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Information Systems and Inter-Organizational Space


Information Systems and Inter-Organizational Space
The Current Crisis
Relevance of Organizational Space Map
Viable Collection Systems
Criteria for an Adequate World Information System
Specification of a Possible Information System
Costs of the System
Advantages of the Proposed System
Ensuring Recognition of Relevant Information
Facilitation of Program Interaction

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Previously published in a different form in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. 393, January 1971, pp. 47-64

Abstract: It is currently impractical or uneconomic to maintain an up-to-date picture of who is doing what, where, and when. There is little systematically ordered information on the organizations and social structures active in all fields of human activity. Organizational space may therefore be said to be unmapped. This condition reinforces program isolationism and traditional forms of contact between organizations and disciplines at a time when social problems increasingly cross established jurisdictional boundaries.

A worldwide information collection system is required which, to be viable, cannot be dependent on any central or over-all administration but which would facilitate interaction between groups which are currently isolated geographically or by specialization. The creation of such a system needs to be catalyzed rather than organized. The technique discussed in the article could well have important implications for communication across jurisdictional boundaries within governmental organizational structures. It raises no immediate technical problems.

Information is not accessible until it has been processed into a form, which highlights points of significance as defined by unknown users. A new medium is required to facilitate more intimate interaction between groups and disciplines, which use and evaluate the same information in different ways. The technique of computer interactive graphics could be developed to provide the breakthrough needed to -contain conceptually the recognized complexity of social processes.


In many large organizations and administrations it is currently impractical or uneconomic to maintain an up-to-date picture of who is doing what, where, and when. As an example, a recent United Nations document stated that 'it has become more and more difficult for any individual, whether in government service or in an international secretariat, to be aware of the totality of the United Nations family programme and activities. This in turn complicates the process of coordination, makes overlapping and duplication more likely.' (1) This view was confirmed by Sir Robert Jackson:

For many years, I have looked for the 'brain' which guides the policies and operations of the UN development system. The search has been in vain. Here and there throughout the system there are offices and units collecting the information available, but there is no group (or 'Brains Trust') which is constantly monitoring the present operation, learning from experience, grasping at all that science and technology has to offer, launching new ideas and methods, challenging established practices, and provoking thought inside and outside the system. . . . The UN development system has tried to wage a war on want for many years with very little organized 'brain' to guide it. . . . Without it, the future evolution of the UN development system could easily repeat the history of the dinosaur. (2)

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