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UNCED Interactive Document System
Intergovernmental Negotiations, PrepCom 4

International Synergy Institute - Preliminary Design Notes - 1992.01

  1. Overview
    The UNCED Interactive Document System (UIDS) provides a powerful process for structuring input into the intergovernmental negotiations during the 4th Preparatory Committee of UNCED1 to be held in New York from March 3 - April 5.

  2. Background
    The UIDS represents a synthesis of two independent development streams for the effective management and coordination of information, participation and communication, within a conference: a participant interaction messaging system for conferences2, and the use of microcomputer-based information technology to support information, participation and communication during the UNCED preparations3.

    1. Participant Interaction Messaging System
      The essence of a participant interaction messaging system is the compilation and timely dissemination of concise "messages" submitted by participants in a conference. Messages can be, for example, in the form of specific recommendations for a conference document, comments on the conference process, and responses to previous messages.

    2. Microcomputers and UNCED-related Information, Participation & Communication
      Central to the development and implementation of recommendations for the use of microcomputers in the UNCED preparations has been a recognition of the scope, complexity and inter-relatedness of UNCED-related information and of the capability of microcomputer-based information technology to proved an cost-effective accessible means of organizing, structuring and facilitating access to that information4.

    3. Da Zi Bao
      The integration of these two streams took place in the production and publication of Da Zi Bao: An Interactive Exchange Process during the Roots of the Future conference held in Paris, December 17-21, 19915. Da Zi Bao represented the first application of a participant interaction messaging system through the integration of a relational database system with desktop publishing features of word processing software6.

    4. Classification of Messages
      The critical value of a database format -- such as was used in the Da Zi Bao process -- for a participant interaction messaging system derives less from the ease of handling of the messages than it does from the ability to classify messages according to message type, subject keyword(s) and the source of the message. The classification allows for selective/systematic review of messages based on combinations of these classifications, and hence makes it much easier to detect patterns and distribution of messages.

  3. Agenda 21
    With twenty-seven sub-documents spanning a broad range of topics, many of which are interrelated, Agenda 21 offers a particular challenge.

  4. Earth Charter
    To the extent that the initial framework for the output of UNCED is realized, the Earth Charter7 will embody fundamental principles of sustainability -- principles that should be reflected in the action plans, recommendations, and agreements of Agenda 21.

    1. Interrelatedness of Documents/Issues
      The scope and the interrelated nature of the Agenda 21 documents -- and of the underlying issues they address -- are a key element of the challenge that is involved in the negotiation process that will take place during PrepCom 48. The magnitude of that challenge ...

    2. Classification of Agenda 21 Text
      A critical first step in preparing for the UNCED Interactive Document System would be the systematic classification of the text of the Agenda 21 documents9. This process would set an initial framework from which classification of response to, or comments on, the documents would be built.

      1. Clarification of Interrelatedness
        The process of classification of the text of the Agenda 21 documents is likely to be in itself a valuable means of clarifying or defining the nature of interrelations between the elements of Agenda 21. For the process of classification will permit an increasingly methodical and precise discernment of the common threads and tensions that hold the document together -- or that fail to do so.

      2. Iterative Refinement of Classification
        As the understanding of the structure and relatedness of Agenda 21 evolves through the classification of its elements, this growth in understanding will itself permit a more precise refinement of the classification, including the possibility of classification that reflects a higher level of integration of the structure. Thus the process of classification can set in motion an iterative process of refinement that can lead to a growing clarification of the implications of Agenda 21.

      3. Keyword Selection Process
        The manner in which keywords are assigned to the various parts of the Agenda 21 documents is an integral part of the process.10 Thus both in the initial selection of keywords, and ...

      4. Document Keywords

      5. Paragraph Keywords

  5. UNCED Interactive Messaging System

  6. Benefits

    1. Concise, Specific Input

    2. Integrative Responses

    3. Systematic Analysis

    4. Cross-Document Integration

    5. Ease of Translation

    6. Small Delegations

    7. Breadth of Participation

    8. Openness, Transparency

1. A proposal for the use of a participant interaction messaging system during the 3rd Preparatory Committee meetings had been developed for the International Facilitating Committee by Anthony J.N. Judge, but was not implemented, due to lack of funding and other support. [return to document]

2. The participant interaction messaging system has been developed by Anthony J.N. Judge of the Union of International Associations (UAI) since 1972. For an overview of the approach, see Judge, Anthony J.N. "Participant Interaction Messaging", Journal of Transnational Associations, Brussels, 1980 (reprinted in Judge, Anthony J.N. Transformative Conferencing, Brussels, 1991). [return to document]

