Challenges to Comprehension Implied by the Logo
of Laetus in Praesens
Laetus in Praesens Alternative view of segmented documents via Kairos


Through Metaphor to a Sustainable Ecology of Development Policies

-- / --

Paper prepared for the International Workshop on Collaborative Policy Forums for Sustainable Development (Theme: The Power of Convening) organized by the Commission on Sustainable Development of IUCN-The World Conservation Union (Claremont CA, October 1989). Published in Thaddeus C Trzyna and Ilse M Gotelli, The Power of Convening: collaborative policy forums for sustainable development, Sacramento, California Institute of Public Affairs, 1990

Policy forums as obstacles to social change
Policy forums as metaphors
Current policy implications of metaphor in a media-oriented society
Beyond method and explanation: a new frontier
Sustaining the development of 'sustainable development' by metaphor
Towards more appropriate metaphors of sustainable development
Towards policy forums of requisite variety and integration
Conclusion: Policy implications

Annex 1: In lieu of introduction
Annex 2: Concept cycles within the international community
Annex 3: Encoding incommensurable perspectives
Annex 4: Enhancing policy forums through an ecological metaphor
Annex 5: Sustainable cycles of policies: crop rotation as a metaphor
Annex 6: Configuration of modes as a resonance hybrid


Abstract: The current design of policy forums is itself a major obstacle to policy innovation appropriate to sustainable development. Factionalism is encouraged by the lack of any non-reductionistic means of integrating methodological and conceptual differences. This situation is even more apparent when vain attempts are subsequently made to obtain wider approval for policies through simplistic public relations techniques. Given the increasing use of metaphor and imagery in media-based politics, it is argued that a new level of effective policy integration can be achieved by appropriate, non-rhetorical use of more powerful and better articulated metaphors. Failure of policy forums may therefore be due to failure, or impoverishment, at the metaphoric level. It is suggested that unless policy metaphors of requisite richness are employed, emerging development policies cannot be sustained by the variety of policy factions, modes of understanding, or constituencies avid for magical new alternatives.

A principal characteristic of policy-related communication is the plethora of claims and counter-claims in support of, or in opposition to, particular strategies, ideologies, belief systems, disciplines, programmes or vested interests. And for any one of these, those involved will tend to form factions favouring this or that emphasis. In summary, at a time of complex social crisis, the policy-making community is relatively ill-equipped to do adequate justice to this multiplicity of 'answers' -- and is often guilty of escaping this challenge by engaging in further 'answer production'.

The most characteristic response to this situation is to assume that one of these answers (usually that in which one is oneself involved), is the 'right' one. It therefore tends to follow that all the others are 'wrong'. The situation becomes more complex, depending on the policy implications from the right position of the presence of such wrongness. This may range from the 'elimination' of those holding the wrong view, through various counter-acting strategies (including re-education, subversion, gamesmanship, etc), to tolerance of the co-presence of such misguided perspectives or to simply ignoring them.

The realities of society encourage a second response in the form of various types of collaboration between such groupings. This succeeds where there is some recognized complementarity. At its most successful, it is usually limited in scope and/or duration, of a relatively superficial or tokenistic nature, or open (via loopholes) to a range of evasive tactics.

The failure of past initiatives encourages a third response in the form of a belief that some 'magical' new answer may emerge which will overcome all the obstacles to meaningful social transformation. One variant, based on the logjam metaphor, places hopes in locating the one log (the 'key' problem) which when removed will unlock the forces of beneficial social change. This paper assumes that none of these responses is adequate to the challenge of the times. But the purpose of this paper is not to justify this assumption, or to document this situation in further detail (see Annex 1), or to consider logical (or meta-logical) steps for interrelating incommensurable answers within new kinds of framework. Much of this has been done by others (Thompson, 1988) and aspects of it have been reported in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, especially in Section KD on 'Embodying Discontinuity' (UIA, 1986; UIA, 1990).

