Research Network on Catalytic Imagery
for governance in impossible situations
- / -
It is proposed that a network should be established to link a limited number
of individuals, groups and institutions. The focus would be on the selection
and elaboration of imagery capable of facilitating comprehension of richer
conceptual patterns. The concern would be to identity patterns (or their design
characteristics) which could provide the necessary conceptual scaffolding to
interrelate essentially opposing positions critical to the support of effective
A central concern would be the identification of imagery to give coherence
to the more complex structures appropriate to sustainable development. Other
areas of concern would include richer patterns capable of offering coherence
to geopolitical groupings vulnerable to fragmentation (Europe, USSR, Canada,
Middle East). The work would focus on the global level (including imagery to
sustain a "new world order") as well as on the local level (notably to offer
new images of structures to relate opposing minorities).
Challenges to governance
It is unnecessary to comment on the range and complexity of interacting problems
to which goverance is called to respond. Such challenges to governance are
particulary acute when a delicate balance must be discovered between two (or
more) highly incompatible priorities, with their associated factions and vested
interests. Conventional wisdom provides little guidance when consensus can
only be achieved by neglecting minority, less empowered, or longer-term perspectives.
There is relatively little insight available into the nature of the "complex
bargain" which needs to be struck under such circumstances.
Examples of such situations are: sustainable development (reconciling environmental
and developmental perspectives); regional geopolitical integration (Western
Europe, Eastern Europe, Latin America, Middle East, South-East Asia, Africa);
and the appropriate (con)federal form for certain states (USSR, Canada). It
may also be seen in the complex balance called for between competing cultures,
languages and religions, especially where minorities are threatened (Northern
Ireland). The approach to the reunification of divided countries offers further
examples (China, Korea, Cyprus). Similar challenges are currently faced in
envisaging the future structure of certain major institutions (United Nations
The most striking examples are those associated with Israel and Yugoslavia.
In both the range of options discussed is extremely limited. This is a demonstration
of the failure of imagination when locked into verbal and text expression.
These challenges are both explicit and implicit in such recent documents as
- Our Common Future (World Commission on Environment and Development)
- The Challenge to the South (South Commission)
- Common Responsibility in the 1990s (Stockholm Initiative follow-up to
the Brandt Report)
- Caring for the Earth; a strategy for sustainable
- Beyond Interdependence (Trilateral Commission)
- The First Global Revolution (Club of Rome)
Three initiatives are outlined in this document:
- Research on catalytic imagery, notably for the Earth summit
insights (see Annex 7)
- Research on formal structure of declarations (see Annex 8)
- Design and production of a computer-based structural outliner
The annexes preceding these proposals present arguments and
1. Bibliographical references (indicative selection)
2. Beyond the constraints of text (note)
3. Meshing imaginative vision and policy implementation (note)
4. Research background (indicative)
5. Focus of research (indicative)
6. Institutional arrangements (tentative)
7. CATALYTIC IMAGERY: Conveying Earth Summit
8. FORMAL STRUCTURE OF DECLARATIONS: Challenge
and opportunity (proposal)
9. STRUCTURAL OUTLINER: Conceptual keystone
Annex 1: Bibliographical references
See References (at end)
Annex 2: Beyond the Constraints of Text
(a) Unexplored resources
The process by which new possibilities are currently being explored is almost
completely conducted through verbal and textual exchanges. The nature of new
structural arrangements is then finally defined and given form in legal texts.
The structure is thus envisaged, agreed and defined through linear text.
As is clear in any complex design situation (whether concerning buildings,
machinery, factory systems, or chemical molecules) imagery is vital to comprehension
of richer and more complex possibilities. Such imagery may be so complex that
it can only effectively be managed and manipulated by computer (as in computer-aided
Where efforts are at present made to use imagery in response to challenging
problems of governance, it tends to be limited to video promotional presentations
or to classical organization charts. The former tends to avoid articulation
of structure and the latter encourages simplistic rearrangement of organizational
units, usually only in a hierarchical array.
There is a significant body of evidence to indicate that creativity and innovation
are catalyzed and sustained by imagery and metaphor. It is these which provide
the conceptual scaffolding to capture an insight into new and more complex
patterns that can reconcile hitherto unrelated phenomena. This applies in all
fields of human activity.
From this perspective there is a strong argument for exploring the characteristics
of structured imagery vital to the articulation of new patterns of relationships
in areas critical to governance at this time. Such imagery could be used as
a complement to text-based discussion of such possibilities. However, as with
the concept of a spiral staircase, there are presumably quite simple institutional
structures which it would be considerably easier to discuss on the basis of
an image rather than through a necessarily complex textual description. Work
on structured imagery is vital to clarify the nature of such options. It is
these options which cannot be effectively envisaged through the current text-based
(b) Nature of a complementary approach
Giving increasing weight to imagery, offers the possibility of turning the
present approach "on its head". Instead of producing text and then looking
for images to illustrate it -- the focus is on looking for images to carry
a structural insight, before looking for text to explain it. This benefits
from the ways in which imagery is often part of the creative process through
which social innovations take form.
This approach is in effect an effort to seek a more appropriate balance between
the cognitive functions represented by imagery and text. It could even be argued
that failure to explore the imagery dimension is an expression of functional
imblance at the cognitive level. From this perspective, text could be seen
as reinforcing so-called patriarchal, left-brain approaches at the expense
of the so-called feminine insights and right-brain approaches carried by imagery.
