Orchestrating chaos

To be able to gather the crucial network, I looked for 'the third point' in the conferences I orchestrated. This is the point that all the different perspectives can relate to. It is not a boundary object, even though it may function like one. A boundary object facilitates translation between different practices (Fujimura 1989); the point I mention here is a uniting point, a shared interest and often an ethical position to which all participants in the crucial network can relate. The third point, this ethical position, is often already part of the variety of relationships in the crucial network but not formulated in such a way. "How AIDS changes our world" was a sentence that all participants in the 0+Ball could relate to, and which also touched upon the bewilderment that most people who were involved with AIDS at the time felt. The fact that we added "Living with AIDS" as a major driving force of the conference, made the first sentence only more powerful. It provided a perspective, which could be understood in a personal way as well as in a social and economic way.

The third point is the concept that is well formulated in a one liner. Many conferences are organised to exchange information and one can make an interesting thematic selection, which will be entertaining. But the conferences I produced had an agenda for social change. Of course they had to be entertaining, but that is just the starting point. The ambition is greater. They needed to be more than entertainment; they had to make a difference. For that reason, I needed all stakeholders at the table, I needed to find what bound them, and to what they all wanted to connect. All of the stakeholders taken together can be perceived as a 2D network, so to speak. In this 2D network pro-, contra- and balancing forces are organized. Habits and power relationships have been shaped over the years. By formulating a point in the 3D dimension that connects to all nodes of the 2D network, one offers a perspective for possible change.note 204

The third point evolves from the space-in-between, which I described earlier in this chapter in the section about the design of networked events. In this intermediary space a shared social need is formulated. It is not an agenda from one perspective; it is the need that evolves from realising all the perspectives. It is about content, about a quality of life where every stakeholder can commit. It has a drive, preferably a dramatic one. When designing the event, this third point is formulated in such a way that every stakeholder feels his or her perspective is connected and/or represented. Good design is a key to success. In the case of the 0+Ball it was the fact that we put the emphasis on LIVING with AIDS (instead of dying of AIDS) and the opening was 'How AIDS changes our world' (and not how aids changes the patient's world).note 205

Sometimes it is very hard to find the third point. In my experience one has to pursue this anyway. If you do not, random behaviour and non-commitment is the result.

It is this commitment, mediated by good design and good orchestration in which all of the participants can contribute, that generates 'collaborative authoring of outcomes'. Garrick Jones and Patrick Humphries, both connected to the London School of Economics, first formulated this concept in 2004 (Humphries & Jones 2006). Because people take responsibility for participating in the process, they will also feel responsible for what the result of the process turns out to be. This affects possible change and new developments. Jones arrived at this idea of 'collaborative authoring of outcomes' through participating in the peace process in South Africa and through working with multinational companies over the years. When discussing his work and my work at the International Presence Conference 2004, we came to the following conclusion: "Crucial networks create vital information for social survival. Possible change is generated through a process of collaborative authoring of outcomes in which design and orchestration are distinct."

Neither the crucial network, nor its collaborative authoring of outcomes, can evolve from identification, I would argue. It evolves from an awareness of identity that is actually willing to negotiate. One can only negotiate when identity is strong enough to merge in one place and be distinct in another. It is even better when one can merge and be distinct at the same time. To show diversity one needs to accept a certain chaos. The 'chaos' is necessary to provide space for creativity and expression and unexpected contributions that may make a difference. To generate new meaning, to generate 'collaborative authoring of outcomes', one needs a certain amount of chaos in which people can meet or are challenged by the unexpected. If the outcomes are already known, one does not need to take the trouble to gather the crucial network together, one does not have to challenge the belief system of the people participating. But going through chaos, especially in the context of a crucial network, with a large group of people, can be painful and unpleasant. Therefore, this chaos also has to be orchestrated.

Artists play a crucial role in this process because they are capable of addressing different layers of consciousness. By organizing a good party, a musical celebration, a festival, people are offered a way to accelerate. During the festival the orchestration does not stop. A good festival or party, a good networked event, is structured in such a way that chaos and the unexpected may flourish.

In creating 'place', one has to confront one's own belief system to be able to orchestrate the belief systems of others as well. And belief systems do not like to communicate. They like to rule. When organizing debates in which strong beliefs are at stake, one confronts very intractable social impasses. I surmise that the only thing that connects belief systems is a day-to-day need for conviviality, for social survival, a need that is greater than the potential victory of one belief system. A true 'third point' will somehow address the need for survival that underlies all identities in a crucial network centred around a certain issue. Collaborative authored outcomes are determined by the power structures in a certain crucial network, as well as the fact that they may be changed when all stakeholders feel there is more to be won by a possible change of position than by consolidating the earlier status quo. In the networked events I have described here, 'collaborative authoring of outcomes' may influence the tone and the agenda in the public domain. In these two cases the 'collaborative authoring' dictated that because of the public witnessing of both mediated and natural presence, the relationships within the crucial network began to shift and issues were formulated differently.

The chance that one can change ambition as a producer before one even realises is very great. One is vulnerable because one is pushing for change and many people do not like change. History teaches us that some things just have to unfold naturally; one may be pushing the wrong issue. The consequences of the pandemic in parts of the world like Africa and India have reached a stage that we could not even imagine in 1990, even though we did see the potential disaster beginning to take form.note 206 It is upsetting to realize that no crucial network has been capable of breaking down the power structures in the crucial networks centred around AIDS; even in the face of the pandemic we face around the world today.

In the next chapter I will return to my original question about how to design presence in environments where technology plays a crucial role. I will first focus on the position of the thinking actor: how does one deal with the clash between intention and realization in natural and in mediated presence. In both cases the people involved acted upon intentions, stretched the limits of what was considered possible, and inevitably had to confront the results of the work carried out. Secondly, I will focus on the collaboration between people of different skills, disciplines and cultures in natural and in mediated presence. Lastly, in chapter 5, I will formulate characteristics of natural, mediated and witnessed presence, given the research carried out. In chapter 6 I will propose a conceptual framework to consider, and to design, the orchestration of the variety of presences in processes of social interaction.