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16 June 2004 | Draft

Animating the Representation of Europe

Visualizing the coherence of international institutions using dynamic animal-like structures

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Proposal arising from discussion at a conference on "Redesigning Europe in the Third Millennium: a New Sustainable Vision of Democracy" (Budapest, May 2004) organized by Presentation to a Renaissance Europe meeting on Synergies for the Well-being of Society (Brussels, June 2004) - "a project to put Europe in motion again". Presented to a Renaissance Europe meeting on Synergies for the Well-being of Society (Brussels, June 2004) - "a project to put Europe in motion again". Also published in modified form in Statistics, Visualizations and Patterns (Vol 5 of the Yearbook of International Organizations, K G Saur Verlag, 6th edition, 2006/2007, as section 10.4.1)
Challenge of "soullessness" -- beyond the "pillar-ization of Europe"
Representation and its symbolic implications
Beyond impoverished metaphors
Proposal for dynamic representation of institutional budget lines


The following proposal derives from work at the Union of International Associations (UIA) on the representation of complex clusters of numerous entities -- whether international organizations, world problems, strategies, human values, or others [access]. The networks of such entities are currently extracted from databases in response to user queries and displayed over the web in "spring maps". The user can manipulate: these maps: increasing or decreasing complexity, changing colours, accessing a particular database profile, etc. These spring maps are based on a Java application developed for the UIA by Gerald de Jong of BeautifulCode (Netherlands). [see examples and gallery]

In the case of international organizations, the focus of the UIA initiative to date has been on representation of inter-organization links in such spring maps. This visualization work was funded within the framework of the EU Fifth Framework Info2000 programme. The problem in the case of the complex of institutions of the European Union is to extend this to the representation of intra-organizational links -- and to relate such links to the guiding principles and values that it is expected will be defined by the European Constitution, for example.

The following proposal was inspired by another web-based spring map Java application, called SodaConstructor, developed independently by Ed Burton of SodaPlay -- the project of a London-based company called Soda Creative Ltd as part of their research and development process [history].

The proposal considers the possibility of importing organizational data into a web application, as is done in the UIA case, and animating it as a model as is done by SodaConstructor.

The idea for the above proposal arose during the course of participation at a recent conference on "Redesigning Europe in the Third Millennium: a New Sustainable Vision of Democracy" organized by (Budapest, May 2004). In response to a presentation on Using Research in the Participative Orchestration of Europe, participants approved the idea of exploring the use of visualization and sound.

Box 1: Value of Soda-type Animations

Soda combines an arts and research practice with a broad range of commercial activities. A freehand animation package, Moovl, has also been developed. SodaConstructor has received considerable attention world wide and continues to attract many users. Its most interesting models, notably by Kevino (Kevin Okada), have been the subject of exhibitions. Soda has recently launched a new sound version of SodaConstructor, entitled SodaConstructor betasound. which uses the so-called jsyn plugin to enable Sodaconstuctor to create high fidelity stereo sound in conjunction with animation movement. A 3D version of SodaConstructor is also under development (see examples of code).

A desktop version, SodaConstructor local (installed using Java Webstart), can export and import models in XML format (example; DTD definition) to and from a local file system and, once installed, allows the user to play with them without re-connecting to the internet. Users have a choice as to whether they store their models (selected examples; walker) online on the Sodaplay server or offline on their local computer. Sharing a model online involves either sending it to the SodaZoo or posting it in the SodaForum. Users need to be online to login into a SodaPlay account to save it on the SodaPlay server. Some users develop their own independent interfaces to facilitate construction of models (see SodaGenerator).

SodaConstructor is a freely accessible Java technology-based online construction kit that gives players the ability to build interactive creations using limbs and muscles. By altering physical properties like gravity, friction, and speed, curiously anthropomorphic models can be made to walk, climb, wriggle, jiggle, or collapse into a writhing heap (see description of underlying physics). A SodaZoo has been built up, where a large and active worldwide community of sodaplayers has placed a strange and diverse menagerie of SodaConstructor models. Under funding from the UK National Endowment for Science and Technology and the Arts (NESTA), SodaPlay is currently developing SodaConstructor and related software into a flexible toolkit to deliver creative learning and fun to schools in the UK [more].

