Through Metaphor to a Sustainable Ecology of Development Policies
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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
California Institute of Public Affairs, 1990
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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
(a) the constraints of the building and the regulations governing how it is to be used,
including simple questions like the ability to reconfigure the seating arrangement in the
light of the emerging processes of the meeting. These are a reminder of the constraints
imposed by existing physical structures and regulations in wider society.
(b) the protocol constraints necessitating special focus around certain individuals.
These are a reminder of the constraints imposed by existing social structures, whether
relevant to social change or not.
(c) meeting procedures based on rules of order (Robert, 1985) which have not changed to
any significant degree throughout the 20th century and which fail to take into account the
best thinking on self-organizing systems. These are a reminder that 'plus ca
change...', as those with revolutionary inclinations delight to point out.
(d) meeting agendas designed months (or years) before the event, thus to a large degree
pre-programming the process and outcome and blocking any unplanned initiatives in the
light of emerging opportunities. This is a reminder of the dead weight of prior
commitments under which policy-makers operate. The structure of such agendas also tends to
reinforce linear thinking and fails to reflect the non-linear relationships between the
items -- a reminder of the clumsiness with which we endeavour to respond to the cyclic
complexities of the social and natural environment.
(e) much more controversially, except for those acknowledging the implications of
Freudian symbols and sexual politics, is the body-language of speakers, especially in
relationship to the microphone and any proscenium, and that of the audience seated in
expectation of stimulation. This is a reminder that unconscious factors may play a
determining role in meeting processes.
(f) use and abuse of one of the principal resources in meetings, namely time,
especially in the form of the attention time of a captive audience. This is a reminder of
how policy-makers tend to exploit their position in relation to the resources of captive
constituencies and markets, whether this takes the form of 'cartel formation',
'asset stripping', 'environmental degradation' or 'resource
(g) obligation of the audience to accept the form of presentation favoured by the
speaker, with little recognition of the need to translate the content into other modes
(except in the extreme case of language interpretation, but not including that between
disciplinary languages). This is a reminder of the widespread assumption that people are
all naturally capable of processing a complete spectrum of information forms, unless they
are of reduced mental competence.
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
Current policy implications of metaphor in a media-oriented
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
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'
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:
(a) a tendency to consider it the only valid integrative concept that has ever been
formulated. This ignores the history of previous concepts which have created the context
for the emergence of this latest one. It also ignores what happened to the previous ones
and the nature of the relationships they established with other competing policy concepts.
(b) a tendency to consider that no further valid integrative concepts will emerge to
replace the current one. This structures reflection on the concept to preclude the future
emergence of more appropriate concepts. It engenders dogmatism and identification of
heresies. (Do the advocates of sustainable development have the right conceptual posture
to respond appropriately to the policy insight which will succeed it -- or will there be
no such innovation ?)
(c) a tendency to believe that the concept is inherently credible and desirable to
those who have not been involved in its formulation. The step beyond this is to assume
that they ought to be persuaded to that conviction if they do not hold it.
(d) a tendency to believe that policy insights of requisite variety can be adequately
embodied within a single policy framework.
(e) a tendency to fail to recognize that groups are sensitive to quite different forms
of information in relation to any issue, and frequently consider other forms as having
marginal significance, if any.
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
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
(a) from a particular concept: from any given policy concept other concepts can
only be viewed as threatening since that concept provides no sense of context, other than
itself. 'Enemy' is then an appropriate metaphor. Such defensive postures are not
uncommon in policy forums. 'Sustainable development' can be perceived in these
terms with any other policy perspective as the enemy.
(b) as a group of competing concepts: here context is provided by the sense of a
'marketplace of ideas' in which the most appropriate products survive, if the
market mechanism works satisfactorily. A more powerful metaphor is that of the
'gladiatorial arena', in which one concept strives to emerge triumphant at the
expense of the others, possibly learning from them in order to do so. Metaphors of this
type, including those based on competitive sports, are widely used as noted above.