The programme from which that publication is produced envisages two routes forward. One involves patterning the networks of some 13,000 'world problems', linked by some 60,000 relationships, ontosets of maps which would provide a new integrative overview of the complexity with which we collectively have to deal. The information on perceived problems is largely derived from the 20,000 international organizations described in a related publication, the Yearbook of International Organizations (UIA, 1989). Although technically feasible (Judge, 1987a), such a mapping tool may come too late, since the more fundamental issue seems to lie in the collective inability to effectively use such information. The other route, the 'right-hemisphere' route, is concerned with empowering people to design more effective images within which to order complex patterns of seemingly incommensurable information as a guide to more appropriate action. It is this route, described in Section CM of the Encyclopedia (UIA, 1986) and partially explored in earlier papers (Judge, 1986, 1987b, 1988a, 1988b), which is the focus of this contribution.

Policy forums as obstacles to social change

Meetings, and particularly international meetings, are a vital feature of society. They are a principal means whereby different perspectives are 'assembled', 'meet' or touch each other, possibly following a period of separation ('reunion'). Through such occasions conceptual and other resources are brought together to bear on questions of common concern ('conference') or they may provide the environment for the emergence of a synergistic relationship between previously unrelated concerns ('forum'). Considerable effort has been successfully made to increase the efficiency of meeting organization through the use of management skills, communications technology and specially conceived buildings. But despite the ease with which meetings are held, there is continuing concern that many of the events which raise hopes of policy breakthroughs do not fulfill the expectations of participants or of those whose future depends on their outcome.

Some efforts have been made, especially in North America, to move beyond a concern for the 'mechanics' of meeting organization in order to facilitate those processes which are more congenial and significant to participants. These innovations have been for the most part experimental and are primarily applicable to small groups under special conditions (notably where cultural and linguistic differences are not a factor). The fundamental problem seems to be that the apparent success at 'processing' agenda items, participant viewpoints and documents, often appears to be matched by only apparent or superficial consensus whose impact, if any, tends to be limited to one of short-term public relations. The meeting outcome is such that collective empowerment is minimal as is that of the individual participant.

In this light, the current design and operation of meetings itself constitutes a major obstacle to social change, especially in those cases where social change is a theme of the meeting. The conventional approach to discussions of policy issues is to assume that the discussion forum is in many respects 'transparent' to the content, provided that the basic logistical, communication and protocol questions are satisfactorily arranged (e.g. documents, microphone, etc). Since such events tend not to be characterized by remarkable breakthroughs, and are better remembered by the frequency of their failure, it is appropriate to ask more radical questions -- if policy formulation is to respond more appropriately to the challenge of the times. The possibilities for such 'transformativeconferencing' have been explored in earlier papers (Judge, 1984a).

Policy forums as metaphors

The organization of a meeting and its processes in fact provide a remarkable metaphor of wider society and the challenge of using resources more appropriately. To use Gregory Bateson's insight, 'we are our own metaphor' (Bateson, 1972). The challenge of formulating more appropriate policies is highlighted by the difficulties in meeting design:

Again it is not the purpose of this paper to explore such intractable issues further. They must be circumvented by other means if there is to be any hope for timely breakthroughs.

Current policy implications of metaphor in a media-oriented society

There is little need to remake points concerning the role of the media in politics or the problems of information overload. In such acontext a vitally important issue for policy acceptance is the process whereby policy proposals are communicated for clarification and approbation. The constraints and opportunities are most evident in the case of politicians and political parties concerned to 'get a message across'. The same may be said concerning the communication of any proposal in a policy forum (Majone, 1989).

Much has been written about the deliberate cultivation of an image by politicians and their increasing investment in media consultants and image makers, following the example of corporations. It has been argued that image is becoming as important as content in politics, if not more important. The need for visionary leadership is stressed (Dror, 1988a). Given the intimate relationship between policies and the politicians presenting them, it is appropriate to ask to what degree policy-making is now 'image-led' as opposed to 'content-led'. For whilst it is possible to formulate policies based on the most appropriate scientific models and the greatest of expertise, it is increasingly recognized that if such policies do not communicate well they have little chance of being either understood or approved.

