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Transformative Approaches to International Organization

Overview of Commentaries on Transformative Approaches in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1994-95, Section TZ)

1. Intention

The intention of this section is to present a set of approaches which collectively offer the potential for a new way of responding to complexity documented in other sections of this Encyclopedia.

Each of the approaches briefly described here is necessarily somewhat unconventional. Each has its value in isolation and some are already successfully used on that basis. The argument here is that, whether or not they are already used, each can also be usefully understood as having strengths and weaknesses not found in the others. In this sense their real value for the future lies in their complementarity.

The point to be made is that it is not any one single approach which is adequate to the challenge of the present social complexity. Rather it is how a range of fundamentally different approaches are combined to compensate for the various weaknesses of each of them.

Analytical tools must necessarily continue to have their special role, but many of the approaches grouped here highlight the need for new ways to represent or visualize complex patterns. During any design process there is a need to facilitate more creative comprehension of complexity than has proved possible by linear descriptions or through analytical tools alone. The stress on complementarity is therefore effectively a stress on a form of methodological group marriage.

From the more concrete to the more imaginative, the approaches included are the following.

2. Interactive database use

Although there has been an explosion in the range of software and hardware facilities available through which to interact with databases, many of them emphasize consultation of a database rather than the manner in which its internal relationships are built up and understood. The conventional approach to databases, and to reference books produced from them, is to fcus on individual entries. The user is not assisted in understanding the pattern of relationships between entries, other than by a fairly crude grouping of entries into categories.

  • 3. Analysis

    When dealing with networks consisting of thousands of entities and relationships, it is extremely difficult for an editor to detect redundant links. Routines can be designed to analyze the network around an anchor point for different types of redundancy, but the results to date have proved difficult to interpret because they cannot as yet be related to a visual map.

  • 4. Visualization and comprehension

  • 5. Discontinuity and non-linearity

  • 6. Configuring globally

  • 7. Global patterning

  • 8. Dialogue and conferencing

    9. Envisioning meetings of the future

    The possible nature of meetings in the distant future is used as an exercise in clarifying some of the dilemmas in moving beyond the unproductive nature of many meetings faced with challenging problems and possibilities.

    10. Context beyond text

    11. Configuring strategic dilemmas in intersectoral dialogue

    The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) was considered of considerable symbolic, political and substantive importance as the 'Earth Summit'. For that occasion there was much concern to develop 'inter-sectoral dialogue'. Essentially this meant dialogue between sectors which normally had little communication and were suspcious of each others priorities. These included: the scientific community, trade unions, the business community, NGOs, religious groups, environmental groups, and the like. There is little experience with such dialogue in a multi-cultural setting despite the vital complementarity of the perspectives represented. The theme of inter-sectoral dialogue was continued in the international conference on Partnerships for Change (Manchester, 1993). New ways are required to weave together the themes evoked at such events.

    12. Poetry and policy-making: prospects for an arranged marriage

    The theme here is the future relationship between poetry (including rhythm) and policy making (including management) in their various forms. This might even include the possible role of technology in reconciling them in more meaningful and fruitful ways. Exploring the relationship between such seemingly opposed concerns calls for continuing dialogue between imaginative musing and the constraints of experience.
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