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Levels of approach / Rules of discourse

Higher Orders of Inter-sectoral Consensus (Part #11)

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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.

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