These points are made, not in order to denigrate sophisticated models and conscientiosuly articulated policies, but in order to suggest that the leading edge of the policy approval process is now the image through which the policy is envisioned and presented. The widespread use of metaphor is increasingly a subject of study (Van Noppen, et al., 1985). An externsive description of the 1988 summit conference was made in terms oa yachting metaphor (*). Conflict between policies is increasingly resolved through image or metaphor. For example, Margaret Thatcher's privatization policy was severely criticized by Harold Macmillan, an earlier UK Prime Minister, as 'selling the family silver'. Thatcher later replied (possibly after consultation with Saatchi and Saatchi) that indeed she was 'selling the family silver' but that she was 'selling it back to the family'.

In the corporate world, very extensive use is made of metaphor to communicate the essence of policies and strategies and responses to competing initiatives. It is interesting to note that in the West, favoured metaphors are derived from ball games (football, cricket, baseball, etc) and military combat, whereas in Japan a required management text is the art of swordsmanship (Musashi, 1982). It is fairly evident that the latter provides more subtle, sophisticated, non-linear metaphors compared to the somewhat mechanistic and linear metaphors of the former. It is appropriate to note that a study has explored how the USA forces were defeated in Vietnam because of their dependence on military strategies modelled on chess in comparison to the Vietnamese strategies modelled on go (*).

Beyond method and explanation: a new frontier

Many studies contributing to policy proposals continue to be made totally independently of any consideration of the imagery through which they may ultimately need to be presented. Many disciplines have a strong bias against imagery of any kind as well as against any consideration of the process whereby insights are communicated.

Such biases are inappropriate if only because of the recognized importance of metaphor and imagery in creative thinking (Van Noppen, at al., 1985), even in the hardest of sciences such asfundamental physics (Miller, 1986). It is clear however that within any disciplinary framework or jargon there is little need for imagery because the practitioners share a common imaginal framework. There are terms for everything that needs to be communicated.

The situation is quite different when dealing with policy proposals emanating from different disciplinary, political, cultural and ideological contexts. In such settings each faction tends to view the methods and explanations of others with suspicion or contempt. The language and concepts used communicate increasingly poorly according to the conceptual distance between them (Feyerabend, 1987). In parliamentary debate this is frequently signalled by the use of 'absurd', 'irrelevant', 'naive', 'irresponsible', 'incomprehensible' and 'ridiculous' in referring to proposals from opposing factions.

'Interdisciplinary method' is at this point a contradiction in terms. A discipline is characterized by its methods. Despite three decades of general systems, no interdisciplinary method appropriate to the complex challenge of the times has achieved any degree of acceptance. (For detailed review, see Section KC of the Encyclopedia (UIA, 1986)). "Where such 'methods' have been used in very specific situations, they take the form of administrative procedures for ensuring that a succession of experts comment or discuss issues, but without any pretence at conceptual integration in the final report. Integration is left to the end-user, as exemplified by a term in German translating as 'book-binding synthesis'.

Since this situation has prevailed through several development decades, during which 'interdisciplinarity' and 'integration' have been favoured buzz words, it is worth asking whether a more radical approach could not be fruitfully explored. Is it possible that the functionality which 'interdisciplinarity' and 'integration' endeavour to denote is to be found at a different level, and in a different form, than that at which the methodological and other differences are so evident ?

Specifically, are there comprehensible images or metaphors, of requisite complexity, onto which the insights of different constituencies of expertise can be mapped so as to establish the dynamics and boundaries of their relationships without eroding or destroying their identity ? This possibility, explored by Bateson (1987), appears to call for much comment and detailed explanation in the light of this or that methodology. But it could be argued that any such explanation would merely be a further contribution to the existing communication problem. A more fruitful route forward would be to consider ways of identifying, designing and testing such metaphors in practice.

This proposal is not as radical as it might appear. The most advanced thinking in many disciplines is expressed in terms of objects and surfaces in a complex space. In some cases computer techniques are used to assist visualization of such spaces as a guide to further theoretical development. The suggestion is that some effort be devoted to 'marrying' such uses of imagery with those developed by animators or with those based on features of the environment with which people have a familiar relationship.

