-- / --
Part I of a paper for the Development Administration Division of the United Nations Department of Technical Cooperation for Development (UN/DAD/DTCD) prepared for a collection of papers on 'Tools for Critical Choice by Top Decision Makers'. Contract: DTCD 91-11 (see also Part II)
-- 0.1 Challenge
-- 0.2 Contextual Constraints
-- 0.3 In Quest of 'New Thinking' and a'New Language'
1. Varieties of decision-making
-- 1.1 Distinguishing Decision Arenas
-- 1.2 Collapsed decision-Making
-- 1.3 Complementarity of Forms of Decision-Making
2. Core issues
-- (a) Complexity of patterns of information
-- (c) Insight delivery
-- (d) Insight capture
-- (e) Proactive response to corruption and cover-up
3. Decision-making aids
-- 3.1 Conventional Decision-Making Aids: Graphic imagery | Mathematical models | Conferencing / Situation rooms
-- 3.2 Emerging Decision-Making Aids:
--- (a) Mental maps / Mind mapping
--- (b) Metaphor: Metaphor and politics | Metaphor and media | Metaphor in international organizations | Metaphor and policy | Metaphor and comprehension | Metaphor and the martial arts | Metaphor as a language of appropriateness
-- (c) Visual metaphors
-- (d) Embedding data in images
4. Conceptual scaffolding
-- 4.1 Interlocking Insights and the Architectural Parallel
-- 4.2 Geometrical Metaphors
-- 4.3 Beyond Organization Charts and Linear-Agendas
-- (a) Symmetrical structures | (b) Tensegrity structures | (c) Resonance hybrids
5. Comprehensibility of appropriate strategies
-- 5.1 Conceptual Transformation
-- 5.2 Enabling New Strategies
-- 5.3 Metaphors of Transformation
6. Sustaining an ecology of development policies
-- 6.1 Selection (or design) of Appropriate Metaphors
-- 6.2 Policy Alternation for Development
-- 6.3 Policy Cycles
-- 6.4 The Quest for Sets of Complementary Metaphors
7. Critical choices vs Landscapes of opportunity
-- 7.1 Mapping the Evolution of Social Systems Onto a Landscape
-- 7.2 Contrasting Perspectives Within the Landscape
-- 7.3 Configuration of Decision-Making Opportunities
8. Policy implications for development
-- (a) Visionary metaphors for policy integation
-- (b) Stewardship of the metaphor-model 'gene-pool'
-- (c) Immediate challenges
-- (d) Use of computers
As many have remarked, faced with the complexity of the times, new approaches to decision-making are called for. There are calls for 'new thinking', even from relatively conservative bodies. Others speak of 'quantum leaps' and 'paradigm shifts' and call for decision-making to reflect such transformation. As Shridath Ramphal, former Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, remarks 'there is an unspoken consensus, a kind of global intuition, that things have to change in the world; that we have to do better at managing human affairs and securing human survival' (International Herald Tribune, 12 June 1991). His article described the memorandum on 'Common Responsibility in the 1990s: the Stockholm Initiative on Global Security and Governance' produced in 1991 as a follow-up to the Brandt Commission Report.
These appeals derive in part from a sense of collective impotence and a bankruptcy of collective imagination. On key issues 'appropriate' decisions do not seem to be implementable in practice, with the corollary that on final analysis only 'inappropriate' decisions are effectively implemented.
It may well be that we have reached a point in the policy sciences analogous to that in fundamental physics and astrophysics, for which Frank Dyson remarked that it is not a question of whether a new approach is 'crazy', but rather of whether it is 'crazy enough'. Thus Czechoslovak President, Vaclav Havel, at a conference on the possibilities for a European confederation in June 1991, requested participants 'not to be afraid of daring, unconventional and radical decisions' to stabilize Europe following the dramatic revolutions of 1989 that changed the continent. The issue would seem to be that much ongoing effort at 'new thinking' is more a development of what has proved inadequate in the past rather than a response to the complexities of conditions that tend to subvert its intentions.
The following discussion of decision tools does not apply to conditions in which factors such as the following may be effectively ignored: complexity of issues and institutional networks, incommensurability of necessary initiatives, limits to comprehensibility of range of issues and opportunities, multiplicity of often mutually hostile perspectives, information overload and information underuse, short-term political constraints in the face of long-term urgency, incommunicability of richer insights (especially through the media), irresponsibility and self-interest, corruption and deceit.
Where such constraints can be ignored, conventional decision tools will presumably continue to prove effective.
What then is 'new thinking'? In part it is associated with the need to move beyond 'tinkering', beyond solving yesterday's problems with marginally innovative approaches, and beyond the old organizational 'language', especially when seen as an exemplar of eurocentric or male chauvinist thinking. Thus, according to the new Prime Minister of France, Edith Cresson, 'In any social system there is a predominant language; in France this is the language of 'techno-structure' and it is a kind of code. Naturally women will eventually be able to use it, but it is foreign to their personality...Men, however, and often men of power, whether of the Left or the Right, use a language which is difficult to understand but which is the coded language of the dominant class.' (Observer, 16 June 1991).
In the light of this quote, an interesting response has been the effort of ecofeminist Janis Birkeland (1991) to articulate the need for a new form of planning: 'Planning is a wealth distribution process without a relevant normative basis, structure, or conceptual framework that can comprehend or resolve the fundamental ethical issues at stake. The existing decision-making concepts and processes reinforce economic inefficiencies and inequities, generate risk and conflict, and close off future options. A fundamental bias against environmental protection and conflict prevention can be traced ultimately to patriarchal values which underpin planning theory.' For her, planning is necessary, but it must be of an entirely new order.
