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Objectives of the project


World Problem Networks: as perceived by international organization networks (Part #3)


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  1. Identify information items and series which help to clarify the nature of (a) all perceived world problems, both individually and as a complex of interlinked networks, (b) the different kinds of intellectual, organizational and other resources which can be brought to bear on such problems, both individually an? as a totality, (c) the values in the light of wich the problems are perceived and any action is initiated, and (d) the concepts and processes of human development considered to be the ultimate justification of any human actionand which, assuch, both generate world problems and are frustrated by then.
  2. Establish a framework for such items of Information concerning the world social system (particularly those conventionally perceived as being incommensurable or essentially unrelated), in such a way as to permit now items to be registered, if or when they arerecognized, together with any relationships between such. items.
  3. Demonstrate the consequences of tolerating a larger number of information items in a series than isconventionally favoured without regrouping (e.g. 100 to 5,000 items rather than 1 to 50).
  4. Collect and process sufficient information in each of the different information series to demonstrate the nature of this approach and to determine ist viability.
  5. Initiate a process to obtain further information and update the collected information by periodically providing a product which, can be widely distributed to those providing and using such information, be constructively criticized, and used to improve the organized response to world problems. The design and utility of the product, as a vehicle for the information contained, should be such as to ensurethat by its sale it could ensure the financial viability and independence of the project as a continuing exercise.
  6. Experiment with different forms of collaboration between organizations interested in developing particular features of the project or in improving the process by which new perceptions are identified and incorporated.
  7. Demonstrate the extent of the interreletedness of the items of information included and the importance of the possibility of analyzing such information as interlinked networks rather than as isolated items.
  8. Experiment with different methods of processing and displaying the information on complex interlinked networks in order to facilitate their comprehension and an understanding of their mutual significance.
  9. Experiment with different forms of classifying and regrouping the items registered, whilst at the same time ensuring a relationship to existing systems of classification, wheresuch exist.
  10. Establish a flexible computor-based system to facilitate the achievement of the above objectives (including the periodic production of a saleable product)
  11. Determine the nature and quality (a) of the product which can be produced in fulfilliment of these objectives and in the light of a variety of constraints, and (b) of the process which can bo initiated to eliminate defects progressively, despite such constraints.
  12. Determine the extent to which such a process could help to constitute a stabilizing element in the shifting world of images concerning world problems, resources of various kinds, and their interrelationships.

The project is therefore an exercise in the development of a framework and a procedure to obtain, handle and interrelate diverse, and seemingly incompatible, categories of information. As such it is a bridging exercise between those domains, whether governmental or not, primarily concerned with : problem detection, research, policy formulation, organizational development, remedial programme action, educational re-presentation of problem information, and public information on action programmes against problems.

The constraints considered significant in both determining and justifying the above objectives include :

1. The difficulty of achieving any degree of intellectual consensus on matters of concern to more than one discipline or school of thought.

2. The difficulty of achieving any for" of action-oriented consensus on matters touching the concerns ofdifferent nations, ideologies or cultures.

3. The difficulty of assembly and processing the large amount of relevant information on factors significant to any overview of the problems of the world and the resources which can be brought to bear upon them.

4.The difficulty of mobilizing the necessary financial resources and skilled personnel to undertake such a task, given that it is neither within the mandate of any official body nor legitimated by any academic perspective.

Objectives of World Problems Section

1. Identify a complete range of world problems, as rioted in internationallydistributed publications or cited in international debate, as a preliminary to determining their relationship to one another and to entries in other information series considered relevant.

2. Provide sufficient description of each problem, on the basis of published documents, in order to give and understanding of its nature, incidence, and the claims (and counter-claims) made for its importance.

3. Provide a context for information on world problems of an essentially different and frequently non-interacting nature, without excluding those problems which are not recognized by some intergovernmental organization or which tend to be prejudged as irrelevant.

4. Identify relationships between the problems included in order to gain some understanding of the complexity of the network of world problems and as a preliminary to producing maps of such networks.

5. Identify relationships between the problems included and entries in other series as a preliminary (a) to predicting the recognition of new problems (9.9. occupation- related. commodity-related. industry-related. etc) and (b) to obtaining some understanding of the degree of mismatch between the network of problems and the networks of international organizations, treaties and disciplines which attempt to contain the problems.

6. Experiment with classifications of world problems according to different schemes.

7. Experiment with ways of grouping problems, within some hierarchy of problems, in order to avoid the need to consider problems at a level of detail greates than necessary (e.g. a problem category rather than the multitude of component problems), as determined by the specificity of relationships to other problems and to entries in other information series.

Method and Definition

The original stimulus for this project was that there appeared to be no widely accepted definition of a "world problem", and no indication of how many there were and of what kind. In order to build up as comprehensive a data base as possible, the criteria for problem inclusion and exclusion were initially kept to a minimum. The emphasis during the selection procedure was not on whether adequate proof existed that a problem was a valid and significant one according to some objective standard. The emphasis was rather on including those "problems" which wellestablished international constituencies indicated as significant in terms of their own frame of reference, whether or not the validity of the problem is challenged by the perspective from some other frame of reference. In effect, all problems were sought which were identified by some functionally significant collectivity which manifests itself in some way at the international level (whether as an organization or through self-selected spokesmen).

