-- / --
Summary: This note has been prepared in order to stress the need for further attention to one aspect of the plans currently under discussion within the United Nations and the Specialized Agencies, particularly through the Enlarged Committee for Programme and Coordination, to improve global development strategy and coordination. These have taken the form of investigations of ways to improve the operation of individual agencies and their coordination.
This note suggests that agencies face an information and coordination problem which is an integral part of that of other international and national organizations and that the only effective long term solution is one based on an assessment of the management information requirements of all organizations in the face of global problems. An economical solution using a central computer is discussed.
0. Summary of argument
2. Current situation
3. Scope of management problem
4. Interaction between UN and non-UN Networks
5. Problems currently treated on an ad hoc basis
*** Lack of information on organizations
*** Lack of integrated information on organizations and programmes
6. Implications of the distinction between management techniques and administrative techniques
7. Implications of the distinction between documentation and management information
8. Economical solution to the global management information problem
9. Advantage of a network file organization
1. The UN problems of global programme coordination and strategy are an integral part of similar problems in other types of organization with the same programme objectives as the UN.
2. The UN recognizes its dependence on these organizations.
3. Current plans to solve the UN problems aim at a UN inter-agency solution only, with an emphasis on the exchange of coded or microfilmed documentary material as the key to coordination.
4. The resultant high-volume flow of information will not facilitate the task of the programme decision-maker since the system will not be designed to pin-point communication gaps or areas of need. The system will not assist the non-UN organizations on which the UN depends.
5. The emphasis on the increased flow of documents is due to the lack of distinction between management information and programme administration documents. Critical management information is diluted by the mass of documentary material.
6. The discussions on the use of computers emphasize either administrative uses, document exchange or indexing, or statistical research. None of these systems take full advantage of the computer as a management tool.
7. Information on the existence, location and programme activities of organizations within the world system is either non-existent or poorly distributed (because of the cost) and therefore only available after a complex series of search operations.
8. Information on currently active bodies and programmes is critical to adequate global programme coordination and planning, analysis of needs, fund allocation, programme evaluation, programme implementation, and document distribution. The difficulty in obtaining such information hinders organized reaction by all types of organization and department to new and overlapping problem areas.
9. An information system is described which could act both as a contact list for normal administrative purposes and also as a powerful management tool, for the UN agencies and for non-UN bodies. The use of the system by non-UN organizations would in itself improve programme coordination. The system does not appear to require finance or computer hardware which is not already available or planned, nor does it appear to conflict with any detailed existing proposals. The proposed system does however represent a change of emphasis towards an integration of isolated parts of the present static information system in a dynamic computer environment. The design requirements of an integrated system should be used as guidelines if current policies will only permit the use of agency-focussed information systems for the present.
This note suggests that agencies face an information and coordination problem which is an integral part of that of other international and national organizations and that the only effective long-term solution is one based on an assessment of the management information requirements of all organizations in the face of global problems.
The present problems and activites of the UN and Specialized Agency committees on coordination and the use of computers have been briefly summarized in a proposal by Walter M. Kotschnig (United States Member of the United Nations Ecosoc Enlarged Committee for Programme and Co-ordination) entitled 'Development of modern management techniques and use of computers' (E/AC .51/GR/L. 9, 7 October 1968) . The note cites the following problems:
'.. it has become more and more difficult for any individual, whether in government service or in an international secretariat, to be aware of the totality of the United Nations family programme and activities. This in turn complicates the process of coordination, makes over-lapping and duplication more likely.. .'
'.. .the lack of an adequate and carefully organized system of presentation of a myriad of relevant data and determinants renders highly problematical, if not impossible, the establishment of overall programme priorities. . .'
To improve the situation, the note suggests that the UN system organizations should 'work in the directions of more intensified use of modern management techniques' and should 'review the existing and presently foreseen uses of computers and other recent advances in data retrieval and presentation by United Nations organizations' in order to prepare for larger programmes of action on a 'more coordinated basis under the global strategy for development. ' The note points out that solutions to the serious coordination and information problems are being sought by a variety of UN agency bodies.
