Speech held at the "Future Conference: Promotion of Education and Youth for Social Development"on 24th to 27th of June 2003 at GTZ Berlin

Part "Visions and interdisciplinary Perspectives: Impulses from external Views", 26th of June

Sigrid Peuker mail@SigridPeuker.de

Visions of Education in the Knowledge Society: Dialogue as a Means of Communication of Knowledge between generations.

Ladies and gentlemen,

first of all I want to say thank you for inviting me to this Future Conference and thus giving me the opportunity to present my visions about how education in the knowledge society could take place. I want to report to you about my experiences how young and old people can learn from each another and how they can learn together.

Since autumn last year senior experts from the Senior Expert Service and students are meeting at regular intervals once a month to exchange their knowledge and their experiences. The idea was born out of a seminar about intercultural knowledge communication. In this seminar we worked about the challenge of how knowledge can be transferred across cultural barriers. We analyzed which barriers and boundaries constrain the exchange of knowledge or disable it if there are major differences in the background of people. We were searching for ways how communication of knowledge and the willingness to share it can be fostered. One possibility is dialogue in the style of  David Bohm. This form of dialogue is a method of direct communication in groups. It shows some peculiarities which can not be seen at first glance.

If you would watch us sitting around a big table, you wouldn't think it was a serious matter. Our group consists of eight senior experts, eight students and four people in an age between to avoid polarity. We first met each other in talks between individual senior experts and students. At these meetings we found out that we have a lot to tell each other, and that there is a big need in both groups to build relationship to the other generation. Our goal was to give more participants a chance to get in conversation with the other generation. Dialogue in the style of David Bohm seemed to be the most appropriate form of discourse. We came to appreciate it in my seminars as a form of conversation free of hierarchies. We were convinced that it would allow us to communicate as peers, as none of the generations wanted to advise the other, none wanted to be advised. The underlying idea was that the dialogues should help us to learn from one another and to learn together on an equal basis. As concrete topic for the dialogues we choose intercultural communication and intercultural competence. We presented our concept at the regional meeting of the SES Berlin-Brandenburg and in my seminar and found a lot of interest. Participation is voluntarily, students don't even get credits for it. In the beginning we agreed upon meetings over a whole year and upon participating regularly. In the first meeting the rules and the essence of dialogue was explained in detail.

This was done because in order to really understand what constitutes dialogue one should be clear in one's mind that it is not a talk between two people or a discussion. The very word dialogue has its roots in the Greek "dia" (through) and "logos" (the word, the meaning). Dialogue is an unhindered flow of meaning in a group. This flow of meaning can lead to new insights. You can visualize the dialogue situation as a picture of a marketplace in old Greece, where Sokrates and others met to philosophize. In contrast to discussion dialogue is not about defending own views or convincing others by exchanging arguments. It has nothing to do with coming to decisions either. Dialogue is a turning together with an open mind. It is about developing ideas which could not be developed by one person alone. It is about getting a new understanding of complex questions. Dialogue is about sharing knowledge, ideas, assumptions and perspectives, about reflecting together and about developing new views.

In dialogue information and knowledge can flow. Mental models underlying our thinking can be explored and to a certain point reflected. We want to know which processes, cultural certainties und structures are the basis of our thinking, our emotions, or our actions. We not only reflect the content of our knowledge, we reflect how it is built, how our opinions arise often without us knowing how this happens.

If we say that information and knowledge have to flow free, we have to realize the difference between them. People often talk about knowledge if they mean information. Knowledge is bound to people and never independent from experiences and interpretation. "Knowledge isn't possible without memory, but not everything, which is produced out of memory, is knowledge. Knowledge is created through integrating information into contexts of experience". (Willke 2001, S. 11)

So knowledge can never be passed on completely, because it is impossible to transport the whole context of experiences. Besides we are not aware of the biggest part of our knowledge.We don't know that we possess it, or we do something without knowing how we do it. Formulating knowledge and experiences is often laborious and difficult. It can never be exchanged 1:1, as when we communicate our partner can understand something completely different. He or she compares what he or she has heard with what is already there and integrates it into his or her own knowledge. Our personal backgrounds, our history, practice and learning guide our knowledge and the way we deal with it. Which means, that people with similar socialization develop similar backgrounds. Thus the word "generation" implies that people, who were born in a certain era, are moulded by this shared epoch. This is surely true, but in our dialogues one actual experience is, that after some time we see each other as individuals. Age or role loose their importance and we concentrate on what we want to say.

For enabling such a development, rules of dialogue are importent. These rules are rather attitudes that help to really listen and to talk in a way that the atmospere, which is created by them, fosters the readiness for learning as well as curiosity. The attitude of learning, not that of knowing is one of the most important attitudes. Only those who's aim it is to learn from a conversation are open for new things to happen. They will not try to find counter arguments for the viewpoints of others, they will not try to persuade them. By following the thoughts of others, by "walking together a section of the way", it gets possible to find gaps ins one's own argumentation. We are willing to question our patterns of thinking and behaving. This attitude contains the awareness, that we never can be sure about our knowledge and that we have to adjust it permanently to the changing environment.  This leads to openness for the perception of change and the willingness to change ourselves. Showing respect for our communication partner should be a matter of course. It grounds on accepting the viewpoints of others as legitimate. If someone has made an experience, it is valid. To have respect for the viewpoints of others helps us to follow his or her opinion and to see other sides of the same topic. Listening open minded and without resistance is an attitude that really helps to learn. Only if I really try to follow the meaning of other peoples words, and not only interprete them in my own sense, am I able to realize something really new. We not only present what we want to say as our opinion, but explain how we come to think so. We thus suspend underlying assumptions and valuations. We give all dialogue participants the possibility to ask questions which enable a very deep process of  cognition. We ask with real interest, we don't ask to show others their ignorance or mistakes. We ask open questions.

