Inter-organizational Data and Data Bank Design
- / -
Problem of definition
Graph theory and networks
Entities and data bank structure
Organizations creating special research problems
Viable collection systems
Data bank users
Interactive graphic displays
Paper presented to the Workshop on International Organization Data, jointly sponsored
by International Studies Association, Union of International Associations (Brussels);
United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) in conjunction with
the the Annual Conference of the International Studies Association (San Juan,
Puerto Rico, March 17-20, 1971)
purpose of this paper is to show that there is an important area of data on
international organization which has not been explored and yet seems to offer
scope for some interesting investigation.
looking at what could be appropriately included in international organizational
data, the assumption is made here that any such data would be used for the
understanding, and prediction of social change as well as any formulation of
recommendations. Social change is
understood to include development, and therefore
the problem of adequate social indicators.
Examination of social data in this
general sense helps to identify an inadequately documented feature of
organization data, namely the links between
social entities. This leads on to the
types of entities that should be included in a data bank and its structure.
design of a data bank cannot be based solely on the contents but must be
in terms of the users' requirements.
These are considered, particularly with regard
to the need for more powerful user-interfaces to facilitate comprehension and
importance of multi-purpose data banks to guarantee frequent updating.
Problem of definition
What is meant by "international organization
data"? The term, is taken here in
sense -- namely, as referring to data about the organization or structure
of the international and transnational systems. Both the terms "organization" and
"structure" suggest the need for data about the kind and number of
and the relations between them at the international level. But there seems to be
some ambiguity about the terms "structure" (1, page 185-186) and
"relations" (e.g. as in international relations), and
the relationship between them.
Let us look at the comments of one author closely identified with measurement
of structures in social macro-systems. Bertram Gross states that "There
are so many aspects of the structure of a national social system that no one
need feel particularly unhappy if he cannot make a complete list of all
of them....The structure of any social system consists of (1) people, (2)
nonhuman resources, (3) grouped together into subsystems that (4) interrelate
among themselves and (5) with the external environment, and are subject to
(6) certain values and (7) an internal guidance system that may help provide
the capacity for future performance." (1, page 182-3). He then goes
on to discuss people as "the basic element of system structure"
and that apart from nonhuman resources all the above aspects of "system
structure" are merely ways of elaborating on certain stable characteristics of, and interrelations among, people". To understand these characteristics
and interrelations, "it is necessary to deal analytically with the population
structure by itself -- that is, with the types, quantity, quality of people"
(1, page 187-198). The attributes of the entities bound together within the
system are clearly covered here, but the relationships between the
entities are not. This is even clearer in Gross's following paragraph.
"By "types", reference is made to such classification categories
as age, sex, race, religion, geographical location, and occupation. With subgroups
within these categories, as rows and with quantity groups as columns, a full
set of matrices can be developed to indicate the "population structure"
of any society. By "population structure" I mean, therefore, the
quantitative distribution of the population across the relevant categories."
(1, page 190)
The "relations" identified here are the relations between attributes,
namely a relationship of comparison, and not between the entities possessing
the characteristics, namely a direct inter-entity link or bond. J. David
Singer makes this distinction as follows:
"...relationships are of two types. One type deals with the similarity
or dissimilarity of attributes while the other deals with degrees of interdependence and connectedness." (2, page 132)
It will be seen below that the first type is the only one evident in current
social data series.
The emphasis is therefore that a knowledge of structure may be obtained by
quantifying the attributes of entities and then performing a statistical analysis
to determine the relationships between these attributes as properties of the
distributions and patterns these actors define on various variables.
Johan Galtung refers to this emphasis as "the myth that systems can
be understood by analyzing the individual actors." (3, page 7) It
is this myth that is questioned here with reference to the priorities in the
collection of data on international organization.
Gross is however one of the few authors concerned with social data who places
great stress on transcending the view of social systems as a heap of detached
"In discussing the population structure earlier, we divided human
beings into various classification categories. These categories are less
significant, however, than those which describe the way people act together
in subsystems or smaller groups of various types. It is the intricate network
of these subsystems that, more than anything else, establishes the framework
of social structure." (1, page 134)
And in order to focus on this network, he is again one of the few authors
to suggest that
"We must, therefore, be prepared to identify the various kinds of
social groupings: families, community, employment organizations, associations,
and political parties." (1, page 134) (But note the possibility of
concluding that knowledge of the number and characteristics of entities
gives direct knowledge of the structure of the network they form.)
But these relations which are noted as so significant seem to fade away as
detectable phenomena. Gross notes
"While it is the various interrelations that make a system out of
a large number of subsystems, these interrelations are extremely hard to depict
in comprehensive and specific terms. Often the best that can be done is to
produce a series of general statements of a qualitative nature." (1)
To the systems-oriented authors "Structure means the way in which the
parts of a whole are inter-related; and here it includes both the feedback
loops by which systems regulate themselves and also the conditional probability
mechanisms by which systems learn and organize themselves." (4, page
41-62). For this sort of concept of relations, little useful data can be
collected, except, with much effort, on isolated major subsystems.
