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19th May 1978 | Draft

Information Mapping for Development


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Report prepared for the Science Adviser to the Commonwealth Secretary-General in partial fulfilment of a consultancy assignment under Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation (CFTC/APL/13.3, CFTC/CSC/8, 19 May 1978). Presented to the 6th Conference of the World Future Studies Federation (Cairo, 1978) with the kind permission of Christian de Laet. Secretary, Commonwealth Science Council. Printed in Transnational Associations, 31, 1979, 5, pp. 185-192 [PDF version]

Part 1: Mapping Nature of the Problem
Part 2:  Review of the Information ProblemA. Quantitative aspects
-- A. Quantitative aspects
-- B. Logical aspects; classication
--- Multiplicity of classification schemes
--- Failure to indicate functional relevance
--- Unspecified omissions and partial inclusions
--- Macro-level definition
--- Interdisciplinarity
C. Operational aspects; organizations and information systems
--- Multiplicity of organizations
--- Unrelated information systems
D. Comprehensibility
--- Comprehension overload
--- Issue reductionism
--- Communication mode preferences
E. Behavioural aspects
--- Interorganizational antipathy
--- Interorganizational territorially
--- Interorganizational rivalry
--- Pre-logical biases
F." Mythical" aspects
G. Ignorance and lack of systematically ordered information on :
--- Scientific disciplines
--- Development processes
--- Technologies
--- Applications processes.


The purpose of this document is to report briefly on a preliminary investigation into the problems of mapping satisfactorily for policy purposes the domains of science and technology as applied to development (1). The matter in question is clearly of ever increasing concern within the international community as a whole, as indicated by a number of initiatives, many of them now being timed to focus discussion in anticipation of the United Nations Conference on the Application of Science and Technology to Development in 1979.

The first three of the above points are those most frequently discussed when examining the question, since they also tend to be those most susceptible to solution by modifying institutions or their policies and through appropriate use of information science and technology. The last four are those which are much less frequently discussed, partly because they include factors which undermine or oppose conventional solutions to the information problem.

This review shows that there are many severe obstacles, themselves intimately interrelated, which prevent a significant improvement in the accessibility of such information for policy-related purposes. It is not the purpose of this report to comment on conventional efforts to improve the situation or their relationships to the UNESCO/ICSU World Science Information System (UNISIST), SPINES, or the various development information systems. Whilst these may or may not achieve their respective objectives, in the light of the points in Part 2, it would appear to be useful to investigate completely new approaches which may result in information tools which respond to the problem at a more fundamental level.

Part 1: Mapping Nature of the Problem

Information selection and presentation: The heart of the problem seems to lie in the general attitude to information selection and presentation. This is reviewed in Part 3 where it is argued that much of the problem results from the reliance on word-oriented information systems. However m reviewing the alternatives, including computer manipulation of diagrams, it is shown that existing approaches fail to respond to the basic difficulty of how to improve the relevance of the questions asked to the problem complex faced by the policy-making process. How is the policy-maker, and those with whom he must communicate, to acquire a better "grasp" of the problem complex and the opportunities for improved application of science and technology to development ?

Some criteria for a desirable solution: The kind of information assistance required could usefully have the following characteristics (2) :

Reproduced from: SPINES Thesaurus, a controlled and structured vocabulary of science and technology for policy-making, management and de-vslopments. Paris, Unesco, 1976, 3 vols.

Mapping: possibilities offered for a solution: The procedure known as "mapping" suggests a number of possibilities for incorporating the features identified above.

"Mapping" for policy purposes has been used very loosely, even to include a compilation of national science policy surveys in which the "integration" accomplished is limited to the physical assembly of the statements within the same document (3). This usage will not be considered here since it is precisely this type of approach which is of such limited value in the light of the points in Parts 2 and 3. Before outlining the approach suggested here, it is noteworthy that the senior editor of one of the largest scientific publishing houses advocates the use of a spherical representation of the body of knowledge in discussing information transfer implications I3a),

The question is therefore whether a mapping technique can be used in conjunction with this spherical representation as a basis for incorporating the desirable features identified. The model identified in ref. 3a does not attempt to do this although a number of pointers are included explicitly or implicitly. It does not consider the implications of the large amount of quantitative detail which needs to be represented, or how it is to be represented.

