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Energy Patterns in Conferences: a context for higher levels of integration

Presentation of 12 energy patterns characteristic of different levels of group organization.

Energy Patterns in Conferences
Pattern 1: Inadequacy of formulation
Pattern 2:
Pattern 3:
Pattern 4:
Pattern 5
Pattern 6:
Pattern 7
Pattern 8:
Pattern 9:
Pattern 10:
Pattern 11:
Pattern 12
Pattern 13
Pattern 14:
Pattern 15:
Pattern 16:
Pattern 17:
Pattern 18:
Pattern 19:
Pattern 20:
Pattern 64:

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Meetings are frequently taken to be a success

  • significant speakers come and present information, insights or inspiration
  • sufficient participants are attracted
  • some concrete product emerges, whether in the form of proceedings, declaration, resolutions for further collective action, etc
  • those attending are able to interact to a satisfactory degree, making useful contacts

Since meetings provide the principal arena in which the possibilities for the future are articulated, and the resources for change are apportioned, it is fruitful to keep challenging the way in which meetings are currently conceived.

Is it possible that there may be significantly more fruitful ways to hold meetings ? What could a "perfect meeting" be like next year - and 500 years from now ?

One new way to understand meetings, which suggests many possibilities for their improvements, is in terms of "patterns of energy". The question is what kinds of "energy" or information are exchanged in a gathering in order to give it focus, to move it forward, and to maintain a healthy relationship among the different positions represented. And what are the component parts on any such pattern.

This document is one attempt to clarify these issues. It is based of a wide range of materials (see the references, and notably Patterns of N-foldness; comparison of integrated multi-set concept schemes as forms of presentation, 1984). The methodology is described in Beyond Method; engaging opposition in psycho-social organization (1981) and derives from earlier work on Representation, comprehension and communication of sets; the role of number (1978). The materials have been presented here in a sequence from 1 to 12 in some detail, followed by 13 to 20 in a much more exploratory approach, followed by an example of the I Ching 64-fold pattern as explored for networks and meetings. [The "articulation exercise" described with respect to patterns 1-20 has subsequently been presented to take advantage of hyperlinking in Distinguishing Levels of Declarations of Principles; that with respect to the 64-fold pattern in Transformation Metaphors for sustainable dialogue, vision, conferencing, policy, network, community and lifestyle (1997)]

The suggestion, whether implicit or explicit, in many of the sources used, is that patterns of interaction amongst people (or conference sub-groups) holding different views can be usefully identified. Some authors favour 3-fold patterns, others 4-fold, 5-fold, 6-fold, 7-fold, 8-fold, etc. Some authors, notably Kuchinsky (following Bennett) and Allen, have presented these patterns in a sequence as in this document -- applying them to the management of organizations.

In this document the relevance of such patterns to conferences is explored. The document is very much a first draft and suggestions for improvement are welcomed -- notably with respect to the challenges, questions and relevant metaphors. It has the merit of drawing attention to other approaches which focus on one or other pattern.

There is a major difficulty in making effective use of such information. As will be seen in exploring the 4-fold or 6-fold patterns, a presentation of this kind corresponds to one specific kind of "energy" in such a pattern. It is necessarily a very partial presentation. For the patterns to "work", other complementary energies must also be activated. This requires different styles of contribution to the work of the conference.

Despite this inherent trap, hopefully this document identifies an opportunity in conferences to use a set of energy or information patterns, whether interlinking participant roles, specialized groups or styles of information presentation. One complementary approach which moves beyond the distinctly sterile "left-brain" nature of this document, is through the use of metaphors to reinterpret the patterns in more organic terms. Some references are made to possible metaphors appropriate for each pattern. Metaphors for understanding conferences in a more fruitful light are explored in an accompanying document (extracted from the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential).

One mechanistic metaphor through which to understand the value of such a set of patterns as a whole, is that of a conceptual or energy "gearbox" (1st gear is used for some purposes, 4th gear for others, etc). The important thing for a meeting is to be able to "shift gear", and not to get confused about "which gear we are in" at any point in a discussion. Another metaphor, more organic, is that of a pattern of crop rotation.

More speculatively, such patterns may be viewed as exercises in collective "basket-weaving" or building "bird cages". As In the Sufi tale, if the container is well-designed, it may prove appropriate to a higher level of significance.

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