Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
University of Earth Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos


Reflections on Associative Constraints and Possibilities in an Information Society

- / -

Originally appeared in Transnational Associations, 1987, 3, pp. 168-182 [PDF version]

1. Introduction

The purpose of this report is to explore some ways of looking at the emerging information society which may help to clarify the future challenges and opportunities of international bodies. Much has already been said in the media about the 'information society', to a large extent inspired by those attempting to sell their products and services, whether or not they are appropriate to the emerging needs of potential users. It is therefore useful to place such elements of the information society in a context which draws attention to the needs of international bodies concerned with issues such as development and the environment.

In the light of the theme of the debate, the focus is on the opportunities for the future. But in order to give substance to such an exercise, it is useful to clarify the existing forms of international organization action and the limitations which constrain their wider use. Only by recognizing the limitations of past forms of action is it possible to avoid the classical trap of seeking ways to implement such forms within future information systems, without examining the opportunities for alternative forms of action, whether as complements or substitute.

2. Forms of organized action

It is an unfortunate reality of the international system of organizations that no satisfactory typology has emerged which recognizes the diversity of the existing forms of organization. That diversity is, however, to a large extent reflected in the various sections of the Yearbook of International Organizations and many contrasting types are distinguished in the commentary therein (1). Nevertheless the prevailing typology continues to focus on the uninteresting distinction between two categories, IGOs and (I)NGOs, largely because of its value for questionable administrative purposes within the intergovernmental system.

For the purpose of this report, the forms of organized action are presented in Table 1. This is in no way to be considered definitive. The allocation of bodies to parts of the table is merely to be considered indicative of a primary focus. Some bodies have concerns and modes of action which would require that they be positioned in several parts of the table. But the table does serve to make distinctions which permit a richer discussion than the simplistic IGO/NGO model.

2.1 Time-factor

By explicitly introducing the time-factor (short-term, medium-term, long-term), a place is given to the forms of organization which are most widely known, namely the short-term events (e.g. meetings, demonstrations, and media events such as Band Aid). In the long-term struggle to gain international legal recognition for NGOs (2), the 'international outlaws', there has been little attention given to the sociological or legal 'existence' of such events, which tend to be considered as epiphenomena. The irony of the situation is that it is precisely such epiphenomena which attract the attention of the media and the imagination of the public, whereas the medium and longterm forms of action are largely unrecognized by the public, even though they may be responsible for the widely publicised short-term events. It is of course the short-term events which are already organized to exploit a number of the opportunities of the information society.

Introducing the longer term distinguishes certain modes of action from those of the medium-term, which are necessarily more sensitive to the political dimensions of such issues as development and environment, and less sensitive to the substantive dimensions implied by such issues. Most IGOs and NGOs function in terms of medium-term preoccupations, as defined by budgetary cycles and election periods (1 to 8 years). The political implications of longer-term environmental and developmental issues can safely be ignored in practice, especially under the pressures of current political crises. Few organizations, or governments, can afford the political luxury of investment in the long-term.

Attention is drawn in the table to the distinction between a global focus and a non-global focus, whether regional or local. Since the table is only intended as indicative, the controversial question of the degree to which particular forms of action may be global or non-global has not been explored in the detail of the table.

2.2 Degree of participation

By explicitly introducing the degree of participation (elite, interest-group, mass), it is possible to distinguish those forms of action which are considered 'serious' by various establishments from those which attempt to influence such forms, or must be taken into account as constraints. The elite form, most opposed to the participation of outsiders, is primarily characteristic of intergovernmental action, although it may also be seen in meetings of elites (e.g. Interaction Council, Bilderberg Meetings), the activities of certain NGOs (e.g. the Trilateral Commission, the Club of Rome), religious orders and secret societies (e.g. the Freemasons).

In complete contrast, are the forms of mass action which normally invite the participation of all, usually in an effort to influence the two other forms. The intermediary form of action is that which is mainly characteristic of nongovernmental modes of organization.

Attention is drawn in the table to the distinction between concerns which are universal in nature (e.g. environment, peace) and those which are of a more sectarian nature (e.g. those of particular economic or social sectors). Since the table is only intended as indicative, the controversial question of the degree to which particular forms of action may be universal or sectarian has not been exr~lored in the detail of the table.

