1st November 2006 | Draft
Preliminary NetMap Studies
of Databases on Questions, World Problems, Global Strategies, and Values
- / -
Full size images of those presented below can be accessed by clicking on the
Visualizations (problems and strategies): Energy strategies | Water problems | Water strategies | Strategies against violence
The NetMap system can be described as a sophisticated suite of computer programs designed to help identify and analyze formal and informal networks. These networks may consist of people, telephone numbers, fax machines - or any possibly connected entities. These entities are referred to as 'nodes' and the connections between them as 'links.' In the studies above, the nodes are typically problems, strategies, values or questions (namely the contents of the large data sets maintained online by the Union of International Associations). The link may be hierarchical relationships between the nodes, or functional relationships (Node A "aggravates" Node B, etc), or relationships between Nodes of different types (such as a problem and a strategy, or a strategy and a value).
The primary output of the NetMap system is a series of graphic displays, or NetMaps (as shown above). These NetMaps are created by the program's analysis of the networks. NetMaps allow the user to easily examine the data from a variety of viewpoints and to focus on specific areas of interest.
NetMap was initially developed by an Australian, Dr. John Galloway, during his doctoral studies in Communications at Michigan State University. Dr. Galloway became interested in communication patterns and the development of informal networks of individuals in organizations. The studies presented above are extremely preliminary based on tentative explorations of the possibilities using a simplified version of NetMap kindly loaned to the Union of International Associations through the good offices of John Galloway.
It is especially important to understand that NetMap is typically used in an interactive face-to-face situation, with a client formulating questions, enabling a consultant, skilled in the application, to find meaningful ways of analyzing and displaying it. The above results were not derived under those circumstances and it is highly probable that more in-depth study would be appropriate in each case. Some of the interesting visual effects may, under such circumstances, be based on limited capacity in using the NetMap application. To the extent that they are interesting however, this is an indication of how much can now be achieved under such circumstances.
Furthermore, although the datasets studied have long been maintained by the Union of International Associations, it is probable that more useful ways of importing the data into NetMap could be developed in order to enable more interesting detailed analyses. The above results are therefore intended primarily to point to possibilities.
The development of the datasets used here was initially enabled through the support of the foundation Mankind 2000 in 1972-6, leading to various edtions of what is now named the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. This complements other online databases of the Union of International Associuations (notably the Yearbook of International Organizations, International Congress Calendar, Who's Who in International Organizations). The study above of Christopher Alexander's Pattern Language, is based on one the smaller related datasets (see 5-fold Pattern Language, 1984).
An important issue is the relationship between a presentation that is visually interesting, especially from an aesthetic point of view, and its significance (if any) beyond such aesthetic value. This is of course a question that is fundamental to communication processes where trivia may acquire artificial importance because of the sophistication of the multi-media effects through which they are presented. The reverse may also be true where results of fundamental significance are effectively meaningless in a communication process because of the alienating modes of presentation. At what stage do studies such as those above give rise to significant results -- beyond aesthetic effects?
NetMap has numerous features offering many possibilities of analysis. The feature basic to the above visualizations is that of "grouping". The specific variant used here is the detection of "emergent groups"
The detection of emergent groups depends on which nodes are included by the users for analysis. Typically isolated pairs of nodes and detached nodes (not directly linked to any other nodes) would be excluded. These types of nodes are seen only when using Emergent, and can consist of isolates and isolated pairs, and are usually located at the bottom of the screen (as can be seen in some examples above).
An emergent group is a group of nodes (usually people, but in the case problems, or strategies, or values) who, together, share more linkage with each other than they do with nodes outside the group. Each group is relatively cohesive because of the characteristic that most linkage is shared. The concept of emergent groups is probably more meaningful in a relationship sense when people nodes are being considered, although when a non-person node (e.g., vehicle or telephone number) features in a group, the question must be asked, 'Why is this node here?' and 'Who is the person behind/associated with this node?'
Those groups 'emerge' from the linkage data. They are not based on any pre-defined criteria, such as family, investigation connection, etc., or any other node attributes characterizing that node. A pattern recognition routine examines the links in the relevant network and classifies nodes into one of four categories: isolates, attached isolates, liaisons, and group members.
Liaisons are single-member node groups that have sufficient linkage to two or more groups, but insufficient linkage to become a group member. Attached isolates have minimal or indirect linkage to a network through a group member. Tree nodes are non-emergent group members that have links with two or more nodes that must be isolates (can be either detached or attached isolates). Isolates are thoroughly detached, with no links to the network, but may be linked to one another. There is a toggle button that can be used to stop these types of nodes from being displayed.
The studies above are focused on particular themes from particular databases, except in the case of Human Values, where the whole dataset is used. In each case the first images give an overview in the emergent group mode. Subsequent images, obtained through zooming into the detail of the first image, indicate how that detail can be explored -- bringing up profiles and special menus as required.
Clearly each theme could be the subject of very extensive exploration with the production of a range of images on the different emergent groups identified -- with commentary on their possible significance. As typically used by banks and police forces to detect fraudulent transactions and criminal liaisons, NetMap highlights unexpected groups about which questions can be usefully asked. Rather than the current crime and security applications of NetMap, the above studies suggest the possibility of analogous analyses contributing to the detection of patterns relevant to global or planetary security. Criminal liaisons and fraudulent transactions may be considered as analogues to poorly recognized processes undermining global governance and the effective response to the range of social and environmental challenges on the planet. It might even be argued, to the extent that financial transactions are tokens of confidence and trust, that there is as much need to identify fraudulent patterns of abuse of confidence and trust as there is to identify financial fraud -- as well as the possibility of detecting "crimes against the planet".
The above studies point to the possibility of focusing on:
The visualization exercises can notably be of assistance with respect to:
At this stage the main purpose of the explorations presented above is to point to the possibility of another way of framing intractable complexes of issues with which society is confronted. They might be considered "teasers" to evoke a response from the curious as to whether they offered a new way of understanding such complexity. What might configurations, such as those above, offer to those who are deeply committed to implementing new strategies in response to old problems, or to questioning conventional understandings of the "problematique" (as advocated by the Club of Rome).
NetMap might be considered as a device for constructing windows on this complexity -- possibly tinted "rose windows" or even "mandalas" -- through which a very large diversity of elements may be held in relationship and explored at whatever detail is felt to be appropriate.
Of particular interest is the possibility that the interactive use of NetMap might be employed as a focusing device for creative groups -- and even large conferences -- to ensure the appropriate interrelationship between themes that are more readily explored in dangerous isolation from each other. Such uses have been developed in relation to a similar product, Decision Explorer, with far less analytic or visualizing capacity (John M Bryson, et al, Visible Thinking: Unlocking causal mapping for practical business results, 2004; Colin Eden and Fran Ackermann, Making Strategy: The Journey of Strategic Management, 1998).
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.