There is however a certain frustration in checklists contrasting 'old' and 'new' thinking, which for some is associated with the attempt to contrast 'left' and 'right' brain hemisphere approaches. For others the stress is placed on the shift from 'linear' to 'non-linear', 'holographic' or even 'intuitive' approaches. The frustration derives from the seeming absence of insight into how such possibilities, however welcome in principle, are to be used in practice by complex organizations -- especially those with a heavy investment in well tried procedures.
It is clear that the many highly publicized management texts on new approaches are a refreshing stimulus to new thinking. In challenging conventional modes they open the possibility of more creative thinking especially inbrainstorming sessions. Above all they increase sensitivity to the possibility of alternatives. But the question remains as to what extent they offer new decision tools of immediate relevance to bodies like the United Nations.
Especially problematic in current approaches to new thinking in management and policy-making is the extent to which they are intimately associated with particular consultants who take people through particular processes. Participants commit themselves, even by contract, to such processes and to the orchestration of the consultant. Whereas this is feasible to some degree in corporations, especially when the CEO imposes the process, it is difficult to imagine how this could be implemented in intergovernmental policy sessions involving meetings of peers. And, to the extent that such new thinking is seen as a further development of the Western mind-set, such resistance would be especially great in the case of multicultural meetings, where hypersensitivity to protocol is a major factor for good reason. Just as such participants do not feel free to question the physical boundaries of their sovereign states, they tend also to be obliged to hold unquestioningly to the psychological and cultural boundaries through which the identity of such states is established. Categories cannot be challenged as readily as in the business world where the financial bottom line is the only real constraint.
One of the dangers in advocating 'new thinking' is the easy implication that everything that preceded it should be scrapped as inadequate. It is therefore useful to clarify the arenas in which conventional decision-making remains appropriate in contrast with those arenas where new approaches may prove more useful.
Table I is a tentative exercise in isolating 12 decision arenas or contexts. These are grouped into three clusters:
Group A: Adaptive decision making (Arenas I-VI)
Group B: Innovative decision making (Arenas VII-X), and
Group C: Transformative decision making (Arena XII).
Most decision making tends to be associated with Group A. The argument here is that there are concerns which are more appropriately dealt with in the second or third clusters. The potential of the third cluster, Group C (especially Arena XII) is considered here as largely unexplored.
Part of the difficulty in giving space to 'new thinking' is the manner in which the arenas in Table I tend to be 'collapsed' or conflated. Several forms of collapse can be noted:
(a) By row: Typically the knowledge resources row is collapsed into the human resources row. In which case attention is focused primarily on the social dimension rather than on the knowledge dimension. Both may even be collapsed into the material resources row, as has been typical of much of earlier discussion of development. Amongst the more scholarly, there is naturally a reverse tendency collapsing the lower rows into the knowledge resource row, thus de-emphasizing any attention to material and social practicalities.
(b) By column: Typically the meta- and inter-paradigmatic columns are collapsed into the cross-paradigmatic column, thus obscuring subtler considerations which are characteristic of the emergence of alternative styles of thinking and organizing. Again this has been typical of many earlier approaches to development, and especially those which ignored alternative cultural perspectives. Amongst alternative movements, there is a reverse tendency collapsing the left-hand rows into those on the right, thus de-emphasizing any attention to short-term considerations on which there is already a considerable body of useful expertise.
(c) Into a single arena: By collapsing rows and columns in combination, all arenas may be collapsed into a single arena, typically Arena I (as in situations in which decision-making is treated as a straight-forward response to quantifiable variables). Many valuable change agents may similarly be perceived as locked into the decision-making concerns of responsive organization (Arena IX).
The point to be stressed is the complementarity between the different decision arenas in Table I. It is as much a mistake to apply complex tools to straight-forward decisions as it is to apply simple tools to complex decisions. Each arena reflects a necessarily different decision-making style. Problems are compounded when efforts are made to project the validity of approaches in one arena onto the preoccupations of another. The challenge is to understand this ecology of decision-making styles and the mutual dependence of its parts.
The argument of this paper is that the innovative group (Group B), and especially the transformative group (Group C), are inadequately reflected in current approaches to the more intractable problems at the international level. From this perspective, many of the obstacles to the emergence of more appropriate decisions result from the failure to make use of decision making styles associated with these two groups. There is thus an imbalance in the pattern of decision-making. The merit of Table I is to accord space to these groups, without in any way denying the significance of the predominant adaptive group. Table I thus identifies the locus of relevance of 'new thinking'. There may be merit, in ecofeminist terms, of considering Group A as the dominant patriarchal approach to decision-making, in contrast with a more balanced feminist approach associated with Group B (to be articulated). Table I can be used to avoid the trap of 'B is better than C'. Indeed Group C can be understood as the mode through which those of A and B are 'married', or reconciled.