In terms of the management problems involved, it is important to recognize that
A management approach to the UN system must, therefore, recognize a three level problem of data processing, coordination and management guidance of:
It is important to avoid the assumption that improvement at either of the first two problem levels will necessarily be an effective answer (on a cost/ benefit basis) to the problems arising outside the UN system or interacting with it. Weaknesses in coordination and information systems, critical to the functioning of the UN and its programmes outside the UN system may not be detected unless the overall coordination problem is clearly determined in advance.
Agencies within the UN system constantly face the problem of effective interaction with other organizations, programmes and information processing systems, whether national or international. The UN system needs to mesh effectively with these other systems in implementing its programmes and in ensuring the generation of new programmes. The need for public awareness, acceptance, support and involvement has been stressed in many UN reports as vital to effective programme implementation. For example, the UN General Assembly resolved that the Office of Public Information 'should primarily assist and rely upon the co-operation of the established governmental and non-governmental agencies of information to provide the public with information about the United Nations' (Resolution 13 (I) 1946) . In 1968, the Secretary General stated ' .. .it is more important than ever to do everything within our power to help create that receptively to United Nations objectives and policies which is as yet so seriously lacking.' (Press release ECOSOC/252 SG/M/65) . Many UN recommendations call for action by non-UN inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations.
From currently available reports on the coordination and information processing problem, it appears that most effort is being concentrated on the first level problems (e.g. 'the main effort of the United Nations and its agencies has been naturally to ensure the dissemination of project information to their own inter-governmental body, committees, experts and substantive services...', (E/4486/Add. 1, 19 April 1968) . Some effort has been made on the second level problem (e.g. the existence of the Enlarged Committee on Programme and Coordination and the creation of such bodies as the Inter-Agency Working Party on Indexing and Documentation; also '... some arrangements have been made to make. .. (project information).. .available to other members of the United Nations family as well as to member countries.' (E/4486/Add.1, 19 April 1968)).
The third level problem does not seem to have been adequately defined as vital to any management or data processing proposals made for the UN system. Some global projects effort have been undertaken, but only for specialized and therefore non-interacting problem areas (e.g. Unesco-ICSU contacts on the world scientific information network for document location; tentative proposals for moves towards planetary environmental management at the September 1968 Unesco expert conference on the biosphere; classification of national science policy throughout the world.) No general systematic study of the interaction and control of problem areas in terms of all the existing and planned organizational structures and management information requirements appears to have been made. The approach to each special problem area has been elaborated without any systematic consideration of interaction with other problem areas and the type of information required to guide such interaction. Without a framework in which problem area interaction is automatically considered, no coordinated global approach to development strategy is possible.
In order to achieve its objectives, the UN needs to consider:
Increased coordination and effectiveness of the activities of organizations unconnected with the UN system is a guarantee that the problems with which these bodies are independently concerned, will be dealt with effectively and not become a critical problem which the UN is forced to handle with its own limited funds and administrative resources. The solution to UN internal administrative problems is, therefore, closely linked to non-UN organization effectiveness and UN external programme objectives.
For a proposed solution to be effective, the management problem should be analysed in terms of achieved and planned coordination, effectiveness of organizations and programmes, of whatever type, and the role, the UN organizations can play in interacting with other organizations to strengthen the weaker areas of the world system. An ad hoc approach does not permit any sophisticated planning or control of the situation.
There is a range of problems within the world system bearing directly on the facilitation of global development strategy which are treated on a piecemeal, patchwork basis. These include:
5a. Lack of information on organizations: Information on bodies generating and implementing programmes and using project reports. Few countries or international agencies have attempted to build up a comprehensive systematic list of bodies which affect or are affected by their programmes. For example, in the UN system 'Most of the organizations have not up to the present handled the project information in a systematic way in a central location...' (E/4486/Add.l, 19 April 1968), although it is recognized that ' .. .much staff time and money could be saved by a pooling of data and an automatic exchange of new material. The material could be of particular usefulness at the stage when identification of needs was under study' (E/4486/Add. 1,19 April 1968).
Such a central data pool is important because the juxtaposition of programme and contact information is vital to the avoidance of any duplication of research and publications and to any overall analysis of programme priorities (problems raised by Mr Kotschnig). Such contacts are also vital to any awareness of, and utilization by, organizatons outside the UN system of the work already done. These are general problems faced by the UN and Agency Offices of Public Information.