Challenge of "soullessness" -- beyond the "pillar-ization of Europe"

The European Union, like the United Nations, is faced with an increasingly dramatic problem of being perceived as irrelevant by the electorate -- however meaningful are their mandates in principle. In this respect it is useful to contrast:

A fundamental issue is the perceived complexity of such institutions, which makes them effectively incomprehensible to many -- and even to government delegates to any parts of those institutions. The challenge is well-artculated by Timothy Garton Ash (This is Our High Noon, Guardian 24 June 2004):

The institutional arrangements codified in the [European] constitution are but a means to create those means. Is there a thinking man or woman alive in Europe who is not depressed by the prospect of spending yet more years of bad-tempered debate on such mind-numbing details? There we shall be, the so-called "opinion-formers", squabbling over contorted paragraphs and wrestling with tabloid shibboleths. Meanwhile, as the huge abstention rates in the European elections just showed, those whose opinions we are supposed to form have long since switched to another channel, to watch the football... Who can blame them? The constitution that emerged from the Brussels summit last weekend is not an inspiring document. It entirely lacks the simplicity, clarity and political poetry of great constitutions.

Conventionally the structures of such bodies are described with organization charts, complemented by checklists and frameworks of their guiding principles and values. The latter are frequently represented through architectural metaphors, such as "pillars" supporting the structure as a whole. "Pillars" are recognized as one of the main features that makes the European Union complex and difficult to understand. Different decision-making rules apply to each of the three pillars: matters such as commercial, social and environmental policy. The draft constitution will make the differences between the pillars less noticeable but will not merge them completely [more]. Examples of the use of "pillars" are given below.

Box 2: "Pillar-ization" -- use of "pillars" in international institutional discourse
  • All democracies have two essential pillars: some rights and obligations that constitute the Citizens? Statute and some authorities elected freely and democratically which are organised on the basis of the principle of the division of powers.
  • In Community parlance people often refer to the three pillars of the EU Treaty [more]. The European Union was created through the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 (EU Treaty). This Treaty has since come to symbolise the political roof resting on three pillars.
    • The first pillar consists of the two remaining European communities, the European Community and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom).
    • The Common Foreign and Security Policy forms the second pillar, and
    • Police and Judicial Co-operation in Criminal Matters the third.
  • The EU is also described as consisting of four pillars:
    • Economic and Currency Union
    • Common Foreign and Safety Politics
    • Justice and Interior Politics
    • Common Defense Politics
  • The Maastricht Treaty was based on four pillars:
    • social policy,
    • EMU,
    • justice,
    • common defense policy
  • The EU's enlargement policy that has evolved since 1989 is built on four pillars:
    • clear political and economic criteria requiring candidate EU accession countries to respect democratic principles and to operate market economies;
    • pre-accession aid programmes to help close the wealth gap between the enlargement candidates;
    • encouraging institutional changes in the accession candidate countries so they can apply and enforce the full range of EU laws;
    • Treaty changes to ensure that, after enlargement, the functioning of the EU's institutions is not handicapped by the accession of a large number of new Member States.
  • The EU Social Policy and EQUAL (EU strategy promoting new practices in the fight against discrimination and inequality) operates within 8 themes directly linked to the four pillars of the European Employment Strategy (EES) (plus a ninth covers the specific needs of asylum seekers):
    • Employability,
    • Entrepreneurship,
    • Adaptability, and
    • Equal Opportunities
  • EU Common Fisheries Policy has four pillars
  • EU Common Agricultural Policy rests on four pillars:
    • a single market with the free circulation of goods;
    • uniform prices;
    • a common preference for European products over imported ones;
    • financial solidarity between Member States as regards expenses incurred in implementing the CAP.
  • The European Commission consultation on youth has had four pillars:
    • young people,
    • Member States,
    • youth researchers and
    • civil society (called for by Youth Forum)
  • The European Court of Auditors (ECA) bases its analyses on four pillars, including:
    • an examination of supervisory systems and controls,
    • an analysis of declarations by director generals, and
    • an assessment of the work of other auditors.
  • Four pillars of the European Security and Defence Identity (ESDI) A Commitment by the European Nations, Organizing for Crisis Management, Defense Resources, A Strong European Defense Industry
  • The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) which brought together four pillars under UN leadership:
    • Humanitarian Affairs under the responsibility of the UNHCR,
    • Civil Administration of the UN,
    • Democratisation and Institution-building of the OSCE, and
    • Economic Reconstruction, Recovery and Development of the European Union (EU).
  • The new partnership agreement between the European Union and the ACP countries (Cotonou, 2000) is based on five pillars:
    • ongoing political dialogue,
    • involvement of civil society,
    • poverty reduction,
    • new trade framework,
    • reform of financial cooperation
  • The Geneva Association (Four Pillars Research Programme), The Club of Rome (European Support Centre), and The Risk Institute (Double Helix Research Programme) joint initiative is based on the concept of four pillars:
    • the compulsory, pay-as-you-go, state pension;
    • the supplementary (often funded-based) occupational pension;
    • individual savings (personal pensions, life insurance...);
    • a flexible extension of work-life, mainly on a part-time basis, in order to supplement income from the 3 existing pillars.
  • Six pillars of development policies (Statement on Development Policy in 2001)
    • Macro-economic support and access to social services
    • Food security and rural development
    • Trade and development
    • Regional Integration
    • Institution building
    • Transport