In practice it is difficult, if not impossible, to rely solely on the decision-making style of a particular arena. Certain issues prove unresolvable leading to a decision-making crisis. Reliance on the approaches to decision-making in a particular arena are then recognized as inadequate to the challenge. The arenas may then be understood as 'feeding into' each other. These processes are indicated by the arrows between the cells of Table I. Thus concern with resource optimization (Arena I) in practice leads quickly to preoccupation with issues of human resource management (Arena II), and from there to issues of know-how development (Arena III), with the reverse process then determining new options for resource optimization. A similar chain from resource optimization through economic development (Arena IV), and on to issues of sustainable development (Arena VI) has been the preoccupation of the Brundtland Commission. The concern of the forthcoming UNCED Conference (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) is with articulating the kinds of decisions appropriate to Arena VI, and their implications back down that chain to Arenas I and IV.
The basic argument here is that in the light of Table I, discussions about sustainable development will prove to be merely adaptive ('tinkering') and of limited significance unless they are fed by insights into new forms of transformative patterning (Arena XII) and the appropriately innovative styles of organization and programme to reflect that understanding (Arena X). However, those who are currently enthralled by the articulation of the concerns of Arena XII, need to register the challenge of the need for more appropriate styles of organization in order that their insights should prove of value in dealing more appropriately with the issues of sustainable development. It is not surprising to note that little of the available expertise on 'organizational transformation' (Arena X) has as yet responded to the challenges of sustainable development -- just as those preoccupied with sustainable development have failed to register the need for any such alternative organizational approaches. As an ecology, this suggests that there is a dangerous breakdown in the 'food chain' between species of preoccupation.
The Table has a number of parallels to presentations on forms of knowledge (Young, 1978, as adapted by Judge, 1986), features of the information society (Judge, 1987b), and approaches to complexity (Saloff-Coste, 1988) which cannot be explored at this time.
The arguments calling for greater attention to Arena XII include the following:
(a) Complexity of patterns of information:
There is increasing agreement on the inherent complexity of the patterns of information which must be considered in current and future decision-making. It is becoming clearer that such patterns are far from being readily comprehensible, even to those most skilled at doing so. The question then becomes whether there are not more appropriate patterns within which to encode such information in order to render it comprehensible.
(b) Complexity of necessary solutions:
Assuming the necessity for solutions of adequate complexity to encompass (and contain) the complexity of the problematique, the elaboration and comprehension of such solutions itself becomes a major challenge. The creative process in uncovering and articulating such solutions needs to be sustained by patterns of appropriate complexity.
(c) Insight delivery:
It is one thing for appropriate solutions to be designed by those with the skill and insight to do so, and quite another for such solutions to be communicated to others without the same information background, or kind of skill. There is increasing difficulty in what might be termed 'insight delivery'. Complex insights do not travel well through conventional media. Their necessary complexity is often stripped out leaving what amounts to a simplistic shell. This may be readily rejected or, perhaps worse, implemented in its simplistic and inappropriate form, whilist claiming to honour the level of complexity which inspired it. It has also been argued that it is the attempt to deliver insight 'from the centre' that disrupts social conditions 'at the periphery'.
(d) Insight capture:
Even where there is no problem with 'delivery', the recipient(s) may experience considerable difficulty in 'capturing' the insight within their own frameworks. Even though many insightful proposals may bemade in documents and meetings, the participants may experience difficulty in absorbing and retaining the insight. In such contexts, emerging insights compete for attention with one another and with distracting proposals to repeat initiatives which have already proven inadequate in the past. Conferences typically waste the insight forming potential of the assembled participants -- seeds fall on stony ground, swept by windy debates and subject to emotional floods. There is also a natural resistance to insights into new patterns in preference to patterns which may be perceived as having been satisfactory in the past, even though initiatives based on those patterns may be acknowledged as inadequate. More challenging than the recognized problems of information overload and information underuse, is the challenge of insight overload and insight underuse. This suggests the need for more readily capturable patterns.
(e) Proactive response to corruption and cover-up:
The quality press is replete with reports of corruption and cover-up in every sector of society and at the highest levels. Few could claim that they do not benefit from perks and privileges that could be labelled as corruption by others. It is naturally rare to find any explicit review of the impact of such an 'undertow' on decision-making and on the assessment of policy proposals by the highest officials. In the words of the ecofeminist planner Janis Birkeland (1991): 'Corruption...is the misuse of political or administrative power for the diversion of resources to special interests, whether the motive be for power, for material gain, or for ideological advantage...When such issues are cloaked in value-neutral terms, such as 'externalities' or 'values', the moral-imperative to change is dampened....The term 'corruption' has been narrowly construed in our society so as to make systemic corruption hard to see. It is used where: an individual (a) intentionally betrays the trust of (b) the organization (c) for monetary gain by (d) violating organization rules (e). These limitations block our perception of widespread systemic corruption, such as where an organization (a) unintentionally betrays the trust of (b) the general public (c) due to ideological filters by (d) following organizational (and institutional) rules (e)....Also, because people identify with government institutions 'of, for, and by' the people, disapproval requires self-criticism. Therefore, there is a tendency toward self-denial.' It is questionable however whether, because of their ubiquitous nature, corruption/cover-up issues can be successfully confronted, especially since they may serve an important economic function in countries where officials are chronically underpaid. In this sense the only way forward may be to reconfigure the question proactively by designing into policy-making the pervasive tension between (personal) self-interest and public interest.
