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Coherent Organization of a Navigable Problem-Solution-Learning Space


Schema: Inhabited Information Spaces

Objectives

The project is concerned with the development of interfaces which will enable a variety of web users to interact with, and modify, information on a range of conceptual entities relating to current challenges of governance and community organization. Some of these entities are already managed in databases on the web. In the case of one of the proposers, the Union of International Associations (UIA), the entities profiled and interlinked in extensive relational databases include: world problems, international organizations, organization strategies, human values, international conferences.

The various conceptual entities, and their relationships, may be considered as defining a shared information space inhabited by a dynamic collection of organizational actors, activitist networks, and individuals seeking to position themselves more fruitfully in relation to the global 'problematique', 'resolutique', and 'imaginatique' -- and who are themselves the source ofsuch information. Users inhabit this space as 'embodied entities' either in their own 'unaffiliated' right or through representations of collectivities --such as local, national or international organizations. They interact with other 'disembodied entities'. To employ a gardening metaphor, these effectively live, grow and move in the space through the manner in which embodied entities nourish or neglect them.

Users of such information may range from the general public, through researchers, students, information and hyperlink editors, journalists, to policy-makers -- especially amongst international organizations, including citizens movements, or in relation to their activities. The interface required will facilitate collective learning, as well as formulation and undertaking of initiatives, by coalitions of partners within this space. It is specifically envisaged as a meaningful bridge between non-specialist and specialist users. In this sense non-specialists work, augment and enrich the space according to their understanding, even though their focus may effectively fragment or dismember the shared space. Specialists may seek new ways to configure the space and maintain its coherence, whilst preserving an appearance of fragmentation for participants for whom this is meaningful.

The essential conceptual challenge faced by users is to detect and impose patterns of coherence on large complexes of information whose significance is often dangerously distorted by any conventional hierarchical approach to menu organization. It is such patterns which will enable them to navigate the space meaningfully. The research will focus on interfaces which enable users to work with networks of conceptual entities, configured to facilitate comprehension, innovative responses, and strategic organizational initiatives. The challenge to comprehension faced by users, necessarily obliged to seek higher patterns of order, requires attention to non-textual information through whose structural and other properties any textual information may be ordered -- especially for those frustrated by conventional learning pathways.

Of special interest is the need to respond to users wishing to shift between different orders of complexity and challenges to comprehension. In interacting with such information, users need to be able to work with differing, often conflicting, evaluations of its significance and correctness. The special challenge in managing this space is therefore one of introducing a self-organizing feature in response to the way different types of user attach significance to any information -- since this is essential to the evolving dynamics of the space.

nificance to any information -- since this is essential to the evolving dynamics of the space.


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