Networks as Vehicles for Impact

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The structure of the international system of bodies impacting on one another may be described as a network of organizations and associations. Some of the bodies in the network impact directly on some of the problems in the problem complex which may also be described as a network.

In considering how impact occurs and is transferred (i) between organizations, (ii) on to problems, (iii) between problems, and (iv) from problems onto organizations, a series of possibilities of increasing structural complexity may be borne in mind. To illustrate this series, consider the structures illustrated in Table lit A particular element transferring impact may do so as follows:

1. Directly onto the target structure (i.e. no branching, 1 element)

2. Via a series of intermediary elements (i.e. no branching, more than 1 element)

3. Via two branches, both going direct to the target structure (this case could possibly be combined with the first)

4. Via two branches, one going direct to the target structure and the second via one intermediate element

S. Via two branches, both with more than one intermediate element.

6. Via two branches, each with one element connected to that in the other branch .

Further cases are evident from

The situation is however complicated by the fact that most of the above structures contain branches, implying a divergence of impact. But clearly if the impacts were transferred from the branches, rather than to them, there would be convergence of impact through the structures'


This therefore gives a second series of structures for transferring impact. Structures from each series may be combined ~


The structures may be combined in branching or converging series, and even with loops back to an earlier structure - thus constituting networks of varying degrees of complexity. (Note that normally a structural element can not be considered an "absolute originator" of impact nor an "absolute sink" for impact.)

Up to this point the elements making up the structures have been considered as made up entirely of organizations or entirely of problems. But impact can be transferred between organization and problem structures as noted above. In other words the structures considered above can be either organizations or problems, and they can transfer impact to organizations or problems (in similar structures).

This leads to mixed impact-transferring structural sequences of the following type s:

1, Organization to Organization

1.1 to Organization

1.1.1 to Organization (0000)

1.1.2 to Problem (OOOP)

1.2 to Problem

1.2.1 to Organization (OOPO)

1.2.2 to Problem (OOPP)

2. Organization to Problem

2,1 to Organization

2.1.1 to Organization (OPOO)

2.1.2 to Problem (OPOP)

2.2 to Problem

2.2.1 to Organization (OPPO)

2.2.2 to Problem (OPPP)

3. Problem to Organization

3.1 to Organization

3.1.1 to Organization (P000)

3.1.2 to Problem (POOP)

3.2 to Problem

3.2.1 to Organization (POPO)

3.2.2 to Problem (POPP)

4. Problem to Problem

4.1 to Organization

4.1.1 to Organization (PPOO)

4.1.2 to Problem (PPOP)

4.2 to Problem

4.2.1 to Organization (PPPO)

4.2.2 to Problem (PPPP)

Clearly these sequences can be further extended to cover more complex patterns of interaction between organization and problem networks. It should be stressed that the organization structure, for example, in any of the above sequences (e.g. PPOP) may itself be a complex sequence of structures as discussed earlier. To the extent that it is advisable to distinguish between intergovernmental organizations and international associations (i.e. nongovernmental structures), the organization structures must be split into two types (e.g. O and O'). This approach would probably demand that the problems be also split into at least groups, those recognized by intergovernmental organizations, and those recognised by international associations (e.g. P and P').

Combining these together would result in description of impact chains of such forms as OPO'OPOP', etc. Whether or not this split (namely O and O' and P and P') is made, the real situation is probably much more complex because of the network characteristics which would give impact networks such as







Such situations are somewhat more complex than those addressed by conventional studies of impact such as whether organ ization A impacts on B. Clearly organization A may not impact directly on B. but it may impact on C and D (perhaps via many intermediate bodies or problems) which then impact on B.

The social sciences are some way from being able to describe such sequences and track impact through them. it is even uncertain that there would be any consensus that such an approach is relevant to current preoccupations which depend upon simplification of complex situations to render them communicable within the political arena.

At some stage it may be possible to track the movement of impact through such structural sequences in terms of how different structural components amplify, dampen or store and release impact under different conditions. The meaning of "impact" may well be as elusive as that of "electricity", to whose movement through circuitry the above situations bear some resemblance. The question of the distinction between positive and negative impact would also have to be considered.


It is unfortunate that the process by which the social and policy sciences accord attention to organizations (or problems) in society appears to be so strongly governed by the information handling capacity of those for whom the conclusions are hopefully intended, rather than by any desire to explore the numerous existing organizations and interactions in all their rich variety. This question has been explored elsewhere in connection with the perception of world problems ( TO ). In attempting to articulate their dissatisfaction with current studies of international organizations in 1968, Keoham and Nye "felt that an 'Everest syndrome' prevailed. Scholars studied organizations simply because 'they are there'. We agreed that new approaches were needed." Their book is testimony to their success ( ~ ). The remark remains valid however. Big impacts on big organizations are studied because they are so visibly there. The reluctance to consider less visible phenomena is strengthened and supported by a posture requiring unequivocal proof that the phenomena are there before any such inquiry can be entertained. Singer and-Wallace, for example, are-~ite-expl~-~exe-lu-s~e~of E~GOs from t-he~r~own analysis- 'four interests- tend-, we suspect, theme of my of our collect guess a re more-<oncerned with- Egos the n with nOn-~~ govern~ental-orgaR~tio~'~'~ ( .~ It is an interesting question as to how much national and international NGO activity is required before it becomes theoretically interesting or of significance to policy formulation, and how much an adequate response to problems is delayed by such conceptual lags on the part of those who should be ensuring the necessary conceptual leads to anticipate emerging structural changes.

It is clear that intra- and inter-organizational networks are growing, multiplying and evolving in response to perceived social problems and possibilities for action. These changes are in large part unplanned (and unfinanced) from any central point and appear to be self-correcting ***** ink ,excessive development is compensated by the emergence of counteracting networks. Little attention is given to facilitating this growth so that in some cases it may be considered dangerously spastic. Despite this the network of organizations (international, national, and local) of every kind and with every pre-occupation, represents a major unexplored resource. The (synergistic) potential of this network, if its processes were facilitated, is unknown.

These networks, and others, are not static structures. They are changing rapidly in response to pressures and opportunities perceived in very different parts of the social system ( /8 ). As such they, and component sub-networks, are not controlled or controllable by any single body, if only because the complexity cannot be handled by any single body or group of bodies ( ~ / ), The strategic problem therefore is how to ensure that the appropriate organizational resources emerge, and are adequately supported, in response to emerging pressures and opportunities. But it would seem that this must be achieved without organising and planning such organised response - for to the extent that any part of the network is so organised, other parts will develop (and probably should develop) which will favour and implement alternative (and partially conflicting) approaches

The challenge is therefore to develop the meaning and constraints of what may be termed a network strategy. This is an approach which facilitates or catalyses (rather than organises) the emergence, growth, development, adaptation and galvanisation of organizational networks in response to problem networks, in the light of the values perceived at each particular part of the social system.

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