Approaching the question from another angle, there is much to be learnt form cartography and the history of geographical map production. The first two-dimensional maps were extremely sketchy and are not too different from the primitive sketches that are produced in graphic models (see Pan 3). Of great interest are the "terminological graphic displays" and sub-displays produced as a user guide to the UNESCO SPINES Thesaurus ("a controlled and structured vocabulary of science and technology for policy-making, management and development " of which the overall display is reproduced in Diag. 1. These lack many of the features indicated above (as well as being subject to other weaknesses identified in Parts 2 and 3) as does the courageous series of concept diagrams included as an anonymous addendum to the integrating volume of the new French-language Encyclopaedia Univer-salis.

What all these efforts lack is what might be termed a "topographical richness" onto which the massive amount of detail to be incorporated may be "hung" - including logical continuities and distinctions, as well as behavioural indications arising from territoriality. But this topographical richness must be so represented as to facilitate comprehension at whatever level of detail is appropriate, and the mnemonic features must be preserved.

The radical approach advocated here is therefore to investigate the possibility of abandoning the schematic graphics (such as in SPINES) in favour of mapping the conceptual territory on a spherical surface with conventional topographical features. On the basis of a preliminary investigation, it seems to be possible to incorporate most of the features indicated above.

A further question is whether this approach can satisfactorily reflect the four aspects of the application of science and technology to development. Again, preliminary investigation indicates that this is possible by using four separate spherical representations. Each would contain cross-referencing co-ordinates to the others where relevant, in other words the relationship between a particular scientific discipline, a particular technology and a particular development process would be either explicit or implicit from the context. Clearly conventional projections onto plane surfaces could be used as well as transparent overlays, if required. But the relationship to the overall representation would be preserved.

Conclusion: A number of different approaches to selecting and presenting information can be interpreted as indicating a convergence on a solution which could offer many more satisfactory features to assist policy-makers in their comprehension of the domains of science and technology in relation to development processes. The approach advocated requires further exploration to determine in detail exactly how the different features could be incorporated and the limits imposed by this approach.

Part 2: Review of the Information Problem

A. Quantitative aspects: It is understandable that there is a very large amount of "scientific and technological" information which may be considered relevant to "development ". Even if it is only (say) 1 % of the literature, this would amount to (4) :

But there is also a very large quantity of information about the application of science and technology to development and much new material is being generated in anticipation of UNCSTED 1979 (4a). The question is whether such information can be mastered and by whom, even if those who should have access to it have no problems in obtaining or assimilating it, which is seldom the case (5).

The usual practice is to ignore the mountain of documents already in existence and to prepare a quick "study of the key issues" based on some of the "key documents" available. Such an approachs then justified by policy-making deadlines and similar pragmatic constraints. It is adequate if it is assumed that the few documents selected from society's prolific production cover the relevant issues. This assumption is however only valid if the majority of the studies is assumed to be of inferior quality, of limited relevance or a duplication of those selected (6).

There is no procedure whereby this can be proven in a particular case since relevance is defined more in terms of what the agency is constrained to do than of what needs to be done according to any wider perspective.

B. Local aspect; classification

C. Operational aspects; organizations and information systems

D. Comprehensibility

Communication mode preferences: Another servere problem is the limited value of the written word for communication. Many will not read until they have heard, although others refuse to "waste time" listening unless they have found the basic points worthwhile through reading. Others demand a quantified argument, possibly expressed through equations, graphs or matrices. Others are "innumerate", and demand visual images, diagrams, and films before they can comprehend an argument (28). To complete the circle, the latter are viewed with disdain by those who favour the discipline of the written word not recognizing that they themselves are "visually illiterate" (29). Policy makers and those with whom they must communicate may belong to any of these categories, although the prevalence of a particular category may be culturally determined.