'Sustainable development' can then be perceived as a set of competing concepts
from which the most appropriate will emerge triumphant -- as the ideal result of a policy
(c) as a homeostatic ecology of concepts: the two previous perspectives can
however be perceived as subsystems or processes within an 'ecology' of policy
concepts. Here there are a variety of relationships between alternative policies
(including 'predation', 'parasitism', and 'commensalism'),
but these function such as to maintain a balance between the different 'species'
of policy within the ecology (see Annex 3). 'Sustainable development' can then
be perceived as a stewardship function of ensuring the stability of an ecology of policy
concepts in which each fulfils particular developmental functions under particular
conditions and there is a niche for defelopmental policies of all sizes and orientations.
(d) as an evolving ecology of concepts: of greater interest is the possibility
of perceiving 'sustainable development' as an evolving ecology of developmental
policies. Here there is a maintenance dimension corresponding to a homeostatic ecology as
well as a longer-term evolutionary dimension as the various species adapt and evolve to
emerging conditions, with new species emerging as the creative result of mutation
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
(a) Reversal of the resource personnel/participant ratio: Policy forums tend to
use the same ratio as that for teacher/pupil in schools. It can be argued that if the
complexity of what such forums are trying to encompass is greater than the task of an
operation by a surgical team or of getting man to the moon, then a greater proportion of
resources needs to be devoted to the resource personnel and the functions that they might
perform. Why is it assumed that the processes occurring in policy forums are so simple
that they only require limited support skills to ensure their viability, balance, control
and healthy development ? The policy challenge is surely greater than that of focussing
resources to get a space shuttle into orbit -- a greater number of checks and balances is
(b) Selection of integrative metaphors: The complexity with which policy forums
are intended to deal is such that any normal mode of articulation can not encompass it and
remain comprehensible and communicable. The forum should select the metaphor that encodes
its concerns most appropriately. The metaphor is not appropriate if it fails to encode the
position and dynamics of the different factions and viewpoints represented. Conventional
verbal articulations should be interrelated by reference to the metaphor and its dynamics.
(c) Encoding policy alternation: A major challenge arises from policies which
are inherently incompatible or mutually antagonistic, even though they each attract
significant support. Although there is always hope that some magical compromise may be
discovered to reconcile their perspectives, it is quite probable that they cannot
effectively co-exist. They may however 'co-exist' over time in a 'policy
cycle' in which Policy A operates for a period, followed by Policy B, followed by
Policy A again. This cyclic process is implicit in changes of government in a democracy
but currently is more spastic than cyclic. It can only be rendered comprehensible and
credible by suitable metaphors of which a particular appropriate one is crop rotation
(Annex 5). Such a cycle may require 4 or 5distinct phases to ensure sustainability of
(d) Alternating between metaphors within a set: It would be naive to assume that
the complexity of sustainable development can be satisfactorily encapsulated within a
single theory, model or policy, however complex -- or within any single metaphor, however
rich. It may however be possible to select or design a set of distinct metaphors which
capture different aspects of sustainable development, just as the 'incompatible'
wave and particle theories are used in physics to capture dimensions of a reality that
cannot be adequately articulated. Offering greater insight is the alternation within a
pattern of distinct structures as illustrated by the concept of resonce hybrids in
chemistry (see Annex 6). Such a set then provides an integrative framework for the
incompatible policy perspectives represented in a forum. Policy discussion could then
explore different ways of cycling through such metaphors (Judge 1984b, 1988b). It is
useful to consider ways of relating variable organizational which might result from such
policies, as indicated in Figure 2 of Annex 3 (Judge 1986b).
(e) Non-linear policy formulations: It could be argued that one of the main
reasons for the failure to reconcile incompatible policies is the form in which any policy
is expressed. This reflects the linearity of lists of meeting agenda items, of the
organization of the proceedings of the meeting and of the recommendations or resolutions.