The United Nations Ecosoc Administrative Committee on Coordination is 'interested in encouraging measures which could further facilitate the inter-agency dissemination of project information' (E/4486/Add. 1, 19 April 1968) as a solution to one aspect of this problem. One project envisaged is the creation of country information files to be placed on microfilm for use throughout the UN system. This would however be designed as an inter-agency solution only, irrespective of the supplementary information needs or logical interface requirements of organizations interacting with the UN system, on which the UN is dependent for the implementation and effectiveness of its programmes. This work would, therefore, have to be duplicated in a variety of forms outside the UN system thus reducing the utility of both and increasing the cost of the resultant inefficient information system.The ACC states that 'The use of reports in project and programme formulation is mainly a matter for Governments.' (E/4486/Add.l) which apparently restricts and simplifies the management problem, although in terms of achieving UN global development objectives and evaluating programme effectiveness, study of the use made of existing programmes is a critical process in formulation of new programmes. This is vital to a management overview of development strategy. Current information on bodies using and supplying information to UN bodies, whether they are within the UN system, the government system, the nongovernmental, non-profit system, or the commercial system, appears to be split between and within each agency and maintained under at least five entirely separate functional groups:
- publication sales lists
- general information and public relations lists
- expert advisor lists
- consultative status international organizations
- programme implementation organization lists and directories by area or programme.
This is done for administrative convenience, even though the same body may be listed in more than one file and in more than one agency. Because of the ad hoc approach, there is likely to be duplication of effort in maintaining files within and between agencies, as well as important omissions in the pattern of contacts where bodies have not been detected by one or more agencies or departments. Any such file organization makes an overall view impossible on a basis useful for management and global strategy purposes, since even details on the programme significance of individual organizations in the world system,for the UN, are scattered through a number of departments which may not liaise.Most UN system organizations are studying the maintenance of a central 'memory' on project information (E/4486/Add. 1, 19 April 1968) . It has apparently not yet been decided whether such memories would be computer based or what sort of material they should contain and have exchanged between agencies (e.g. programme contacts, programme objectives, report titles, or detailed project reports) . The current emphasis does however appear to favour an exchange of a large volume of reports or microfilmed documents rather than small quantities of management information . The latter could be fed into a central computer to maintain an up to date clear and comprehensive picture of the existing operational and research programmes and contacts which could be used to improve future programmes. As Mr Kotschnig points out, reports analysing problem and programme relationships contribute little to the solution of these problems. A more dynamic and highly ordered information system is required for this purpose.
This situation is reflected outside the UN system, both in and between other inter-governmental agencies, within the national government networks, and as regards the information requirements of specialized nongovernmental, non-profit organizations (e.g. science, medicine, youth, education, etc.). Although carefully collected figures are available each year on the estimated population of each town, country and for the world, no such systematic information is available on the number, nature and contact addresses of the organizations to which individuals and other organizations belong. The data collection focus in general has been on the problem areas rather than on the organizational network and its resources through which solutions can be focussed on a variety of problems.
There is therefore no body which is in a position to study, assess and recommend the allocation of organizational resources or attempt any form of global strategy formulation in the face of interacting problem areas. Where such recommendations are made, they are not conceived in terms of the overall organizational network through which they must be implemented. The only bodies in existence or envisaged with this sort of capacity are the multinational business enterprises working through the world trade centres. These have sophisticated computer facilities to assist in the rapid allocation of organizational resources in the face of problems and opportunities but are not directly interested in global development although their networks and coordination constitute important resources in development planning. The low degree of information availability and organization therefore:
- reduces ability to initiate and maintain contacts; leads to duplication, wasted effort and funds;
- leads to dilution of effort and non-optimum solutions because of lack of interaction between bodies interested in related fields;
- conceals important communication and coordination gaps which may be vital to effective programme implementation.
5b. Lack of integrated information on organizations and programmes: Available information on organizations and programmes is structured in such a way that it is difficult to determine through what programmes, organizations and information networks organizations coordinate their activities and through which effort should be channelled
Most information on organizations and programmes is provided (whether within or outside the UN system) in the form of specialized lists without any structure or means of cross-referencing by programme or membership of some coordinating body. From a management point of view, it is therefore extremely difficult to pick out critical points in the world system where coordination is required and can be organized with minimum effort on an optimum cost/effectiveness basis. Similarly, it is difficult to determine where coordinating points already exist and may be used with minimum allocation of resources to ensure effective programme implementation and information processing.
