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International Organizations and the Generation of the Will to Change

the information systems required

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UAI Study Papers INF/5, February 1970

A study of some implications of the:

in terms of the total network of organizations making up the world system and the complex network of interacting problem areas.


The Capacity Study of the United Nations Development System is examined here in some detail, firstly with respect to its terms of reference, then as an analysis of the UN development system. Some implications of the recommended organizational changes are considered. Then the consequences of the approach examined in the earlier section for the proposed UN information system are considered.

The Report of the Commission on International Development, the Report on the Mobilization of Public Opinion for the Second Development Decade, and the Report on Scientific and Technical Communication are then examined briefly.

Finally the implications of these reports for the future of nongovernmental organizations, and for the improvement of the attack on world problems are considered.

The UN reports, particularly when compared with the SATCOM Report, accord little attention to nongovernmental bodies or to non-UN organizations and their programmes and problems in general. At the same time these reports recognize the vital importance of public opinion and the development of political will. No link is established between public opinion and nongovernmental bodies. The UN reports all consider that the participation of volunteers may be emphasized and the nongovernmental bodies representing their interests ignored. The reports reveal a similar lack of interest in non-development programmes.

The lack of attention to all aspects of the UN environment leads to a situation in which any new organization or information system proposed may (a) duplicate better funded non-UN programmes, (b) ignore management problems of importance to the UN which have their origin in non-UN organizational structures, and (c) ignore problem areas affecting, or affected by, the development programmes of concern to the UN.

Finally, three tools -- planning, network approach, and computers -- are discussed as important to the resolution of the difficulty of handling cross-jurisdictional, multidisciplinary problem areas and inter-organizational relationships.



Six reports have been produced over the last eight months that are of considerable importance to all international organizations, but for international nongovernmental organizations in particular. The reports are:

All the reports are concerned with organization or information systems appropriate to the coming decade. The first five reports published by the United Nations are primarily concerned with the broad topic of economic and social development. The first three of these are reviewed here. Most emphasis is given to the Capacity Study because of its comprehensive coverage. The SATCOM Report is concerned primarily with the question of an adequate scientific and technical information system, primarily national but also international. Its comprehensive coverage of this question and the many threads it has been able to draw together, makes it useful to compare its recommendations and approach with those of the UN reports.

The main intention in examining each report was to detect features of the total world system which were inadequately treated either in terms of their relevance to the effective functioning of the subsystem with which the particular report was concerned or because they would be adversely affected by the changes proposed. (Any evaluations made, are made on the basis of interpretations of the statements in the reports. Each UN report is the work of a small group and does not necessarily reflect official policy.)

A section is devoted to discussion of the points emerging from the four reports reviewed. On the basis of this, three tools required to handle the problems of the world system are discussed, namely planning, network approach, and computers. Two computer-based systems answering sore of the requirements identified, are described in appendixes. A brief summary of the coverage and degree of organization of data banks with information on the world system from an international perspective is given in a final appendix.

Rather than cite references, which might be difficult and time-consuming to consult for a given reader, the procedure was adopted of quoting relevant material in full.


The Hazards of System Building

1. You identify with your system. It cost you blood to build it, and if it is attacked, it is your blood that is being shed.

2. You cannot tolerate tentativeness, suspension of judgment, or anything that does not fit the system.

3. You cannot apprehend anyone else's system unless it supports yours.

4. You believe that other systems are based on selected data.

5. Commitment to systems other than your own is fanaticism.

6. You come to believe that your system entitles you to proprietorship of the entities within it.

7. Since humour involves incongruity and. your system explains all seeming incongruities, you lose your sense of humour.

8. You lose your humility.

9. You accept all these points -- insofar as they apply to builders of other systems.

10. So do I. (P.S. I hope I believe in the cult of fallibility)

Matthew Melko, System Builder (Offered to participants at the Foundation for Integrative Education Conference, Oswego, August 1969; reproduced in Main Currents in Modern Thought, 269, 2)

Le Chatelier's Principle

'Reformers, critics of institutions, consultants in innovation, people in short who 'want to get something done', often fail to see this point. They cannot understand why their strictures, advice or demands do not result in effective change. They expect either to achieve a measure of success in their own terms or to be flung off the premises. But an ultra-stable system (like a social institution)...has no need to react in either of these ways. It specializes in equilibrial readjustment, which is to the observer a secret form of change requiring no actual alteration in the macro-systemic characteristics that he is trying to do something about.'

Stafford Beer. The Cybernetic Cytoplast: management itself. September 1969 (Chairman's Address to the International Cybernetics Congress)

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