Accessibility of information as the key to decision-making is increasingly suspect as an assumption, because of the problems of information overload. Thus John Michon (1984) expresses the future challenge as 'how to connect a library with a mind'. For him: 'The problem is located in the nature of internal representations....the librarian, and more' generally the information scientist, should...assume the role of experts on access structures. On the basis of deep understanding of representations in general and of the formal properties of knowledge as such, they should be able to design, build and manage access structures, that is procedures and equipment for interpreting knowledge such that a 'graceful interaction' between the cognitive environment and the user's cognitive processes is made possible...we shall have to concentrate on the accessibility of knowledge, rather than on the management and availability of symbols....The only way of connecting a library with a mind is to provide inputs so structured that they are maximally compatible with representations already held by the user.' It is questionable whether the conventional decision-making aids are adequate to this challenge.
(a) Graphic imagery: This ranges from battle plans (traditionally drawn in sand), through 'back-of-envelope' schematics and 'business graphics' (bar and pie charts, tables, graphs, etc), to sophisticated slide shows, video presentations, and physical models. They have proved highly desirable, if not essential, to adaptive decision-making (Group A). Their weakness would seem to lie in their limited capacity to represent radically new insights, and especially dynamic situations, unless these are an extrapolation from existing structures. They might be described as a porthole onto a limited portion of reality.
(b) Mathematical models: Much favoured by econometricians, and extended through the analysis of systems dynamics, these too have proved of great value in adaptive decision-making, especially when the number of variables is large. Their weakness would seem to lie in their limited capacity to process non-quantitative information characteristic of innovative decision-making (Group D) in a useful manner, and to render insights comprehensible to non-initiates. There is also the question of competition between models supposedly in response to the same information.
(c) Conferencing / Situation rooms: The interaction between experts and policy-makers has to some extent been facilitated by conferencing environments, whether local or geographically dispersed. Both graphic imagery and mathematical models can be incorporated into this process. Cost factors aside, their weakness would seem to lie in their limited ability to provide a matrix for the emergence and development of new ideas and gestalts, especiallythose characterized by facets with a complex relationship to one another. There is a sense in which they reinforce the illusion of being 'on top of' a situation, whilst at the same time failing to produce innovative responses to it.
(a) Mental maps / Mind mapping:
Increasing attention has been accorded to mind maps as part of the process of creative reframing of a situation in which decisions are called for (Buzan, 1977; Russell, 1979). Through such maps decision-makers (re)configure the set of categories that they perceive as relevant to encompassing the situation with which they are confronted. An advantage over the above approaches is the shift from linear to non-linear configurations, from prioritized brainstorming lists to a network of co-existing categories. Such maps can themselves be massaged into memorable forms which focus attention on critical issues whilst preserving the topology of the network. A weakness at this point in time is the failure to develop computer software to facilitate the elaboration and manipulation of such maps -- unless they are either of very limited size and/or are hierarchically 'anchored' to some central category.
There is little concern with the need to render such maps widely comprehensible -- other than in such isolated circumstances as for bus and subway networks. Thus, although technically trivial, no software is available to elaborate and manipulate the maps which could be generated from the data on the 13,000 perceived 'world problems' and their 80,000 relationships as documented by the Union of International Associations in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (1991), or from the data on the 26,000 international organizations and their 60,000 relationships in the Yearbook of International Organizations (1991). Indeed it has even proved impossible to maintain an organization chart of the United Nations system, or of many government ministerial systems for that matter. One possible reason for this failure is that it leads to an intolerable level of transparency at a time when most initiatives can only successfully develop under the cover of a restricted flow of information.
The development of hypertext software techniques (notably as a consequence of the Apple Hypercard) offers a way of embedding a mind map in a data base. Little effort has however been made to render the embedded map comprehensible in graphic terms, since the user explores the hypertext pathways rather like a rat exploring a maze, without every gaining an overview. A notable exception to this is detailed by Robert Horn (1989) in a discussion of hypertext mapping.
Metaphor and politics:
The language of political inquiry would seem to be inescapably metaphorical. 'Metaphor is essential to political inquiry, because it permits us to extend our knowledge from our familiar world to a region that is not open to immediate experience....Metaphor is necessary to political knowledge precisely because the meaning or reality of the political world transcends what is open to observation' (Miller, 1979). (An international symposium on 'Political Metaphors in Historical Perspective' was organized in Naples in June 1991.) Especially with the constraints of media communication, politicians in particular resort extensively to the use of metaphor as a means of explaining complex policies, whether to their peers or to their constituencies. Thus, for example, in June 1991 those involved in the EEC Commission efforts to articulate the new treaty details for European economic and political union were clarifying alternatives using code words including 'pillars', 'hats', 'temples', 'trees' and 'ivy'. The pillars were separate chapters of the treaty, the hat was the prologue creating a European union embracing three pillars. The alternatives were described in a 'temple-versus-trees' debate in which the Commission argued that the treaty should look more like a 'tree trunk with branches' than a 'shaky temple supported by pillars'. Others criticized a revision as 'pillars covered in ivy', namely with largely cosmetic change's (Independent, 17 June 1991).
Metaphor and media:
The extent to which policy-making is now media driven, or led, has been widely remarked. Policies are, to some extent at least, defined and epitomized for the public through 'photo opportunities' and 'sound bites'. If a policy cannot be articulated successfully through the media, increasingly it can only be implemented covertly.
Metaphor in international organizations:
Within the corporate world, much use is made of military, sporting and sexual metaphors in daily management language (whether with or without presidential expletives) to articulate tactics and strategy: 'eliminating' the opposition, 'target' audiences, 'ammunition' for advertising 'campaigns', 'keeping the ball in play', 'running with the ball', and the like. Much of this language has been taken over by international organizations where it is especially ironic to find the 'mobilization' of public opinion with the use of 'ammunition' in 'campaigns' with 'target audiences' to promote peace and cooperation.