As an illustration of the sort of management problem that should be automatically signalled once it arises, a United States National Commission for Unesco report concluded in 1964 that 'Communication is generally sporadic and uncertain between the international NGO and its national affiliates and individual members. . . Individual American members, for example, appear to know very little about what their international NGO is doing. In some cases, this includes even the executive secretary of the American affiliate. Much the same situation is believed to apply in other countries.' A report on the 1968 Freedom from Hunger Conference for National Committees in Asia and the Far East indicated a 'seeming lack of understanding' how the governmental and non-governmental organizations represented could help one another. Non-governmental organizations were reported as often not knowing what other national organizations in the same country were doing. An 1968 FAO brochure states that 'In some cases even the member governments of the Organization are not fully aware of the variety and scope of information readily obtainable through the FAO.'
It is probable that communication between many inter-governmental agencies and organizations, national government departments and national organizations is equally ineffective in many sectors. The degree and extent of ineffectiveness and its consequences are almost impossible to determine with present procedures.
The current procedure with regard to problem management appears to be to wait until a situation becomes critical and sufficient pressure is exerted through an ad hoc network of bodies (which may or may not be adequately funded despite the responsibility tacitly placed upon them) . When funds are finally obtained for the needed programme, information is then gradually built up on the organizations through which the programme should be implemented. This information may then be published in directory form, but not necessarily with any provision for regular updating or cross-reference to other directories in preparation for the next problem.
This is management by crisis with a long reaction time. It can only produce temporary solutions to specific problems. The procedure does not facilitate coordination of existing programmes either within a given subject or geographical area or where several problem areas interact across discipline and geographical boundaries. This is particularly important in environmental problems.
Lack of information on coordination increases the problem of fund allocation by organizations within and outside the UN system because it is difficult to pinpoint quickly and with certainty which bodies constitute the channels for effective fund allocation with respect to a particular problem area .
It is also difficult for the governmental and private bodies with funds to allocate, to know which problems are becoming critical in the face of the requests by all organizations. In a comprehensive information system, this would be indicated by the increase in the number of meetings and organizations in a sensitive problem and/or geographical area. This should be automatically signalled as an indication of the growing points in the world system to which additional aid needs to be channelled.
The lack of any information on the structural relationship between organizations also hinders the process of evaluation. Detection of the points to which project information is channelled through non-UN organizations, must be done on a lengthy ad hoc basis, programme by programme, to check on the utility of each, if such an evaluation is undertaken.
Linked to the problem of evaluation is the difficulty under present circumstances of rapidly detecting and initiating corrective programmes to combat new primary problems (e.g. natural disasters, etc.) and new secondary problems (e.g. ineffectiveness, inefficiency or breakdown in particular parts of the world system) . Global development cannot be effectively undertaken on a continuing basis but is dependent on intermittent action by ad hoc pressure groups whether within or outside government circles
Many problems within the world system are dealt with on a continuing basis through non-UN and non-governmental organizations, information systems, agreements, programmes and meetings. Any information system must be structured to assist and integrate the activities of such non-UN organizations and programmes. A UN or agency focussed information system does not improve the cost/effectiveness of the global information system by making full use of other Information systems wherever possible and facilitating the use of any such system by other bodies.
The consequent duplication does not contribute to the solution of issues identified by the Enlarged Committee for Programmes and Coordination and annotated by the Secretary-General (E/AC . 51/GR/15, 7 October 1968), namely: an optimum concentration of resources; a reduction in the burden on the administrative resources of Member States and of members of the United Nations family of organizations; a flexible, prompt and effective response to specific needs; the evolution of an integrated system of longterm planning on a programme basis; and the institution of systematic procedures for evaluating the effectiveness of operational and research activities.
