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12.7 Vision of a poetic policy project

Suppose there was a critical mix of people with two characteristics, which or might not overlap in any one person:

(a) sensitivity to the qualitative implications of the structural dimensions vital to poetry and music;

(b) sensitivity to the structuring principles vital to management and the policy sciences.

Could such people usefully meet to share insights into the possibility of composing/designing something that might be called a "poetic policy project"?

Such an initiative could be fraught with risks of misunderstanding and conflicting styles of work. There are fundamental differences of language. For example, as Part I indicates, those of poetic sensitivity would be called upon to lean towards the challenge of "design", whilst those with policy skills would have to lean towards the implications of "composition".

What could be the purpose of such a project? Again, for it to be of interest to those of aesthetic sensibilities, there would have to be some aesthetic challenge or inspiration for the individual. For those with policy interests, it would have to have some collective concrete objective. At each stage it would therefore be important to avoid pre-determining or over-determining the nature or outcome of the project. As a creative act, the fruits of such collaboration are as much emergent as pre-determined. They are co-created.

In 1965 Gyorgy Kepes proposed the formation of a closely knit work group of visual artists of a number of disciplines in collaboration with scientists in order to facilitate what he termed "interthinking". This was eventually established within the framework of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Much of the justification in relation to the "visual arts" with respect to "science" could be adapted to justify a similar project in relation to "poetry-making" with respect to "policy-making".

1. New modes of discourse

Perhaps one initial purpose could be the clarification of a new mode of discourse that would seek to interweave aesthetic and management principles. As such it could endeavour to establish the kinds of insights from each side that could be meaningful to the other. At the same time it would be important to identify the forms of contribution from one side which would be alienating to the other. Thus those reflecting the aesthetic perspective would naturally be repelled by unenlivened "bureaucratic" discourse that invited no imaginative involvement by the listener. Those from the policy side would be repelled by idiosyncratic contributions that failed to contribute usefully to some shared sense of a larger purpose of social significance.

There is clearly an immediate challenge from the limitations of language and communication. One possibility therefore is to make use of metaphor to clarify different understandings of discourse. This is done in a following section. Another possibility is to explore a new form of discourse which is actually conducted through metaphor. This is also explored below. These two perspectives constitute a vital complementarity -- between how a discourse is understood and what is conveyed through that discourse. At the frontiers of language, where the current challenges lie, improvement in one can only be achieved through equivalent improvement in the other.

2. Templates, keystones and catalysts

The larger purpose might be to imagine or envision the nature of a collective policy that would embody aesthetic principles of organization. Clearly "well-written" or "well-crafted" policy documents must necessarily already be based on aesthetic principles -- however crude from a poetic perspective. It is therefore a question of seeking ways to achieve an aesthetic organization of a higher order. This is not simply for "cosmetic" purposes, but rather to ensure that such aesthetic organization should be the carrier of a higher order of meaning. In addition, this higher order should enable meaningful policies of greater complexity and coherence to be formulated in response to the challenges of the times.

But in this encounter between poetry-making and policy-making, is the outcome to be better policies as such or is it the design of some new form that is "beyond" both of them? A basic distinction should perhaps be explored between an initiative to design policies and one which creates a new "working space". Such a co-created cognitive "space" might constitute a template on which policies could be designed. It could function as a keystone interrelating seemingly policies which, in the language of their formulation, would need and seem to be incompatible. The "space" would thus function as a catalyst for the emergence of policies.

3. Envisaging meetings of the future

Another purpose might be to envision the functioning of some governing body of the future -- whether of a local community or concerned with global issues and resources. Here the concern would be to articulate guidelines for the discourse between strongly opposed participants such as to reflect a balance between the constraints and opportunities of the aesthetic and policy dimensions.

This exploration is outlined in detail in Part III. At this point it is however more important to find ways of articulating the "feel" of such meetings. This is a challenge to the imagination locked in the patterns of the past. A first effort in this direction is given below.

4. Styles of aesthetic and policy endeavour

In embarking on this exploration it is vital to be clear about the existence of many styles of aesthetic and policy endeavour.