Gross goes on to say "With the further development of the social sciences,
however, it should be possible within a decade or two to describe the more
important of these in quantitative terms." (1, page 198)
The purpose of this paper is to suggest that we have already reached the
stage at which data on relations, as links, may be handled quantitatively
-- but perhaps not quite in the above sense or with its complications. There
is an intermediate concept of structure of relations which lends itself to
data collection. Galtung makes the point that "there is an important
transition from arithmetic to geometry as the language of social research,
from parameters that refer to distributions to parameters that refer to structures
(and in the latter arithmetic is permitted to enter the scene again)."
(3, page 7)
In the field of chemistry, "structure" is an extremely important
concept, so is the "relationship" between elements of that structure.
At one stage in the history of chemistry, it was considered sufficient if
the structure of a molecule could be described in terms of the number and
types of atoms composing it -- as is done in the analysis of population structure.
This gave results expressed in such formulae as H2SO4. Great advances were
made on this basis. Then it was discovered with slightly more complex molecules
that an identical set of atoms might be put together in more than one fashion
without violating the rules of molecular stability (e.g. silver fulminate,
which is Ag-N=C=0 and silver isocyanate which is Ag-0-C=N). The properties
of the molecules were significantly different. With even more complex molecules,
the original number/type analysis became virtually useless (e.g., betalactoglobulin
may be described as C1864H3012O576N468S2l - so may a large number of
other molecules with quite different properties). It is fairly clear that
if members of each population or subsystem category were represented by C,
H, 0, N, or S, then the population or subsystem structure would be ambiguously
and inadequately described by any formulae such as "C1864H3012O576N468S2l".
The suggestion is therefore that any set of social system data developed in
this way does not adequately describe the system because of the missing focus
on the manner in which the elements of the structure are ordered, as
opposed to the determination of its composition (which appears to be
what is generally considered as structure). It is only when this question
of order is considered that relations within structures take on meaning
as detectable social system phenomena as opposed to being qualitative or quantitative
comparisons between entity attributes.
Perhaps the point may be made more forcefully by considering the analogous
problem of specifying the "physical infra-structure" as "composed"
of roads, bridges, dams, harbours, buildings, and houses. If each of these
is counted for a given region, a picture of the physical infra-structure supposedly
emerges. This picture could not, however, be distinguished from a planner's
horror scenario -- in which, for example, none of the roads went past houses,
over bridges, or through towns. The counting process assumes that the elements
are functionally related -- there are sufficient examples of communication
and coordination gaps to indicate that this is a dangerous assumption with
respect to social structures. It is therefore important to measure social
The points made in this section may appear obvious to
those scholars concerned
with graph theoretical methods but this school of thought does not seem to have
had much impact on international studies or on those responsible for data
No systematic effort is made to collect information on relations between people so that, for example, the
number of organizations in existence
does not appear in any national or international statistical series (1, 5, 9).
There is even less information on relations between organizations (6, 7, 8).
Two recent publications treating international social data in some detail,
make no reference to organizational or inter-entity link data (10, 11). Where
collection of data on organizations is done or proposed, the "actor focus"
is merely displaced onto a new level and the inter-entity links at that level
are ignored once again.
It would appear that society is faced with a lack of data on relations or
links between entities precisely at a time when many scholars and policy makers
are deploring the fact that everything is increasingly complex and interrelated
- not least within the international/transnational system. An unsatisfactory
attempt is made to handle social change in terms of "influences",
"conditions", "events"and "cases" without any
adequate complementary data-based perspective on "patterns", "structure",
"relationships" and "systems".
We are left with an impression of increasing social complexity.
"The very stuff of this reality is complexity. The elements of our
society ever more richly interact....Handling complexity seems to be the major
problem of the age, in the way that handling material substance offered challenge
to our fore-fathers." (4)
The techniques currently suggested for handling this complexity are model-
oriented rather than data-oriented because of the type of data sought. It
therefore seems necessary to reformulate arguments in favour of a slightly
different meaning for "structure", "relations", and "network".
These meanings are relevant to the design of international organization data
The major problem seems to be the difficulty of quantifying and handling
relations between entities. The aspects of this problem as they affect international organization data are:
(i) the data most desired on relations is inaccessible. This renders impractical
the large scale interview dependent methods such as small group communication
pattern analysis, sociometry, and operations research.
(ii) the field research techniques developed to handle relationships create
data handling, collection, storage and access problems which preclude extension
to large numbers of entities (other than at a high level of generality as
mathematical models in which relations are simulated)
(iii)the techniques appear more suitable to closed system intra-organizational
research than to the required open system inter-organizational research (e.g.