The UN organizations need to be aware of what is being done and not done, by whom, and how effectively, in order to check that problems are dealt with either through UN or non-UN programmes before they become critical. This awareness needs to be on week by week basis and not subject to the lengthy delays required to locate retrieve, check and order information generated in all parts of the world. Current and envisaged plans do not, however, appear to be converging or cross-linking sufficiently to lead to systematic global problem management using management and data process techniques, which would be considered essential in, for example, any global commercial enterprise or military organization.
There is some confusion and overlap associated with the distinction between 'management' and 'administrative' techniques. Management techniques are sometimes considered to be only applicable to business management as developed through the schools of business administration. Schools of public administration and governments emphasize the use of administrative techniques in discussing government departments. Management techniques have, however, been developed to the point where they can be applied irrespective of the type of organization (business, government, private, military) or its objectives (profit, non-profit, etc.).
Management techniques are problem oriented. They are required: to evaluate on a continuous basis the internal and external problems an organization must face; to organize, coordinate and balance the resources of the sub-divisions of the organization, to deal with the problems and to guide their implementation of programmes; to initiate or recommend new programmes and long-term plans in the face of new problems; and to ensure that the process of management is constantly improved.
Administrative techniques are programme oriented. They are more concerned with the techniques of implementing voted programmes as opposed to the management problems of determing which programmes should be implemented on the basis of the resources available and the long-term objectives of the organization. Both techniques are required in any internation organization with an ability to initiate or recommend programmes .
The lack of compensation for the current political science bias towards governmental organizations (despite the practical necessity to gain acceptance from and work through other types of organization), together with the interests and low degree of interaction of the environments in which management and administrative techniques have been respectively developed, have had three important consequences for global development:
A vital preliminary to any future management guidance (even if it is of the loosest kind) or recommendations on the control of problem areas within the world system, is an adequate management information system.
The necessity for a global information system is recognized to some extent, but solutions to the information problem as currently defined are expected to be very costly and have, therefore, been by-passed in favour of ad hoc measures. The reason for the high cost estimates is that the documentation problem of keeping track of the mass of detailed factual information is confused with the management and communication problem of keeping track of information on bodies controlling, evaluating, formulating and implementing programmes, and coordinating memberships, relationships and information networks which link them in terms of their problem areas.
A management approach concentrates on keeping track of the producers of information and their coordination of their current and planned activities. A documentation approach concentrates on the information produced when it eventually appears in published form. The first is focussed on the initiating points for present and future activity, whilst the second is focussed on the published record, if any, of past activity. The fact that one organization can coordinate the production of many documents in the context of one programme, is an indication of the difference in the volume of information in each case, the scale of the problem in each case, and the cost of each solution. Intermediate between these two extremes is information on sources of information (e.g. bibliographies of bibliographies, directories of periodicals, directories of directories) which can be incorporated in a management information system, since it represents the key to information collection points and systems in a particular problem area.
No systematic attempt appears to have been made to analyse or solve the global management information problem, which is very much simpler than the documentation problem, because the volume of data is very much lower by many orders of magnitude and is not increasing at the same rate. (In fact, by elaborating the network of information channels linking bodies throughout the world system, a partial solution to the documentation problem is achieved. This is because each such body is equipped and motivated to detect and process documents generated within its own special field of interest and this process would be accelerated if the detailed global information network was known and accessible to such organizations.)
The documentation problem and management information problem should be carefully distinguished. The first implies the retrievability within a 'reasonable' period of time, of all past relevant document. The second implies the immediate availability of information on all currently active bodies, programmes and information networks at all levels of the world system. This can be built into an integrated picture of the global situation and organizational resources.
Decision makers faced with global problems can no longer afford the time to wait for libraries and information centres to locate and retrieve relevant documents containing management information which are dispersed throughout the documentation system. They no longer have time to read and absorb detail from a wide variety of relevant sources. Information must be summarized, structured and presented to highlight priority problem areas, resources and alternative courses of action in order to facilitate discussion, planning and decision-making, particularly in committees.
The first essential and economical step and key to any such presentation is information on the network of bodies and programmes currently operating in a particular area, since it is through these bodies that information is collected, processed and evaluated and through them that programmes are implemented and coordinated. It is very important not to treat details on organizations as static mailing or directory lists split between and within agencies and departments which are in contact with such bodies for different administrative reasons (e.g. sales, public relations, consultative relations, programme implementation, etc.).
