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Tools for the Future

International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change


Part of: International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change (UAI Study Papers INF/5)


Three tools appear to offer new ways of approaching the problems discussed in the last section. The first of these is planning as it is now being developed in a more comprehensive and multidisciplinary form with its emphasis on the need to act now to solve the problems of the future. The second is the use of network concepts which offers a means of giving precision and detail to understanding of cross-disciplinary, cross-jurisdictional complexity and offers a guarantee that all relevant factors are considered. The third is the computer with its ability to manipulate large amounts of highly structured information and display it rapidly in many ways so that the complexity may be quickly grasped and understood and problems highlighted.

a) Planning

There are two types of planning. There is the planning which concentrates on ensuring an outcome in terms of certain criteria, where both outcome and criteria are detectable within the framework of one discipline or a narrow group of disciplines, or in terms of the interests of one organization or of a narrow group of organizations' concept of the general interest. Most planning is of this type and perhaps especially the type of government planning associated with economic development (see page 20-22).

There appears to be a second type of planning on the horizon, however. This attempts to ensure that the perspectives of all disciplines are used in the interests of all groups within society.

This type of planning may be best illustrated by an extract from the "Bellagio Declaration on Planning" which was formulated at a symposium in 1968.

"We, the participants of the O.E.C.D. Working Symposium on Long-Range Forecasting and Planning, having discussed the importance which the subject may have at the present stage of social crisis, feel compelled to put forward our views on the potentials of planning as a method of approach to solving many contemporary problems.

Social institutions face growing difficulties as a result of an ever increasing complexity that arises directly and indirectly from the development and assimilation of technology. Many of the most serious conflicts facing mankind result from the interaction of social, economic, technological, political and psychological forces and can no longer be solved by fractional approaches from individual disciplines. The time is past when economic growth can be promoted without consideration of social consequences and when technology can be allowed to develop without consideration of the social prerequisites of change or the social consequences of such change. Diagnosis is often faulty and remedies proposed often merely suppress symptoms rather than attack the basic cause.

The quality of individual life and that of the community is changing rapidly and in many senses deteriorating; foreseeable technological developments will have a still greater influence, presenting both opportunities for a richer life and attendant dangers.

In the corporate environment, the individual enterprise tends to become larger and more complex. Multinational industrial activities are developing which can be expected to influence increasingly political relationships between the nations. This necessitates international planning.

Complexity and the large scale of problems are forcing decisions to be made at levels where individual participation of those affected is increasingly remote, producing a crisis in political and social development that threatens our whole future. It is in relation to this crisis that we feel the planning function and related arts such as forecasting assume new significance.

Having discussed the present state of the art of planning and the diversity of its new approaches we believe that its possibilities including the appreciation of human values transcend mere technocratic objectives. Scientific attack on these problems of complexity and interdependencies is a matter of the utmost urgency, and whilst we have what we consider to be a healthy divergence of views regarding the pertinence and scope of individual method and approaches, we are nevertheless convinced that a corpus of knowledge already exists capable of immediate exploitation, and that there is expectation of further and fruitful development.

The need for planning is not generally recognized. Further, the pursuance of orthodox planning is quite insufficient, in that it seldom does more than touch a system through changes of the variables. Planning must be concerned with the structural design of the system itself and involved in the formation of policy. Mere modification of policies already proved to be inadequate, will not result in what is right. Science in planning today is too often used to make situations which are inherently bad, more efficiently bad.

The need is to plan systems as a whole, to understand the totality of factors involved and to intervene in the structural design to achieve more integrated operation. All large, complex systems are capable of some degree of self-adaptation. But in the face of immense technological, political, social and economic stresses, they will have to develop new structures. This can easily lead to grave social disturbances if the adaptation is not deliberately planned, but merely allowed to happen.") (In: Jantsch, Erich (Ed.) Perspectives of Planning, Paris, OECD, 1969, p. 7-8)

Even here however, the question must be faced as to whether this will not merely give rise to a "planning"-type solution and a "planners" perspective on what is relevant. The problem of ensuring that all perspectives interact is not solved by declaring that they should, or even by permitting a group of people to attempt to ensure that they do, or getting a second multidisciplinary group to validate the work of the first and certify that they do.