3. Variety of information policies

In order to clarify the actual discussion of the dimensions of the information society (in a subsequent section), it is appropriate to present the variety of information policies practised by the different forms of organization noted in Table 1. This may be done in a form such as Table 2, which, it should be stressed, is indicative rather than definitive.

3.1 Range of 'users'

Three types of user have been distinguished, those within the organization (whether operational units or membership), those constituting the organization's context (whether peer groups, patrons, sponsors, fund sources or sympathizers), and any wider audience (whether a 'target-group', the 'uninformed', or a 'market' for the organization's 'products').

3.2 Purpose of information

Three purposes have been distinguished: informing (taken in its its most disinterested and neutral sense), influencing (whether in direct support of the interests of the organization or to 'destabilize' its opponents) and facilitating learning (to engender innovative initiatives, possibly quite independently of the interests of the facilitator).

Informing and influencing as purposes are primarily characteristic of what has been identified, in a Club of Rome report (3), as 'maintenance learning'. This is in contrast to 'innovative learning' which is primarily characteristic of the third purpose of facilitating learning. Maintenance learning involves acquisition of information to ensure the continued functioning of the individual or the group. Thus learning to fulfil the criteria for a job or to fulfil the demands of a contract is a response to pre-defined expectations. Innovative learning involves the acquisition of the ability to respond appropriately in ways that cannot be predefined, especially in response to unforeseen situations characteristic of Personal and societal crisis.

4. Dimensions of the information society

The concept of an 'information society' can be approached in a number of ways. Unfortunately perhaps, it is the intense discussion of several aspects of the phenomenon which almost completely obscures other aspects of potentially greater significance, at least for international associations. Partly for this reason, it is not easy to separate the commonly discussed aspects from those which merit greater attention. In an effort to to clarify this situation, the approach taken here has been to produce Table 3 in which '9 Debate Arenas' concerning the information society are distinguished and interrelated. As with the previous tables, Table 3 is intended to be indicative rather than definitive.

The table emerged from reflection on the merit of distinguishing:

The 9 Arenas result from the interaction between the dimensions so distinguished. The arenas are discussed individually below the table. The approach is applied to the information initiatives of the Union of International Associations, as a concrete example. The result is presented in Table 4, with details given below the table.

4.1 Comment on dimensions

Some brief comment on the dimensions is called for:

In the following discussion of the 9 Arenas, it has been found useful to distinguish three levels of significance in relation to the theme of this paper.

4.2 Nine information society arenas

4.2.1 Adaptive Group (Arenas I to V): These are the arenas in which most discussion concerning the information society occurs. They relate in most cases to the pre-conditions, practicalities and infrastructure without which the information society cannot emerge. For the purpose of this report, their significance is relatively low, because concentration by associations on these arenas will only result in patterns of action that reproduce, in the new context, those which have prevailed to date in the pre-information society era. To the extent that associations rate their performance to date as appropriate to the challenge, or have no desire to envisage patterns other than those which have 'stood the test of time'. it is certainly on these arenas that their attention should be focussed. There are indeed real practical problems which need to be confronted at this level in order to be able to function effectiveyv in the information society.

4.2.2 Innovative Group (Arenas Vl to V111): Whereas the above group of five arenas is concerned in different ways with the infrastructure of the information society and the various checks and balances appropriate to its continued viability, this second group may be considered as concerned with its development. The distinction should however be made between quantitative development, based on existing patterns, as characterized by the preceding group, and its qualitative development, which is the characteristic of this group. The preceding group is associated with the 'adaptive' or 'maintenance' learning of the Club of Rome report cited earlier (3), whereas this group is associated with innovative learning in response to new situations. The major danger in the previous group is of simply replicating existing patterns, with their many inherent defects, in a new environment reinforced by a new technology - and then claiming significant social transformation. Discussions in the arenas of this group therefore tend to be sensitive to uncomfortable issues which are fundamentally incompatible with those of the previous group, because they call their premises into question - a necessary basis for any significant innovation.

4.2.3 Transformative Group (Arena IX): Whereas the previous group of arenas is characterized by discussions which are critical of the appropriateness of modes of organization inherited from the past as 'tried and true', such discussions tend to reject any critical reflection on the innovations which they themselves favour as 'positive'. Such questioning tends to be perceived as counter-productive and 'negative'. By contrast discussions in this group introduce an essentially self-reflective and self-critical dimension.

