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Transformative Conferencing: re-enchantment of networking through conceptware


Transformative Conferencing
2. Organizational handicaps
3. Networking vision
4. Conceptual challenge
5. Conferencing weaknesses
6. Possibilities
7. Conceptual scaffolding
8. Conceptual transformation
9. Metaphors of transformation
10. Conclusion

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Paper prepared for the 5th Conference of the Electronic Networking Association, San Francisco, May 1990


1. Introduction

Much has been written about the crises of our times and the urgency with which imaginative approaches must be identified and applied. Much has also been written about the inadequacies of the international systems with which attempts are made to engender and implement such approaches.

Before getting into the central concern of this paper it is appropriate to note the dimensions of the challenge. It is usual to point to the quantity of information generated each year. The associated problem of information overload is well-recognized, as is the problem created by hyper-specialization at a time when integrative conceptual approaches are in practice weak or non-existent. These conceptual weaknesses are matched within organizational systems.

The Union of International Associations (founded in Brussels in 1910) acts as a clearinghouse for information on some 27,000 international bodies. These are both governmental and nongovernmental and are active in every field of human activity. Although they include trade associations, they do not include multinational enterprises. There are some 65,000 links between these bodies and some 192,000 links from them to their national membership. Descriptive information on them is published annually in the 3-volume Yearbook of International Organizations. This is a standard reference work within the United Nations system and the international community. Information on the 5,500 planned meetings of these organizations is published quarterly in an International Congress Calendar.

As a complement to this information on the organizations themselves, information is collected on the 'world problems' which they recognize and on which they choose to act. These range from the most-publicized, such as poverty, through to minority concerns such as abduction by extra-terrestrials. Information is currently maintained on some 13,000 perceived world problems and on 60,000 relationships between them. It is published irregularly in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. The organizations and problems are grouped by some 3,000 subjects in a yellow-page format in an annual volume entitled Global Action Networks.

All this information is maintained as a Revelation text database held in a Novell environment on a local area network with some 20 workstations and 500 MB of disk storage.

These details are given to make the point that, despite the relative sophistication of the database, it is questionable whether it would be more than marginally useful to provide direct access to it at this time. And, despite the key role that the many international organizations play, it is clear that only a small proportion use computers at all and that an even smaller proportion make use of any form of electronic networking, other than fax or telex.

The remainder of this paper addresses the question of the inappropriateness of the form in which key information is held and circulated -- including that described above. Specifically the concern is why that form hinders social transformation.

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