E. Behavioural aspects

F. "Mythical" aspects

Information on the application of sciences and technology to development is also distorted by a number of myths whose nature may be well described but rarely, if ever, in the same context. There is the myth that science based on western values is neutral and universal (36) - and that indigenous practices and folk wisdom are dangerous or charming nonsense. There is the myth that there is a scientific or technological solution to every "real" problem - other problems being subjective. There is the myth equating development with economic growth and industrialization, which conceals the problems of development and the limits to growth. There is the myth that cultural development is a direct consequence of the application of science and technology of development, since it is assumed that the acquisition of science enhances a culture rather than eroding its values (37). There is the myth of the problem as existing" objectively" and susceptible to "properly organized" remedial action, There is the myth that it is only the lack of "political will", and the undue importance attached to non-scientific and non-rational arguments, that prevents problems from being solved. As mentioned earlier, there is the myth which limits attention to the 10 Key development problems, as though each was nicely ordered in administrate units though it is widely recognized that it is their interrelaledness which is fundamental to any action strategy.

This links to the myth which conceals the fact that existing institutions, and their associated bodies of knowledge, are (despite Ash-by's Law) adequately structured to respond to complex problem networks (38). Underlying this is the myth that the fundamental problems are always" out there - and never in the attitudes, procedures and structures with which they are perceived and engaged. And there is the myth that if a responsible body is created to focus on a problem, then action will be seen to have been taken and because it will then cease to be perceived as a key issue for policy purposes, it may be assumed to be under control. As in any primitive culture, such myths are necessary to create a semblance of order in the face of a reality to which no better response has yet been developed. New approaches are required and both science and technology should be used to assist in their development.

G. Ignorance and lack of systematically ordered informatic

The kinds of information available relevant to the application of science and technology to development reveal a number of important gaps :

Part 3: Information Selection and Presentation

In the field of information processing. documentation and classification there is an almost universal bias towards text and terms, since publications have titles and normally contain text. This is a very persuasive argument in favour of word oriented computers and classification schemes. It is associated with the generation of a plethora of costly bibliographical tools, abstracts, directories and encyclopaedias (39).

But even if ait items in the total body of literature were identifiable and available at low cost (which is the aim of those who favour this approach), there still remains the problem of how to improve the relevance of the questions asked to the problem complex faced by the policy-making process. Retrieval is not the problem, it merely aggravates this more fundamental problem. Retrieval systems focus queries in the light of the user's existing knowledge and biases. They do not orient the policy-oriented user to knowledge and issues with which he should also be concerned in relation to his current preoccupations (in the light of qualified or alternative opinions). They do not bring to his attention where his preoccupation may fit in relation to other preoccupations. He is given no sense of scale, proportion or orientation - he merely gets what he asked for however much difficul-ty he has in formulating his question in appropriate words.

Explanatory power of diagrams: It is ironical that within any book or article, whenever the point to be made is too complex to be expressed in words, the author resorts to a diagram of some kind. This ensures that various elements are brought into appropriate relationship within a whole of which the reader has an overview. From that overview the reader can then select (a) how he wishes to explore the elements interrelated therein, and (b) those he considers significant as meriting further examination. Yet existing information systems are completely incapable of producing or manipulating diagrams as an aid to policy-making.

Computer-generated diagrams: The exceptions, to this statement are interesting as indications of the kinds of technology not available to policy-making in relation to the development process :

In each such case there are complex problems of choice and decision analogous to those in a policy-making situation. The examples are given to show that a technology is in use to manipulate such information. Unfortunately, however, that technology cannot yet be used satisfactorily in relation to development processes because the information is in the wrong form. The information available to policy-makers is contained in a multitude of lengthy reports supported by tables and diagrams. These can of course be put straight onto sophisticated computer systems in toto. But the basic problem still remains how to ask the question relevant to the policy process - it is not a retrieval problem. Information systems give no assistance in this respect.

Media-oriented techniques: To go to another extreme, those concerned with facilitating understanding of complex issues by the public (and this may well include decision-makers) use media-oriented techniques. Great emphasis was placed on films at the UN Human Settlements Conference. Books attempting to describe social change make much use of mcluhanesque illustrations (40). But despite the gain in visual interest and emotional appeal, the value of such superficial displays for policy-making itself must be questioned. Aesthetic constraints too frequently conceal important issues.

Mathematical model: Another extreme is provided by the computer-based mathematical model interrelating hundreds or thousands of equations. These may be satisfactory where no policy problems have been avoided in constructing the model and there is consensus that it reflects the social reality it purports to model. This is rarely the case. Furthermore such modela tend to be incomprehensible to all but their creators and critics. Again they do not help the policy maker to determine which questions to ask, but only answer those he chooses to ask (many "answers " having been built into the design of the model anyway).

