Sunday, September 17, 2006

Balaton Group 2006 - First Day

This year’s Balaton meetings celebrate the group’s 25th anniversary. In recognition of this milestone, the texture of the meetings is somewhat different. Normally, the size of the meeting is limited to 50. The constraint is intended to allow every participant to dialogue with every other – for an hour or so – if they choose to do so. This year, our ranks have been swelled by a number of older members, no longer professionally active, who have participated significantly in the Group’s history. Our numbers, too are somewhat greater.

This is also a meeting when the process of transitioning to leadership, begun last year, is continuing. For many years Donella Meadows was the ‘source’ of the Balaton Group. When she died, her place was taken by Dennis Meadows, her former husband. At last year, there was a ceremonial passing of the torch – orchestrated by Dennis – to a newly elected steering committee. But Dennis continues to be the dominant force and principal facilitator of the meetings, though the program was largely shaped by others.

The theme of today’s session was “The Biomass Ecnomy”, with presentations on “Water as key Resource,” Managing transitions to sustainable forestry (In Bolivia) and a new approach to participative modeling. Later, there were opportunities to dialogue, in small groups, with individual speakers. This was followed by individual workshops on special topics.

Innovative and communitarian though the Balaton Group is, it is still subject to some of the disfunctions of other meetings. Speakers can speak a bit too long, leaving less than planned time for discussion and for their own conclusions. There can be a predisposition to fill every moment with events, leading to negative synergy, where the whole is somehow less than the sum of the parts.

But one must always assess a reality not against an ideal, but against other alternatives. As meetings go, the annual Balaton gatherings may approach the ideal most closely. There is a distinctive culture, that has evolved over 25 year and a special chemistry among members that sustains it.


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