World Futures:
The Journal of General Evolution

Publisher: Taylor & Francis

Issue: Volume 60, Numbers 1-2 / January-March 2004

pp. 115 - 128

Using Systems Thinking to Construct Agoras of the Global Village

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Heiner Benking and Farah Lenser, Open Forum, Berlin, Germany

& Sherryl Stalinski, Aurora Now Foundation, Tucson, AZ

Summary of the Editors:
Heiner Benking, Farah Lenser, and Sherryl Stalinski analyze the difficulties faced in trying to dialogue across geographical and cultural boundaries. They examine two effective and relatively simple methods for bringing awareness and consciousness into a group of strangers: Open Space and Magic Roundtables. These methods work by themselves in situations where mutual understanding is the goal and as icebreakers in situations that demand planning and concerted action.

Twenty-first century agoras, unlike their historical counterparts, are not comprised of villages populated by individuals who know each other and share the same past, environment, and culture. Contemporary agoras are diverse and global. Their dialogue is often conducted across geographical and cultural boundaries. Additionally, they often address challenges and issues that are far more complex than those of the early agoras. This paper seeks to identify such challenges and summarize a variety of appropriate dialogue methodologies.

KEYWORDS: dialogue, conversation, conscious cultural evolution, dialogue culture, social systems design

* CULTURAL EVOLUTION * AWARENESS AND CONSCIOUSNESS * Choosing Appropriate Dialogue Methodologies * Internal, External, and In-Between Dialogue * Bohm-like Dialogue Open and Free Dialogue * Cultivating Dialogue And Co-Creation With "Magic Round Tables" (Open-Forums) * MODEL MAKING & SHARED MODELS * AN INFLUENTIAL CENTER OF GLOBAL DIALOGUE * CONCLUSION * REFERENCES *

The conference announcement for the 47th Meeting of the International Society for the System Sciences describes the concept of 21st century agoras in relation to their historical predecessors in ancient Greece: "The agoras were public spaces where people congregated and deliberated on their issues. If we want to democratize the emerging global village, we must provide agora-like places where people can engage in meaningful dialogue." However, agoras in a fragmented world (Beck, 1992) must create their own shared reality and shared approaches. These agoras must construct their shared realities. They must find flexible and adaptive ways to negotiate checks and balances, overcome vicious cycles, and map the dilemmas of complex agendas. Examples of such situation rooms are the inter-sectorial negotiations of sustainable development described by Judge (1970, 86, 94, 97).

Agoras of this type are problem, potential, solution "spaces", which are described in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1994-95), as being so complex and multi-dimensional that no single person can grasp all their aspects. To enable dialogue in these spaces, we propose a covenant of shared frameworks for sharing and negotiating our views, levels, proportions and consequences (Judge 1986, 98; Benking 1997c, 1998). This covenant, which we proposed before the Earth Summit in 1992 (Brown 1994, Benking 1994) is a collection of methods for sharing realities. They are potential maps and models that we can use to develop consensual paths of action. (Benking 1994, 1995a, 1996a, 2003).

David Bohm (1994) wrote that the form of free dialogue could be one of the most effective possibilities to investigate the crises which society is confronting today. Even more, he felt that this form of exchanging ideas and information could be of fundamental importance to change cultures in such a way that creativity will be set free. Our new agoras are in the process of (re)inventing forms of free and open dialogue that allow everybody to bring up their suggestions or opinions about any topic in such a way that the old dualisms of speaker / listener take much needed "communicative turns." For more see below and (De Zeeuw 1997; Benking 1999a, 2000).

The new agoras must overcome what we experience today in conferences and symposia where one monologue follows another and the discussion is short and poor. This usual form of meetings and conferences is not the way we can expect to solve our problems, neither on group or global levels. Instead of waiting for the break or evening to finally talk to each other, we need to build dialogue into our symposia (Greek for convivial discussions).

SNIP - PLEASE SEE WORLD FUTURES DOUBE ISSUE 1./2. 2004 with the references and links as above - SNIP


Dialogue is a central component of any real agora. We have explored the nature of 21st century agoras, their need for a variety of viewpoints, the nature of cultural evolution, and the role of consciousness. We have discussed the construction of agoras from the viewpoints of choosing appropriate methodologies, varieties of dialogue, Open Space TechnologiesTM, Bohmian dialogue, and Magic Round Tables with some mention of models and organizations that promote dialogic methods.