- / -
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 Eurovisioning.org (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].
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|
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."
What other challenges and possibilities go officially
unrecognized, and denied,
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.
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
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]
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:
|Box 4: From Pillars to Wheel Spokes|
Box 5: Cater-pillar to Butterfly Transformation -- a Renaissance
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
The elements of the proposal are as follows:
Box 7: Simple Examples of Animated Models
|Dancer||2 Legs (2 Arms)||Flashdance|
Box 8: Technicalities of walking
|Walking is a result of combinations of contractions
and relaxations of groups of muscles in a specific order. These muscle
contractions and relaxations are repeated in a timely order that results
in a repetition of leg motions. As the legs move back and forth, the
subject moves forward or in the direction of the walking motion. Considering
the number of muscles and the complexity of the way in which individual
muscle groups are activated during walking, the development of such
a control system is a great achievement. A good understanding of the
phases of the gait cycle is required for such a technology to be successful.
The left and right legs have different gait cycles and both are important
during walking, especially when the control system is designed for a
The five phases of the gait cycle are: Early swing, which results in the maximum flexion of the knee joint; Late swing, which is characterized by the heel gently touching the floor; Weight acceptance, which occurs when the other leg is about to be lifted up and the body weight is shifted to the leg of interest; Mid-stance, characterized by a straight leg with the foot flat on the floor; Terminal stance, in which the body weight shifts to the other leg and the heel is taken off the floor. Because walking combines the above gait phases to produce a smooth movement, a good knowledge of when a particular phase begins and ends is necessary for the calibration of the control system. The system can be calibrated in such a way that it can skip a certain phase or combine a number of phases as necessary to adjust to the walking pattern. [more]
Dynamic Optimization of Human Walking (Frank C. Anderson Marcus G. Pandy, 2001): A three-dimensional, neuromusculoskeletal model of the body was combined with dynamic optimization theory to simulate normal walking on level ground. The body was modeled as a 23 degree-of-freedom mechanical linkage, actuated by 54 muscles. The dynamic optimization problem was to calculate the muscle excitation histories, muscle forces, and limb motions subject to minimum metabolic energy expenditure per unit distance traveled. Muscle metabolic energy was calculated by summing five terms: the basal or resting heat, activation heat, maintenance heat, shortening heat, and the mechanical work done by all the muscles in the model. The gait cycle was assumed to be symmetric; that is, the muscle excitations for the right and left legs and the initial and terminal states in the model were assumed to be equal.
Most early static optimization studies included up to 30 muscles per leg, whereas more recent models have used 42 or more muscles per leg. [more]
Box 9: Walking/gait abnormalities: lessons for institutions?
The pattern of how a person walks is called the gait. Many different types of gait abnormalities are produced unconsciously. Most, but not all, are due to some physical malfunction. Some gait abnormalities are so characteristic that they have been given descriptive names:
Box 10: Institutional impact of a high "gravity"
environment: non-viability? collapse?
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|
|Roller||Rolling linked stars||Starry_Amoeboid|
|Flyer||2 Wings, flying||Bat_gravityON||Adjustable|
|Walker||4 Circular "legs"||OneSingleCoil|
|Continuous walker, 2 feet||Quatrefoil|
|Walker||Complex connected spherical bodies, 4 simple legs||Half_Spider_Like|
|Wings?||Continuous inter-rotating circles||Involved|
Box 13: Dysfunctional Model of Institutional Metamorphosis?
Frank C. Anderson and Marcus G. Pandy. Dynamic Optimization of Human Walking, 2001 [text]
Aristotle. On the Gait of Animals. 350 BC [text]
Mark A. Changizi. Relationship between Number of Muscles, Behavioral Repertoire Size, and Encephalization in Mammals. J. theor. Biol. (2003) 220, pp. 157-168 [text]
John Elkington. The Chrysalis Economy: How citizen CEOs and corporations can fuse values and value creation. John Wiley and Sons, 2001 [contents]
Paul Flavin. Bipedal Human Gait : A 3D Interactive Model with Animation. 1999 [text]
Rosabeth Moss Kanter. When Giants Learn to Dance: Mastering the Challenges of Strategy, Management, and Careers in the 1990s. Simon and Schuster, 1990
Molson Medical Informatics Project. Gait Disorders. 1997-2000 [text]
Yoshihiko Nakamura, Katsu Yamane, Ichiro Suzuki and Yusuke Fujita. Dynamics Computation of Musculo-Skeletal Human Model Based on Efficient Algorithm for Closed Kinematic Chains. Proceedings of the 2nd International Symposium on Adaptive Motion of Animals and Machines, Kyoto, 2003. SaP-I-2 [text]
Jacquelin Perry. Gait Analysis: Normal and Pathological Function. Slack, 1992 [contents]
This work is licenced under a creative commons licence.