Metaphor and policy:
Aggressive use of metaphor is widely used to stigmatize the policies of opponents. Thus Boris Yeltsin attacked Michael Gorbachov's proposals as 'an attempt to marry a hedgehog to a snake'. Such useof metaphor probably dates back to the origin of politics and policy-making. Advisors and experts have long been obliged to make use of metaphor to communicate the intricacies of emerging options to their patrons, who may even be content to see the world in such metaphoric terms.
Metaphor and comprehension:
Metaphor has however always been viewed with disdain by academics, administrators of programs, and documentalists, even when they find themselves obliged to use it. It is seen as implying intellectual sloppiness, an inability to be rigorous, and even basic incompetence. This perception is increasingly challenged by those exploring the cognitive role of metaphor, namely the fundamental manner in which metaphor enables and conditions most thought processes (Lakoff, 1987). Of immediate relevance, this is seen in the root metaphors governing different styles of organization (Morgan, 1986) and management (Belbin, 1981; Handy, 1979). From this perspective metaphor provides the patterning by which categories emerge and are organized. This has always been relatively clear to those engaged in any form of creative activity, whether artists, advertisement designers, educators or fundamental physicists. As Anne Buttimer (1982) notes: 'Metaphor, it has been claimed, touches a deeper level of understanding than 'paradigm', for it points to the process of learning and discovery -- to those analogical leaps from the familiar to the unfamiliar which rally imagination and emotion as well as intellect.'
Metaphor and the martial arts:
It is appropriate to note the manner in which Japanese management language is currently influenced by such classical texts as The Book of Five Rings (Miyamoto Musashi, 1982 tr) which is a treatise on swordsmanship expressed in poetic metaphor. It may be argued that whereas Japanese strategy is also articulated through military and sporting metaphors, these are more subtle and less mechanistic than those of the West -- leading to subtler and more sophisticated strategies in which the principles of flower arrangement (ikebana) and warfare are mutually reinforcing. A study by a political scientist of the influence of chess- and go-based strategic thinking on the USA and Vientnamese respectively, in the Vietnam conflict, reflects such differences. Such richer metaphors might naturally be expected to permit the credible articulation of more complex policies. Along these lines, well documented counter-intuitive approaches have been developed as 'paradoxical strategies' by a number of psychotherapists (Seltzer, 1986). How might the policies of sustainable development be approached in the light of metaphors from the 'martial arts'?
Metaphor as a language of appropriateness:
These examples highlight the important distinction between isolated metaphors of essentially ephemeral value (the hedgehog/snake case) and the extensive use over time of a pattern of metaphors -- a rich metaphoric 'language' (as with the use of military metaphors in business). The first are primarily of rhetoric value in contrast to the fundamental cognitive influence of the second.
The authors most closely associated with the exploration of the cognitive role of metaphor are George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (1980), notably in their collective work on Metaphors We Live By. The processes of categorization are now being shown to involve metaphor at the most fundamental level, implying an organization of knowledge by cognitive models. Thus the 'conduit' metaphor, implicit in much discussion about communication, maps knowledge about conveying objects in containers onto an understanding of communications as conveying ideas in words. As with other memorable metaphors, the 'container' metaphor, implying a boundary distinguishing an interior from an exterior, defines the most basic distinction between 'in' and 'out', notably in transactions between organizations and economic sectors. The container schema is inherently meaningful to people by virtue of their bodily experience. It is through that bodily experience that the schema has a meaningful configuration. Whilst this may be relatively obvious in dealing with physical concepts, the mode of understanding is also carried over to the understanding of abstract concepts. It thus conditions ability to elaborate and comprehend complex structures and policies. The challenge is to discover how to overcome the habitual cognitive constraints implied by these insights, especially as they effect the capacity to formulate more appropriate, and possibly counter-intuitive, policies.
Donald Schon (1979) has most closely linked this perspective to the appropriate formulation of (and response to) social problems in policy-making: 'the framing of problems often depends upon metaphors underlying the stories which generate problem setting and set the direction of problem solving'. He explores the case of slum housing, contrasting the use of slums as a 'blight' (implying remedies based on medical metaphors, including 'surgery') with slums as a 'natural community' (implying the need to enhance the life of that community). Such insights have been further explored by Judge (1991).
Oscar Nudler (1988) has explored the use of metaphor as applied to conflicts between worldviews or frames, namely the sets of 'assumptions or principles which enable us to structure situations and, by the same token, make them real for us'. He concludes that: 'Metaphor dialogue opens the possibility of fully profiting from the heuristic potentiality of metaphors as 'condensed' forms of thought, while at the same time helping to overcome the limitation imposed on our vision by our own preferred metaphor.'
Whether because of the media constraints experienced by politicians, or in the light of the fundamental cognitive role of metaphor, it would appear that there is a strong case for exploring metaphor as a decision-making resource.The challenge is to discover whether judicious selection and design of metaphor can be used to uncover and articulate more appropriate strategies and options for institutional organization. Above all, perhaps, is the question of whether existing strategic options are not emerging because of the widespread use of inadequate, simplistic metaphors (including nuclear 'shields' and 'umbrellas') -- rendering the long-term success of such options quite dubious.