Sustaining the development of 'sustainable development' by metaphor

In the light of the series of integrative focii of the past decades, 'sustainable development' can be considered humanity's best and latest effort to reconceptualize 'the good, the true and the beautiful' for the international community. Given the responses to past efforts, notably the Brandt Commission, it is fruitful to ask how sustainable over time is the concept of 'sustainable development'. Already there is evidence of multiple interpretations (Pezzey, 1989), some of them quite incompatible, just as has been the case with 'development' alone. In any policy forum, such differences are immediately apparent through the factions and coalitions to which they give rise. As with past focii, there are those who perceive it to be totally legitimate to 'milk' a concept to their own benefit whilst it still has 'mileage' left in it. Johan Galtung has described the life cycle of such concepts in relation to the international community (see Annex 2). The position in the life cycle determines how the theme is handled within policy agendas.

It is not the purpose of this paper to view such concept cycles cynically, although exposure to them can justify this. The challenge is to identify how the development of any such insight can be sustained, especially in a policy forum.

The difficulty lies in assumptions made by those actively involved in promoting or clarifying such an insight. These include:

As more people and groups are touched by the insight, they reinterpret it to better reflect their own understanding. This leads to factionalism and multiple interpretations which may be highly critical of each other, even to the point of subverting each others initiatives in competition for resources. 'Sustainable development' has to survive in this environment. To be of any significance, policy forums must respond effectively to such factionalism -- whether or not they are effectively represented at any forum.

Towards more appropriate metaphors of sustainable development

A simplistic metaphor of the relationship between 'environment' and 'development' is that of 'having one's cake and eating it too'. The basic point of this paper is that it makes a critical difference what metaphor is used, whether implicitly or explicitly, to view the relationship between competing policy concepts:

If 'sustainable development' is associated with metaphors of the first two kinds, its long-term value is questionable. If it can be perceived through metaphors of richness equivalent to the last two kinds, it can perform the integrative function necessary to incorporate both the policy priorities of 'development' (in its many forms) and of 'environment' (in its many forms). Note that only the last kind encompasses the continuing proliferation of alternative interpretations through a recognition of 'speciation' processes.

There is an attractive conceptual elegance in endeavouring to use the natural environment as a metaphoric map to provide conceptual handles on the many policy dimensions of sustainable development.It suggests the need for a certain isomorphism between the pattern of development policies and the structure of the natural environment within which (and in response to which) they are implemented (Judge, 1984c). The ecological metaphor is explored further in Annex 4.

In terms of the theme of this meeting, what is the metaphor used to sustain the relationship between the range of policy perspectives represented ? If that metaphor is not of requisite variety any result of such a forum can only be of value limited in time and space. The insight of 'sustainable development' cannot be satisfactorily embodied in a single policy or set of policies if no coherent context is provided for those who have to understand or approve it. Whatever the multiple, alternative or competing articulations of 'sustainable development' at the conceptual or policy level, the insight integrating their dynamic relationships can only be adequately communicated at the metaphoric level.

Towards policy forums of requisite variety and integration

Space here precludes a detailed exploration of some of the unexplored possibilities following from the above proposal. In some cases expressed in metaphoric terms, they might include:

The above points suggest that a breakthrough in complex policy forums may be possible if more resources are devoted to the 'conceptual logistics' of how meaning is engendered, moved and focussed by the different constituencies represented. This does not constitute a denial of the merit of conventional forms of debate which provide the 'pillars' of policy formulation. Rather it suggests that having constructed the pillars, something quite radically different must be done to bridge between them to provide the basis for a common policy 'roof' over our heads to protect us from the crises we face. Metaphor could well provide us with the 'keystones' for such bridging.