Graphic models: An intermediate approach involves the use of graphic, two-dimensional, non-mathematical models. Such models are a symbolic representation of the various aspects of a complex event or situation, and their interrelationships (41 ). They are analogies which policy-makers may use to clarify their thinking about a relatively complex situation. They range from organization charts through to systems flow charts, including the many kinds of schematic diagram that are prepared on flip-charts or slides for presentation purposes. They are widely and successfully used. Their main disadvantage is that only a limited number of elements and relationships can be incorporated in the model if their comprehensibility is not to be lost - the extreme case being the complex system or circuit diagram only comprehensible to the expert. None of these approaches is immediately relevant to improving the information problem in relation to the development processes, Each of them indicates constraints and


1. The author has been concerned with various aspects of this problem as director of a project which produced the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential, Brussels, Union of InternationaI Assocations and Mankind 2000, 1976, 1136 pages (which discusses a number of points with extensive bibliographies). See also the papers listed in the following point.

2. Anthony Judge:

3. In the Final Report of the Unesco Consultation on Science and Technology Policies in the Caribbean Region, Georgetown, 1977 (UNESCO/NS/ROU/408, para 82), the: "Unesco representative stated that he had taken note of the CSC Secretariat's interest in entering this field. He mentioned that within the context of preparations for the Conference of Ministers of African Member States responsible for the Application of Science and Technology to Development (CASTAFRICA), convened by Unesco in Dakar on 21-30 January 1974, a vast operation of this sort had been carried out by Unesco, according to a methodology which had been provided well ahead of time to all CAST AFRICA national liaision officers. The " mapping" - a term which he judged might be understood - had in that instance been the putting together and confrontation of national replies from national science and technology policy bodies, as to areas of convergence and mutual wishes of cooperation " The results of this exercise are published by Unesco as: Science and Technology In African Development (Paris, Unesco, 1974). The methodology used identifies from survey replies specific fields in which different groups of countries wish to collaborate. The information is presented in the form of lists.

3a. Arie A. Manten. A suggested growth model of science and implications for information tranfser. Journal of Research Communications Studies, 1, 1973, pp. 83-98.

4. Georges Anderla. Information in 1985: a forecasting study of information needs and resources. Paris OECD, 1973.

4a. Over 1000 entries are already contained in: A Bibliography on the 1979 UN Science and Technology Conference. Lund, Research Policy Program. University of Lund, 1977 (and supplements to May 1979).

5. Sir Robert Jackson prefaces his major Capacity Study of the United Nations Development System (New York, United Nations, 1969) with the phrase: "Few Ministers will have time to read this Report..." (p. Vlll).

6. This would imply a considerable waste of resources in the production of studies in this domain.

7. Anthony Judge:

8. See previous paragraph (note 7). In the proposed International Standard Nomenclature of Fields of Science and Technology (UNESCO/NS/ROU/257 rev 1 ) reproduced in Unesco's Method for priority determination in science and technology (Paris, Unesco, 1978) and in the CASTAFRICA study (see note 3), no indication is given of what fields have been omitted, whether the list is complete, or what relationship it bears to the Unesco thesauri (see note 7).

9. "Consider the relationship between the OECD Macrothesaurus and the categories of the UNEP Information Referral System. ICSU/Unesco Central Committee was that UNISIST should devote us primary el-fort to the basic sciences... and at the same time be sympathetic to a progressive inclusion of the applied and engineering sciences - and eventually the social sciences - on an equal footing with the former" (UNISIST Report, pp. 135-6). But me Unesco Statistical Yearbook (1976) includes as "fields of science" the "social sciences" and "humanities" (p. 609). The SPINES Thesaurus does not

11. " is many-sided, and each tends to regard it from the standpoint of his o wn particular experience and interests". Scientific Thought, Paris, Unesco, 1972, p. V.

12. See: La Science et La Diversité des Cultures. Paris, Unesco. 1974.

13. The Development of Development Thinking. Paris, OECD, 1977 (Liaison Bulletin, No 1).

Johannes A. Heising. Entwiklung: was ist das? Analysen und Prognosen, 55, Januar 1978, pp. 27-30.