Beer's networks of "esoteric boxes")
(iv) there are difficulties in displaying information on complex patterns
of links between entities,
(v) there is also a tendency to treat the "network" basis of
social structure as a metaphor divorced from any possible use of this concept
This is noted by J. Clyde Mitchell as follows:
"The image of a 'network of social relations' to represent a complex
set of inter-relationships in a social system has had a long history. This
use of "network", however, is purely metaphorical and is very different
from the notion of a social network as a specific set of linkages among a
defined set of persons, with the additional property that the characteristics
of these linkages as a whole may be used to interpret the social behaviour
of the persons involved." (12, page 1-2)
The same point may be made concerning links between organizations in an inter-organizational
network (13, 14).
Graph theory and networks
It would be inappropriate in this paper to go into any detail on the use
of graph theory in the study of inter-entity relations (see 15, 16, 17, 18,
19). No attempt appears to have been made however to use it for inter- or
intra-organizational studies at the international level. In a recent paper
Johan Galtung summarized the status of graph theory with the comment "...we
have not been so impressed with the achievements lately. The insights derived
have a tendency to become trivial elaborations, often mainly based on combinatorics
yielding the number of possibilities of this or that trend." (3) He
was however primarily concerned with the development of its intra-organizational
features. J. Clyde Mitchell and others have made use of it in recent community
studies (19). The emphasis is however on inter-personal relations.
Expanding on Mitchell's comments it would appear that the following graph
theory concepts are of major interest to international studies and the investigation
of data collection priorities:
(a) Shape of the organizational network
a measure of the extent to which a given organization
or person may contact or be contacted via the network links which surround it.
This is therefore an indication of the number of intermediaries necessary to
make the contact and, in the limiting case, whether the organization is in fact
completely isolated. (Within a closed system, this may be considered a measure,
for a given entity of its "centrality" with respect to that system.)
A systematic analysis of the reachability of organizations, departments,
information services, etc. at the world level would indicate very clearly
where new services or communication lines are necessary, or where there are
already too many. This could take the form of an information map with "contours"
indicating the ease with which information from certain points could be obtained
when starting from others.
density: a measure of the degree of interconnectedness of a group
of organizations .
This would give a very good measure of the cohesiveness of a particular subsystem.
Differences in density would reflect the tendency for more highly cohesive
groups to centre on themselves and introduce a "we-they" attitude
into their relationship with other parts of the system, but particularly
with other dense parts of the system. This would offer a good means of detecting
problems arising due to subsystem isolationism.
the number of direct links to an organisation (or person).
This is related to the ability to mobilize support on an issue,
This offers a means of detecting low-entropy nodes, namely bodies which due
to the high number of contacts will either be key points in resistance to
change or else key points in implementing ordered change. It is an indication
of high organizing or coordinating power.
(b) Interaction within the network
content: the purpose of the interaction (economic assistance, data
flow, decision flow, contractual obligation, etc.). Two organizations may
be linked by interactions with different contents thereby forming a multiple
link. Nodes to a wide variety of multiple links represent points at which
a change may have implications for many different subsystems.
directedness: direction of the flow of interaction or indication of
lack of reciprocity. In multiple links the direction of flow in one link
may be opposite to that in another (financial aid may be reciprocated by political
durability: the period over which a certain set of links to the
organization is activated and used. At one extreme there are the links activated
only for a particular crisis, at the other there are links in permanent use.
The expansion and contraction of such networks offer considerable potential
for understanding inter-organization problems.
Low durability links and nodes are those associated with one-off activities,
projects, meetings. Higher durability links and nodes are those associated
with multi-year programmes, regular meeting series, etc. High durability
links and nodes are those associated with permanent organizations. Some
meeting series have greater durability (although different frequency) than
some letterhead style organizations with a short life time.
intensity: a measure of the relative strength, importance or "bond
energy" of an interaction. This can be considered as a measure of the
volume of information, funds, decisions, etc. flowing between given nodes.
frequency: a measure of the frequency of interaction or contact.
This may be the frequency of a periodical distribution, membership fee, annual
subsidy, receipt of feedback information, three-yearly meeting, etc.
The power of the graph theoretical approach is
increased when it is realized that
many significant interactions between organizations are not direct but indirect
via one, two, or a whole chain of links between intermediate bodies. An
analytical approach based on computer processing of data can be used to detect
"weaknesses" in such chains and networks according to different
chains are particularly important where they cross normal organizational
boundaries, for example in the complex chain of bodies which are involved from the registration of a problem to governmental response.
This approach is very important for the detection of
If certain organizations are found to be linked together by overlapping
but not similarly linked to other organizations, these groupings or
may be interpreted as sociologically meaningful units of the social structure,
meaningful because they are composed of on-going groups with an action
potential for that segment of the population (7, page 9).
Study of membership and information links indicates
probable channels for the
dissimination of influence on policy issues.
This may be of particular value
to governments. (7, page 9-10). It
also shows where such links should be
recommended or where indirect links should be used -- analysis of communication and coordination gaps.
