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Indicative implications for global governance (B)


Towards Polyhedral Global Governance: complexifying oversimplistic strategic metaphors (Part #11)


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Metaphors of spherical symmetry: In transcending the use of "pillars" as the architectural foundation for strategic thinking, it is clear that global governance necessarily involves calls for spherical symmetry to reflect a degree of cognitive resonance with the global challenge -- a form of isomorphism. Such symmetrical organization of categories, functions, institutions and patterns of communication constitutes a design that matches its integrative function (Spherical Configuration of Categories to reflect systemic patterns of environmental checks and balances, 1994). The constraints on such design, implicit in whatever polyhedral models are used, are such as to preclude the dysfunctional accumulation of lego-like institutional units, that fails to take account of the numbers critical to coherence and to requisite variety. Such spherical organization has potential implications at the most basic institutional level (Spherical Accounting: using geometry to embody developmental integrity, 2004).

The extremely well-documented transformational relationships between the polyhedra suggest that considerable insight relevant to global governance is both readily available and relatively comprehensible. Despite strategic concerns with "harmonization", a similar argument might be made for the musical theory of harmony -- itself supportive, through the theory of numbers, of insights through the polyhedra.

Spherical organization of institutional governance: Given the challenges of institutional governance and its reform, there is a case for exploring configurations of directorates distinct from those inherited from the past -- even if any "reform" is focused primarily on the organization of the flows of electronic communications so as to achieve greater integrity and coherence (Coherent Policy-making Beyond the Information Barrier: circumventing dependence on access, classification, penetration, dissemination, property, surveillance, interpretation, disinformation, and credibility, 1999).

Pointers to such possibilities include the examples provided by such as Magnus J. Wenninger (Polyhedron Models, 1974; Spherical Models, 1979) or Robert Burkhardt (A Technology for Designing Tensegrity Domes and Spheres, 2007). As noted above, such imaginative exploration should be facilitated by software enabling the construction of such models (Stella: Polyhedron Navigator).

It might be said that it is most curious that -- in a time of major institutional challenge -- seemingly no effort is made to harness the extensive explorations into new structural forms at the forefront of the architecture of buildings, computer memory organization, or aesthetic imagery. It is even more curious in that such explorations are enabled by advances in topology and social network analysis -- and are fully supported by computer software. Strangely none of these focus on the design of communication pathways that would catalyze the self-organization and emergence of such forms from the multitude of (social) networking interactions via the web -- despite current moves towards the visualization of such networks and the fundamental strategic importance attached to network-centric warfare (cf Preliminary NetMap Studies of Databases on Questions, World Problems, Global Strategies, and Values, 2006).

In contrast to the language used in intitutional reform discussions for purposes of governance in response to complex challenges, it is interesting to note the language employed by the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD Architectural Framework Technical Handbook, 2005) with respect to network-centric warfare:

  1. An 'effects based approach' to military operations demands that we combine military capabilities in time and space, to an ever increasing tempo, in order to achieve the desired outcome. To achieve this, we must master the complex interaction of weapons, platforms, sensors and people, in order to maximise their combined strengths and to minimise any potential weaknesses. We seek to do this through our adoption of Network Enabled Capability, integrating existing capabilities into an increasingly coherent System of Systems.
  2. At the same time, perpetual pressure on Defence spending means that we must seek maximum return on our investments and drive inefficiency out of our operations.
  3. Our greatest enemy in this regard is complexity and we must find effective ways to overcome it. One key to achieving the simplicity we seek is to focus on the decision-making process and the information flows that must support effective decision making and subsequent action.
  4. The MOD Architectural Framework (MODAF) offers invaluable assistance in our struggle for simplicity, as it provides a common language and common formats for the capture and shared use of trusted data.

That handbook points to the use graphical displays of key milestones and interdependencies between multiple projects that constitute a programme. Mention is even made of the use of regular polyhedra for their comprehension.

It would seem as though advances in governance and institutional reform are entirely in the hands of those who are distinctly challenged by such possibilities -- irrespective of the engagement they evoke from younger generations and the military for whom they are purportedly responsible.

Multi-facetted organizations and strategies: As noted above, there is a case for any recognition that an initiative is "multi-facetted" to be matched by the configuration of those facets in a third dimension rather than as bullet points or line items. The possibilities are highlighted by a thought experiment with respect to any such "many sided" initiative at the present time:

  • assume that the results of a survey of the varied perspectives of its members, the initiative could be represented preferably by polygons (triangles) rather than data points or lines -- and that these could be configured as a polyhedron
  • assume that one such polyhedron could be constructed for their values (imaginatique), another for their preferred strategies (resolutique), another for their preferred institutional delivery vehicles (its game-playing irresolutique), and one for the preferred problem-focus (problematique).
  • assume that portions of the polygon-covered (say triangulated) surface could then be associated together to form zones of compatibility/coherence contrasting with other more distant (complementary) zones having other perspectives (namely the other "sides") -- associating those which had some degree of mutual correlation, perhaps 4-6 such larger zones (say)
  • this would then provide an interesting way of representing the initiative as a whole -- that could feature on its website to offer a non-linear, integrative, symbolic representation of its identity
  • assume then that the above polyhedra were rendered concentric -- one within the other -- Russian doll style. This would highlight the challenge for the initiative in getting its "eyes" in front of their "holes" (to employ a common metaphor) in order that values, strategies, vehicles and problematique corresponded in some way.
  • as with any optical system, the various polyhedra might have to be "rolled" in relation to each other to get some coherent, image-forming, distortion-free  throughput.

Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask went some way in this direction in an experiment with participants at the Silver Anniversary International Meeting (London, 1979) of the Society for General Systems Research (SGSR).

Eliciting polyhedral structures from complex strategic meetings: Efforts to come to terms strategically with the global problematique, in meetings of requisite complexity, currently use techniques which do not seek to benefit from technical evolution in what might be termed "cognitive prosthetics". The result is a haze of "bullet points" which might metaphorically be understood as resulting in a degree of "collateral damage", possibly even from "friendly fire". Additionally many struggle from within their own knowledge base to make vital points, repeatedly circling a pathway of valid argument, without recognizing the degree to which their movements resemble those of a caged animal unable to engage with a larger context. A major consequence is the inability to capture insight such as to appropriately integrate its various relevant parts as the basis for a coherent global strategy that engages resources for its implementation.

The question is whether there are other, non-invasive, ways of holding the insights expressed and configuring them in ways that may evoke larger patterns of insight. The challenge has been highlighted using one software application (Preliminary Netmap Studies of Databases on Questions, World Problems, Global Strategies, and Values, 2006) related to a proposal for a real-time insight capturing process that indicates a range of such tools (Complementary Knowledge Analysis / Mapping Process, 2006).

An early real-time experiment in this direction was made by Stafford Beer and Gordon Pask, on the occasion of a conference on Improving the Human Condition: Quality and Stability in Social Systems of the Society for General Systems Research ( (see Metaconferencing: Discovering people / viewpoint networks in conferences, 1980). A different approach was taken with respect to the strategic dilemmas articulated at the 1992 Earth Summit (Configuring Globally and Contending Locally: shaping the global network of local bargains by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral issues, 1992).

Multi-facetted polyhedral world parliament: There is increasing recognition of the need for some form of wo
rld parliament through which to articulate the issues of global governance. This poses issues of representativity, communication coherence and seating arrangements . The more complex polyhedra, with hundreds of facets, offer a geometrical language:

  • through which many interesting options can be explored and compared, notably through a more fruitful mix of face-to-face (physical) gatherings and those thereby enabled virtually (The Challenge of Cyber-Parliaments and Statutory Virtual Assemblies, 1998)
  • offering the possibility of alternative polyhedra based on one facet (side) per representative or one per faction, collapsing (or expanding) the representation from one to the other
  • with the advantage that the configuration as a whole (or in part) can be represented visually to the electorate (in contrast with complex voting formula and seating schematics)
  • offering a more interesting and comprehensible means of communicating voting patterns on particular issues and over time (by colouring facets appropriately), thereby increasing transparency
  • allowing such structures to be associated with various specific patterns of electronic communications vital to the coherence of the whole (and responding to the challenge for elected representatives of information overload and information underuse)
  • through which significance can be usefully associated with portions of the facetted pattern (perhaps distinctly coloured) to reflect factions of contrasting tendencies, in the light of axes of symmetry and the understanding they offer of necessary complementarity
  • offering insights into nondisruptive transformations between different configurations (ensuring a degree of invariant dynamic identity) in response to different challenges
  • enabling the facets, represented virtually and specifically, to be linked to supporting documentation, blogs, videos, etc such as to improve the interface between the component parts and the world represented through the parliament

Potentially the challenge of global geopolitical representativity could be explored in the light of Buckminster Fuller's "dymaxion map". This is a projection of a global map onto the surface of a polyhedron, which can then be unfolded to a net in many different ways and flattened to form a two-dimensional map which retains most of the relative proportional integrity of the globe map. More interesting however is the use of such an approach to reflect both population numbers and the variety of perspectives that need to be appropriately represented for global governance. Such an approach could also be relevant to the many challenges of any parliament of the world's religions (Learnings for the Future of Inter-Faith Dialogue, 1993).

Union of intelligible associations: The coherence required of global governance is a three-fold challenge:

  • to map out the relevant intelligible associations, as suggested by relating such associations to the links rendered explicit in polyhedral nets such as those above
  • consideration of the sets of such intelligible associations, as suggested by the (transformational) relationships between the set of polyhedra
  • the comprehension of the "union" of such disparate forms, as explored elsewhere (Union of Intelligible Associations: remembering dynamic identity through a dodecameral mind, 2005)

This polyhedral approach to "union" accords with the concern with causal multiplication as understood by Michel Foucault, published in a work appropriately sub-titled "studies in governmentality":

This procedure of causal multiplication mean analysing an event according to the multiple processes which constitute it.... As a way of lightening the weight of causality, eventilization thus works by constructing around the singular event analysed as process a 'polygon' or rather a 'polyhedron' of intelligibility, the number of whose faces is not given in advance and can never properly be taken as finite. One has to proceed by progressive, necessarily incomplete, saturation. (Questions of method, In: Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon and Peter Miller, The Foucault effect: studies in governmentality, 1991).


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