Ineffectiveness and inefficiency of interdisciplinary meetings
Interdisciplinary meetings tend to be less than successful because the group has relatively little ability to generate new knowledge or insight, as a genuine synthesis, rather than just interrelating what its members already know. Competing demands on members time, strong social pressures to defer to colleague's areas of expertise, and the limited duration of such events (or series of events) all erode the effectiveness of the meetings, whatever the degree of staff support. Furthermore, especially in the case of the many value laden, incompletely understood issues that arise in relation to sustainable development, the consensual mode of synthesis may be impossible or inappropriate.
The modern invention by specialists of interdisciplinarity has merely resulted in a cacophony of claims as to what the special bridge between the disciplines is, in order to allow them to work together. Biologists claim it is systems theory, cyberneticists claim information theory, physicists claim it is the orientation garnered from the study of energy, entropy and fields, and other claims come from mathematicians, psychologists and even economists that interdisciplinary methods and sciences arise from their areas. Meetings addressing particular topics where an interdisciplinary approach is proposed flounder on disagreement as to what the particular tasks should be allocated to the specialists and how the specialists from the different disciplines should work closely together in each applicable stage of envisaged projects. Disagreements frequently pass from the merely technical of how to make a practical beginning, to those concerning purposes and endings, via the goals sought. The more practical and successful interdisciplinary meetings arise in conjunction with tangible intergovernmental, governmental and industrial projects. The others, convened voluntarily by the interdisciplinarians, are principally for intellectuals who like to listen to themselves and who have no common purpose or dedication.
The expert panel is the longest established and most widely used method of knowledge synthesis. When a consensus is reached, and especially when the consensus is sanctioned by a suitably distinguished convening organization, such a group can be a very effective way of producing syntheses of rapidly developing knowledge as it applies to complex problems.
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a collaboration between UIA and Mankind 2000, started in 1972. It is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems with which humanity is confronted, as well as the challenges such problems pose to concept formation, values and development strategies. Problems included are those identified in international periodicals but especially in the documents of some 60,000 international non-profit organizations, profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations.
The Encyclopedia includes problems which such groups choose to perceive and act upon, whether or not their existence is denied by others claiming greater expertise. Indeed such claims and counter-claims figure in many of the problem descriptions in order to reflect the often paralyzing dynamics of international debate. In the light of the interdependence demonstrated among world problems in every sector, emphasis is placed on the need for approaches which are sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and rival worldviews that undermine collective initiative towards a promising future.
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