Change agents anxious to use their resources
effectively could carefully select
those organizations whose members are members of the maximum number of other organizations (7, page 10).
Membership and leadership linkages among organizations
may be an extremely important
variable for studying and explaining cooperation and conflict, or the lack of
amongst a group of organizations since most serious conflicts between
organizations arise when there is no overlapping of memberships (7, page 11).
It is useful to think of each link in the network as
representing a certain increment of inertia to change in that particular part of the
system. Recommendations for change could well be made and studied in
terms of the sequence of
modification to links. It should be
possible to demonstrate for a given group of entities the point beyond which centralized coordination of their
is likely to be viable -- a "viability of coordination"
it may be possible to detect "inhealthy" patterns of organization.
A network approach to governmental or
intergovernmental systems may hasten the
time when it is possible to map the feedback model suggested by Stafford Beer
and Karl Deutsch (20, ch. 11) and to check for the harmful or beneficial
of organization "isolates" -- for example, the "look-out"
function. It should be
possible to move toward the determination of information
"loads", "lags" in
to challenge, "gains" in response to new data, and "leads"
in anticipation of new problems,
Entities and data bank structure
Given the arguments for a network approach a major problem is to decide on
what entities data should be held in the international organization data bank
and the general criteria for the design of the information system.
The following factors should guide decisions on the design of the file:
1. The file structure should not stress unnecessarily the difference between
types of organization (or links between organizations) since, whatever definitions
are used, different types blend into one another on some dimensions whilst
being distinct on others. Similarities between types may be greater than
differences. Accepted and conventional distinctions should be possible but
should not distort the file structure. This is the only possible means of
making the file useful to a wide variety of researchers and decision-makers
interested in the functions performed by overlapping classes of organization.
2. A sequential file of data on organizations is completely Insufficient
in terms of present and expected future demands for cross-category Information.
The file must therefore provide means of showing the links between organizations.
This form of cross-referencing within the file is the first step towards representing
a variety of "flows" between organizations.
3. A network file structure can therefore be conceived as made up of nodes
and links. The nodes can be organizational entities of any kind, programmes
independent of any particular organization, treaties, meetings, etc. The
links, whether input or output, are the channels along which the node receives
(or transmits) information, funds, non-financial aid, recommendations, etc.
Such links may also represent the membership relationship of "members"
of the node. Links in this general sense can also represent consultative,
collaborative, informal and other relationships as necessary.
4. The network file structure should facilitate use of an adaptation of the
network and input/output analysis techniques employed In operational research
and analysis of electrical networks. Since these techniques have not yet
been adapted to this use, the consequences for the file design are simply
to separate, to the extent possible, coding relating to node characteristics
(static) from those relating to link performance (frequency, volume, type).
Provision should be made for the Inclusion of coding which would reflect the
maximum number of dimensions along which communication and collaboration can
The objective of this type of approach is to maximize the possibility of
constructing models which would be partly quantitative and predictive as suggested
by Karl Deutsch (20, page 126-7):
"A part of this development would be the application of cybernetic
concepts to the system, making larger and more explicit use of time variables
as well as of probabilistic and statistical considerations. This would mean,
among other things, the measurement or estimation of the extent and probable
distribution of imbalance In the transaction flows, of the corresponding loads
upon the equilibrating or adjusting mechanisms in the subsystems; of the lags,
gains, and leads in their responses; and hence of the probable stability
and future states of the entire system and Its parts."
5. Associated with the long-term requirement of systematic network analysis
is the simpler requirement that the file structure should facilitate detection
of weaknesses (as defined by the user) in coordination or communication between
organizations concerned with the same or related problem areas, in order that
such bodies could be notified of each others activities,
6. Aside from the problem of
distinctions between organizations based on conventional
definitions of formal organization types, similar problems arise in attempting
distinguish between permanent bodies and temporary bodies, and between
and dependent or internal bodies (within an organizational structure).
A temporary structure such as an independent meeting
or a programme may be considered to have an important integrative effect starting from the time
it is proposed (and papers are called for) to the time the report or
recommendations are finally available as a stimulus to further
effort. The complete cycle
may in some cases be up to 10 years or more.
This exceeds the life of many
formally constituted "permanent bodies". In addition, the borderline between
a meeting and an organization, particularly if the meeting forms part of a
series and has an informal continuing committee, can only be arbitrarily established.
In the case of independent and dependent bodies,
whatever the degree of autonomy,
the file structure should permit, if necessary, treatment of the entity in
as a node in the network. This avoids
the unsatisfactory procedure of preestablishing the subsystem boundaries and thus predetermining what is system-
external and what is system-internal.
The location of subsystem boundaries may
itself be an important research objective.
In addition, this draws attention to
the fact that although communication and coordination between an outside
and some subsidiary body may be eminently satisfactory, there is no guarantee
that the relationship between the central body and the subsidiary body is
satisfactory. A sub-subsystem of subsystem A may be affected by a
subsystem B without subsystem A as a whole being significantly affected. This has many important consequences.
