Illustrations: Tim Casswell

Work Report and Review of Dialogue in Society:


A Renaissance of Social Dimensions is Needed  - Inviting and Engendering -  Encouraging and Sharing
Voices that Matter

This paper was witten in 1995 or so. It is having many reads/hits on my sites and as tonight the planes crashed into the WORLD TRADE CENTER in Washington and the PENTAGON in New York I want to express my deepest concern that we need to sit at one table and share  -  instead of bombing, exploding and fighting.
We tried so much in soo many countries, please visit to continue to listen, share and trust - know, want and dare for common not for insular interests!
Please let us gain the strength to keep the spirits up and see some common good and ground.
I hope the links will provide some direction and perspective.
Sept 11st 2001 heiner benking

Old and New Ways to think, embody, and re-learn listening and sharing, co-creation, encouragement, and compassion at 'Magic Round Tables' by inviting and sharing individual voices of all strands of Life, including invited and surprise participants.

A Summary and Background to support and provide details for: 'DO IT YOUR-SELF FUTURES’ - diy - 'The Database of Social Inventions' of Nicholas Albery, London

This paper is about how to arrange meetings, conferences or gatherings of any kind, when time as a resource is limited and the quality and content of exchanges, new, creative approaches of combining old and new ways to share and socialise are welcome.

Introduction: We heard recently some claims that "Round Tables" date back to the late 80's in Poland, where citizens met to discuss social and political issues. This is wrong as they definitely date back not only to King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and earlier sources like the seven wise men in the bamboo - orchard according to Chinese legends, and beyond!

Anyway, they came again to public recognition in the process of bringing the wall between the political blocks down in Germany in the early 90ies. I will argue here that the quality of bringing diverse parties together, to a Round Table is essential and has many brothers and sisters, like Paris Salons, the New England Town Meeting, the ancient Greek Agora, the powwow of the native American Indians or the Indaba in South Africa. But the central and crucial questions is how positions and views engender each other, in which setting and how time is managed to support qualities like sharing or encouragement. The 'talking stick' for example is a great method to give ample time and really solve issues through patience and attention.

To begin with: I definitely feel that 'Round Tables' at least in the sense as they are used today in the Western World have a very interesting and much earlier beginning as Poland in 1988. In Europe and Germany already back in the 70s, meetings of diverse groups at 'The Academy on Security and Cooperation' (ASCE) - The 'think- tank' and somehow cradle or one of original building blocks of the Conference on Security and Co-operation, Europe - CSCE process - explored and exhibited some of the central features of what we call Round Tables today and have influenced a couple of events and movements not only in Eastern Europe. They were called then 'round- talks' - "Rundgespraeche" and were created to bring together a diverse group of participants to share ideas and learn to know how the 'neighbour' is thinking and which intentions and values are connected to that. The author was involved in organising and managing such meetings, and was well aware of the need for the open sharing of viewpoints and search for consensus, but how to give attention, credit and find focus in such diverse groups, which typically never get to know each other! (the ASCE invited NATO generals, EC politicians, Journalist, peace and environments activists, lawyers, administrators and people form 'next door'). Most essential of such talks was, that according to the English 'Charterhouse Rules' that people could think freely and argue freely without having to experience their words to appear in the next headline in a number of Newspapers! - The rule was to change one's mind as often as possible, if it seems appropriate to a participant in the light of the argu- ments and what was learned! Besides a long traditions in Mediation, formalised forms like the Consultative, or OPEN SPACE and OPEN FORUM approaches and new quality of addressing time as a resource and as a means to invite and engender contributions and exchange came up in the concept of "Time Credits in Meetings" as conceived in the SCHOOL OF IGNORANCE and laid out as a draft proposal in 1994 by Anthony Judge of the Union of International Associations (UIA) in Brussels. Judge's summary of ideas which floated around about how to meet up with the challenge of time and dynamics in meetings indicates tendencies for fairer outcomes than the traditional preconceived and hierarchically planned stile of traditional designs. The "School of Ignorance" meetings take place to try out new forms of meeting, specially designed to operate without agenda or hidden agenda.

