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Lesson 2: Context, Context, Context

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Have you ever walked out to get an ice-cream cone with little but flip-flops, shorts and a t-shirt when it was -15˚F and sunny outside? Few would. It is so obviously unwise. You get feedback on that the minute you set foot outside the door.
Yet time and again, NGO representatives are surprised by the chill of many a diplomatic response. Largely, that is due to a major differential of perspectives and understanding between the NGO rep. and the diplomat. At least as different as that between a 70˚F indoor temperature and the -15˚F outside?

Since NGOs are the ones seeking to engage diplomats, it is up to the NGOs to do the necessary work up front to adapt to the diplomatic mindset and “world” or priorities and concerns.

Understanding that they have clearly been mandated to serve the best interests of their nation, that they have clear priorities and responsibilities, and that in general, NGOs are not very high up their priority list, helps NGO reps and teams adjust their strategies and approach.

But how many NGO-representatives think of these things as they are preparing their letters, faxes, brochures, pitches and speeches? Are NGOs positioning themselves to help alleviate the burdens of the diplomats or are they approaching the diplomatic community to “get” something—recognition, support, approval, a picture— and so in fact being a burden and therefore creating an enormous gap and “temperature differential” between them?

More About Context

Today, context awareness is one of the drivers in computer science and there are extensive efforts to help our hand-helds and mobile gadgets be as context-aware as possible. Mathematically the “logic of contexts”* is utilized in the development of algorithms for computing—all part of the endeavor to both simplify and enrich interaction in the computing environment to match that of typical human interaction.

Because context awareness is so natural for humans in familiar environments, we often fail to take adequate note of its role as we step into new ones. In this lesson we are underscore the importance of context and encourage discovery of, and learning about the unique and complex UN environment. What mathematical formulas associated with the logic of context highlight, is that contexts are to be treated as formal objects, as realities distinct from others. And this is no less true for all the seemingly invisible components of the UN context.

What this means for us as we go to the United Nations and plan to engage people and organizations there in an effort to bring about change, is that we need to factor in all those un-obvious components of the UN context along with the physical environment, the nature and positions of the persons we interact with, our goals and objectives, our resources and capacities. But what are they? How can we learn about them? What are those “invisibles” the diplomats are immersed almost 24/7?

Context at the UN has historic, demographic and network components in addition to the set of roles and relations of each individual.

So if NGOs go to the United Nations, armed only with their agenda, goals and objectives without awareness of or regard to the substantive realities (context) of those they are seeking to influence, their efforts and investment will fall far short of their desired goal. Even golfers take into account the winds, the declination of the green, the length of the turf and more when shooting for the hole. Without this same attention and awareness of context, no matter how noble and sacrificial an individual or their organization may be, disregarding “what’s going on in the head, body and heart of their UN prospect” will undermine the possibility of accomplishing the changes sought at the UN, and so, in humanity writ large.**

Paying Attention to Anothers’ Context is to Contribute to A Reality Larger Than Our Own

Some would say that such striving for larger, inclusive thinking is what is needed to “lead.” At least being aware of our environment both visible and invisible is a first step to determining effective and strategic actions that can bring about change. And change for the greater good is, after all the reason for NGOs to be active at the UN.


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Additional Reading & References

Ammerman, Nancy T. Studying Congregations: A New Handbook. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998. Print.
Audinet, Jacques. The Human Face of Globalization: From Multicultural to Mestizaje. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004. Print.
* Buvac, Sasa and Mason, Ian A.The Propositional Logic of Context, 1993 Internet resource.
** Judd Smith, Karen “The UN: Humanity Writ Large“, The UN at 60: Challenge and Change. Washington, D.C: Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace, 2005. Print.

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