As earlier quotes indicated (page 64), it may be impossible, if only psychologically because of status sensitivity, to get any given group to recognize that other factors should have been considered. This problem must be treated objectively.

If it is not, then at a moment of crisis the particular constellation of perspectives sufficiently close to the centers of power at that particular point of time will structure the action taken. This approach could not be unbiased and is not organized to eliminate bias. Critical factors or resources detectable by groups far from centers of power will then, by definition, go undetected and increase the risk associated with the crisis. As crises overlap and grow more complex such risks can only increase the danger of disaster.

Techniques are required which will give precision and detail, structure and dynamism, to the perceived complexity of disciplines, active bodies, and the problem areas with which they are concerned. This approach should model the complexity, whether conceptual or organizational, in equally complex models. This is the possibility offered by the use of network concepts reviewed in the next section.

b) Networks

The point has been made a number of times, in different connections, that the world system or the international system could be more appropriately conceived and handled as sets of interconnected networks.

In the first place, as the SATCOM Report points out, organizations form part of an information-processing network. They interact with each other in many different and complex ways. The total network crosses subject, jurisdictional and geographic boundaries. Clearly, to attempt to store and retrieve information on organizations in a manner which does not reflect this network concept is to jeopardize the adequacy of the data presented and to reinforce misconceptions deriving from reliance on one-category or linear thinking.

Secondly, each organization, and particularly large complex organizations, can be usefully conceived of, internally, as a set of networks:

"…a formal organization is characterized by some rational attempt to structure the transportation of data among the operating and decisioning parts of the organizatto structure the transportation of data among the operating and decisioning parts of the organization, and between the organization and its several constituencies. The organization's actual structure is thus characterized by the pattern or networks of information-decision flows within the organization and by the channels and networks which describe its communication with its environment." (Thayer, Lee. Communication and communication systems, in organization, management, and interpersonal relations. Irwin, 1968, p. 114)

Points (i.e. departments or individuals) in this network may themselves interact with the external network. "Organization" may be taken to mean the entire government administrative apparatus. This approach gives a much truer picture of the complexity and dynamism of an organization than formal lines of responsibility on an organization chart can do by themselves.

Thirdly, problem areas may be considered as interlinked in the form of networks such that any attack on one has some positive, negative or undetectable effect on the other. Problems:

"...are so interrelated that to proceed to try to solve any one of them in isolation from the others is often to create more problems than are solved by the effort." (Harr, Jr. K.G. Harvard Business Review, March April 1967, p. 10)

This interconnection has been recognized especially within ecological and urban development problems, but clearly it extends between such problem areas, to form finally a total problem network.

Fourthly, the management of projects and programmes lends itself to network analysis.

"The approach assumes that a complex and dynamic situation under a Manager's supervision can be understood as a whole network of material and non-material flows over time. Whenever such flows meet, there is a node which represents an intermediate functional step within the network. Networks are essentially flow plans which show diagrammatically the development of work over time.

Several forms of network analysis are at present...reported as promising a series of evidently desirable accomplishments for projects of any size and complexity, including

  • rationalization of the planning process
  • improvement of communications, especially for complex interdepartmental and multi-organizational projects
  • timely identification of potential problem areas
  • providing for the managers possibility of focusing attention on the most critical sequence of activities in a particular project"

(United Nations Institute for Training and Research. Criteria and methods of evaluation: problems and approaches. UNITAR Series No. 1, 1969, pp. 91-93)

The increased use of this was advocated by the Capacity Study. Each activity in achievement of an objective is conceived as being preceded and followed in time by one or more other activities, such that together they form a network picture of the stages to be accomplished, by whom and when.