7. A consequence of the decision not to restrict attention to particular
types of organization is that arbitrary definitions of "international",
"national", "regional", "local", or "governmental",'hon-governmental",
"commercial", etc. are avoided. This permits a researcher to establish
his own definitions of such subsystems with a maximum amount of flexibility.
This is in line with the conclusions of Andrew M.
Scott (The Functioning of the
International Political System) that the nation-states are no longer the only
significant actors on the international political scene. The file design should
facilitate the systems approach suggested by him which would "help
sharp separation between domestic affairs and international politics, because
operates equally well at either level and can move between the two."
8. Most information systems are
designed as means of speeding up the processing,
storage and retrieval of documents.
Because of the high volumes involved such
systems are very costly and where they are less costly, this is only achieved
by a considerable degree of specialization in order to
reduce the volume. To avoid this dilemma and yet optimize information on the world system as a
whole, it is useful to concentrate on the producers of information
rather than the information produced in document form.
9. The file design should not be an attempt at model building but should
rather provide the elements from which a wide variety of partial or general
models could be built. It should be left to the researcher to define the
classes into which he wishes to group entities for model building purposes.
The advantage of this approach is that an attempt is made to include as many
different types of entity as can be detected. The researcher is therefore
forced to explicitly exclude certain types of entity when building partial
models, rather than merely neglect certain types of entity because their significance
has not been brought to his attention.
10.Additional factors governing the design arise because of the practical
problems of implementing and maintaining the system. These are:
flexibility of development. It would be impractical to introduce
a large amount of data before making use of the system. The file should therefore
make provision for build-up
(a) in number of entities included over time
(b) in detail included about entities
(c) of new types of detail not envisaged at the time when the file structure
This permits the file to be extended in response to demand and as funds
become available without any need to follow a predetermined order of development.
The stored information should be of optimum utility at each stage in order
that it should immediately justify funds allocated to the project.
initial focus on the international system.
mailing list preparation.
receptiveness to data in a wide variety of formats.
11.Finally, the file organization has to be kept reasonably simple to facilitate
input and updating.
The file will permit the inclusion of the following entity groups. The groups
are based on conventional categories, but the file organization will of course
permit much more flexibility in selecting categories.
international governmental organizations
organizations of international non-governmental non-profit organizations
international non-governmental non-profit organizations
regional international organizations
international meeting series multinational business enterprises
commissions and sub-commissions of international organizations
organizations of national non-governmental, non-profit organizations
as the major coordinative bodies for non-profit activity
libraries and information centres
national organizations (governmental and non-governmental) with international
programmes or interests
bilateral international organizations
international programmes, projects, "days", etc.
international treaties and agreements particularly where these take over
the normative functions of organizations or are the principal reason for
the existence of an organization
international journals, directories, abstracting or bibliographical services
particularly where these in effect take over the information processing
and dissiminating function of international organizations or are the principal
reason for the existence of a particular organization or are in effect the
most important "coordinative"structure in that field
individuals holding positions in international organizations international
roles or positions particularly where the positions held by one individual
are such that he himself performs an important integrating function in linking
organizations (e.g. cross- linking directorships in business enterprises,
or individuals holding positions in government and in non-governmental organizations)
Clearly there are many similar types of entity at the national level which
could be included if this was considered justified. The emphasis above has
been placed on the geographical coordinating function of entities. Equal
emphasis could be placed on cross-disciplinary or cross-jurisdictional coordinating
functions, and priorities could be allocated accordingly.
The concept of entity is sufficiently general to permit inclusion of other
types of entity if necessary such as:
subsystems and classes of entities. In some cases the subsystems would
in fact represent a non-existent umbrella organization. Depending upon how
the systems were defined, it could be useful to include "black box"
entities known to be important parts of the system with known inputs and
outputs, but about which it was impossible to provide any description with
religions, armies, tribes and clans
movements of opinion and informal organizations
information and communication systems or networks
problem areas. Consideration has been given to means of coding problem
areas, as distinct from subject or field of interest areas. An organization
can be concerned with a field of interest selected from some sort of representation
of the totality of possible fields of interest and ordered into classes
and sub-classes. It would be useful to develop a structure of problems
with which entities can be concerned. In effect this is an ordered collection
of ways in which any entity and in particular (by extension) the world system,
The mis-match between organizations and the problems they are concerned with
may also be very significant:
"The map of organizations or agencies Chat make up the society is,
as it were, a sort of clear overlay against a page underneath it, which represents
the reality of society. And the overlay is always out of phase in relation
to what's underneath: at any given time there is always a mismatch between
the organizational map and the reality of problems that people think are worth
There's basically no social problem such that one can identify and control
within a single system all the elements required in order to attack the problem.