These attitudes seem to be easy to follow on first sight, but they are difficult to follow when using them in conversations. That is why there is a dialogue facilitator who's task it is to pay attention that the attitudes of the dialogue are regarded. He or she has to remind to the essence of dialogue if it changes to discussion and we fall back to old patterns of communication. There is no agenda. The topic is either fixed at the beginning, which leads to a topic centered dialogue. If the topic is not fixed at the beginning, but emerges in the dialogue itself, then a generative dialogue takes place. In our dialogues meanwhile we rarely have fixed topics. They develop in the course of the dialogue.

As already mentioned, knowledge is something very personal. Ideally it's acquisition is connected with joy and enthusiasm, but often learning needs time, labour and money and is accompanied by bad experiences or defeat. Knowing means to have an advantage over others. The proverb "knowledge is power" is important especially in hierarchichal organizations. It is influenced by the anxiety of being dispensable after revealing one's knowledge. This is the reason why so many knowledge management systems fail. As soon as knowledge is stored, copied and made available for broad use in form of documents, reports, information in databases and so on, the creator looses control about it. Out of fear to become dispensable, people often dispose  "dummy knowledge" but not what is really relevant. I assume that all of you are annoyed by the flood of information which comes as email, articles, books etc., which often don't contain new thoughts or ideas, but whose judging whether they are relevant or not is time consuming in itself. Finding the really important things is another difficulty in using knowledge management.

Information is in itself just a small piece in knowledge processes. If we want to create something new, knowledge has to flow free in a culture of knowledge that really deserves the name culture, "care". This culture of knowledge needs space to unfold, space where everybody feels safe. Dialogue is such a space for the transfer of knowledge, because it grounds on reciprocity. The currency for knowledge is knowledge.

In our generation dialogues we want to make accessible the knowledge and different experiences of senior experts and students. We want each generation to profit from the special competences and skills of the others. And we want to explore new ways of meeting the demands of the knowledge society. The demands to acquire, upgrade, exchange and apply knowledge a whole life long. Life long learning can not only ground on the class room model of student and teacher, but has to include other forms of learning, where people teach and learn at the same time. The self-determined, self-structured and self-motivated learning in an exchange with others requires just as completely new skills as learning with new media. These not only require computerskills, but new strategies and kinds of behaviour in virtual rooms. If using IT-technologies one has to learn new forms of communication which are very different from face to face-communication.

One topic, which often emerges in our generation dialogues, is the relation of the generations. In dialogue stereotypes, prejudices and expectations are often more obvious than in other forms of discourse, because everybody can talk as long as he or she wants to do so, while everybody is listening open and active. But the conflicts who show are not the same as those which are written about in the media with headlines as "the old plunder the young" or "after all it was us who built up the country". In most of the speeches about generation conflict I heard and in many conversations which I had at the Eschborner Fachtage, people talked about their impression that these stereotypes are stronger in media than in reality and that there is a big need for an exchange between generations. Young people are asking for explanations for events which took place a long time ago, or they simply want to know what used to be but isn't there any longer. I can remember a dialogue in which we were reflecting about how much knowledge gets lost because in our technical world certain skills and crafts are not longer needed and thus no longer acquired and taught. What is possible is the writing down of events from the past as long as there are still witnesses who can report from that times, as it is done in the project "Spurensicherung".

By the way, you should not conclude from what I told about dialogue that it is always harmonic. The method allows conflictuous topics to appear. Dialogue then demands the reflection not only of the thoughts, but of the emotions which lead to the conflict too. There are some presuppositions to be able to lead a dialogue. People who don't know respect, openness or trust, or people for whom communication is competition and not understanding, first have to experience and to learn those attitudes which are important for dialogue. There are some approaches to do so. If then a dialogue takes place, it is in itself not able to change structures. Therefore continuing processes are necessary.

Maybe generation dialogues are a possibility to talk in a matter-of-fact and constructive way about the challenges of the demographic developments not only of the industrialized countries. The negotiating of generation contracts, even the ones between grandparents and grandchildren in sub-saharan countries, where the generation of the parents dies of HIV-AIDS, can only be undertaken by the joint generations.

We see a first success of our generation dialogues in the fact that new dialogue projects arise out of the group.

Short Bio Sigrid Peuker

Sigrid Peuker is trainer, consultant and facilitator. Her focus is on innovation and processes of change in organizations.

She has a strong background in communication science and knowledge management. For several years she has been working on communication of knowledge across cultural barrieres and on group learning in face to face-settings as well as in online environments.

As starting point of a project to bridge diversity and to learn from different experiences and views, she set up and runs a dialogue group of senior experts and students. The aim of this project is to practice and to reflect how the exchange of experience based knowledge can be supported and how the generation gap can be overcome. As an active member of an NGO she is organizing Open Space events about intercultural topics and is a coach for foreign students in Berlin.

Sigrid Peukers wide ranging work has included project management in an electronic publishing firm, systems administration at a weekly magazine, online journalism for Stern magazine, and teaching at Free University Berlin in the field of entrepreneurship education.

She holds a masters degree in German Linguistics and Communication and Media Studies from Free University Berlin. Her mother tongue is German, she is fluent in Englisch, proficient in French, and has good knowledge in Chinese.