5. Identification of transformative opportunities

It is possible to take the 9 Arenas of Table 3 and explore the implications of each of them for the nine forms of organization identified in Table 2. This would result in a report of 81 sections and is therefore not appropriate in this context, however valuable it might be as a guiding framework for organizations wishing to explore their future opportunities and constraints in detail.

The purpose of this paper is to help to distinguish more clearly the nature of the opportunities for international associations which are characteristic of the three groups of arenas noted above.

It is very clear that there are significant opportunities for international association action in connection with all three groups. It is also clear that, as an artificial device, Table 3 does not truly convey the permeability of the boundaries between the arenas. Activity in any one arena can easily be entrained by activity in another arena. Nevertheless the objectives of activity in any one arena can easily ignore, deny or reject, the impIications for activity in another arena.

5.1 Adaptive Group (Arenas I to V): Despite the many startling differences characteristic of high technology informatics, innovation in this first group is primarily a question of adapting existing procedures to a new context. The procedures and structures are not significantly changed. It is, to a large extent, a question of 'more of the same', although carried out with greater ease, efficiency and effectiveness. And this ease creates a new problem, namely the proliferation in the amount and variety of information in circulation. This is about to receive a further boost, due to the much discussed phenomenon of 'desk top publishing', which will presumably add to the quantities of printed matter being distributed and exchanged by associations.

Innovations associated with the first group therefore contribute directly to the much discussed 'information explosion', whose consequences are at present under review in a project of the United Nations University on 'information overload and information underuse'. In the adaptive spirit of this group of arenas, many further innovations are explored to counteract such overload. They tend to take the form of 'selective dissemination of information' and specialization. But these together reinforce social fragmentation and the manipulative abuses which this makes possible. Within this group the challenge of generating and handling 'quantity', tends to be 'solved', but at the expense of 'quality'.

The operational challenges of the adaptive process associated with the first group pose real problems of mobilizing resources and developing skills. The necessity of responding to such challenges to ensure the viability of initiatives in the information society makes it appear a luxury to consider the less tangible initiatives associated with the second or third group.

5.2 Innovative Group (Arenas Vl to VIII): The second group of arenas focuses more directly on the appropriateness of such adaptive innovations, in an effort to engender structural innovations which transcend the problems associated with the first group. What, for example, is the 'desk top reading' innovation which will enable recipients to cope intelligently with the exploding output of 'desk top publishing' noted above? What are the 'alternative' styles of organization which may prove more appropriate?

This does not necessarily imply that the innovations of the second group are 'superior' to those of the first. Some of them (e.g. disinformation) seek to exploit the opportunities of the information society in a more subtle manner than that associated with the first group. Whereas the first group constitutes a 'first order' response to those opportunities, the second group is effectively a 'second order' response. It is the ability of international associations to develop such second order responses which will determine whether they will attain a new freedom to act within the information society or whether they will find themselves constrained by other initiatives (possibly as a victim of new forms of exploitation).

For those associations concerned with development issues and societal problems, the adaptive innovations of the first group are far from offering a panacea for social ills. They are opening a 'new frontier' in which such problems may well be redeployed in new configurations, without in any way being alleviated. Signs of this are to be seen in the emerging division between the 'haves' and the 'have nots', in terms of degree of participation in the information society.

The difficulty in shifting attention to the second group is that the economics of the information society are to a very large degree associated with the first group. Any initiative must be viable at the first order level before consideration can be effectively given to issues of the second order. In most cases (e.g. 'innovative meetings') the pressures to ensure the viability of a project are such that no attention can effectively be given to second order innovation. And yet it is precisely at this level that the qualitative changes, if any, will emerge.

From the point of view of international associations, in the 'pre-information' society a basic distinction is made between profit-making and non-profitmaking bodies. And yet international associations need to balance their finances in order to survive, even though no 'profit' is made. In the information society, many profit-making organizations are actively developing opportunities in the first group of arenas - often performing information tasks for which international associations have been previously created. Whilst international associations need to continue to demonstrate their effectiveness in these arenas (and balance their finances on the basis of activities there), the 'non-profit' function by which they are characterized can only effectively emerge through their development of activities in the second group of arenas which are of considerably less interest to profit-making bodies - because there is relatively little profit to be made therein. In the information society the distinction required between first order and second order initiatives can therefore usefully be considered as analogous to the distinction between profit-making and non-profit-making initiatives in the 'pre-information' society. Both forms are required, but it is the second which ensures a continuing focus on qualitative change as opposed to purely quantitative development.

