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Through Metaphor to a Sustainable Ecology of Development Policies

Paper prepared for the International Workshop on Collaborative Policy Forums for Sustainable Development (Theme: The Power of Convening) organized by the Commission on Sustainable Development of IUCN-The World Conservation Union (Claremont CA, October 1989). Published in Thaddeus C Trzyna and Ilse M Gotelli, The Power of Convening: collaborative policy forums for sustainable development, Sacramento, California Institute of Public Affairs, 1990

    Abstract: The current design of policy forums is itself a major obstacle to policy innovation appropriate to sustainable development. Factionalism is encouraged by the lack of any non-reductionistic means of integrating methodological and conceptual differences. This situation is even more apparent when vain attempts are subsequently made to obtain wider approval for policies through simplistic public relations techniques. Given the increasing use of metaphor and imagery in media-based politics, it is argued that a new level of effective policy integration can be achieved by appropriate, non-rhetorical use of more powerful and better articulated metaphors. Failure of policy forums may therefore be due to failure, or impoverishment, at the metaphoric level. It is suggested that unless policy metaphors of requisite richness are employed, emerging development policies cannot be sustained by the variety of policy factions, modes of understanding, or constituencies avid for magical new alternatives.

Policy forums as obstacles to social change
Policy forums as metaphors
Current policy implications of metaphor in a media-oriented society
Beyond method and explanation: a new frontier
Sustaining the development of 'sustainable development' by metaphor
Towards more appropriate metaphors of sustainable development
Towards policy forums of requisite variety and integration
Conclusion: Policy implications
Annex 1: In lieu of introduction
Annex 2: Concept cycles within the international community
Annex 3: Encoding incommensurable perspectives
Annex 4: Enhancing policy forums through an ecological metaphor
Annex 5: Sustainable cycles of policies: crop rotation as a metaphor
Annex 6: Configuration of modes as a resonance hybrid

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A principal characteristic of policy-related communication is the plethora of claims and counter-claims in support of, or in opposition to, particular strategies, ideologies, belief systems, disciplines, programmes or vested interests. And for any one of these, those involved will tend to form factions favouring this or that emphasis. In summary, at a time of complex social crisis, the policy-making community is relatively ill-equipped to do adequate justice to this multiplicity of 'answers' -- and is often guilty of escaping this challenge by engaging in further 'answer production'.

The most characteristic response to this situation is to assume that one of these answers (usually that in which one is oneself involved), is the 'right' one. It therefore tends to follow that all the others are 'wrong'. The situation becomes more complex, depending on the policy implications from the right position of the presence of such wrongness. This may range from the 'elimination' of those holding the wrong view, through various counter-acting strategies (including re-education, subversion, gamesmanship, etc), to tolerance of the co-presence of such misguided perspectives or to simply ignoring them.

The realities of society encourage a second response in the form of various types of collaboration between such groupings. This succeeds where there is some recognized complementarity. At its most successful, it is usually limited in scope and/or duration, of a relatively superficial or tokenistic nature, or open (via loopholes) to a range of evasive tactics.

The failure of past initiatives encourages a third response in the form of a belief that some 'magical' new answer may emerge which will overcome all the obstacles to meaningful social transformation. One variant, based on the logjam metaphor, places hopes in locating the one log (the 'key' problem) which when removed will unlock the forces of beneficial social change. This paper assumes that none of these responses is adequate to the challenge of the times. But the purpose of this paper is not to justify this assumption, or to document this situation in further detail (see Annex 1), or to consider logical (or meta-logical) steps for interrelating incommensurable answers within new kinds of framework. Much of this has been done by others (Thompson, 1988) and aspects of it have been reported in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, especially in Section KD on 'Embodying Discontinuity' (UIA, 1986; UIA, 1990).

The programme from which that publication is produced envisages two routes forward. One involves patterning the networks of some 13,000 'world problems', linked by some 60,000 relationships, ontosets of maps which would provide a new integrative overview of the complexity with which we collectively have to deal. The information on perceived problems is largely derived from the 20,000 international organizations described in a related publication, the Yearbook of International Organizations (UIA, 1989). Although technically feasible (Judge, 1987a), such a mapping tool may come too late, since the more fundamental issue seems to lie in the collective inability to effectively use such information. The other route, the 'right-hemisphere' route, is concerned with empowering people to design more effective images within which to order complex patterns of seemingly incommensurable information as a guide to more appropriate action. It is this route, described in Section CM of the Encyclopedia (UIA, 1986) and partially explored in earlier papers (Judge, 1986, 1987b, 1988a, 1988b), which is the focus of this contribution.

n earlier papers (Judge, 1986, 1987b, 1988a, 1988b), which is the focus of this contribution.

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