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March 1971

Inter-organizational Data and Data Bank Design

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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)


The 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.

In 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 analysis, understanding, and prediction of social change as well as any formulation of policy 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 international 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.

The design of a data bank cannot be based solely on the contents but must be structured in terms of the users' requirements. These are considered, particularly with regard to the need for more powerful user-interfaces to facilitate comprehension and the 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 its generic 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 social entities 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.

(a) Structure

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.

(b) Relations

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 individuals.

"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 order.

(c) Comment

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 collection priorities. 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 banks.

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 in analysis.

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

reachability: 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.

range: 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 support).

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 criteria. Such chains are particularly important where they cross normal organizational category 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 semi-autonomous sub-systems. If certain organizations are found to be linked together by overlapping memberships, but not similarly linked to other organizations, these groupings or organizations 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 it, 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 interaction is likely to be viable -- a "viability of coordination" calculation. Similarly 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 (4) and Karl Deutsch (20, ch. 11) and to check for the harmful or beneficial effects of organization "isolates" -- for example, the "look-out" function. It should be possible to move toward the determination of information "loads", "lags" in response 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 break down.

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 to distinguish between permanent bodies and temporary bodies, and between independent 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 question 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 organization 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 overcome the sharp separation between domestic affairs and international politics, because it 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 was designed.
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.

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:

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 solving... 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 (23, 24).

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 programme effectiveness

Such systems are faced with the following major problems to a different degree depending upon the mix of their objectives:

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, and 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 into 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 represent 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 detailed sections by "moving" the display window to view different portions of the entity 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 express thoughts. Raw analytical data must be plotted or structured to draw attention to significant 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 structure 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, 33).

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 visible model?

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 and to have his analytical results portrayed in a similar form (see 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39). All of this is accomplished within a time which makes it possible to maintain "thinking 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 complexities 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 else. 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_ use of 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 substantive scientific areas are going to_ come when somebody invents new abstractions which can only be represented in computer graphical form." (30) (emphasis added)

Harold Lasswell makes the point that many valuable participants in decision-making need audio-visual displays to encompass the quantitative and abstract analytical insights so that "an immediate sense of time, space and figure is retained". (40)

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 complexity 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" and explore 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 to 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 the United Nations -- it is certainly a powerful tool with which to tackle "complexity".


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:

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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