There is a real risk that, in their struggle to adapt to the information society, many international associations will find themselves trapped by the real challenges and opportunities of the first group of arenas. Many new 'do-able' projects are becoming evident. These will obscure the importance of the transition to initiatives in the second group (which may well go unrecognized) that would empower associations to continue to fulfil their basic function in counter-balancing the non-qualitative initiatives of the first order.

5.3 Transformative Group (Arena IX): Despite genuine engagement in structural innovation of a qualitative kind, a prime characteristic of initiatives of the second group is that they are not structured so as to recognize their own limitations - especially the manner in which their seemingly positive achievements are themselves as much a part of the problematique as the problems which they address. Initiatives of the first group, but especially of the second, are often associated with an unquestioning belief in their inherent 'rightness' as a contribution to the common good. Their advocates are profoundly amazed by the unenthusiastic, if not negative, reactions of those holding alternative views (e.g. American reactions to European perceptions of their proposals; Western reactions to Third World perceptions of their proposals).

Initiatives of the third group can usefully be perceived as sensitive to the counter-productive aspects of their own best efforts, especially as revealed in the light of alternative paradigms and cultures. Such third order initiatives must necessarily respond creatively (rather than reactively) to the reality of the co-presence of international coalitions seemingly acting at cross-purposed. Here the challenge lies in using the opportunities of the information society to facilitate 'trans-conceptual' learning processes which can transcend such differences without denying their function in any pattern of checks and balances. The application of metaphors to the problems of such development-oriented communication is one unexplored opportunity (5).

In a sense initiatives of the first and second groups may well create the impression of transcending differences - as in naive concepts of the 'global village' or of 'holistic paradigms' - whereas in reality this superficial impression conceals the necessity for such differences. Differences and disagreements have an important psycho-social function. Indeed, it might be said that significance only emerges through the confrontation of dissimilar phenomena. The organized fragmentation of the information society may however be used to reinforce and protect such differences - whether for or against the common good.

The third group is not inherently 'superior' to the other two. As with the second, such initiatives may indeed be more profoundly exploitative. The ability to 'divide and rule' is an inherently third order skill, which if possessed by those responsible for a second order initiative could be used to totally pervert the declared intentions of any project. International associations enthusiastically collaborating on such a project would clearly be totally vulnerable to such manipulation - unless they developed third order skills.

The inadequacy of the innovations of the second group results from the necessarily restricted nature of the domain in which they can be successfully implemented. Such structural innovations make no provision for internalizing the radical opposition of other competing alternatives, associated with other restricted domains. International associations normally handle this fundamental problem by avoiding anything more than token (first or second-order) contact with bodies holding radically opposed viewpoints. And yet, to the extent that there is some validity to such opposed viewpoints, appropriate global transformation can only emerge by interrelating such perspectives in new ways. The emerging information society provides a context for more innovative responses to this challenge - through initiatives characteristic of this third group.

6. Challenges faced by organizations

The previous sections have pointed to the challenges for an international association in organizing itself:

Particular challenges which may be usefully highlighted at this point include:

One interesting challenge for associations, whether national or international, will be that of responding to the changing significance of their relationship to intergovernmental institutions (e.g. UNESCO, ILO, WHO, ECOSOC). In the emerging environment the latter's privileged status will be brought into question, to the extent that it is nonfunctional within the communicating network of international bodies - leading perhaps to a role analogous to that of the aristocracy in European countries.

Perhaps the most profound challenge for international associations will be to discover ways to use the facilities of the information society to communicate, interrelate and defend the subtler insights and values for which they stand - in an information environment in which such insights must 'compete' for attention (and therefore resources) with other less subtle, and seemingly more striking items of information. This is the traditional challenge of international associations transferred to a context where the opportunities and obstacles are much greater than before.

7. Selected innovation possibilities

Here it seems appropriate to focus on 5 quite different possibilities for future innovation

7.1 Global media events

The surprising success of media events such as Live Aid, Band Aid, Hands across America, etc, has led to active exploration of the possibility of future events of this nature. Media contacts have been developed; people and groups are developing the skills to bring about such events at reasonably short notice; formulas for funding such events are becoming clearer. Such events are naturally attractive to the media faced with the need to constantly discover new programme content for an ever-hungry audience.