Conclusion: Policy implications

In any policy forum, integrative breakthroughs are facilitated by:

Metaphor is widely used to communicate policy options. However it is used simplistically and in a rhetorical manner divorced from the actual written articulation of policy. The metaphors currently favoured do not reflect the exigencies of sustainable development or the dynamics between the advocates of competing policy alternatives. Resources can be usefully devoted to identifying, selecting, designing disseminating and employing more appropriate metaphors in policy contexts. Such a shift in focus should open up new ways of reflecting collectively on the more complex, cyclic and incommensurable perspectives currently lost in the savage interactions between factions. It is such complex perspectives which constitute the real policy challenge.

This suggests that a desirable policy forum design would focus attention on the emergence and movement of policy-relevant metaphors, their relationship (as comprehensible meaningcomplexes) to more conventional forms of information, and their reflection in organizational form. Such stewardship in the governance of a forum opens up new possibilities in the governance of society as a whole:

'The merit of this vision of governance is that it does not call for a radical transformation of institutions -- which is unlikely in the absence of any major catastrophe. Rather it calls for a change in the way of thinking about what is circulated through society's information systems as the triggering force for any action. At present governance in the international community is haunted by a form of collective schizophrenia -- a left-brain preoccupation with 'serious' academic models and administrative programmes versus a right-brain preoccupation with the proclivities of public opinion avid for 'meaningful' action (even if 'sensational'). "This schizophrenic battle between models and metaphors could be reframed by legitimating the metaphoric dimensions, already so vital to any motivation of public opinion, as providing vehicles for models. However, there needs to be a two-way flow from model-to-metaphor and from metaphor-to-model, as in any interesting learning process." (Judge, 1987b)

Annex 1: In lieu of introduction

'The Green Party prides itself on its global vision, and it believes in a quieter, more harmonious society, but at its conference it proved itself incapable of preserving peace and harmony among a few hundred delegates.... Sara Perkin, a leading Green, felt compelled to warn against extremist infiltration. 'Dark Green' idealists slugged it out with 'Light Green' realists. It proves the old rule that the more any organisation preaches universal love, the more its members hate each other....the problems which the British Greens are now experiencing have alrady been experienced by the European sister parties, most notably in Germany. There, as in Britain, divides between Greens, and divides between Greens and their supporters, threatened to support their movement.' (Editorial, Sunday Correspondent, 24 Sept 1989)

'The Green Party must streamline the presentation of its central message... Jonathon Porritt, director of Frriends of twhe Earth, told a conference fringe meeting...But he said, holding up a copy of theparty's 124-page Manifesto for a Sustainable Society 'they honestly don't want to know about quite a lot of the stuff in this, and I don't actually think a lot of you do either'. He then held up a copy of the conference agenda -- which most party members find hard to understand -- and said to applause and laughter: 'This method of policy development is not sustainable. It will cause the party great harm." (Colin Hughes, The Independent, 23 September 1989)

'This vagueness about policy is not just a matter of weasel words in the policy review document. Being in the policy review document does not mean that an action will make it into the manifesto. This vagueness is no accident. The purpose of the policy review was not to change the policy of the Labour Party but to create an image that the party had changed. Whether it is right that politics should start with an image rather than policies is arguable. Having done it myself, I understand why virtually no one has bothered to read through the Labour policy document. Creating an image is what the new politics is about, whether from Right or Left...' (David Blake, 'Never Mind the Policy, Feel the Image', Sunday Correspondent, 24 September 1989)

'Ministers recoil in outrage from the latest propaganda exercise by the British Medical Association...The BMA ads are examples of the mode of dialogue which, putting all others far into the shade, now passes for decisive political debate. Government by ad-man's slogan, a thousand times repeated, is Thatcherism's distinctive contribution to the currency of the age...The BMA campaign is in direct lineal descent from the Saatchi's 'Labour Isn't Working'. Its crudity, and even its typeface, exactly replicate the wondrous effort that is supposed to have turned the last election...' (Hugo Young, Guardian, August 1989)

'For soldiers, war is hell. For politicians, war is merely useful, an easy and imprecise metaphor when dramatic effect is needed. Confronted with the intractable problems of poverty and drugs, American politicians are always declaring 'war' as a substitute for making hard choices...the President would do well to forgo the overworked war metaphor. Instead he should try to explain the interrelated social and legal problems bound up in the double-ediged crisis America faces.' (Jim Hoagland, International herald Tribune, August 1989)