In June 1991, for example, those involved in the EEC Commission efforts to articulate the new treaty details for European economic and political union were clarifying alternatives using code words including "pillars", "hats", "temples", "trees" and "ivy". The pillars were separate chapters of the treaty, the hat was the prologue creating a European union embracing three pillars. The alternatives were described in a "temple-versus-trees" debate in which the Commission argued that the treaty should look more like a "tree trunk with branches" than a "shaky temple supported by pillars". Others criticized a revision as "pillars covered in ivy", namely with largely cosmetic changes (Independent, 17 June 1991). The Helsinki Final Act (1975) was organized in terms of three "baskets" of concerns:

"It's the pictures, stupid!?"

"It is the photographs that gives one the vivid realization of what actually took place...Words don't do it. The words that there were abuses, that it was cruel, that it was inhumane, all of which is true, that it was blatant, you read that and it's one thing. You see the photographs, and you get a sense of it, and you cannot help but be outraged."
Donald Rumsfeld, US Secretary of Defence, 7 May 2004 [more]

What other challenges and possibilities go officially unrecognized, and denied,
because they are only described in text ?

The point might also be made that concerns have been expressed at the soulless nature of the European initiative (cf Joschka Fischer, Pim Fortuyn, Michel Rocard, John Lonergan). Deriving from anima, as the Latin term for soul, efforts to "animate" the representation of Europe could well contribute to correcting this impression.

Representation and its symbolic implications

It is clear from the above that "pillars" are a much favoured, if not dominant metaphor, governing strategic thinking within international institutions such as the European Union.

Such representations, like organizations charts, are completely static. They do not easily attract attention and offer very little appeal to the imagination. They obscure the fact that the different parts of complex structures, like European institutions, have the greatest of difficulty in acting in an integrated manner on any issue with which they are differently concerned. To a significant degree, they are mutually nontransparent.

The pillared pantheon metaphor clearly reflects an institutional heritage dating back to the classical Greek Pantheon -- and its Roman imitations -- often designed as temples. In even earlier pagan periods, the pillars took the form of trees marking a sacred grove open to the elements. Pillars may therefore be considered as the calcification, petrification or fossilization of values that may remain implicit in a society struggling to rediscover a healthy relationship to the environment.

In a democracy it is important to consider how such a pillared organization of values may be perceived by others -- the imperfectly consulted population. Such columned architectural edifices have been used in palace design since those early times -- and also, like temples, by institutions symbolic of a connection with higher values (courts of justice, religious institutions, etc).

The challenge of palaces, however, is that they are only accessible to, and inhabited by, the few. The population tends to be "confronted" by such columned structures -- which bear no relation to their own lived reality. In many cases the palaces are even surrounded by pillared or grilled security barriers so that the population is kept outside -- perhaps traditionally as outcasts and now as those adhering to "alternative" values. It is not surprising that the population then comes to associate its view of the pantheon with prison-like structures -- if only aesthetically. In fact a pillared perspective is strikingly similar aesthetically to the view from, or into, a prison cell through a barred window (see Box 3)..