Finally, stages in the understanding of the complexity represented by the different networks above, may themselves be ordered in network form (e.g. programmed learning). Networks that are displayed for visual examination, are displayed in terms of certain understanding-perspectives (or points in the network). The greater the understanding, the more complexity that can be incorporated in a given network display. As an example, an inter-organizational or inter-subject network can be displayed for a given person in terms of those organizations or subjects with which he is most familiar, or in terms of an abstract perspective provided by a two or three dimensional coordinate system.

The use of network concepts therefore offers one means of handling the complexity noted in all of the reports, whether it be with regard to the UN system, its interaction with other international and national systems, the problem areas with which it is concerned, the management of programmes or making the complexity comprehensible to national delegates or the public. Computers are particularly well suited to the rapid manipulation and display of networks.

An important point about the network approach is that it maximizes emphasis on the very interrelationships which are at present creating difficulties, whilst at the same time offering a means of structuring the complexity highlighted. It prevents organizations, projects, subject areas or problems from being conceived of or handled in isolation and points the way to new areas of activity

"If it becomes accepted practice to consider every sectoral project in the more complex network of its relationship with other projects and other dimensions of development, the scope for deliberately undertaking joint efforts will expand…" (II, p. 122)

These are the right words but the contexts meant and the criteria by which "relevance" is established in detecting relationships, are left unstated.

It is important to distinguish between five distinct but analytically related uses of the term "network".

a) Organizations established in different geographical areas and linked by a network of communication.

"Networks composed of structures for transmitting and receiving messages have had a long and successful history in communications technology, as illustrated by the telephone and broadcasting systems. The development of information networks to provide for emission, conveyance, switching, and reception is a natural extension of this pattern...." (for example in airline reservation and hospitals) "The concept of interconnecting structured files of documents and data ranging in scope from the local to the regional, national, or international level has been advocated as a prime objective....It is no longer necessary…to ask whether networks can be built. It is time, instead, to ask about the sort of networks that are needed..." (SATCOM Report, pp. 209-10)

b) Activities making up a project represented as nodes in a network for the purpose of project scheduling.

Document references processed using citation indexing methods and displayed as a network based on their cited (logical) dependence on one another.

"Conventional bibliography is essentially a simple listing or inventory of publications which disregards most of the interrelationships between the items in the inventory. In contrast, citation indexing integrates this necessary and useful listing in a huge graph or network. In this graph, each document is a node or vertex in a multidimensional network. By analogy, this model of the literature (man's knowledge) is like a large road map in which the cities and towns share varying degrees of connectivity." (Garfield, E. Primordial concepts, citation indexing, and historio-bibliography. Journal of Library History, 2 (3), pp. 235-249, 1967)

d) The image of a 'network of social relations' used in discussion of the complex set of interrelationships in a social system.

This metaphor may be developed into an analogy to describe the social network as a specific set of linkages among a defined set of persons, with the additional property that the characteristics of these linkages as a whole may be used to interpret the social behavior of the persons involved. (Mitchell, J.C. The concept and use of social networks. In: Mitchell, J.C. (Ed.) Social Networks in Urban Situations. Manchester University Press, 1969)

e) Organizations or organized projects as nodes in a network of intra- or inter-organization interaction. (Warren, R.L. The interorganizational field as a focus for investigation. Admin-Science Quarterly, 1967, 12, pp. 396-419). The interaction may take the form of information transfer (documents, decisions, etc.), or transfer of goods, or some social relationship.

The concept of organizations or information processing entities may be generalized to include projects, meetings, treaties, problem areas, subject areas and geographical areas. (Judge, A.J.N. The improvement of communication within the world system. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1969)

The last (e) can be seen as an extension of the other uses:

(a) to (e) by considering non-physical or intermittent links

(b) to (e) by focusing on the networks constituted by the bodies organizing the projects

(c) to (e) by focusing on the current producers of documents rather than the documents produced in the past

(d) to (e) by treating inter-organization links as an extension of inter-person links.

It is particularly important to note the distinction between (e) and project network analysis (b). It is (b) which is advocated by the Capacity Study and UNITAR. It is (a) which is examined by the SATCOM Report.