Such linearity is then embodied into the hierarchical structure and inter-departmental
relationships of the institutions mandated to implement the policy. To reflect the
complexity of sustainable development such documents as the Brundtland Report should also
be available in a non-linear presentation which honours the complex relationships between
its policy implications as well as those of other initiatives. A linear presentation is
not sensitive to the dimensions of most significance to sustainable development
--dimensions which may be dear to this or that constituency and are thus alienated from
(f) Remedial metaphors: It is worth exploring current uses of metaphors for
therapeutic purposes because of their articulation of a methodology which may offer
insights for furthering understanding of how to heal rifts between constituencies (Gordon,
1978; Hillman, 1983).
(g) Vulnerability to powerful metaphors: It should be recognized that powerful
metaphors can be used to support policies which may totally inconsistent with those of
sustainable development. It is important to understand the current vulnerability to such
metaphors (for example, those forumulated so successfully within modern sects and cults)
and to determine means of protection against them. It is probable that there exists a
considerable market for a new metaphor of Hitlerian dimensions.
(h) Designing the metaphor through which the forum outcome is to be perceived:
At present the public relations function tends to be poorly integrated into the conceptual
issues of policy formulation. The image is divorced from the content. But the metaphor(s)
used to encompass the policy debate may also be used to explain its dimensions to wider
society. As a complement to the turgid text of the standard 'Press Release', the
challenge is to provide a new metaphor or image which offers an empowering insight into
new directions integral to the policies through which they can be given form. (If such
metaphors are not designed, they tend to be supplied by the media -- often as cynical and
(i) Library of dynamic imagery: Policy forums could benefit from direct access
to projections of dynamic images that can be used metaphorically to clarify complex
relationships. Such images could be used as 'conceptual scaffolding' or
'crutches' to render credible new patterns of relationship on which policies of
a higher order can be built. Current computer animation techniques can give comprehensible
form to physically 'impossible' structures, which may prove to be of complexity
adequate to the task of encompassing disparate policy dimensions.
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
Conclusion: Policy implications
In any policy forum, integrative breakthroughs are facilitated by:
(a) recognizing the implicit or explicit metaphors favoured by the factions
represented, namely what imagery they use to communicate within their group and with their
(b) recognizing the imolicit or explicit metaphors of the policy forum as a whole,
namely what imagery is acceptable and how that may relate to that of any subsequent public
(c) encouraging the deliberate selection and design of more powerful metaphors to
encode the dynamics of the relations between incompatible perspectives and especially
between the factions represented. For if one faction perceives the other as
'sharks', and are perceived by the latter as 'sheep', no amount of
rational discussion will overcome the 'ecosystemic' constraints on their
harmonious relationship. The same may be said of 'hawks' and 'doves';
both know who 'eats' whom.
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
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
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):
(a) Control of pests: with each crop grown the emergence of characteristic weeds,
insects and diseases is facilitated. Changing to another crop inhibits the spread of such
pests which would otherwise become uncontrollable (to the point that some crops should not
be grown twice in succession). By rotating winter and summer crops, the farmer fights
summer weeds in the winter crop and winter weeds in the summer crop.
(b) Maintenance of organic matter: some crops deplete the organic matter in the soil,
other increase it.
(c) Maintenance of soil nitrogen supply: no single cropping system will ordinarily
maintain the nitrogen supply unless leguminous crops are alternated with others.
(d) Economy of labour: several crops may be grown in succession with only one soil
preparation (ploughing). For example: the land is ploughed for maize, the maize stubble is
disked for wheat, then grass and clover are seeded in the wheat.
(e) Protection of soil: it was once believed necessary to leave land fallow for part of
the cycle. Now it is known that a proper rotation of crops, with due attention to
maintaining the balance of nutrients, is more successful than leaving the land bare and
exposed to leaching and erosion.
(f) Complete use of soil: by alternation between deep and shallow-rooted crops the soil
may be utilized more completely.
(g) Balanced use of plant nutrients: when appropriately alternated,crops reduce the
different nutrient materials of the soil in more desirable proportions.
(h) Orderly farming: work is more evenly distributed throughout the year. The farm
layout is usually simplified and costs of production are reduced. The rushed work
characteristic of haphazard cropping is avoided.
(i) Risk reduction: risks are distributed among several crops as a guarantee against
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
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
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