Debate versus Dialogue

January 30, 2009

While cleaning up some old boxes, I came across a CD that I had been trying to locate for a few months.  One of the documents listed a tabular comparison of debate and dialogue.  I can’t remember where I sourced this from or whether I made it up myself.  So apologies if I have breached copyright.  It’s from a couple of years ago and my normal approach would be to do a few searches on the Internet and read some books and come up with such a table – so I might have done that – or just copied it from somewhere.  But I reckon it looks like a pretty good comparison; and I know a few people who are better debaters than conversationalists!

Debate (in normal text) versus Dialogue (in italics)

Assuming that there is a right answer
Assuming that others have pieces of the answer
(and that you have it)
and that together you can craft a solution

Combative:   Collaborative:
attempting to prove the other side wrong
attempting to find common understanding

About winning
About exploring common ground

Listening to find flaws and make counter-arguments
Listening to understand and find a basis for agreement

Defending assumptions as valid
Presenting assumptions for re-evaluation

Critiquing the other side’s position
Re-examining all positions

Defending one’s own views against those of others
Admitting that other’s thinking can improve one’s own

Searching for weaknesses and flaws in the other position                 
Searching for strengths and value in the other position

Seeking a conclusion or vote that ratifies your position
Discovering new options, not seeking closure


Narrative in Arabian Nights

January 18, 2009

Nice article by Hugh Kennedy in last Friday’s AFR review reprinted from the New Statesman here reviewing a new translation of Arabian Nights.  In particular, this section caught my eye:

What distinguishes the Nights and, despite its great length, stops it from becoming tedious, is the different registers of story – comic, romantic, sad, adventurous. It is impossible to predict the twists and turns, and, embarking on any of the stories or cycles of stories, the reader can have no idea where he or she is going to end up.

The most typical narrative device is, of course, the story within the story, in which the lead story of the sequence is repeatedly interrupted as the hero meets people (or animals or jinns) who have their own tales to tell, or when people staying awake at night begin to tell the stories of their lives. No one is ever told to shut up in the Nights: if there are eight brothers, each with a story to tell, they must all have their say. Equally intriguing is the way in which the narrative, after wandering serendipitously in many different directions, gradually brings you back to the main thread and the reader feels that little jolt of recognition: “So that’s how we got there.”

I must admit when I recollect some scenes from my own time in Arabia this feeling of everyone needing to have their say and tell their own story.  The importance here is having the time (which is often so short and punctuated in Western business) to have these conversations and allow people to have their say.  The art of the facilitator is, of course, tied to getting the story back on track after going on tangents but being left with the feeling that those tangents have been important to the overall story rather than meaningless sidetracks.

Russia and Gas Supply

January 17, 2009

One of the issues that is often discussed with other fellow strategic foresight practitioners is the future of resource wars.  As Peak Oil emerges, demand for fossil fuels and energy prices increase so too does the political pressure to guarantee supplies for a nation’s population.  This is more critical in the countries surrounding Russia that are reliant on it for supply of gas, particularly for heating during winter.

Geopolitical tensions are re-surfacing with Ukraine which has recently sided more closely with the West and wishes to engage more with the EU.  Current economic difficulties caused by the GFHF (Global Financial Hissy Fit – thanks Kim) are creating slowdowns across the Ukraine economy, increasing this tension.

The recent gas wars are multi-layered across international, national, political and economic segments.  Internationally, Europe has had their gas supplies from Russia reduced as about 80% of Russian supplies pass through Ukraine.  Russia wishes to increase its price of gas to Ukraine (which is currently heavily subsidised) and seek recompense from Ukraine for past debts for gas supplies.  In the meantime, Ukraine siphons off some of the gas for Europe for its own purposes ( which it does not pay for).  While there are some other supply routes to Western Europe through Belarus, these are not as large as those through Ukraine.  And the ante gets upped from this regional geopolitical standoff with Ukraine when it seeks to enlist Western Europe and the US in its dealings with Russia, while Russia in comparison is not seeking to elevate the issues.  The Ukraine is very important politically for Russia as a beach-head against Europe and for access to Russian bases on the Caspian Sea and wishes to keep the problem local and not internationalised.