The possibility of subjecting non-project, interorganization relationships to network analysis and display has not been considered by the UN reports. (It is not clear precisely what type of network the SATCOM Report recommends should be studied.) Yet it is precisely this approach that focuses on the needed overall picture of the world system in both dynamic and structural terms. Project network displays may be considered as a restricted view along a time dimension of one-off activity points within the semi-permanent framework supplied by the intra- and inter-organizational network links. Clearly, inter-organization analysis may reveal weaknesses (communication and coordination gaps and overlap) which are vital to project evaluation but not detectable with project analysis techniques. (See also Appendix I)

A further advantage of a network approach of this type is that the links between organizations, problems, etc. not only represent interactions, flows of information, etc. but also bonds which act as resistance to change. Each interaction is maintained by groups of people with a vested interest in its continued existence. The links are therefore analogous to chemical bonds (see Galtung, Johan. Chemical structure and social structure: an essay on structuralism. Oslo, International Peace Research Institute, unpublished paper, 1969)

Each bond may be conceived of as possessing a certain "bond energy" and this is a fairly accurate representation of the amount of inertia built into parts of an administrative structure. The importance of inertia and resistance to change were noted by the Capacity Study but it was only in the SATCOM Report that the suggestion was made that this should be studied. The Study merely hoped that it would not completely obstruct change.

Network analysis is closely related mathematically to input-output analysis which has been used for some years by economists to analyze the trading transfers between different sectors of industry.

"It has long been recognized that in the economy of any town, city, state or nation, each business depends on products and services of other industries in order to produce products or services of its own. This interdependence of industries within an economy is entirely obvious, but difficult to measure, and becomes more difficult as the economy becomes more complex and more mature. The "square matrix" of inter-industry transactions -- which shows these interdependencies and measures them for a given period -- is, in combination with electronic data processing, becoming a valuable basis for future economic planning for business, industrial firms, and governments -- local, regional, or national. For both sudden and gradual changes in industrial, government or consumer areas of supply and demand alter all other relationships, and individual companies stand to profit or suffer in the transition.....Application of Input/Output to marketing problems assures improved information generated through the use of a systems approach: analyzing a problem in relation to the whole economy, rather than as a series of unrelated cases." (From: Facts on Fortune's 1966 Input/Output Matrix -- Computer-age Tool. p. 2-5)

It is quite clear from this that interdependence of industry sectors and the constituent enterprises has been widely recognized. This recognition is of course limited to interactions detectable from an economic perspective. The same principle applies however to all interactions (funds, information, goods, etc.), between all types of organizations (governmental, nongovernmental, non-profit, etc.), concerned with all subject areas (development, environment, education, etc.). This is not recognized by the UN reports.

It is interesting to note that Wassily Leontief, who developed the input-output technique, now foresees that input-output tables might be expanded to quantify the by-products with which the various industries pollute the atmosphere. He considers this would lead to a sharp understanding of the connections between economic processes and the environment and thus help to solve this major problem in the developed countries, namely the rapid deterioration in the quality of life (Business Week, 22 November 1969, p. 126).

"The unique service of input-output analysis is its ability to give a detailed picture of the industrial structure by putting numbers on all the complex interconnections that link the various sectors of the economy." (Business Week, 22 November 1969, p. 125.)

If there is the possibility that some such technique could clarify relationships between agencies, programmes, organizations, governments, etc. in connection with the operation of the world system, then clearly it is vital that the UN should enquire deeply into this approach.

It may be the key to a most important breakthrough and the solution to the problem of maintaining a "clear and comprehensive overall picture". Consider the possibility, at the world system level, of being able to show (a) what each group of organizations acquired from every other group in a given year, (b) how, for example, an increase in demand for agricultural development would be translated directly into extra demands on bodies concerned with fertilizers, transport, agriculturalists, pollution experts, and agricultural machinery, and (c) how, by the addition of feedback effects, an increase in educational aid programmes leads, for example, to an increased teacher requirement, which in turn requires more educational aid. (Adapted from the Business Week example).