3. Strategy for the effective application of microcomputer technology in support of information, participation and communication in the UNCED process has been progressively developed since the organizing meeting of the PrepCom in March 1990. An initial focus on the use of electronic communications by non-government organizations has evolved into a more comprehensive approach. The initial focus on the use of electronic communications is described in Pollard, Robert "United Nations Conference on Environment and Development: Information, Public Participation & Communication System", Baltimore, June 1990, and Goree, Langston James & Pollard, Robert "Computer Communications and the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development: Alternative Technology for Communications and Participation by Non-Government Organizations: A Concise Guide", Nairobi, August 1990. [return to document]

4. See for example, Pollard, Robert "Information, Environment & Development", Baltimore, November 1990. Annex II, "Da Zi Bao: An Interactive Exchange Process -- Annotated Bibliography" contains a listing of some principal documents developed directly in preparation for this proposal. [return to document]

5. The implementation of a participant interaction messaging system during Roots of the Future was proposed in Pollard, Robert "Network & Communication Resources Exhibition/Demonstration, International NGO Conference, Paris", On The Line, Sittard, Netherlands, October 1991. Invaluable recommendations for implementation were presented in Judge, Anthony J.N. "Database Implications of the "Participate" Concept", personal correspondence, November 1991. A total of nine issues of Da Zi Bao were published during the four days of the Roots of the Future conference.

The proposal for an interactive bulletin at the Paris conference was part of a larger section on "interactive documents" in the "Network & Communication Resources" proposal, in which a principal emphasis was on the use of participant interaction messaging system methodology to support responses to, and the negotiations of, the global NGO document "Agenda Ya Wananchi". [return to document]

6. Description of the Da Zi Bao process, and preliminary planning for the continuation of Da Zi Bao at the New York PrepCom, in Rio, and beyond has mostly been limited to date to correspondence (available on request) -- to Warren Lindner, Centre for Our Common Future; Ravi Sharma, Environmental Liaison Centre International; Anthony Judge, Union of International Associations; and Janette Ryan, NGO Liaison Office. UNCED Secretariat. A draft proposal has been developed for the use of Da Zi Bao methodology -- in conjunction with the preparation of a directory and of UNCED preparations -- for the Francophone Networking Project of Environmental Liaison Centre International, see Pollard, Robert "Interactive Integrative Networking & Communication Processes in Support of Participation in the Earth Summit / Global Forum", Paris, January 1992. [return to document]

7. In using the term Earth Charter, it needs to be acknowledged that there is an as yet unresolved challenge to the title of such a charter. A key element of a resolution to this challenge may lie in a brief paper "Drafting An Earth Charter" by Robert Traer, Frankfurt, September 1991, in which he argues that the key to the significance of the charter is likely to rest in the extent to which it articulates a fundamental central principle, in the same sense that the principle of human dignity is central to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Traer argues cogently that "earth community" should be the pivotal concept in such a charter, an argument that gives rise to the suggestion that "Earth Community Charter" might be a more apt name for UNCED's declaration of principles. [return to document]

8. In many respects, it may be that the measure of the lasting contribution of the UNCED process -- both within the United Nations, and in its impact on national governments -- will have been in the extent to which UNCED has fostered a conceptual and practical understanding of the interrelatedness, or holistic properties, of numerous environment and development processes that had previously been treated effectively as if they were independent. [return to document]

9. The analysis in the ensuing sections has greatly benefitted from a critical approach to classification of problems developed by Anthony J.N. Judge, much of it in the context of the development of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, Judge, Anthony J.N. (ed.), Union of International Associations, Brussels. Judge notes that the process of seeking a comprehensive approach to the classification of problems confronts the issue that the identification of the nature of a problem may itself reflect one or more of a variety of potentially radically different conceptual, perceptual and experiential frames of reference. The apparently conflicting ways in which the nature of physical reality can be seen as based either on the motion of a wave or of particles is perhaps the most widely acknowledged evidence in scientific circles of the possible coexistence of radically different, and seemingly incompatible, conceptual frameworks from which "reality" is constructed.

In response to this challenge, Judge calls for a search for conceptual frameworks, or metaphors, that offer higher levels of integration that can subsume such apparent conflicts or paradoxes. Judge cites the "tensegrity structure" developed by Buckminster Fuller as one such metaphor by which an open spherical space can be held, in a stable yet seemingly paradoxical manner, by a complex set of tensions. However, throughout his work in this arena, Judge is quick to caution against the danger of (a desire for) oversimplification that can effectively deny the extent of complexity of the problems we face. [return to document]

10. In "Functional Classification", Appendix 4 of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, Judge makes this element explicit in the section titled "Classification as a political act" where he notes that "The functional control of society (or its absence) is implicit in the emphasis and juxtaposition of categories in a classification system. This is especially true when the excesses of one function can only be corrected by another."