Box 3: Isomorphic Representation of Columned (Value) Structures

Columned (Value) Structures Columned (Value) Structures Columned (Value) Structures

It might even be argued that a barred prison cell window offers a kind of psychological "mirror" or "shadow" of the set of values promoted and integrated in a pantheon fronted by columns. It can therefore be argued that any such strategic conceptual structure, using such a pantheon-like representation, is to some degree undermining its own efforts -- especially when there is also an association of the columns with the values or principles honoured in such structures, effectively making them the virtual "temples" of contemporary society for values as modern-day secular "gods". Just as in ancient Greece and Rome, society's values and principles are effectively honoured and institutionalized in Europe through the variety of temples elaborated as programmes and projects in response to distinct strategic priorities (social security, defence, etc). As then, the "theological" interrelationship between these structures is a challenge.

Curiously the modern use of pillars is 2-dimensional, viewed from outside, whereas traditionally pillars also defined and bounded the nave of a 3-dimensional temple with celebrants invited inside -- perhaps a pointer to new uses of virtual reality techniques in clarifying any "road map" understood to be outlined by pillars as markers on the way. Perhaps unfortunately, just as traditional temples provided a setting for a podium from which celebrants were inspired regarding "good" and "evil", modern value structures evoke the need for the population to be exposed to lectures from conference podia about the positive and negative values associated with the pillars.

Again modern representations struggle to give form to the "roof" that pillared values are designed to support to protect those within from the elements. The roof may effectively be defined by the pillars -- although in practice the set of pillars may even be deliberately "roofless", like the pagan temples of the distant past. This relates curiously the circle of stars that is basic to the design of the European flag:

It is the symbol not only of the European Union but also of Europe's unity and identity in a wider sense. The circle of gold stars represents solidarity and harmony between the peoples of Europe. The number of stars has nothing to do with the number of Member States. There are twelve stars because the number twelve is traditionally the symbol of perfection, completeness and unity. The flag therefore remains unchanged regardless of EU enlargements. [more]

The disposition of the stars suggests that they should be understood as a set of pillars presented in cross section defining a space analogous to those of the oldest open temples. Even the pentagonal stars recall the design of temple pillars. For example The New English Bible indicates that the entrance to the Holy of Holies "the door posts and the pilasters were pentagonal" (1 Kings 6:21), following on the pillar design favoured by the ancient Egyptians and the pentagonal representation favoured for the doorposts of Pythagoreans. In the Temple of Jerusalem, the pentagon was not oriented horizontally towards people, but turned upwards to heaven since the door it marked was intended for God. [more]

Beyond impoverished metaphors

The interesting design question is whether the pillared pantheon is susceptible to fruitful modification in ways that conserve some of its valued structural features. Examples might include:

By modelling existing "cumbersome" structures and exploring their possible transformation, imaginative approaches (anchored in practical budget-line options), could be explored to ensure that an institutional system is transformed from cumbersome to elegant (from "Beast" to "Beauty"). It is such structures which would be expected to "fly" (as with a butterfly) -- to employ a common metaphor for a succesful project -- in contrast to one that does not "get off the ground" (as when a project described as a "turkey" is contrasted pejoratively with one described as an "eagle"). [Of course, in anticipation of any such transformation, there is a need to "cater" to a pillar-structure to enable it to reach the "caterpillar" stage ! In this sense the pillared structures of the EU (and UN) may correspond to the static "egg" stage in the lifecycle -- from which the caterpillar emerges -- then to become a pupa (chrysalis) before the adult butterfly then emerges].

The basis of this proposal is that there is a unique opportunity to render such institutional structures more meaningful and appealing by using dynamic representation techniques that have the recognized communication strengths of animation. The success of SodaConstructor in attracting millions of users at all levels of society is an indication of the creative potential of such tools. The success of the UIA in holding thousands of organization elements in large relational databases, and displaying them in interactive maps, is an indication that operational significance can be given to such maps.