International organizations, whether governmental or non-governmental, have been slow to respond to this opportunity. They have only associated themselves with such events after the fact. The main initiatives have come from North American national coalitions, although even there the established bodies were not involved in launchinq such projects.

The opportunity and organization of such events engenders much grass roots enthusiasm as a means of focussing on real social problems or on values such as world peace. They become a highly visible celebration of togetherness (which seldom takes an attractive and communicable form in the normal activities of international bodies).

There is therefore clearly an opportunity for international associations, if they can overcome the awkward political and financial issues of negotiating with Western-dominated media. With the considerable development of global satellite links, there will be a great need, on the side of those responsible for them, to demonstrate that there is something of global interest that can be communicated (in addition to the Olympic Games, the World Cup, or the Eurovision song contest, at a regional level).

Such events do of course have quite distinct limitations, which may well discourage the involvement of international bodies. Their impact, in terms of their stated goals, has been questioned. And clearly the planning of such events lends itself to innovative forms of manipulation and exploitation. Nevertheless if international associations do not engage themselves on this front, others will.

7.2 Support negotiation system

The previous innovation focuses mainly on persuasion through the asymmetric communication of images to a largely passive audience over a short period, with little opportunity to build concretely on any pattern of communication or insight which emerges. Clearly there is a need to match such mega-events with a complementary system offering exchange of information between active participants, on a continuing basis, such that every possibility of engendering new initiatives between them is fostered and supported throughout the lifecycle of any resulting project.

Such a system is to be seen in embryonic form, especially in North America, in the emergence of many electronic mail and computer conferencing networks, themselves partially interlinked (to a limited degree). The most recently launched include PEACENET and ECONET, with preoccupations implied by their names. They are open to international association participation, at non-commercial rates.

Since the viability of the technology has been demonstrated. it is worth envisaging what form such a system could take. The most practical guide to such reflection is the recent installation of a world-wide, computerised, share-trading network. This links stock exchanges, brokers, banks and institutional investors. It is composed of a number of comp!ementary components, which can perhaps best be illustrated by Table 5. This is a diagram of the equipment on the office desk of a 'fund manager' in a major financial institution at the present time.

In order to make any valid comparison with the evolution of the ways in which associations could interact through a comparable system, it is necessary to identify the functional similarities. Although associations do not have shareholders, they frequently have fee-paying members. Many also undertake campaigns and projects to which the public is invited to subscribe. Many also undertake specialized projects for which they seek funds from other bodies (especially foundations and major institutions). Many also seek, with such funding bodies, projects in which they could usefully collaborate to further their programme objectives. All these interactions currently take place using the postal, telephone, and telex systems, as well as the media. Such systems are in the process of being integrated, in a quite dramatic way, as communication options within the information society. There is no reason why associations should not also envisage shifting the 'centre of gravity' of their operations into that context.

The key difference between share-trading and support-negotiation, is that in the former the focus is on value in monetary form, for its own sake, whereas in the latter the focus is on values, as expressed in the form of ideas, projects, information and cooperative arrangements. Just as it is claimed by financiers that they are essentially dealing in confidence (expressed in monetary form), so it could be claimed that associations are negotiating degrees of confidence in the interests that they are promoting.

Few would deny that the system whereby the international community negotiates support for a project amongst its constituent bodies is extremely clumsy - many projects take years to be 'approved'. This is to be contrasted with the speed of financial transactions in response to any political situation or opportunity. That support can be negotiated rapidly for non-financial projects is admirably illustrated by such events as Live Aid and Band Aid, in which millions of peopIe were involved.

Such a support negotiation system would help bring the international community out of the bureaucratic dark ages in which token projects, approved in response to yesterday's problems. are vainly applied (and acclaimed) as significant responses to today's problems and to those of the future. Such a system would constitute an appropriate context for emergency preparedness and for the look-out function repeatedly called for by policy makers. Of greatest significance, such a system would provide a visibly coherent means whereby individuals and groups could rapidly formulate collaborative projects and mobilize support for them - thus drawing on the vast reservoir of goodwill which is alienated by the non-participative initiatives characteristic of the present.

As noted above, the elements of such a system are already evident in operational form, however embryonic. It is more than likely than coalitions of national, governmental, commercial or association interests will make ambitious proposals along such lines in the coming years. The challenge will be to filter out or contain those with hidden agendas and 'empire-building' intentions. Clearly there is little hope that the United Nations system will prove helpful in this connection, given its selective and highly politicized track record in dealing with nongovernmental initiatives and those responsible for them.