This open-ended approach permits the registration of all the problems perceived as real whether or not, as Stafford Beer suggests (1970), most of the problems with which society believes it is faced are bogus problems generated by theories about social progress and the way society works. The existence of information questioning the validity of a perceived problem is therefore treated as information about that problem (in a "counterargument" subsection or the description).

In order to simplify the task, the problems registered had to be cited in published documents. preferably those arising through the work of international organizations. Responses to a questionnaire to international organizations were used only as an indication of the existence of a problem for which published documents were required. The Union of International Associations receives much material of this type in connection with the production of its various reference works, including the Yearbook of International Organizations (1976).

Criteria were progressively elaborated to reduce the inclusion, in this first round, of very detailed problems which were nested within other problems. In other words, when a distinct hierarchy of problems is as encountered, suitable cutoff points were selected within the hierarchy below which more detailed problems were not considered (although they might be cross- referenced, without establishing a separate entry).

This approach led to the elaboration of : (a) a list of tentative positive definitions as a guideline for problem identification ; (b) a list of general criteria for inclusion of problems identified; (c) a more specific set of criteria for the exclusion of certain kinds of problem. The latter relate mainly to operational problems, or problems which are handled and solved as part of the normal procedure of some organization or discipline.

The relationships between problems were also registered on the basis of information present in the available documents. In the case of both the problems and their relationships. the aim was to clarify the extent of the problem domain to the point at which the defects in the presentation of any particular area would be fairly readily apparent to the bodies concerned with that area. In this way the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is designed to serve as a stimulus for critical feedback to improve the representation of the networks it attempts to identify.

Preliminary Quantitative Results

The accompanying table summarizes information on the number of entries in each series, the number of intra-series relationships, and the number of interseries relationships. Figures given are for relationships, but where these do not correspond to the total expressed as a relationship pair (rather than a crossreference), the totals have been given in brackets.

The intra-series relationships of the "functional" type, in the case of the world problems, were composed of relationships of problems to :

    - problems they aggravate : 5998
    - problems by which they are aggravated : 6190
    - problems they alleviate : 306
    - problems by which they are alleviated : 318.
As the first results of an ongoing exercise, these figures are of course only indicative of the kinds of numbers which are being encountered. In particular, a further process is required to eliminate inconsistencies in the pattern of relationships. These may arise when functional relationships between problem hierarchies are registered from different points in the hierarchies leading either to gaps or unnecessary duplications. Also since cross-references were included to problems for which no separate entry was established, where several such crossreferences exist to the same unregistered entry this would tend to justify including the problem as a new entry. This clarification is however seen as an integral part of the further development of the project. Some much difficulties are natural to the whole process by which new problems and relationships are perceived under different names and penetrate slowly through the knowledge system to collecting points where inconsistencies may become apparent.

It is important to note that because it is not necessary to be able to define a problem or its relationships in quantitative terms, many loosely defined "soft" problems can be included and related to the more conventional "hard" problems. Particular attention was given to such soft psycho-social problems where encountered, since in many cases they may prevent remedial action on "hard" problems.

No data is available on problems by category because no attempt was made in this first phase to develop a classification scheme for the problems. The main reason being that it confused two operations : the administrative one of filing the problems and their relationships, and the subsequent intellectual one of experimenting with a variety of classification schemes. Many of the more interesting problems are multi-faceted and do not lend themselves to simplistic classification.


Table 1.

SERIES CODE

A

C

D

F

H

J

K

M

P

R

S

T

V

TOTAL

ENTRIES

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

incorporated

3300

241

1845

132

228

428

421

606

2653

77

1197

931

701

12763

cross referenced

-

-

-

-

-

311

-

-

4791

698

-

-

-

5800

TOTAL

3300

241

1845

132

228

739

421

606

7444

775

1197

931

701

18563

INTRA-SERIES RELATIONSHIPS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Hierarchical

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

* contextual

625

235

1417

.

.

.

. .

5013

-

. . . .

* component

752

235

1417

157

.

535

. .

6612

698

. . . .

* associated

790

-

983

-

.

-

. .

554

-

. . . .

Functional

881

-

-

-

.

-

. .

6408

-

. . . .
TOTAL

(2423)

(235)

(2400)

(157)

.

(535)

. .

(13574)

(698)

. . .

(20022)

INTER-SERIES RELATIONSHIPS

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

A International organizations

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

C Traded commodities

203

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

D Intellectual disciplines

478

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

E Economic sectors

109

516

.

. . . . . . . . . . .

H Human development concepts

22

-

22

-

. . . . . . . . . .

3 Occupations, professions.

1284

-

572

89

-

-

. . . . . . . .

K Integrative, interdisciplinary

48

-

54

-

7

-

. . . . . . . .

H Multinational corporations

-

480

-

-

-

-

. . . . . . . .

P World problems

1036

122

1282

39

-

-

-

. . . . . . .

Q Human diseases

91

-

-

-

-

-

.

197

. . . . .

S International periodicals

193

-

1440

-

-

-

-

-

151

-

. . . .

T Multilateral treaties

536

27

-

13

-

46

-

-

227

.

.

. . .

U Human values

614

-

-

-

37

-

47

-

353

-

83

. .

TOTAL

4614

1348

3848

766

88

1991

156

480

3407

288

1784

932

1134

(10433)

TOTAL RELATIONSHIPS

(7037)

(1583)

(6248)

(923)

88

(2526)

156

480

(15981)

(996)

1784

932

1134

(30455)


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