Annex 2: Concept cycles within the international community

One useful way to envision the governance of the future is in contrast to Johan Galtung's insightful but disillusioned analysis of 'concept careers' within the UN system, meaning both how innovative concepts undergo a career of stages or phases, a life-cycle in other words, and how concepts may move from one organization to another. Thus, as to their life-cycle at present, he notes (Galtung, 1980):

Stage 1: 'A fresh concept is co-opted into the system from the outside (almost never from the inside because the inside is not creative enough for the reasons mentioned). The concept is broad, unspecified, full of promises because of its (as yet) virgin character, capable of instilling some enthusiasm in people who do not suffer too much from a feeling of déjà-vu having beenthrough a number of concept life cycles already. Examples: basic needs, self-reliance, new international economic order, appropiate technology, health for all, community participation, primary health care, inner/outer limits, common heritage of mankind.'

Stage 2: 'The organization receives the concept and it is built into preambles of resolutions; drafters and secretaries get dexterity in handling it. The demand then arises to make it more precise so that it can reappear in the operational part of a resolution. A number of studies are commissioned, very carefully avoiding too close contact with people and groups behind the more original formulations as 'they do not need to be convinced.' The concept thus moves from birth via adolescence to maturity, meaning that it has been changed sufficiently to become structure and culture compatible (it will not threaten states except states singled out by the majority to be threatened); the idiom will be that of the saxonic intellectual style, rich in documentation and poor in theory and insights; very precise but limited in connotations and emotive overtones. 'politically adequate' meaning that it can be used to build consensus or dissent; depending on what is wanted where and when.'

Stage 3: 'From maturity to senescense and death is but a short step: the concept thus emasculated can no longer serve the purpose of renewal as what was new has largely been taken a away and what was old has been added in its place - except, possibly, the term itself. Even the word will then, after a period of grace, tend to disappear, those who believe in it now no longer identify with it; those who did not get tired of saying 'we knew it would not work, it did not stand the test of reality'. In this phase outside orginators of the concept may be called in for last ditch efforts of resuscitation, usually in vain. There is no official funeral ceremony as the concept will linger on in some resolutions, but there will be a feeling of a void, of bereavement. Consequently, the search will be on, by concept scouts, for new concepts to kindle frustrated and sluggish consciences. And as a result...'

Stage 4: 'A fresh concept is co-opted into the system from the outside, e.g. one that has already been through its life cycle in another part of the UN system. For the rest read the story once more.

Nevertheless, each concept leaves some trace behind, more than its denigrators would like to believe, less than the protagonists might have hoped for. If this were not the case the cognitive framework for the system would have undergone no change during the 35 years of its existence'.

Annex 3: Encoding incommensurable perspectives

Annex 4: Enhancing policy forums through an ecological metaphor

It is unfortunate that those claiming to be most sensitive to the need for sustainable development, namely the 'greens', are unable to organize policy forums which reconcile policy differences in a significantly new way. It is worth exploring whether they at least could make creative use of an ecological metaphor to integrate their factions in a manner from which others could benefit. However, it is especially ironic that they seem to have felt no need to apply insights from their extremely valuable ecological thinking to new understanding of their own policy processes.

Any policy forum constitutes a social system. Such a social system can be likened to an ecosystem with a range of interacting species. Each policy faction can be perceived as a species with varying numbers of members. The relationship between such factions can be observed in the light of the ways in which species may interact (symbiosis, commensalism, parasitism, allopathy, synnecrosis, amensalism, predation, allotrophy, or none), as indicated in A1nnex 3. It is clear that some policies are 'predatory' and that complementary policies may be perceived as 'symbiotic'. Such relationships may effectively vary over time. Predation only takes place when the predator needs to eat. At other times the relationship is 'peaceful'.