7.3 Transformative conferencing (6)

The clumsiness of the international community of organizations in formulating an initiative and negotiating support for it is reflected, to a large degree, in the procedural clumsiness of international meeting organization. It is fair to say that international meetings hinder, rather than facilitate, the emergence of new initiatives. In many ways they can be considered as laboratory models of the problems of the structural and procedural inadequacies of the international community.

The emerging information society is already affecting meeting organization in a number of ways: use of telex, reservation systems, media involvement, communications devices, messaging systems, satellite links (video-conferencing). These may be said to have contributed to the increase in the logistic efficiency of such events (Arenas I to V). They cannot be claimed to have increased the effectiveness with which ideas or positions, put forward by different participants, are interrelated in order to bring out the pattern of concepts which could constitute the foundation for a new initiative.

The previous innovation discussed depends on the participation of many bodies in a world-wide network. Whether or not this comes about in a useful form, associations should be able to explore uses of low-cost computer equipment and software as a means of providing 'conceptual scaffolding' to facilitate the emergence and collective recognition of patterns of significance in their own meetings - and the possible transformation into even more significant forms. All the elements are available. Some experiments have already been conducted along these lines (7). Further possibilities are now emerging with the availability of 'do-it-yourself' artificial intelligence (shell) programs. Peter and Trudy Johnson-Lenz, developers of the EIES computer conferencing system, announced in December 1986 a new initiative: 'awakening technology'. This focuses on tools and technologies to help awaken individual and collective mind emphasizing the use of personal computers and computer networks as electronic extensions of the mind.

7.4 Meta-stable coalitions

The viability of any form of organization is to a large extent dependent on its ability to maintain its coherence. This ability is directly related to the nature of the communication system. Any organization based on the slow exchange of letters by post needs to emphasize the rules for being 'a member' and to make evident who is on the current membership 'list'. When participants in an electronic mail system interact, they effectively bring about the creation of one or more organizations - if the pattern of their interactions causes clusters of participants to emerge around particular fields of interest. Such clusters can be formalized if necessary - membership can then be restricted to participants on a 'list', if desired. The point however is that the transition between the 'nonexistence' and 'existence' of an organization, in such a context, can be both very subtle and highly formalized. The emergence and dissolution of such an organization can be very rapid, with little need to maintain the organization in existence once it is no longer needed - since the participants can reconfigure into that coalition at any time. The information system establishes a continuum out of which coalitions can rapidly emerge, in response to any issue, and into which they can dissolve when no longer immediately relevant (8).

The above process currently occurs in the many computer conferencing systems, usually based in North America. The process exhibits a fundamental weakness to the extent that it is merely a form of 'super-telex' (characteristic of the adaptive group of arenas). In particular such systems have no special means for handling the kind of disagreements which are mediated within the framework of international associations having a politically and culturally diversified membership. In fact no use is made of computer processing power to facilitate (or even provoke) the emergence, maintenance and dissolution of coalitions in terms of the pattern of shared, opposing and complementary interests of participants. If such an innovation were to be made the emergence of a whole new range of meta-stable coalitions would be possible.

The difficulty in conventional organizations based on non-electronic communications lies in the necessarily simplistic nature of any rules which are agreed amongst the members as the basis for the organization they form. If they are too complex, in order to take into account a variety of exceptional cases, the organizational decision-making procedure is perceived as cumbersome or simply incomprehensible. As a result, if the organization cannot be made 'hospitable', some potential members of an exceptional nature simply do not join. This reduces the potential effectiveness of any coalition.

More interesting however is the possibility of coalition formation on topics in which all potential members have reservations that cannot be reconciled in any simplistic set of rules. In such instances, the processing power of the computer can be used to devise sets of rules of a higher order of complexity (cf Ashby's Law) within which the different reservations of the potential members can be reconciled. In effect the 'constitution' of the organization so formed is based on a dynamic set of rules embodied in a computer program, rather than in a static 'legal' text as at present. Representing the organization structure might then be done using a dynamic and/or graphic model, rather than using organization 'charts' as at present.

One merit of such an approach is that it can make use of both patterns of agreement and of disagreement - embodying discontinuity (9) - to ensure the stability of the structure, rather than relying solely on consensus as at present. The art of interweaving agreements with disagreements to bring about an entirely new form of organization is suggested by models of 'tensegrity organization' (10).