(c) Visual metaphors:
A policy of adequate complexity may pose the same problems of comprehension as a spiral staircase when explained through words alone. By the time the explanation is complete the audience is bewildered if not alienated. A visual presentation ('worth a thousand words') instantly clarifies the simple elegance of the concept, subsuming its necessary complexity. The vital importance of the latter dimensions to those who mould the major policy options through various processes of governance has been strongly emphasized by Harold Lasswell (1968): 'Why do we put so much emphasis on audio-visual means of portraying goal, trend, condition, projection, and alternative? Partly because so many valuable participants in decision-making have dramatizing imaginations. They are not enamoured of numbers or of analytic abstractions. They are at their best in deliberations that encourage contextuality by a varied repertory of means and where an immediate sense of time, space and figure is retained'. The lack of any need for visual aids to explain sustainable development policies suggests that they may be of a level of complexity inadequate to the challenge.
The great developments in computer hardware and software for the generation and manipulation of graphic images have been principally applied to special media effects (notably advertising clips and science fiction movies), to computer-aided design (architecture, engineering, etc), and to representations of systems (process control, chemical molecules, physical systems). No effort has yet been made to use techniques of this sophistication to represent social processes in all their complexity as an aid to more appropriate forms of decision-making. These techniques have become so sophisticated that they can now generate comprehensible visual representations of dynamic structures which could not exist under the laws governing physical space. They are also used to enable people to experience, explore and generate 'virtual realities' (Helsel, 1990) -- if only as a leisure experience (currently recognized as the major market for which such products are being developed).
It is quite possible that the more readily accessible metaphors may themselves be of insufficient richness to encompass the complexity of processes on which decisions are called for at this time. Or if they are rich enough, in a period of increasing functional illiteracy, they may be essentially incomprehensible to the constituencies from which mandates for new strategies are sought. There is therefore some probability that the metaphors required to sustain the conceptual frameworks for new strategic options may only be expressible through dynamic visual forms generated by the computer techniques noted above. It would be deplorable if techniques of great value to new forms of decision-making were only developed for (and accepted in) video parlours and home entertainment especially favoured by the functionally illiterate -- as has already been the case.
(d) Embedding data in images:
The task of managing and accessing large information spaces is one of large scale cognition. Currently 'scientific visualization' allows scientists to make sense out of intellectually large data collections by reducing them to graphic form in such a way that human perception can detect patterns revealing underlying structure (Herdeg, 1974; Miller, 1986). They succeed by exploiting the human perceptual system, using animation and visualization to stimulate cognitive recognition of patterns in the data. Equivalent techniques of 'information visualization' are currently being developed to display structural relationships and context that would be more difficult to detect by individual retrieval requests (Furnas, 1986; Fairchild, 1988; Card et al, 1991). They respond to the difficulty of comprehending a complex structure. These visualizations of 'cone trees' and 'cam trees' (Robertson et al, 1990) are based on animated 3D visualization of hierarchy. Other examples of structural browsers are the 'perspective wall' and the 'data sculpture' (Mackinlay et al, 1991), both of which allow the user to explore a data structure at what ever level of detail avoids a loss of a a sense of context. It is unfortunate that these exciting techniques assume the hierarchical organization of the data, and are effectively trapped by the low-order geometrical metaphors (see below) through which the approach is articulated (cf 'cone', 'wall'). Part of the challenge of 'policy visualization' is that many significant systemic relationships are not hierarchically structured, as is evident from the above-mentioned data of the Union of International Associations (1991) on international organizations and world problems.
It has long been recognized that some of the most complex problems of process control, call for a totally new way of presenting hard data to the human brain. Instead of a multiplicity of dials and graphs, use needs to be made of the full range of visual images (landscapes, animals, imaginary objects) as vehicles onto which to project or hang complex patterns of data so that they can be more readily comprehended. Thus when the 'wind' agitates a 'tree' on a 'landscape' image, a particular control action may be called for. Much larger amounts of data can becompressed into such images (which may also be used as an interface to hierarchically organized information).
Recalling Douglas Engelbart's early vision (1962), this suggests the need to explore how policy makers can embed their insights into comprehensible images, notably landscapes providing continuity between contrasting epistemological domains. In particular it suggests the possibility that the collective task of a policy conference might also be perceived in terms of 'sculpting' such an image -- with every conceptual contribution leading to a modification or articulation of it. (Note the current use of 'crafting' a proposal). This calls for a very special marriage between conceptual contributions and image processing (currently seen in embryonic form in desktop dialogues between computer-aided graphic designers and their clients). Of special interest, in the light of the above-mentioned techniques, is the possibility that the insights of some policy conferences could only be effectively carried by dynamic imagery, and especially by imagery governed by other rules than those of the physical world (as is the case with some computer generated imagery). It is clear that computer image manipulation skills are well developed, but much needs to be done to determine how to 'hang' data on the images such that changes to the data modify the image, and changes to the image modify the data.
4.1 Interlocking insights and the architectural parallel
The above indications point to quite concrete possibilities which could provide a major new facility for policy-making bodies, whether electronically-based or otherwise. These possibilities are basically concerned with the whole issue of what might be called 'conceptual scaffolding'. In the process of constructing a building scaffolding is necessary, especially to hold mutually dependent structures in postion until appropriate permanent building elements can be inserted to lock them into place. Much can be learnt from the history of architecture in considering the challenges of developing more powerful and appropriate forms of conceptual architecture.