A major ecological insight is that every species is some other species 'lunch'. It is not useful to think in terms of 'good' species and 'bad' species -- although members of any given species are obliged to perceive those that threaten them as 'bad' to give focus to their fight for survival. Nor is it helpful to aim naively to have only symbiotic relationships between species -- eliminating the carnivores. Species are woven together in food chains. It is not helpful to focus attention solely on the top of any food chain (however magnificent the species there may appear) -- it is the food chain as a whole that needs to be understood. An endangered species is an important indicator of dangers to the ecosystem as a whole. On the other hand the cyclic rise and fall in numbers of particular species under different environmental conditions is a dynamic to which a resilient ecosystem responds appropriately --any such rise or fall may be neither 'good' nor 'bad'.

In this light, a policy is naturally experienced as 'bad' by other policies to which it is a threat. It is in turn experienced as 'bad' and 'good' by other policies. This level of perception does not help to understand the dynamics of the ecosystem of policies. At the ecosystemic level the issue is whether the numbers and dynamics of the species are destabilizing the ecosystem irreversibly and in what way. Excessive proliferation of any species, 'swarming', endangers the ecosystem. This suggests that the predominance of any particular policy might have disastrous consequences. The health of the ecosystem lies in the healthy relationship between thespecies, even though this involves many predatory relationships.

Through this metaphor, the level of debate is shifted. The natural tendency of any species to proliferate must be constrained by other species. The necessary 'consumption' of some 'innocent' policy by 'predatory' interests needs to be explored in this light, as with the 'regretable decline' of other 'predatory' policies for lack of resources. Any short-sighted effort to prevent the 'nice' herbivores from being so 'cruelly' consumed by the 'nasty' carnivores invokes the need to 'cull' their numbers periodically or prevent them breeding.

In these terms it is possible to shift the debate from consideration of species to consideration of whether the ecosystem could be usefully enriched: which ecosystems are 'unhealthy', when should swamps be drained and arid zones 'irrigated' ? The difficulty here is that with the prevailing emphasis on monoculture, there is little shared understanding of how to diversify an ecosystem in ways such as those recommended by the Permaculture Movement (**). It is no wonder that many policy initiatives amount to a form of policy monoculture, fertilized by inapproriate use of resources and leading to pollution of the food chain.

An ecosystem calling for enrichment might be one which had been degraded by excesses of the past. The system of policies currently prevailing there would need to be redesigned. But note that it is the system of policies that needs to be redesigned, which does not imply that some single policy should prevail -- and the design needs to be an organic rather than a mechanistic one. It may mean that new 'predators' should be introduced and that some population of 'herbivores' should be cut back. Enrichment may involve introduction of many smaller species -- a reminder that the answer does not necessarily lie in mega-policies at the top of the food chain.

It should be noted that this metaphor does not suggest a form of policy relativism -- a tolerance of all policies. It suggests that any policy is dangerous in excess and needs counter-acting policies to contain. It suggests that whether a policy has a function depends on the ecosystem and that many policies may have a function within a policy ecosystem of a variety necessary to make it sustainable. This may mean that some policies can be usefully perceived as 'prehistoric' but it does not deny that some prehistoric species (such as sharks) may still have a function, perhaps only in certain special niches.

Within this metaphor the many development policies are represented by species, each contributing to the health of the ecosystem. That ecosystem can be enriched by introducing new species to improve its sustainability. But members of those species, in the form of particular programmes and proposals may have a 'life and death' relationship to one another -- reflected in such common phrases as 'they killed our programme' or 'they got our budget allocation'.

Both in a policy forum and in the organized initiatives to which it gives rise, the information system needs to be designed to facilitate initiatives which sustain the ecosystem as a whole and which contribute to its redesign. In this sense the system of development policies should have a self-organizing dimension. Such an information system is in many ways a reflection of the food chain. Through it meaning is passed to nourish initiatives at different levels.

Annex 5: Sustainable cycles of policies: crop rotation as a metaphor

In searching for appropriate metaphors to illustrate the need for cycles of policies there is a certain appropriateness to using a process which has traditionally been considered basic to sustaining the productivity of the land, namely crop rotation. The rotation of agricultural crops is an interesting 'earthy' practice to explore in the light of the mind-set which it has required of farmers for several thousand years.