A further development, enabling the emergence of even more subtler coalitions, could result from even more dynamic sets of rules to cover cases where the coalition can only effectively 'exist' by alternating between several different (and essentially unstable) forms, each governed by a different set of rules (11). Such 'variable geometry' is a well-developed characteristic of organic molecules basic to life - namely 'resonance hybrids' (9). In a much simpler form it is evident in rules to maintain coherence through rotation of an association secretariat or chairperson.

7.5 Metaphor design (5)

The fundamental challenge for international associations, as noted earlier, does not lie in either the adaptive or the innovative group of arenas, but rather in the transformative group. Innovations in either of the first two groups will tend to be based on existing linear and static paradigms. They will tend to be locked into the prevailing Western paradigm. This has not produced ways of organizing which respond effectively to the complexity of the social system - that the international community is obliged to confront and to reflect through coalitions favouring opposing paradigms.

It is questionable therefore whether innovations like those described above would not simply be coopted to serve vested interests of a traditional kind. Even the possibility of moving beyond the linear, text-oriented information systems which are the core of the information society, using pattern-oriented software and hardware, is subject to such constraints. It is also clear that the information society will severely discriminate against the 'information poor' - whether blatantly, or subtly through depriving them of adequate information of a transformative nature (the information equivalent of 'avitaminosis'). It is also doubtful whether such changes will permeate sufficiently rapidly to assist any but the information elites.

In such a context, an alternative approach would seem to be well worth exploring, namely the design of metaphors offering people a way of re-conceptualizing their relationship to their social and natural environment. Metaphors offer the considerable advantage of requiring few resources for their dissemination. They can even be used to bypass the considerable lags in the education system. They have the special merit of being natural to most cultures and languages - so that it may be more a question of enhancing peoples' own use of metaphors, rather than importing new metaphors for them.

Outside the literary world (with the possible exception of fundamental physics), it is only politicians who make deliberate use of metaphors to communicate. For metaphors are inherently communicable and travel well, in contrast to the sophisticated theories of academe. They have the considerable merit of transcending non-functional conceptual distinctions and remaining comprehensible to many, to whatever degree. And yet this resource has not been explored, at a time when most other communication techniques are recognized as suffering from severe limitations.

The key to collective navigation through complexity may well lie in new ways of using metaphors to clarify policy options, whether or not their use is facilitated by high technology information systems. It may be through the exploration of metaphors that the international community of organizations will finally discover a way to describe itself meaningfully - whether to itself or to those who currentlv question its credibility.


1. Anthony Judge. Types of Intemational Organizations: detailed overview. In: Union of International Associations (Ed). Yearbook of International Organzations. K G Saur, 1986, Appendix. [text]

2. European Convention. In: Union of International Associations (Ed). Yearbook of International Organizations. Munich, K G Saur, 1986, Appendix 6.

3. James W. Botkin, et al. No Limits to Learning; bridging the human gap. Oxford, Pergamon, 1979.

4. Peter Johnson-Lenz and Trudy Johnson-Lenz. Three ways to organize organization.(Documented communication through the EIES computer conferencing system, 1979). Develops the concept of 'groupware'.

5. Anthony Judge. Metaphors. In: Union of International Associations (Ed). Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. Munich, K G Saur, 1986. Sections CM and XCM.

6. Anthony Judge. Transformative conferencing.In: Union of International Associations (Ed). Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. Munich, K G Saur, 1986, Section T [papers]

7. Anthony Judge. Metaconferencing techniques.In: Transformative Conferencing; problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1984, pp 115-160. [text]

8. Anthony Judge. The role of the 'potential association'. International Associations, (23rd Year), March 1971, pp. 148-152. [text]

9. Anthony Judge. Embodying discontinuity. In: Union of International Associations (Ed). Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. Munich, K G Saur, 1986, Sections KD and XK [text]

10. Anthony Judge. From Networking to Tensegrity Organization. Brussels, Union of International Associations. 1984. [text]

11. Anthony Judge. Altemation between variable geometries; a brokership style for the United Nations as a guarantee of requisite variety. In: D Bardonnet (Ed). The Adaptation of Structures and Methods at the United Nations. Dordrecht, Martinus Nijhoff, 1986, pp 243-247. [text]

12. Alvin Toffler. The Third Wave. New York. William Morrow, 1980.

creative commons license
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.