Input-output figures are vital for the projection of growth trends within the economy. Similarly, it is possibly only with this sort of approach that non-economic factors can be adequately shown in growth projections. As a minimum, projected changes in some estimate of the number of interactions (or links) between organizations in different parts of the system could be shown. The pattern of these changes would clearly show weaknesses over certain periods in certain parts. These could however be prepared for, just as an attempt is made to correct for economic weaknesses detected in a similar manner.

This sort of comprehensive approach should create a general framework within which it would become harder for non-context oriented programmes to be put forward or deteriorate, during implementation, into a partial approach. This should reduce many of the problems noted by the Capacity Study within the UN system, and in the following at the national level within the U.S.A.

"Virtually the entire legal, intellectual, and administrative base of the redevelopment and urban renewal programs throughout the United States is based on the intensive treatment of a fragment of the problem. Any attempt to recast thinking about the program so that it deals with the universe of the problem runs counter to the interests of both the administrative and intellectual adherents of the program and meets massive resistance. (Bacon, E.N. Urban Process. Daedalus, Fall 1968, p. 1167)

The first major problem that arises with this generalized network or input-output approach is the difficulty of quantifying all the transactions in a satisfactory manner.

The situation is particularly complex since the table or network becomes multidimensional. There are many methods of avoiding these problems and obtaining new insights. As an example, an "information map" in input-output table form was developed for the State of California by concentrating on information flows. A survey was carried out to indicate "every instance where information was exchanged between a particular organization and the State government and the local government." These interchanges were shown by means of a code on an input/output table covering all of the State organizations, cities, counties, Federal Government agencies, and private enterprises. Aside from giving an overview of the State information network, the table highlighted cases where one group of organizations needed information from another group but could not obtain it because it was not available. (From: Hearings before the Special Subcommittee on the Utilization of Scientific Manpower of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, United States Senate, 89th Congress, S. 2662, 1965-1966, pp. 35-38)

The second major problem is that of processing the information sufficiently rapidly and displaying it in a suitable form for comprehension. This is clearly the function of computers and is considered in the next section.

c) Computers

The use of computers is acknowledged to be the key to the solution of the problems of complexity and adequate information processing. But the proposed uses of computers within the UN system appear to be limited to solving yesterday's problems more rapidly. Accounting, indexing, statistical analysis, project data, project network analysis, and distribution list applications are all being considered or implemented. It is hoped, by approaching the UN system's problems at this level, that the higher level problems of coordination and integration will be solved.

None of the Specialized Agencies appears to have attempted to implement any form of

a) integrated system, namely one which would attempt to interrelate the data in the different systems above at computer level. So that not only are the computers, computer programmes and data formats different between Agencies, they also appear to be different from application to application within Agencies, reflecting the criteria of each division concerned. This is a case of a problem at a system level being repeated at a subsystem level.

b) information system to solve the complexity problem directly by creating a low-volume, low-entropy-data, management information system to maintain a clear, comprehensive up-to-date picture of the Agency or UN system, the bodies with which it interacts, and the potential points for UN action.

The intention seems to be to use computer data handling power for operational and library problems and the computing power for statistical problems in economics. The Capacity Study backs away from any more powerful approach with the statement:

"The tendency was to go beyond the development cooperation activities and attempt to design a hypothetical system involving all economic and social activities. Also, because electronic computers and communications offer exciting opportunities, there was an inclination to think in terms of a fully automated and integrated system. However, both because of its mandate and for other reasons...the Capacity Study concentrated on the information needs of the development cooperation activities and on what appears practical over the near and mid term." (II, p. 221)

The "other reasons" appear to be the requirement that maximum use should be made of the existing information systems whether planned or implemented. There is therefore a binding commitment to old, fragmented systems that the Study does not attempt to evaluate individually, although the collective interface faults are recognized. The result is not a particularly exciting information system.

