habitat two online - people and technology in partnership

habitat two online - an ecological design process

an experiment in ecological design incorporating an integration of an
ecology of information with an ecology of education and of action


Habitat II Online - H2O - is an experiment in the application of ecological design principles to the task of developing a coherent, intelligent response to the agenda of the Habitat II conference - the Second United Nations Conference on Human Settlements - that will be held in Istanbul in June 1996. There are two principal issues that Habitat II is mandated to address: adequate shelter for all and sustainable human settlements in an urbanizing world.

Habitat II is the last major event in a remarkable set of recent United Nations proceedings that have been designed to address major global challenges. The design and implementation of H2O are based on active involvement in these proceedings - beginning with preparations for the 1992 Earth Summit - and seek both to provide a framework for the integration of the substance, the process and lessons learned from these proceedings.

Habitat II Online seeks to go beyond consideration of the breadth of substantive issues that are intrinsic to the principal themes of Habitat II and that are addressed in the Habitat Agenda and to address some of the meta-issues involved. Not least of these meta-issues in the broad question - that has been a subtext of the series of U.N. conferences - namely, what are the systemic changes that are prerequisites for a transition to a sustainable world, to a "world that works for everyone and for the earth."

The H2O design process reflects the integration of two principal themes: the application of information and communication technology in support of broad-based participation in decision-making and access to information - an ecology of information; and an approach that has been integrating developments in whole systems learning - an ecology of education.

Design challenges

Habitat II presents a very interesting set of design challenges. Each of the substantive issues it addresses - from the development of affordable, accessible housing to the design and implementation of a sustainable urban infrastructure, of transportation, communication, sewage treatment, energy use, etc. - poses a set of ecological design challenges. So too there are ecological design challenges in the integration of ecological design elements - both with elements that incorporate ecological design and those that do not - challenges of coordination and communication.

Beyond the design challenge of the mechanisms and processes of coordination and integration may be an even more fundamental design challenge - a challenge that relates to the role of consciousness, and of will, in the process. For no matter how brilliant or profound is the ecological design of a particular product, process or structure, its adoption and use depends in the last analysis on a choice that reflects a conscious decision or intention.

The initial approach of H2O was based on what can be called an "ecology of information" - based on a perception that the rapidly evolving world of cyberspace needs to be looked at as an information ecosystem. The Internet - or cyberspace - can be seen as an ecosystem where information lives and that is characterized by a complex and evolving structure of relationships between the elements of information and among the computers that house the information.

To understand the potential and significance of an information ecosystem approach, it needs also to be seen in a broader ecological perspective, i.e. in the context of a web of relationships between the elements of the information ecosystem and the human, technological and natural ecosystems, including their relationship to economic processes.

It soon became clear that even if H2O were able to assemble adequate computer equipment and Internet access for Istanbul, and if it were to succeed in efforts to compile most of the Habitat II documents and information in an online format, it would be necessary to provide support and training to those who are not familiar with information technology. This called for the development of a curriculum for training and workshops in the use of information technology.

From the standpoint of an ecology of education, Habitat II Online is drawing on a range of whole-brain and systems-oriented approaches to learning, building on the premise that we need a way of learning that recognizes both the inter-relationship of so many of the issues that Habitat II addresses and is also based on an ecology of body-mind. In addition to developing a curriculum of courses and workshops to be presented at the NGO Forum in Istanbul, H2O is developing a framework and process that will present the "Conference Valley" site - where Habitat II and the set of related events including Partners' Forums and a set of Dialogues will take place - as a "Conference Valley Campus" that can present a remarkable opportunity to learn how we can become more effective in addressing the issues of Habitat II.

In the area of the ecology of action, H2O is developing a framework for a Partnership Plan of Action that can help to give tangible expression and form to the definition of Habitat II as a "conference of commitments". The design for the Partnership Plan of Action makes use of the hyper-text properties of the language of the World Wide Web in order to help make visible and accessible the ecology of relationships among initiatives for implementation and follow up to the Habitat Agenda

this world wide web site has been developed and maintained by
information habitat: where information lives
for comments, questions and problems
please contact infohabitat@igc.apc.org

theory and practice of information ecology