Compounding all of this further is the location of new growth markets for Russian gas – and they do not lie in Europe but east towards Japan and China.  Why bother with providing gas to Europe when there are exciting possibilities to the East?  And so Russia is building new gas supply lines to China and potentially to India if and when Afghanistan becomes stable.

Perhaps this is a foretaste of what is to come.  Regional conflicts escalating into international confrontations with the initial cause associated with energy supplies (or water).  And perhaps also a weak signal of further tensions between new powers (Russia, India, China) as compared with those of yesteryear (Western Europe and the US).  In particular, it could mean that relationships transform so that enemies of the past are economic allies of the future.

Bush-whacking National Records

January 6, 2009

It’s that time again in the US with the countdown to a new President.  Edgar had posted an article on it and listening to Radio National this morning, there was a great discussion with a US archivist on the legislation requiring outgoing presidents and vice presidents to transfer their records to the National Archives.  Many of these records are in electronic form, particularly in the form of emails which makes their capture difficult as all records managers would know.

These records are incredibly important for future historians and scholars to look back at how policy was made, the reasoning behind judgements and the internal and stakeholder processes which occurred.  This is critical not just for identifying any errors that occurred, but also to help future policymakers and people in power to not repeat the mistakes of the past.  This is especially true for the Bush/Cheney period which has had more than its fair share of troubles.

Based on this article, there are legal and technical difficulties being encountered in recovering these records.  The technical ones are part and parcel of electronic mail systems, especially when trying to recover historical records, let alone the issues surrounding longevity and metadata capture as new email systems are developed.  A far greater proportion of the records would be electronic, due to its ease and simplicity of use.  But as things becoming simpler to use, they also are often harder for records managers and archivists.  It is often easier for a sender or a recipient of an email record to delete it after sending to remove that record from the mailbox.  It appears that previous presidents (and the current one) have not been fully forthcoming with their public records obligations with various lawsuits having occurred to ensure that the records get preserved.

The current Vice President has been particularly less forthcoming, attempting to limit the range of emails that are required to be preserved and shielding them from his personal emails.  Much of the reasoning and thinking behind the policy decisions that have occurred from past Presidents and Prime Ministers has emerged from their personal diaries and hence the personal records of people in high office should be preserved.  Note that these are shielded from publication for many years through legislation.

All this is somewhat bemusing given this recent New York Times article which states that Vice President Cheney believes that “historians would ultimately look favorably on the Bush administration’s efforts to keep the nation safe.”  How could historians properly do this when they have an abridged version of history preserved in the archives?

The Bursting of the Irish Miracle

January 5, 2009

A few years back, I took my family over to Ireland for my brother-in-law’s wedding. He has recently moved back to Australia with his wife and kids and judging by this article in the New York Times, he sold up his property in Dublin in the nick of time. The luck of the Irish perhaps!

While working in the information economy policy area, we looked at the Irish miracle and admired their stunning economic recovery, blessed with EU funds and a young population.  People flocked there, reversing the historical Irish emigration around the globe.  It was a hub for IT services with generous taxation concessions and a well-educated local population.  The Guiness was pretty good too I heard!

But it appears now that the bubble has well and truly burst.  Unemployment is approaching 10% and housing prices have fallen by nearly 50%. Like the UK, many expats are heading home as the economy shrinks and jobs disappear.  Part of the issue it appears is the rapid increase in housing’s share of the economy (from 5% to 14%) as demand for housing increased.  The voices that asked the government to try and dampen demand were not heeded as the good times rolled.  Unlike the US situation where banks faltered with their lax lending practices to individuals, Ireland’s banks faltered through their lending to property developers.

I keep wondering if these financial problems will occur to this extent in Australia.  We have seemed to be spared the major banking errors through our better regulatory practices.  We do not have a large number of expats who will go home if the going gets tough (Australia is their home now). We are more of a lag economy so the effects of the US economy will take time to filter through the Chinese economy and then to our economy so we may not have seen the worst of it here as yet.  However, we do have particular areas that will be more affected by others, where house prices have increased disproportionately and where people may be less inclined to live in a future of high fuel costs (today’s low reduced petrol prices will not continue for long) and changing economy – more on that in a blog post for another day.