The result is that one is thrown back on the knitting together of elements
in networks which are not controlled and where the network functions and network
roles become critical..." (21)
Organizations creating special research problems
There is a danger that an international organization data bank will confine
its attention to "permanent", "formal" organizations.
Both these qualifications are somewhat suspect in terms of reaching a comprehensive
understanding of the performance of the international system. There is
a great range of organizational forms characterized by terms lying between
these two and their opposites.
The future may see many new types of organization for which a data bank must
be prepared, particularly if the new forms become as common as the old.
It is only possible to examine a few of these entitles here.
(a) Ad-hoc Bodies: There is an Increasing tendency to organize ad
hoc bodies of individuals to take action on particular issues whether at the
local, national or international level (22). This tendency is also seen in
the organization of joint action bodies of a temporary nature linking organizations
Under present circumstances the response time of the data bank would be too
slow to be able to incorporate such bodies before they fade without trace.
If they are to be increasingly significant to social system functioning, some
means must be found of incorporating them.
(b) "Potential Associations": There is some evidence that
certain information centres are starting to function as a continuing link
between the entities in the pool from which the ad hoc bodies in a certain
domain are generated. This pool and the catalyzing information mechanism
therefore functions as a "potential association"(25).
Since the bodies which can be crystallized out of such a pool only exist
"potentially", they would not be detected by data banks operating
with existing criteria.
(c) Computer-held Organizations: The coming development of data
networks and easy access to computing power may well change the meaning of
"organization". The ____current range of organizations is limited
because of the need for simple voting and control procedures and easily understandable
membership groups. The calculating and display power of the computer will
permit complex groupings of many types (with a simplifying interface for the
voting user), as well as organizations with membership and voting structures
which are issue dependent. Organizations may only "cohere" and "exist"
on particular issues or may have a wide voting membership on one issue and
a very limited one on another -- with changes in the physiognomy of the organization
from issue to issue. Organizations may be created and dissolved via data
networks and without any face-to-face contact. Members or contact addresses
may be held as temporary computer files. Organization constitutions may take
the form of computer programs only, giving added precision to rules governing
voting procedures and patterns of permissable information transfer. Such
organization constitutions may be set up with built in time-dependent changes
to the relative voting power of members (26).
(d) Computer-designed Organizations: Organizations, particularly
ad hoc bodies, are increasingly seen as composed of individuals or teams with
different capabilities drawn from pools of competence (21). Increasingly
complex problems will increase the difficulty of arriving at the "design"
of the corresponding complex organizations on the basis of the available
resources. This problem is, in computer terms, similar to that of the choice
of chemical pathways (from a pool of given starting compounds) for the synthesis
of complicated organic molecules. The solution of the chemical synthesis
problem has been described in a very suggestive article (27). There is no
reason why, for example, the design of new intergovernmental agencies should
not be assisted by computer to arrive at the optimum solution in terms of
the available resources and the criteria, political and otherwise.
Viable collection systems
Given the desirability of organizational information as argued above, how
is such information to be collected, made available and updated? The information
systems on organizations which are currently planned or in operation at the
international level possess one or more of the following objectives:
(a) System-centred, namely which organize collection or use of
information in such a way as to maximize the benefits to the body controlling
the information system and which are only incidentally (if at all) concerned
with the effects of such a system on the individuals or bodies documented.
(b) Body-centred, namely which organize collection or use of information
in such a way as to maximize the benefit to the bodies whose own data is in
some way merged or exchanged within an information system to increase combined
Such systems are faced with the following major problems to a different degree
depending upon the mix of their objectives:
location and collection of data (namely the problems of producing reasons
to justify the expenditure of time and effort by the bodies supplying the
updating the information (namely the problem of guaranteeing a continuing
supply of information from the same sources) in the presence of similar
time-consuming demands from other sources;
financing the collection of information and operation of the system;
protection of the confidential information supplied (namely the problem
of making available selected parts of the data to categories of users in
a manner defined, ideally, by the body supplying the information);
protection of the "data assets" and to some extent the identity
of different collecting bodies which integrate their information systems
to increase combined effectiveness.
System-centered information systems are typically easy to justify to fund
sources and in many cases may be tied into short-term programmes (whether
the "one-off" research programme of a university or of some international
programme-oriented body such as UNESCO). They suffer from the disadvantage
that the arguments used to justify collection of the information may have
considerably less significance in the working environment of the bodies supplying
the information. This reduces willingness to supply information, particularly
on a continuing basis, and increases suspicion as to the ends to which it
is to be put in the particular country where it is being collected.
Body-centred systems can be justified as a service to each body which is
then prepared to supply the data, but their development is typically difficult
to justify to potential sources of funds, even the bodies themselves, since
specialized programme mandates cannot be broadened to justify allocation of
funds to the construction or operation of generalized information systems.
Such systems are susceptible to inter-body disputes.