Crop rotation is the alternation of different crops in the same field in some (more or less) regular sequence. It differs from the haphazard change of crops from time to time, in that a deliberately chosen set of crops is grown in succession in cycles over a period of years. Rotations may be of any length, being dependent on soil, climate, and crop. They are commonly of 3 to 7 years duration, usually with 4 crops (some of which may be grown twice in succession). The different crop rotations on each of the fields of the set making up the farm as a whole constitute a 'crop rotation system' when integrated optimally. Long before crop rotation became a science, practice demonstrated that crop yields decline if the same crop is grown continuously in the same place. There are therefore many benefits, both direct and indirect to be obtained from good rotational cycles (38, pp. 170-8):

There is a striking parallel between the rotation of crops and the succession of (governmental) policies applied in a society. The contrast is also striking because of the essentially haphazard switch between 'right' and 'left' policies. There is little explicit awareness of the need for any rotation to correct for negative consequences ('pests') encouraged by each and to replenish the resources of society ('nutrients', 'soil structure') which each policy so characteristically depeletes.

There is no awareness, for example, of the number of distinct policies or modes of organization through which it is useful to rotate. Nor is it known how many such distinct cycles are necessary for an optimally integrated world society in which the temporary failure of one paradigm or mode of organization, due to adverse circumstances (disaster) is compensated by the success of others. It is also interesting that during a period of increasing complaints regarding cultural homogenization ('monoculture'), voters are either confronted with single-party systems or are frustrated by the lack of real choice between the alternatives offered. There is something to be learnt from the mind-sets and social organizations associated with the stages in the history of crop rotation which evolved, beyond the slash-and-burn stage, through a 2-year crop-fallow rotation, to more complex 3 and 4-year rotations. Given the widespread sense of increasing impoverishment of the quality-of-life, consideration of crop rotation may clarify ways of thinking about what is being depleted, how to counteract this process, and the nature of the resources that are so vainly (and expensively) used as 'fertilizer' and 'pesticide' to keep the system going in the short-term. The 'yield' to be maximized is presumably human and social development.

Annex 6: Configuration of modes as a resonance hybrid


Gregory Bateson and Mary Catherine Bateson. Angels Fear: towards an epistemology of the sacred. Macmillan, 1987.

Mary Catherine Bateson. Our Own Metaphor: a personal account of a conference on the effects of conscious purpose on human adaptation. Knopf , 1972

Yehezkel Dror:

Paul Feyerabend.. Farewell to Reason. Verso,1987.

Johan Galtung. Processes in the UN system: paper for the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development project of the United Nations University. Geneva, 1980

David Gordon. Therapeutic Metaphors. Cupertino CA, META Publications, 1978

James Hillman. Healing Fiction. Station Hill, Barryton NY, 1983

Anthony Judge:

Saul Kuchinsky. Systematics; search for miraculous management. Charles Town WV, Claymont Communications 1985

Giandomenico Majone. Evidence, Argument and Persuasion in the Policy Process. New Haven, Yale, 1989

Arthur I. Miller. Imagery in Scientific Thought: creating 20th Century physics. MIT Press, 1986

Miyamoto Musashi. The Five Rings (Gorin No Sho); the real art of Japanese management. Bantam, 1982

John Pezzey. Economic analysis of sustainable growth and sustainable development. Washington: World Bank, Department of the Environment, working paper no. 15, 1989

Henry M. Robert, et. al. (Ed.). Robert's Rules of Order. Glenview IL, Scott, Foresman, 1985, 636p.

William I Thompson, et al. Gaia, a Way of Knowing; political implications of the new biology. Lindisfarne Press, 1988

Union of International Associations:

Union of International Associations and Mankind 2000. Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential. UIA, 2000, 1976, 1136 p. [commentary]

Jean-Pierre Van Noppen, et al (Comp.). Metaphor; a bibliography of post-1970 publications. John Benjamins (Amsterdam Studies in the Theory and History of Linguistic Science), 1985

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

For further updates on this site, subscribe here