Based on his experience in planning and management background in multi-cultural environments, his work for the ASCE, his sympathy for the 'Paris Salon' and the work of the Tikkun in New York in the early 8o’s, and the ideas, foci and scope in THE SCHOOL OF IGNORANCE?’, the author was eager to experiment with and implement these green or 'round table' ideas. Beside some early exercises at some 'German Stammtisch' with encouraging results he decided to give it a first major public launch at the UN Climate Summit in '94. The author invited known and unknown participants who meet with unexpected guests at Round Tables. The "on the spot" creation of topics was reminiscent of salons where experienced facilitators stimulate exciting, creative conversations and 'take up what is on (or hot)'. Meetings of executives, politicians, students, children lead to unexpected results and to a very refreshing and encouraging 'flavour' of enthusiastic and rewarding talks. After the first day the Round Tables were called 'magic', reflecting: 'surprise in nature - surprise in groups'. The results were new, miraculous, exciting as new voices spoke up and the expected and invited 'celebrity speakers' were happy to share time and hear something alive and new. Equal time allotments are not the whole story; an enhanced sharing of responsibility for co-creation stimulated listening and participation, the idea of participatory collaboratories, or exploratories floated in the background. There is no chance to run successful meeting by giving every participant the same time slots. Humans have their times and issues and foci need to be developed and expanded, not cut into ‘equal’ slices. The worst case of such ‘ equal slots’ - in particular if art and creativity is in demand and at stake, was recently discovered with JAM-POETRY Sessions, poets were pushed into a cacophony of every 3 minutes another poem and another ‘Presenter’ - I do not dare to say Poet as such Body-Zapping is close to roman Times of Slavery, degradation of Aesthetics, Blood and Games to calm the spectators - but not to cultivate Art and Quality.
RULES !?: 
Here are the 'Magic Round Table' basic outlines, not fixed rules!: Each person (optimum is 6, +/- 1 as established with the ASCE) is given an equal number of beads, stones, or other tokens representing equal units of time. 

The total meeting time is divided into units matching the distributed tokens, thus valuing them. Each member then introduces her/himself, and if so desired, offers a topic for discussion. Members then give tokens to others whose topics they want to have introduced for discussion. The "voting or encouraging" continues as topics generate more or less interest; and as others join in the discussion, they can receive tokens as encouragement to continue with their line of though. This open, transparent format can encourage inhibited people to participate and minimise domination by authoritative types. In case of unexpected changes in meeting duration, the tokens can be re/devalued (inflated/deflated to match the remaining available time - see Anthony Judge's time sharing proposal   and how he realats to this "effort".

Last not least, it makes sense to have a moderator to introduce the game, secure it's openness and help to manage the 'store of time' (even by 'mirroring' deposit status). The essence is seen by the author in honouring and appreciating the time/interest, one gives away as a present or receives as a gift and encouragement. The focus is not on 'counting peas' or beads (or any kind of unit, like stones or pearls) but to become aware of the precious moments we can share and how they help co-create and polish genuine new ideas/solutions or even more essential experience calmness or compassion! Most rewarding was that unknown people brighten up, receive lots of attention and credit and learn that they have something to say, that they have a voice which was and is normally not heard.

This specific form of ‘Magic’ Round Tables as facilitated by the author has been successfully utilised during the past years. The ‘official’ public ‘launch’ took place at the International Corner UN- Climate Summit.- At the International Peace University in Berlin, a month long series of such meetings with a large variety of participants ranging from children, youngsters, woman, elders proved the system and ist scope beyond the ‘Stammtisch’. The results were most rewarding thanks to the immediate and very open acceptance of the ideas of the author and Anthony Judge and the special art of conversation, compasion, empathy and carutious care or humility which is the intent to cultivate by aking the teh views of sense/senibility of women in taking on ‘native’ capacities of sharing and encouraging the UNVOICED. It is worth noting that one of the first and key moderators, Mrs. Farah Lenser immediately grasped and groged the idea, the hidden dimensions and potentials of it, and since that time facilitates and moderates Round Tables and Future Workshops on her own,. or as part of the Dialogue Initiatives or possibly the Pathfinder Project of IONS, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, an organisation which she established in Germany/Berlin, to make the public opinion more aware of the connections between being, thinking, feeling and healing (Medical And Scientific Network) .

Some events, for example in Berlin, London, Munich and Budapest, with any kind mixed group and language, and from all strands of Life, brought about not only encouraging results, which are documented and distributed widely, but the Idea that this SOCIAL INVENTION and basic TRADITION, needs care and encouragement. Worth mentioning is the audio-video documentation of the Peace Colleague and the written documentation as part of the DA ZI BAO process. DA ZI BAO originates from the Chinese 'Wall Paper' history and process and has been applied as an electronic and paper modification/version at various events since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. This participants messaging system, presents Voices, also the Voice of participants, it is a newsletter like monitoring and dynamic follow up documentation and exchange platform, as outlined and documented by the Mrs Nadia McLaren, UIA and later implemented electronically by Mr. Robert Pollard, from Information Habitat, UN - New York. The full spectrum of conference support, VIEWSLETTER and DA ZI BAO process have been implemented since many years and help to keep the dialogue going even after the time of specific ROUND TABLES has been running out. The handbook and more can be ordered via Nadia McLaren (, for implementing the electronic threading and dialogue documentation/manual we recommend to contact Robert Pollard (

Such an electronic message board, a virtual wall-paper, allows to have one’s Voice to be heard and preserved for further threads and cross-links, finding out about the others, typically silent participants, and helps get together even over distances, and in parallel, accompanies a gathering as a reflection of the ongoing OPEN FORUM or CONGRESS however we call it.