The principal problems of these two types of systems could however balance
one another out if a hybrid multi-purpose system was developed to be of use
both to the bodies incorporated in it and to users wishing to contact, influence
or study those bodies. A system of this type would not only solve the practical
problem of information collection but would in itself represent a significant
step towards functional integration.
Data bank users
A data bank does not exist in a politico-social vacuum. Only short-term
projects can justify this outlook.
A direct consequence of the creation of unrelated information systems to
handle the complementary needs of: research, policy-making/planning,
programme administration/ management, public information, education, participation
in decision making, and contact facilitation, is that insights or problems
arising in one area are not fed back for consideration in other areas.
Any new research insight, for example, concerning the world system should
rapidly affect policymaking, education, public information, etc. Developments
in each functional area must increasingly mesh smoothly together and reinforce
one another instead of proceeding in leaps and starts. Information systems
constitute the nervous system of planetary society. The fragmented approach
to their design and use would seem to lead directly to social crises
analogous to those found in the case of certain disorders of the nervous system,
as though the world system was some organizational dinosaur suffering from
spastic paralysis or aphasia -- Stafford Beer suggests that we now live in
a "spastic society" (4), Integrated development can only be achieved
if the information system is designed for multi-purpose use (28).
The major problem with current and planned "information"
systems is how to turn "data" into meaningful "information"
-- namely something which is capable of causing change in the perceiver (4).
This is especially difficult when different categories of user need, or will
only accept, the display of a limited degree of complexity in a progressively
more complex environment. To permit individuals to handle complexity with
greater aptitude, international organization data banks should be structured
to benefit users with the power of access via interactive graphics consoles.
Interactive graphic displays
These devices usually involve a cathode ray tube, a
light-pen or equivalent device
for drawing and manipulating graphical data displayed, an associated keyboard,
possibly an array of push buttons and toggle switches for designation of certain
user-defined computer subroutines and macro instructions. Such routines can be
used to increase or decrease the amount of detail in the display, modify the
dimensions or coordinate system of the graph, etc. Data can be fed onto the display (and thus
the computer) using the light-pen, the alphanumeric and function keyboards.
In order to treat very large structural entities
graphically (e.g. a complex inter-
or intra-organizational network), the display surface can be set up to
a window on, or projection of one aspect of, one part of the structure. For &
particular application it may be necessary to work with a number of such
sections by "moving" the display window to view different portions of
as a whole. A capability can also be
provided to "zoom" in on a small portion of the
structure, if it is three-dimensional, in order to get a better picture of the
relationship or lack of relationship between the parts. Dynamic capabilities can be added
to the above. Analysis of various types
of weakness can be provided and signalled to attract the attention of the research worker, student or decision maker.
At any time, he can request further information in textual or
graphical form on parts of the structure.
In order to understand the value of interactive
computer graphics, a few basic
principles of communications should be considered (see 29). Languages convey
thoughts. The most primitive language
conveys a small portion of the total thought
in a language unit. The spectrum from
binary computer language through textual
description to graphics may be considered as a hierarchy of languages. A picture,
curve or chart is a unit of graphic language.
The cliche "one picture is worth
a thousand words" describes the power of a unit of graphic language to
Raw analytical data must be plotted or structured to draw attention to
details and bring out its full meaning.
Until this is done, it is difficult for the
individual human information processing system to construct efficient data
models of the content of a mass of data.
It is only by using such structures that complex data becomes easy to manipulate and remember (see 30, 31, 32,
Everyone concerned with the international system walks around with a mental
model of that system which he then "applies" to any data to order
it. These are structured models which have to be applied to any serially
ordered data in card files, computer printout or reference books to make sense
of that data. Is there any reason why these invisible structural models should
not be made visible to clarify differences and build a more comprehensive
Computer graphics combined with a graph theoretical
approach make it possible for the
research worker to describe his problem directly in terms of visible structures
have his analytical results portrayed in a similar form (see 34, 35, 36, 37,
All of this is accomplished within a time which makes it possible to maintain
momentum", which permits questions to be quickly rephrased in the light of
each analytical response.
The fundamental importance of interactive graphics is
the ability to facilitate
understanding. Progress in
understanding is made through the development of mental
models or notations that permit a simple representation of a mass of
not previously understood. The greater
the complexity however, the more difficult
it is to use mental models. For
example, in a discussion of mental models of electrical
circuits one author writes:
"Unfortunately, my abstract model tends to fade out
when I get a circuit that is a little bit too complex. I can't remember what is
happening in one place long enough to see what is going to happen somewhere
My model evaporates. If I could somehow
represent that abstract model in the
computer to see a circuit in animation, my abstraction wouldn't evaporate. I could
take the vague notion the "fades out at the edges" and solidify
it. I could analyze bigger circuits. In all fields there are such
abstractions. We haven't_yet_made___any_
the computer's capability to "firm up" these abstractions. The scientist of
today is limited by his pencil and paper and mind. He can draw abstractions, or he
can think about them. If he draws them,
they will be static, and if he just
visualizes them, they won't have very good mathematical properties and will
fade out. With a computer, we could give him a great deal more. We could give him
drawings that move, drawings in three or four dimensions which he
can rotate, and drawings with great mathematical accuracy. We
could let him represent all kinds of very complex and very abstract notions, and we could let him work
with them in a way that he has
never been able to do before, I think that really big gains in the
areas are going to_ come when somebody invents new abstractions which can only be
represented in computer graphical form." (30)
Harold Lasswell makes the point that many valuable
participants in decision-making
need audio-visual displays to encompass the quantitative and abstract
insights so that "an immediate sense of time, space and figure is
It is a range of facilities of this type which the political, social, information
and management scientists and educationists require to increase the adequacy
of their individual and combined approaches to the world system and its subsystems.