Structurally a policy-making agenda or a conference programme, even a multi-track programme, is rather simple -- even simplistic -- especially when considered in relation to the complex ecology of problems and organizations which are supposedly to be interrelated effectively through it. Is it any wonder that conferences are relatively ineffective at coming to grips with complex issues ? What is being attempted with current practices is in defiance of Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety, namely that, to be effective, any governing or controlling system must be at least as complex as the system it seeks to govern. Simplifying reality to simplify the decision process is a dangerously unsustainable way forward.
The issue is therefore how to enable users to collectively design more complex forms of conceptual scaffolding to hold in place embryonic concepts (essentially unstable in isolation) until other concepts can be fitted into the pattern to lock them into place. Ideally, of course, it is the conferencing 'software' which should provide such scaffolding. And, like the scaffolding for buildings, it should be adjustable to different structural configurations as the building grows.
A typical function of scaffolding in a conference or policy debate is to provide a framework within which complementary perspectives can be articulated, especially when there is a major tension between them. When Concept A is formulated, the scaffolding can usefully 'hold' a space for Concept B to counter-balance it. Such scaffolding is even more essential when more than two concepts have to be held in balance in order for the dimensions of a viable 'grand policy' to emerge. As with buildings, the scaffolding provides a protection against disruptive forces in the discussion process. A typical disruptive force in a contemporary conference might focus narrowly on 'countering exploitative industry' when the larger issue is to provide a sustainable framework in which to balance the exploitative characteristics of industry against the socio-economic benefits that it provides in the light of environmental constraints. The more complex the pattern of 'checks and balances', the more vulnerable is the conference to disruptive forces.
Three forms of scaffolding (noted below) are especially interesting as structural extensions of current understanding of policy articulations and their reflection in organization charts. In reviewing them it should not be forgotten to what extent discussion of policies is currently governed by the simplest geometrical and physical metaphors, nor should it be forgotten that organizations, especially corporations, go to considerable expense in designing symbolic logos based on geometrical forms of similar simplicity as an articulation of their operating principles:
0-dimensional: 'making a point', 'points on an agenda', 'standpoint', 'focus of a discussion', 'unfocused programme'; 'appointment', 'a (pro)position';
1-dimensional: 'developing a line of argument', 'a line of credit', 'political hardliner', 'the party line', '(non)alignment', 'political axis', 'strategic direction', 'breadth of a policy', 'a proposal of great depth'; 'a link', 'de-linking';
2-dimensional: 'a programme area', 'an area of agreement', 'Trilateral Commission', 'the Hexagon' (France), 'the Pentagon' (USA), 'circle of confederates', 'grid plan' (city layout)', 'finding an angle', 'boundaries of an agreement', 'centre vs periphery', 'a superficial policy', 'span of control', 'parallel argument', 'facets of a policy', 'policy orientation';
3-dimensional: 'sphere of influence'; 'volume of discourse', 'volume of financial transactions', 'decision-making body', 'body of knowledge', 'containing consequences';
complex: 'a network', 'a configuration of forces', 'political framework', 'closure', 'collocation of factors', 'variable geometry' (of EEC);
physics (dynamics): 'leverage', 'rotation of officers'; 'weight of an argument', 'density of a proposal', 'capacity of an organization', 'massive support', 'force of an argument', 'energetic support', 'degrees of influence', '(de)stabilization', 'accelerated programme'.
Even the geometrical process of 'projection' can be detected in the notion of a 'project' emerging from a complex policy. Related processes can be seen in complex meetings where the multi-point agendas of specialized commissions are each reduced to a single point in the agenda of the plenary body to which they report back. Implicit in such processes is the manner in which agenda points are expanded over policy-making time into lines of argument. These, in their turn are expanded into areas of debate defining in their own turn a volume of discourse -- any of which may be collapsed back at any time into a single agenda point. Note also that points defining any line of argument only become memorable when reinforced as a point common to another (intersecting) line of argument. (Such geometrical features, and high curvature of a line, are used to reinforce memorability in complex computer graphics.) Lines of argument themselves only become memorable when they define an area of concern (reminiscent of the role of triangulation in surveying). This implies that significance is established by interlocking areas to create volumes, as is the case in architecture.
No attempt has ever been made to track policy debates in such geometrical terms (as a complement to the temporal linearity of 'minute' writing), although it is probable that this would highlight inadequate constructions and the opportunities for their improvement. The work of mathematician Ron Atkin (1977, 1981) on communication of complexity and the implications for organization design is however very significant in this respect. It is clear that within geometry much can be constructed with points and lines, because of their fundamental nature. But it is also clear that any such construction depends on clear recognition of intermediary structures such as surfaces and volumes of various well-established forms (polygons, conics, polyhedrons, etc). It might be argued that 0- to 2-dimensional geometrical metaphors are characteristic of, and essential to, adaptive decision-making (Group A), whereas the challenge is to incorporate such insights into 3- and higher-dimensional metaphors appropriate to Group B and C.
In the policy world vague reference is often made to 'areas' (of specialized activity) and to 'spheres' (of influence). But it is clear that the kind of understanding required in architecture to move from such basic geometric insights to the construction of the simplest arch required for the most basic forms of building is totally lacking at the policy level -- except the intuitive understanding of the need for 'checks and balances'. Similarly the desperate search for 'harmony' between conflicting policies makes little attempt to exploit the rich insights which make for meaningful harmony in music. Any construction of 'bridge building' policies to link two opposing factions therefore tends to lack the conceptual scaffolding through which effective bridges could be constructed. The pillar and temple example, quoted from current EEC language is an example of such over-simplification.
