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Bridging between Cognitive Paradigms for Development-relevant Classification

the challenge of functionalizing categories of knowledge into patterns interactively

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Abstract of a paper proposed for the FID/CR Seminar on: Classification Research in an Electronic Information Era (Sub-theme: Cognitive paradigms and their application to knowledge classification) on the occasion of the 49th FID Conference and Congress of the International Federation for Information and Documentation (New Delhi, October 1998)


Uses the ongoing on-line work on the Yearbook of International Organizations and the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential to highlight the limitations of conventional approaches to classification in an electronic environment. It is argued that the current challenge is to facilitate the tasks of editors, researchers and users in detecting patterns of policy significance in complex networks of relationships between conceptual entities such as world problems, concerned international bodies, their action strategies, and the human values that guide them with respect to their understanding of human development.

Whilst this is necessarily assisted by hierarchical classification, the main policy challenges are determined by functional relationships between such entities, notably vicious or serendipitous feedback loops. The institutionalization in agencies of governance of hierarchical classifications raises fundamental issues concerning the nature and organization of the operational communication pathways between such bodies, notably in an electronic environment, in response to functionally connected problems. These issues are fundamental to the viability and coherence of policy for sustainable development.

The paper reports on progress and prospects in detecting and working with such functional loops and their implications for users with contrasting cognitive paradigm preferences. In a multi-cultural society torn by fragmented modalities, this relates to the fundamental challenge of bridging between cognitive paradigms as a basis for new forms of policy coherence whether at the local or the global level. In this connection, faced with the current pursuit of geographic 'globalization', the paper stresses the neglected challenges of integration of knowledge into 'global' patterns as a context for the multitude of fragmented 'local' understandings.

In work currently supported by the European Commission's Info2000 programme, the relevant operational opportunities for information visualization in handling complex patterns are briefly reviewed. In one respect this is seen as a major response to information overload in policy environments. These opportunities are seen as a way of 'functionalizing' conceptual entities as a complement to 'classifying' them -- and as distinct from embedding them in semiotic maps. The challenge is to do this dynamically in an interactive environment that enables editors, researchers and users to massage the networks of relationships into patterns they consider more significant. This must necessarily occur in an electronic environment that responds to learning preferences for simplicity vs. complexity and to quite different cognitive paradigms, notably as manifested in the aesthetics of the wide range of templates on which such patterns may be projected.

The paper then identifies some of the challenges of the immediate future in applying available technology and know-how to the knowledge organization issues faced in a developing global society.

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