Discussing “wicked problems” online, in 2021

Nearly 20 years ago, Aldo de Moor and I presented our Social Context Model (supporting online collaboration processes for wicked problems in society) at the “Sustainability in the Information Society” symposium [1].

The symposium organisers did an environmental impact assessment, showing that basically 86% of CO2 emissions came from participants flying in and out.

Back in 2001, an online version of a symposium was unthinkable. Since 2020 and the Corona pandemic, it’s the only option.

Although I’d like to meet in-person as well (from time to time), I’ve been able to participate in more global knowledge-sharing events in the last 12 months than ever before, while reducing my own air and train travel emissions by even 100%!

I’m still not sure how “online” will really help tackle wicked problems in society and politics. But it sure helps me believe we have the opportunity to shift now, when I see for instance the European Geoscientists Union host a “Second Life“-like conference.

Even though data centers have their climate impact too, we can work to reduce the environmental footprint of the conference and symposium world, as we learn more on how to organise, share knowledge, and debate online.

It doesn’t have to follow a skeuomorph design paradigm of offline events. Let’s focus on how to connect, debate, and reach consensus!

  • Engage with the right facilitation skills: foster diversity, by breaking down power distances. New technologies create new distances.
  • Focus on convergence: look for where participants align or “agree to disagree”. Social media and other channels will do the divergence for you.


[1] A. De Moor and R. Kleef. 2001. Authoring tools for effective societal discourse. In Proc. of the 15th International Informatics for Environmental Protection Symposium: Sustainability in the Information Society, 751–756.


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