(a) Symmetrical structures:
Geometry supplies a vast repertoire of geometrical patterns which can be used to interrelate concepts. Of special interest are the symmetrical polygons in 2-dimensions and polyhedra in 3-dimensions. Symmetry has the merit of being in some way associated with 'global' or integrative comprehensibility. To the extent that opposing perspectives can be mapped onto such structures, there is greater possibility of collective recognition of the distinct functions they perform in relation to one another. It is also possible that the more complex the structure, the greater its stability. Eastern religions have made extensive use of such conceptual patterns in the form of mandalas. These hold the complex relationship between a multiplicity of complementary insights, whilst maintaining an integrative focus on the whole. The software issue here is how to massage an associative network of concepts into the pattern (or a range of alternative patterns) which can give the most appropriate overall order to it. Maybe there is a place for marrying networking concepts to those of sacred geometry.
(b) Tensegrity structures:
A feature missing from such geometrical structures is any explicit recognition of the dynamics between the elementsand of how they contribute to the dynamic integrity of the whole. The 'tension' between opposing factions or options is a fundamental issue in policy-making. Although music may offer richer insights, again architecture points to the importance of appropriately interrelating tension and compression elements. In the policy-making process the art is to creatively interrelate perspectives that are in sympathy and in opposition to each other. Buckminster Fuller (1975, 1982) pointed to the existence of a whole family of tensegrity structures which make possible his well-known geodesic domes (cf radar domes, exhibition halls). Tensegrity (or tensional integrity) has many suggestive implications for more effective configurations of policies (Judge, 1979):
-- such structures make explicit the value of having discontinuous (antagonistic) relations between concepts (or their advocates) embedded in a continuous (mutually supportive) network of relationships. Both have a role to play. They depend uniquely upon the creative configuration of the polarized forces which are the bane of so many efforts at consensus policy-making.
-- such structures make clear how an appropriate combination of appropriately positioned elements can give rise to a totally unsuspected structure of unsuspected stability. Whilst it is relatively easy to comprehend the logic of such a structure in 3-dimensions, the process of constructing it is much less clear. This suggests that the conceptual elements and dynamics characteristic of today's policies could lend themselves to structural patterning of a totally new kind.
-- such structures make clear that facilitating communication between all parties (all to all) is not the only way forward, even if it were feasible in practice. They suggest that much may be accomplished by ensuring a supportive relationship with neighbouring nodes, provided that position is 'challenged' by an appropriate opposing node. This is a step beyond all the work done on social networks. It implies that software could be used to configure communication pathways (opening some, closing others) to bring about much more healthy (non-flabby) networking.
-- of special interest is that such structures have empty centres so that every point is visible from every other, suggesting a desirable form of 'transparency'. The centre is a virtual one rather than being occupied by some dominant body, individual, concept or value.
-- as will be seen below, such structures also imply a range of global transformations through which the set of policies can grow to encompass greater variety.
It is clear that only with the use of appropriate software could tensegrity-based policies be explored with the benefit of insights from those such as Ron Atkin (1977, 1981). The scaffolding problem is an ideal computer challenge. It opens the door to a totally new way of representing agendas non-hierarchically and of enabling the fruitful coexistence of mutually constraining policies.
(c) Resonance hybrids:
There is a certain class of chemical molecules whose structure cannot be meaningfully defined by a single pattern of atoms. Thus the benzene ring, present in most organic compounds basic to living organisms, is best understood as oscillating between 5 distinct patterns of bonds between its 6 constituent atoms. The resulting resonance hybrid is much more stable than any of the 5 individual patterns -- even though that stability is dynamic. This suggests the possibility that there may be conceptual and organizational structures, including policies and programmes, which can only come into existence by allowing them to alternate between essentially unstable (or unsustainable) extremes. The EEC notion of 'variable geometry' may constitute an intuitive recognition of this possibility (cf Judge, 1986b).
As an illustration of the potential of such new structures, in chemistry at least, a third form of carbon was discovered in 1985. It is structured as a hollow sphere of 60 carbon atoms arranged in a series of hexagons and pentagons resembling the geodesic domes built by Buckminster Fuller -- hence the formal name of buckminsterfullerenes (otherwise known as 'buckyballs'). The structure has unusual properties, including superconductivity. The discovery has opened up a new, and commercially important, branch of organic chemistry, in which a 70 carbon elipsoid has been a more recent discovery. With structural breakthroughs of this kind at both the molecular and the architectural levels, it may be asked why experiments with social organization are limited to hierarchies, networks and the simplest small group structures. There is no suspicion that valuable new properties may emerge from structures that can only be understood in three dimensions.
The challenge of an appropriate response to the issues of sustainable development may depend on the ability to discover, and give implementable form, to such structures. Computer-assisted policy-making may be absolutely essential in providing the conceptal scaffolding through which they can emerge. It is even possible that the legal and accounting structures to maintain institutions based on them could only be managed through some such environment. (Just as the newest aircraft can only be flown with computer assistance, it is possible that the most advanced organizations, appropriate to the challenges of the times, may need to be conceived in the same light.)
For further updates on this site, subscribe here