Box 6: Examples of multi-legged animated Soda models
(click on image for dynamic form)

Multi-legged animated Soda models
Multi-legged animated Soda models Multi-legged animated Soda models
Multi-legged animated Soda models Multi-legged animated Soda models
Multi-legged animated Soda models

Proposal for dynamic representation of institutional budget lines

The elements of the proposal are as follows:

Box 11: What might the dynamics of an emergent multi-organizational "butterfly" look like?
(including models by Kevino: Love, BuggerFly, Xenomorphius -- click for dynamic version)

Dynamics of an emergent multi-organizational "butterfly" Dynamics of an emergent multi-organizational "butterfly"
Dynamics of an emergent multi-organizational "butterfly" Dynamics of an emergent multi-organizational "butterfly"


It is most doubtful whether "Europe" itself (or the "United Nations") can be "re-animated" without re-animating the representation of "Europe" -- for the benefit of those whose highest values are represented by it.

Using a modelling kit as described, models could also be constructed as simulation exercises by policy research institutes to explore the consequences of: (a) different budget line policies, (b) alternated in different ways, and (c) over a period of time. Such research could shift the focus from particular policies at particular times to the challenge of how the balance of policy options needs to be changed over time -- to keep the institution moving, to keep it balanced in that process, and to prevent it collapsing. Seen in this light, the different "pillars" could be shifted from the elephantine to the elegant, and possibly nimble, as required by rapid response to turbulent and changing circumstances (see, for example, Rosabeth Moss Kanter. When Giants Learn to Dance: Mastering the Challenges of Strategy, Management, and Careers in the 1990s, 1990).

More interesting is the possibility that political alternatives may actually represent different configurations of sets of institutional muscles -- corresponding to different stages in the process of movement. Models could in this way be used to hold dynamically seemingly incompatible alternatives (eg putting the "right" political leg forward rather than the "left", or vice versa). The policy alternatives may then prove to be a matter of timing in a larger context essential to movement. Such alternation is of course, in principle, a fundamental feature of the checks and balances of the democratic process. Animation, as proposed, may then clarify when an institutional initiative is likely to become unstable or collapse -- and what dynamic makes for stability.

The examples in Box 12 (below) all raise questions as to whether such unusual structures might possibly model institutional initiatives of any value to society, and if so under what conditions? Furthermore they raise questions of the significance that particular structural features might have in practice. What would be required for a European initiative to "fly" -- like a butterfly, for example? What institutional significance might be attached to a rotating wheel in which "feet" were linked to form its spokes? Etc?

Such explorations raise issues about the (failure of) "mobilization" of the population in support of the European agenda. Why is there such a disconnection between pillared values and what people sense as "mobile" and motivating? Why does Europe seemingly fail to appeal to popular imagination -- except through the Eurovision song contest, the UEFA football cup, or the "Jeux sans Frontières"?

Why is it that the imagination of humans is excited by (and associated with) flying -- and perceives institutions as "plodding", if not "static"? Does this indicate the possibility that a soulless Europe can best be avoided by the organization of values and initiatives in ways somehow isomorphic with sustainable flight? Is this a reason for variously favouring the dove as a symbol of peace and the eagle as a symbol of nobility and strength -- despite the consumption of the former by the latter?

Box 12: More Complex Examples of Animated Models
Type Features Name
(in SodaZoo)
of Comment
Roller 4 Rings Gruntz Spastic
Roller Rolling linked stars Starry_Amoeboid  
Sphere Transformer Spinng_Stars_And_Pentagons  
Wheel Extending/Retreating circumference Circlestar  
Flyer 2 Wings, flying Bat_gravityON Adjustable
Walker 4 Circular "legs" OneSingleCoil  
  5-fold transformer Wish_I_Might Complex
  Continuous walker, 2 feet Quatrefoil  
  4-fold transformer Beautimous  
  Butterfly type Magnetic_Rose_Blossom  
Walker Complex connected spherical bodies, 4 simple legs Half_Spider_Like  
Wings? Continuous inter-rotating circles Involved  
Spinner 4-fold spinner Spiral1  

Box 13: Dysfunctional Model of Institutional Metamorphosis?

Dysfunctional Model of Institutional Metamorphosis


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