The Final Report of the ECOSOC Enlarged Committee for Program and Coordination makes clearer the context in which the decisions on the development information system have been taken:

"While the United Nations Development Programme Capacity Study will cover some of the area with which ECPC was concerned, it seems clear that...there is no United Nations organization or office which is able to prepare the type of general but concise report that Governments should have in order to see the problems in perspective and to give their delegations to various legislative bodies in the United Nations family appropriate instructions designed to lead to a coordinated -- if not integrated -- information system. (E/AC/51/GR/25 2 October 1969, p. 21)

The Study does however attempt to interrelate the Agency systems. Since much intellectual and financial capital has been invested in them, resistance is bound to be generated. This may lead to an even less integrated "lowest common denominator" system when the decisions are finally taken.

It is not clear what is meant in the Study by limiting the information system to "what appears practical over the near and mid term." Intercity, inter-national and satellite computer links are now operational, some on a commercial basis. Terminals connected by telephone line to a remote computer and used by a number of persons are rented and used at a cost of $ 10-20 an hour by business managers and research groups. Cathode ray (television-type) tubes are now used on terminals for seat reservations and order processing. Similar terminals are used to display management information in the form of charts, graphs, project scheduling networks, etc. (Exciting world of computer graphics. International Management, December 1969, p 47-51)

It is becoming increasingly easy for anyone in a major town to make use of computer services (without the need to purchase a computer). Most of these applications will be commonplace by the second half of the Development Decade when any recommendation implemented will start to have an effect.

No complex organization will be able to function in that environment without considerably increased use of communication equipment. For example, "By the mid-1970s, unless managers use management information systems in their daily conduct of business, they will find themselves incapable of performing management tasks." (International Management, December 1969, p. 58). If the UN system is one of the most complex administrative machines in existence as the Study claims, is it totally impossible to make a case to take advantage of some of the "exciting opportunities" now available (leaving aside those that will be available by the time agreement is reached on the action to be taken)?

A strong enough case would make it quite evident why funds should be allocated to such a project. Technology has reached the point where it is not a question of feasibility but rather of need. The need of the world system should be fairly easy to make clear. What sort of information system would the UN like to have or participate in? (One reallocation of resources might see international organizations sharing world-wide military communication and computer facilities.) The ideal system has not been determined.

The Study seems to be totally unaware of the impact of technology on the operations of organizations. It is as though at the time of introducing the telephone each Agency wanted its private non-standard telephone exchange for its own circle of contacts and refused to see the advantages and indirect effects on attitudes once inter-organization calls are possible. The effect of computer data links and display screens on all organizations is likely to be even more profound (see Anthony Judge, and international organizations. International Associations, vol. 22, 1970, 2)

No mention was made of extensions of uses of the type of system currently operational in ILO, namely computer terminals in offices in the secretariat. It is now quite feasible to make this available for use by delegates during meetings or between sessions. It is this type of service that should be available in the UN Secretariat with, in the first instance, the new sophisticated document analysis system. It is this approach which offers the possibility of a clear, up-to-date, comprehensive perspective on all UN operations for delegates as well as secretariat staff.

Neither the reservation in the Study quote above nor the in-Agency resistance also identified by the Study, precludes the establishment of a UN system management information system which would permit new approaches to old problems. It is possible to conceive of a computer based management information system which would leave the existing systems as they are, extracting information from them for conversion into a form suitable for a management perspective. This does not require integration at computer level, does not perform a function currently performed by any of the Agency systems and yet could provide a context for all UIJ body activities -- and hopefully those outside the UN.

Two information system concepts fulfilling these requirements are described in appendix. The first is concerned primarily with ensuring that data on all organizations and activities is circulated freely, thus constituting a pool upon which specialized systems, such as the UN development system can draw.

The second is concerned with the problems of structuring and manipulating information of this type as networks, in the light of the arguments of the last section. The point was made earlier that all perspectives and all groups must be permitted to interact adequately in order to generate satisfactory solutions, criteria for action and adequate channels for implementation. Computers with file structure reflecting the understanding of inter-organization, inter-subject, inter-problem, etc. relationships as networks offer the only means of ensuring flexible, rapid and balanced response in a time of emergency. They also open the way to greater grass-roots participation in world problems -- and the generation of the will to change.


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