Highlights of the 50th Annual Meeting of the ISSS

July 9 - 14, 2006 | Sonoma State University | Rohnert Park, CA

2006_sonoma_banner.pngThis was my first ISSS conference. For Gail and me, it was the culmination of more than a year of periodic co-design, dialogue, planning and coordination with a host of other individuals and organizations. Over the course of the conference, I was fortunate to be able to play multiple roles: participant, designer, facilitator, performer. And there was so much I missed, or simply couldn't take part in absent of being in more than one place at a time. All in all, I'm left looking forward to the next opportunity to play with this remarkable community. Here are my highlights:

Monday evening's conversation with and presentation by Nora Bateson and Alfonso Montouri, including the trailer and interview clips of Bateson's work in progress, That Reminds Me of a Story, a film about her father, Gregory Bateson. Nora read Gregory's Allegory, followed by an open-ended conversation with the audience about what we listened and observed in the story. What was he bringing forth with this story? "The flirtation between different ways of knowing," is a description that captures the essence to me.

Pille Bunnell's presentation during the Tuesday morning plenary was both elegant and provocative. I seemed to be among a small minority that had not heard previously heard Pille or been familiar with her work. Much of her foundational ideation has come through her collaboration with Humberto Maturana and his ideas around autopoiesis, structural coupling and cognition, among others. As I do not have words to illuminate what I listened absent the actual presentation Pille gave, I am trying to see if it is or can be made available.

Kathia & Alexander Laszlo, of Syntony Quest, presented, "Transiting To Sustainability: Nine criteria for walking the talk and dancing the path" bringing forth a collection of distinctions aimed at operationalizing action for sustainability and evolutionary development:

socially desirable
culturally acceptable
psychologically nurturing
economically sustainable
technologically feasible
operationally viable
environmentally robust
generationally sensitive
capable of stimulating continuous learning

The contention is not that all must be present in equal parts in every instance, or that these distinctions should exclude all other. Rather, "if you make sure that the whole thing addresses (i.e., doesn't ignore) each and every one of these criteria, and if not, ask what would be needed to make it do so, then you'll likely have a very strong project, process, product indeed." I thank Alexander and Kathia for this rigorous checklist.

The DreamScape art installation and ongoing performances of the Autopoetics. No other component of the conference contributed more to the realization of the conference designer's vision: a gathering of systems thinkers, scientists, practioners and artists that would embody the systems philosophies it espouses. The installation and performances united art and science, word and image, thought and action, part and whole with passion, impact and humor.

The level of engagement and depth of stories created during the Thursday morning backcasting session, not the least of which was the idea for a See What Happens Day. Look for pictures of participants in action to appear in our gallery soon!

Joanna Macy's moving presentation on Friday morning, preceding the Autopoetic's closing ceremony.

An opportunity to spend an hour and a half with Peter Bishop, chairman of Studies of the Future graduate program at the University of Houston, as I dropped him off at the airport on my way home. Systems scientists / thinkers and professional futurists have closely related yet distinct persuits. The skills and ways of seeing that he and his colleagues are equipping students with are vital and necessary for organizations, communities and civilizations concerned with ongoing sustainability amidst turbulent and uncertain times.

And last but by no means least, that I was without news of the world beyond the conference proceedings for the entirety of my stay. No news really is good news!