14. In preparing the section on 1800 "Intellectual Disciplines and Sciences" of the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential (Brussels, 1976), the author

15. Many books on development fail to identify "development processes". The following identities 10 "basic processes". H. Chancery and M. Syrguin. Patterns of Development 1950-1970. Oxford University Press (for the World Sank). 1975.

17. Georges Gusdorf. Past, present and future of interdisciplinary research. International Social Science Journal, 29. 4, 1977, pp. 580-600.

18. See note 17.

18a. "No scientist will admit that voting plays a role in his subject... Scientists, especially physicians, frequently come to different results so that it is up to relatives of the sick person for the inhabitants of a certain area) to decide by vote about the procedure to be adopted".

19. Union of International Associations. Yearbook of International Organizations. Brussels, Union of International Associations, 1978, 17th edition.

20. David Horton Smith has estimated there are some 5 million voluntary bodies in the USA.

21. Lee Thayer. Communication and Communication Systems in Organization, Management, and Interpersonal Delations. Irwin, 1968, p. 202.

22. Winston Churchill made it very clear that all issues should be put to him on a single sheet of paper.

23. Little investigation of attention span has been made m relation to policy information, despite its crucial importance.

24. In a recent Assessment of Future National and International Problem Areas forthe US National Science Foundation (1977), 1000 initial problems are subject to various filtration processes to reduce them to "six critical future problems".

25. Union of International Associations / Mankind 2000. Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential . 1976

26. Method for Priority Determination in Science and Technology. Paris, Unesco. 1978, para 2.4.3. Early research is reported in the paper; George Miller. The magical number seven, plus or minus two: some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psycho-logical Review, 63, 1956, pp. 81-97.

27. The stage at which national government required more than 6-8 ministries should mark an important evolution in the governability of the country. Aspects of this question are examined in Anthony Jay. The Corporate Man. London.

28. Harold D. Lasswell. The transition toward more sophisticated procedures. In: Davis B. Borow and J.L. Schwartz (Ed). Computers and the Policy-making Community; applications to International relations. Prentice-HalI, 1908, pp. 307-314.

29. Rudolf Arnheim. Visual Thinking. Faber, 1970, pp. 306-312.

30. "... what exists today is inter-Agency rivalry for projects". Capacity Study of the UN Development System. 1969. 1, p. 76.

31. Sir Peter Smithers. Governmental Control; prerequisite for effective relations between the United Nations and non-UN regional organizations. New York, UNITAR, 1972 (for an exception)

32. Consider the lack of relationship between the Unesco SPINES Theeaurus produced by the Science Policy Division and Unesco's valuable Classification of research and development activities in terms of development objectives produced by its Office of Statistics.

33. See note 7.

34. Points made by Georges Gusdorf (see note 17), particularly in an article on Inter-disciplinarity for the French-language Encyclopedia UniversaIis.

35. W. T. Jones. The Romantic Syndrome; toward a new method in cultural anthropology and history of ideas. The Hague, Mouton, 1961 (He distinguishes seven axes of bias which determine pre-logical positions and then govern the subsequent positions taken in any "rational" or "logical" debate)

36. Johan Galtung. A first guide to teutonic intellectual style (Working paper for the United Nations University GPID Project, January 1978; also note 12).

37. Jean Ladriere. The Challenges presented to Culture by Science and Technology. Paris. Unesco. 1977.

38. The number of such reference tools is now so great that reference guide are required to them.

39. Don Fabun. Dimensions of Change. Glencoe Press, 1971.

40. Frederic Vester. Unsere Welt: ein vernetztes System. Stuttgart, Ernst Klett, 1978.

41. Gordon L. Lippitt. Visualizing Change; model building and the change process. Fairfax, NTL Learning Resources Corporation, 1973. Walter Herdeg. Diagrams. Zurich, Graphic Press, 1974. Jacques Bertin. Semiologie Graphique; les diagrammes, les réseaux, les cartes. Paris. Mouton. 1967.

42. Francis Levy. Le Traitement Automatise de l'lmage. Paris, La Documentation Française, 1977, 480 p.

43. Harold L. Wilensky. Organizational Intelligence: knowledge and policy in government and industry. New York. Basic Books, 1967

44. Paul Feyerabend. Against Method: outline of an anarchist theory of knowledge. Verso, 1977. pp. 302-307.

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