Hopefully the visually displayed structures of the longstanding interrelations
between major governmental bodies, corporations, news media, unions, universities,
etc. should be as familiar to, for example, a high
school student, as the lines
of communication linking major cities across a nation. It appears probable that
only abstractions of the above order will prove an adequate means to contain
conceptually and represent to differently sophisticated audiences the
of social processes -- particularly for planning and decision-making purposes,
The interactive graphic device can provide a suitable
interface with a complex
international organization data bank for:
scholars, students and educators (using
teaching consoles), public information and participation, to show the relevance
of structural changes. Of particular
interest is the use of such devices for
solving problems of coordination (see 5, 28, 31, 41).
Sutherland has recently described the use of colour
displays and a new device which
would permit a research worker or student to literally "get inside"
computer controlled three dimensional representations of inter- or intra-
organizational networks. (The device
is a form of helmet covering the eyes which
provides the wearer with a perspective on a structure which changes in response
his head and body movements within a room such that an illusion is created that
the structures are independent and stationary (39)). It would be pessimistic to
assume that this sort of environment would not considerably facilitate creative
insight into the operation of social systems and complex organizations such as
United Nations -- it is certainly a powerful tool with which to tackle
The international system is complex and is becoming progressively more complex.
It is already impossible within large organizations to maintain an
even approximately up-to-date picture of who is doing what, where and when.
As an example, recent United Nations documents acknowledged that it was not
practicable to determine the number of organizations within the U.N. system
and that it was increasingly difficult to maintain an adequate overview of
the U.N. system (42, 43). The state of inter- organizational information
must therefore be even worse at the international level and in its reflection
at the national level. Data on social structure and relationships
of which international organization data is a part, is vital as a complement
to economic development data (44). It provides a key approach to the investigation
of system integration and the maintenance of peace. It is from such
data that social indicators will be developed.
It may well be that a focus on links and relationships between social
entities, or within organizations, would provide the basis for a more
adequate and credible measure of economic and social development and
of integration. Examples of indicators which could be considered are:
number of organizations per capita in each country, possibly for different
categories or levels of organization.
number of formal roles per capita in each country as a measure of participative opportunity.
number of inter-organizational links per number of organizations, possibly
for different categories or levels of organization in each country.
Other indicators could be developed from the properties of the network.
For example what are the "centrality" or "reachability"
of certain public bodies for given groups of individuals. High reachability
of public bodies is a key concept of democracy and is relevant to the perceived
effectiveness of inter-governmental bodies and their current problems of generating
the political "will to change".
The much sought "quality of life" indicators may in fact prove
to be measures of the degree of relationship of a person to participative
organizations, or of the degree of interrelationship, perceived by the individual,
of certain key problems, certain concepts, or certain organizations -
in fact measures of the "transparency" of the social system in terms
of the individual's "resolving power" or of the "structural
weight" which the civilized individual must bear.
The acid test for social indicators is whether they are, directly or indirectly,
sensitive to over-development, the on-set of an alienating environment, and
institutional credibility. "Alienation", "relevance"
and "credibility" are relationship-oriented concepts.
It has been the theme of this paper that a data-oriented approach to handling
complex inter-entity structures is possible. This approach depends heavily
on the ability to comprehend structures which in turn implies computer display
and manipulation of structures. Disc based data banks depend upon complex
cross-referencing between entities and indexes. This is however only used
to improve retrieval strategies or to provide line by line lists of what an
entity is related to -- whether an entity or an attribute. Interactive graphics
permit direct examination or visualization of such relationships. This could
constitute,possibly in conjunction with simulation modules, a whole new dimension
in the investigation of the world system and the meaningful portrayal of its
complex dynamic variety, particularly if use is made of widely distributed
video-tape cassette educational recordings for students and the education
or briefing of diplomats.
Computer-based social system studies run the unfortunate risk of appearing
to lack relevance because they cannot structure data to facilitate conceptualization
Current data handling cannot adequately portray, particularly for the non-
professional, the dynamism and variety of the network of interacting entities
A new medium is required to do this -- a medium which can be directly influenced
by research insights but which is useful to the bodies documented
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