needs for representativity increase, suggest the merit of other design metaphors to ensure appropriate evocation and movement of insight -- as previously argued (Considering All the Strategic Options -- whilst ignoring alternatives and disclaiming cognitive protectionism, 2009; Framing the Global Future by Ignoring Alternatives: unfreezing categories as a vital necessity, 2009; Spherical Configuration of Interlocking Roundtables: internet enhancement of global self-organization through patterns of dialogue, 1998). However roundtables of any size have their own poorly recognized problematic psychosocial processes (Pattern of Meeting Participant Roles: shadowy 'roundtable' hidden within every meeting, 1993).

Consensual decision-making: The question raised here is whether the spiral organization explored in Fig. 2 (above) offers pointers to more appropriate modes of meeting organization, especially in terms of the evocation and communication of insight. Whereas conventional modes have an inbuilt bias towards "consensus" and "agreement", even if imposed by a majority, consideration needs to be given to architecture which allows for a diversity of perspectives and modes of knowing reflecting the requisite variety required for the governance of complex systems (Strategic Challenge of Polysensorial Knowledge bringing the "elephant" into "focus", 2008). In a sense conventional approaches are premature in foreclosing on decision-making -- a "mousetrap mindset" exemplifying "executive" decision-making -- which is not supported in practice by those effectively excluded from any decision made in this way. 

Is there a mode distinct from the "consensual decision-making" advocated by many indigenous peoples and promoted by intergovernmental bodies like UNESCO, (eg Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People, The Consensual Decision-Making Process, 2010; Stephan Hartmann, Carlo Martini and Jan Sprenger, Consensual Decision-Making Among Epistemic Peers, 2009)? Of current relevance is the assertion by the Director of the Social Science Department at the National Centre for Policy Research (Kabul), that one of that country's particularities is the presence of tribes whose decision-making procedure is based on consensus of the council members, called shura or jirga. Participation in these councils, which rule all aspects of society, is determined by the members' age and therefore transcends all levels of society. Breaking with the consensual decision-making process "would be tantamount to individual and collective suicide" (UNESCO, Promoting democracy in post-conflict societies - a challenge for the Byblos Centre, Newsletter: a world order based on human rights and democracy, April-June 2004).

Polysensual decision-making: Rather than a potentially oversimplistic contrast between majority vs "consensual" decision-making, it might be asked whether there is place for a spectrum of other "polysensual" decision-making modes. The articulation of binary possibilities through the pattern of hexagrams both encodes such a spectrum and highlights the nature of "polysensus" -- potentially intrinsic to any hypercycle necessary for psychosocial self-organization.

The musical theory of harmony is suggestive in this respect, notably with respect to the potential of polyphony as a metaphor for democratic discourse (All Blacks of Davos vs All Greens of Porto Alegre: reframing global strategic discord through polyphony? 2007; A Singable Earth Charter, EU Constitution or Global Ethic? 2006). As a form of "polysensus", those documents make reference to the decision-making processes widely promoted by Edward de Bono (Six Frames for Thinking about Information, 2008; Six Action Shoes, 1991; Six Thinking Hats, 1985).  In this sense the "houses" of Fig. 2 might be understood as representing eight different "voices", rather than six, however such numbers may relate to the theory of multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner, 1983) -- presumably fundamental to "polysensual decision-making".

Given the comprehensive range of conditions of change encoded by the set of hexagrams and their transformational interrelationships, these suggest a need to reflect such necessary psychosocial complexity in appropriate conference and cognitive "architecture" -- whther tangible or virtual.

Spiral seating: Ironically, whilst a "solar" metaphor is often echoed in circular seating arrangement, the disposition of seeds in a sunflower -- a widely-cited example of the Fibonacci spiral -- offers greater practical design indicators regarding communication geometry and "packing". This underlies the approach of Fig. 2. This might well be contrasted with questionable efforts to ensure communication in a circular configuration ("around" and "across"), in the architectural packing of "open office" environments, or in metaphorioc reference to"desks". Provocatively a "sunflower seed-packing metaphor might be indicative of more appropriate approaches to both "interpretation" and "dissemination". As noted with respect to the sunflower (in the relevant Wikipedia entry):

The florets within the sunflower's cluster are arranged in a spiral pattern. Typically each floret is oriented toward the next by approximately the golden angle, 137.5°, producing a pattern of interconnecting spirals where the number of left spirals and the number of right spirals are successive Fibonacci numbers. Typically, there are 34 spirals in one direction and 55 in the other; on a very large sunflower there could be 89 in one direction and 144 in the other. This pattern produces the most efficient packing of seeds within the flower head.

It might be asked what quality of communication is considered the desirable outcome of conventional assembly seating in a (semi-)circular form -- especially when the numbers are in the hundreds (as in Fig. 6). What is understood as "effective" with such a design? Arguably it is the capacity of a "speaker" to address the assembly and be visible. A spiral format might enable other modes of communication between participants more consistent with elicting and commuinicating insight between "representatives". Again insights might be sought in the value of that spiral form to the sustainability of plant life (references cited for Fig. 7a).

Braiding discourse: Whilst spiral forms may offer architectural challenges in conference venues, such design challenges are readily met in virtual environments in which communication protocols and tagging can be arranged with considerable flexibility (The Challenge of Cyber-Parliaments and Statutory Virtual Assemblies, 1998). The design challenges of Fig. 2 are one example of those of "braiding discourse" as previously discussed (Interweaving Thematic Threads and Learning Pathways: noonautics, magic carpets and wizdomes, 2010). The question is what will the future expect of the global organization of insight in the governance of an emerging knowledge society -- currently exemplified by aspirations for a semantic web (Aesthetics of Governance in the Year 2490, 1990). It would be interesting to gain insight into the relative complexity of conference communication from a systems, or knowledge cybernetics, perspective -- as compared with the systemic complexity of plants whose survival would appear to have been dependent on use of spiral forms. Put differently, the question might be what is it that apparently does not "work" in key global conferences on which navigating the future would appear to be so dependent? The question has been highlighted by the proposed use of the AQAL/Spiral Dynamics approach in a conference on climate change, as previously discussed (State of the "World Forum" vs "State of the World" Forum: challenge of reflexivity, 2009).

Fig. 8: Screenshots from Phylotaxis -- an interactive display offering "science" and "culture" as extremes
by Jonathan Harris for Seed Magazine
"Science" Seed organization "Culture"
Phylotaxis: science? Phylotaxis: seeds Phylotaxis : culture?

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