As participants can speak up and sit together with speakers, a new depth of exchange can be reached and participants are not made to believe only being observers or 'silent flock'. As this way to really learn from each other and learn to know people with the same and other interest, and even become more a aware of time we steal from others in egoistic monologue, was received enthusiastically as a 'good social invention', a 'step towards civilised dialogue', 'surprisingly intensive', or 'a wonderful method of time sharing/allocation' - we would like you to see and hear further VOICES and visit: Sharing Voices or how it fits into works on sharing mind-sets, in which context and which focus and lens a person sees the 3rd reality and how we can work towards finding out and combining realities towards the 4th, a shared, merged and morphed open and mutual reality, or frame of reference see Sharing Spaces .

The concept of Time Credits was immediately 'registered' as of SOCIAL INNOVATIONS in the DIY - DO IT YOURSELF database of social innovation of Nicholas Albery in London. see: here , and the profile of the author presented in SEED OF CHANGE with the title: Inviting and , SHARING VOICES AND VIEWS, with special emphasis of embodying concepts, seeing and sharing them in their specific individual or collective context, and merging and morphing perspectives forming either coherent pictures or checks, balances, implementation scopes and schemes, which help to stabilise and even address embattled issues.

But sharing Time and giving voices is definitely only a beginning for social system design, mediation, and and finding agreement on 'uncommon ground' (Judge) like in interfaith dialogue.

* To share and transcend mental models and learn to discuss where other are conceptually and how we can share spaces, see Sharing Spaces and how we might be able to share futures see: sharing futures and situation space or Optics Of Ethics for the ethical dimension of it.

* To really generate the SYNergetic CONversion SYNCON needed see how structured group processes like systemic documents might help to maintain the oerview, find orientation and context and connections, AND develop solutions in a co-creative group process, see WHEEL OF TRANSFORMATION.

* As meeting participants roles and the issues are already seen in a more comprehensive and coherent or maybe we say systemic 'map', still there might be some effort needed to 'jump' over our conceptual barriers or categories. To help in this regard the method of putting the the whole 'round-panel' onto the stage proved helpful. Maybe the EMECS'95 'shadowystaged' podium called THE CHALLENGE OF THE MADRIGAL SEA' showed a good an high class and quality example (video is available) to share and shift roles. By allowing players to make a role change and adopt the other or colleagues way to put forth arguments and stipulations help to not only make transparent for oneself, but moreso for the audience about certain patterns of argumentation and certain verbiage being used to hide or fence domain or mandate oriented thinking

* Last not least, as one of many central issues to make a paradigm shift possible, see also here seems to be to appreciate the whole and not just the parts, and see the strategies of the lumpers and the splitterers with personal or societal focus. For more see the WHOLENESS Seminar of the ISSS International Society of System Sciences Primer Group and also here .

Afterthoughts: After learning in the Exploratorium in the early 70’s and with interest in participatory and collaboratory techniques, including mapping discourse with ISSUE BASED Information Systems, one of the clients implemented the first HyperIBIS some years ago in co-operation with one of the original founders (Kunz and the originator Rittel), the author has invested some time to prepare the 80’s birthday of Robert Jungk and collect all known and relevant participatory initiatives at that time. See special page 80th Birthday Robert Jungk - Ende und Anfang - END and BEGINNING - making obvious this cyclic process.

Notice: As the Issue of SOCIAL DESIGN is of great concern to the author, he would like to make aware of the Annual Conversation Meeting with ISS / ACC in Asilomar See in particular the Program of the 1997 event.

Some deeper concern and hope to overcome fragmented views:

1. This paper is a collection of approaches and means, just as every meeting or summit has different agendas, participants, issues and objectives. One central concern of the author is to become aware of the different voices and views and how they might make, when properly concerted, with all their differences and oppositions, a complete maybe even harmonic whole. See also the  SHADOWY ROUND TABLE  'hidden' within every meeting which allows to plot hidden agendas and see the 'bigger picture' of negotiations or international issues and topics.

2. The above circular presentation is only one of many possible. If such a picture is coherent, complete, simple and appealing it can tell us a lot of insights. We present the above Shadowy Round Table not only to complete the picture of tables and agendas (see also UN Climate Summit event handouts on request or later on this site, and maybe some clue which is dear to the author. In review of King Arthur's roundtable, we feel his wise design was to make sure, that alt characters, abilities, and voives are assembled and deed to be heard and felt. Their high complementarity forme a bouquet of skills or teh whole. When trying to look even deeper, we can see that he was inside,.but also outside of that picture or circle at the sdame Time!!!!- forming a meta-balance of power - him as the king peer on one side and the 12 knights, collectively, speaking with ONE Voice!