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The International School of Ignorance ?

An ongoing experiment in dialogue meeting design

A series of seven experimental meetings have been held at various locations -- partially inspired by the following criteria.

Most participants have been busy individuals with strong views and commitments -- and a wide range of interests. The need of each to 'do' and to 'accomplish' something in a meeting (especially where there are strong preferences on meeting organization) introduces a special tension in an agenda-less, leader-less situation where each is co-responsible and none wish any particular view to dominate.

There is no particular process or mode of facilitation. Most participants are only convinced of the merits of such a gathering by word-of-mouth discussion with others whose views or qualities they respect.

Your decision on whether it is appropriate for you to participate can therefore really only be made intuitively. There are absolutely no guarantees on the value of the experience to you or on the final composition of the gathering.

The urgencies have not gone away either, so the indulgence of meeting will continue to be challenged.

At this point in time the next meeting has not yet been planned. If you have any feedback to offer, notably to refine the 'design' suggested by the following criteria, this would be much appreciated.

The challenge is to describe the event in ways which will encourage some to participate and will discourage others for whom there are many more appropriate gatherings. Part of the challenge lies in reflecting on the design of a gathering that might offer new opportunities -- whether or not it actually takes place.

For one tentative summary, see Anthony Blake (A Self-Organizing Group in Dialogue (1994). Also Visual Minutes by Tim Casswell (Reduced version of colour flipcharts as PDFs: Wales, 1993 session, 9mb; Scotland, 1994 session, 6mb). See also an expanded variant of this document.

Why attend?
  • If you feel an often desperate sense of urgency in endeavouring to discover new frameworks of response to the many tragic world issues
  • If you believe that meetings can be a useful learning laboratory in which risks need to be taken if they are to produce anything of wider relevance to social transformation
  • If you are interested in the exploration of co-created meetings
  • If you are weary of conventional pre-structured events and presentations and the low level of expectations that they encourage
  • If you want to test your ability to respond spontaneously to new meeting possibilities
  • If you recognize the need to hold dilemmas and paradoxes without resolving or by-passing them
  • If you question the wider social impact of the resolutions, declarations, pledges and plans that are laboriously negotiated as the main product of conventional international gatherings
  • If you are intrigued by the possibilities of collective self-transcendence
  • If you are prepared to accept that all participants, including yourself, are as much a part of the problem as a key contributor to the solution
  • If you believe that you are prepared to question your most fundamental assumptions
  • If you believe that you learn and grow through being challenged by radically different views
  • If you consider that much of value remains to be discovered from larger group experiments in self-organization
  • If you are weary of intellectual frameworks and fashionable models and are intrigued by the possibility that new metaphors are required to navigate the strategic challenges of the future
  • If you are intrigued by possible breakthroughs from collective concentration of attention in the moment
  • If you believe that participants should be collectively responsible for the fruitfulness of an evolving meeting process
  • If you enjoy surprises and the unexpected

Why avoid attending?
  • If you feel that the prevailing style of meeting is adequate to the challenges of the times
  • If you consider a pre-defined agenda essential to any meeting
  • If you consider a well-defined purpose essential for any effective gathering
  • If you believe that clearly defined leaders and presenters are essential to successful meetings
  • If you are sceptical of the possibility of relying on the skills of other mature meeting participants to take responsibility for correcting any unproductive imbalance in the meeting process
  • If you prefer well-defined and appropriately facilitated meeting processes
  • If your principal need is to present your own project or to convince others of the overriding merits of your perspective, paradigm or process
  • If you need an audience for your views and are impatient with time spent on integrating the views of others
  • If you are convinced that the remedy for present challenges lies in responding concretely in a specific area such as: employment, pollution, alienation, conflict, discrimination
  • If you are convinced that a particular belief system, or set of values, holds the key to a more appropriate response to the dilemmas of the times
  • If you are especially status conscious and have difficulty in recognizing the contributions of others with different qualifications or cultural backgrounds
  • If you are unwilling to restrain yourself from presenting proven insights and skills that seem a vital contribution to the evolution of the meeting process
  • If you are unwilling to be constrained by the reluctance of others to accept any imposition of your insights or processes (that they may perceive as a subtle play for power by you)
  • If you expect the meeting to produce a well-defined product
  • If you consider that the tension between polarities can, and should, be resolved or avoided
  • If you consider acknowledgement of individual or collective 'shadows' to be unfruitful
  • If you believe that deeply felt differences should be de- emphasized in favour of whatever participants hold in common
  • If you are not prepared to waste time on experiments that may fail
  • If you regularly indulge in group process experiments as a pleasurable hobby

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