The significance of outside contact for effective management can only become apparent by interrelating the functions performed by each body for the agency and for other bodies. By suitably structuring files on organizations and their relationships as a network within a central computer memory, the network itself can be displayed as a whole or at different levels of detail down to a report on a single link or node. This can be printed out or displayed on a direct-access device with a TV screen,in terms of the perspective of any organization in the network. Any such dynamic presentation has all the communication and conceptual advantages of audio-visual aids.
The computer could be programmed to diagnose weaknesses in the organizational network in a manner equivalent to that used for testing electrical circuits, space systems or engineering structures. This could also be done in relation to statistical data on the problem areas with which they are concerned. Any such weaknesses can be printed out or appropriately highlighted on a display screen for the benefit of the decision maker or committee members responsible for a given area. The probable effects of alternative courses of action on the network can also be shown with their resultant weaknesses. This would constitute a very powerful aid to decision-making and management at the committee stage and is the reason why such systems are used in military and commercial organizations.
Apart from its value as a management tool, such a system constitutes an organization of information which can be used with much greater flexibility for administrative purposes (e.g. sales publicity, distribution lists, programme contacts, etc.) and to improve the circulation of documentary material.
Specific advantages can be summarized as:
The proposed global management information system could be implemented immediately by storing and structuring in a computer information on organizations listed in directories and agency files. The network structure of the files stored in computer memory could be designed to facilitate the process of gradual build up of the system both in terms of the number and types of organizations listed (inter-governmental, non-governmental, commercial, national, etc.) and the nature of the links between them (membership, distribution list, collaboration on programmes, etc.). Initially the system could be used by the United Nations and other bodies as an effective survey, distribution, public information and contact list. As techniques for the analysis and display of the network are perfected, it could be used as a powerful aid to global development planning and coordination.
Any such central bank of information, as envisaged by Mr Kotschnig, would be responsible for maintaining and updating files. Depending on economic factors, the relevant sections of these files could either be used to prepare directories through a computer typesetting routine or copied and sent to agencies, governments and other organizations around the world for use in their own computers. As the cost of linking computers nationally and internationally is reduced in the 1970s, transfer and updating of relevant sections of the central and agency computer files could be handled automatically.
In order to build towards a sophisticated system which can help to predict weaknesses and problem areas, it is important to ensure compatibility and coordination in the treatment of the type of management information that could be usefully stored in a central computer. The compatibility problem is not as serious as in the field of documentation where formats have already been frozen and the volme of Information is high. Little has been done with regard to global management information on a computer basis. Formats and coordination are still in the planning stage. A central body could now act to prepare the guidelines and core for the sophisticated system which is now economically feasible. Unless action is taken, not only will it be impossible to keep track of documentation produced in the future, but a multitude of new organizations and programmes will be created. They will produce documentation and information systems because of confusion and lack of coordination, and will therefore compound the documentation problem and further decrease the effectiveness of inter-organization communications and global development planning.
The global strategy and coordination requirements for the larger United Nations development programmes of the future, mentioned by Mr Kotschnig, need to be considered carefully in the light of the following comment from the introduction to a 1968 management conference session of the College of Management Control Systems. 'Evidence is mounting that the environmentwhich managers seek to control - or, at least, to guide or restrain is increasing in turbulence and complexity at a rate that far exceeds the capacity of management researchers to provide new and improved methodologies to affect management's intentions. Faced with the consequences of force-fed technological change, and the concomitant changes in the social, political, psychological, and theological spheres, there is real danger that the process by which new concepts of management control are invented and developed may itself be out of control relative to the demands that are likely to be imposed upon it.'
The proposed information system represents a step towards the solution of the management problem at the global level. It is a valuable opportunity for the United Nations in view of its current discussions on the solution to closely related issues. The cost would be relatively low since it is not a new system which is being set up, but merely the dynamic Juxtaposition of the currently isolated parts of the existing system.
Such a system should constitute a practical channel by which local, national and international bodies could initiate and maintain contacts. This would considerably accelerate the persuasion of public opinion and the creation of political will, which the Secretary General of UNCTAD has stressed as being of the highest priority 'in order to avoid a second Development Decade of even deeper frustration than the first one' (TD/96).
For further updates on this site, subscribe here