The extent to which policy-making is media-driven has been frequently noted
in recent years. Policies are unsustainable unless they can be effectively
carried by the media. Text-based policies are difficult to express in the visually
oriented media. This forces the media to develop "stories" which do not reflect
the complexity of the issues and policies designed to respond to them -- they
capture the imagination in a distorted manner which fails to harness it in
support of the policies.
(c) Improving the range of options
There is a marked tendency for the extremely divisive situations discussed
here to be understood in terms such as the following:
- Favoured position (the "reasonable" perspective, the "normal" view, "my
- Opposing position (the "unreasonable" perspective, the "dissident" view, "their
- Complicating factors (many "sides", multiple dimensions)
- Resolution ("peace", "harmony", "sustainable development")
This sequence may be viewed as a progression in complexity from a single position
to the transcendence of such positions (reminiscent of the dialectic tradition).
It might be coded as a form of counting: from one and two, through "many",
to a final, desirable "null" state. The question to be asked is whether the
fundamental strategic options facing the planet should be confided to such
a primitive numbering system and the limited geometrical configurations which
it allows. Significant issues tend to have more than two "sides". What are
the geometrical forms which can give coherent insight into the goverance of
a multi-sided issue?
It is of course possible to describe a wide range of phenomena using a binary
numbering system, as is done in computer systems. But binary codes are not
readily comprehensible. As with the numbering system, those cultures and languages
whose counting ability is limited to one, two and "many" are viewed as impoverished
(in that respect at least). There is advantage in articulating "many" into
a sequence of numbers which then allow a range of structural configurations
to be described unambiguously and comprehensibly. (The harmonious "null" state,
which is the goal of most forms of conflict resolution, then functions like
a zero in a numbering system, rounding off a sequence. It thus "sets the
stage" for work towards more subtle levels of "harmony" or "sustainable development" in
terms of which new kinds of distinctions need to be reconciled at a higher
(d) "Global bargains" through more complex structure
Reporting in preparation for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment
and Development, Jim MacNeill (Secretary-General of the World Commission on
Environment and Development, responsible for the Brundtland Report) notes: "The
notion of a 'global bargain' conjures up many images, especially within the
broad context of sustainable development...In its simplest terms, a bargain
involves at least two parties and two issues. It implies a trade-off between
the parties on the issues. The group of nations, developed and developing,
that have come together to form a bargain must agree to give up something in
order to get something else. As a rule, they would give up a path of development
in a given sector that is unsustainable and thus represents a threat to themselves
and the other negotiating nations or the global commons." (Beyond Interdependence,
The difficulty is that bargains are typically discussed in the verbal and
textual mode. In this mode, notions of "giving up" in order to "get something
else" are understood in the simplest terms and therefore readily evoke opposition.
This opposition is indeed legitimate in terms of the "two-dimensional" images
(of "sides") through which they are currently discussed. It would not however
be so necessary in terms of more complex configurations (of "sides") as advocated
It is unfortunate, as the MacNeill report illustrates, that thinking for the
1992 Earth Summit is focused on the possibility of a series of issue-specific "global
bargains". Taken one by one, these may or may not prove negotiable. But on
this basis there is every likelihood that the effects of some will undermine
the effects of others. What is missing is any image of how issue-specific bargains
can be interwoven to constitute a larger sustainable development bargain --
as a set of complementary elements rather than as a series.
As in architecture, it is through balancing the stresses and tensions between
a set of complementary construction elements that the integrity of a building
is ensured. Richer structured imagery is required to facilitate understanding
of how the larger and more encompassing bargains can be achieved. It is through
such images of integrity, emerging from more complex structures, that the logic
of that integrity gives justification to issue-specific bargains with greater
effectiveness. It shows how they "fit". Structured images are required to give
precision to the vague notions of "checks and balances" conventionally articulated
in textual terms. Such images give precision to the notions of "giving up",
and tensional "trade offs", which readily lend themselves to description in
architectural terms, for example.
(e) Image-based governance
It is possible to envisage a situation in which every major policy is carried
by an image or set of complementary images. This then becomes the focus of
a new form of consensus -- rather than the text "explaining" the image. The
image is not developed, after the fact, to make the text-based initiative palatable,
as in present public information initiatives. The image is then central both
to the structure of the policy and to any media initiatives. In a sense it
is the image which provides the ordering principle for any text. In computer
terms, textual commentary and explanation is "hung" on the different structural
features of the image.
Such developments would then open up the possibility of what amounts to image-based
consensus, and the associated formal agreements. This is the way in which design-based
contracts are agreed. As in the construction of a building, a piece of machinery,
or a production system, it is the design "specifications" expressed in diagrammatic
form on which agreement is reached. It is the central or underlying image which
creates the context on the basis of which detailed arrangements can be qualified
in textual form.
This approach offers an alternative to dependence on agreements based solely
on the text of resolutions, declarations and treaties. In the light of the
experience of past decades, it would be wise to question the adequacy of these
as a support for the emerging challenges of governance.
Annex 3: Meshing Imaginative Vision and Policy Implementability: the
role of metaphor as a vital cognitive interface
Note on the challenging dilemma of an imaginative response to the policy
implications of sustainable development
This note assumes recognition of the complexity of the policy challenges of
sustainable development, the need for "new thinking" and the importance of
more imaginative approaches to policy-making and organization.
The implications of these issues for the theme of this note have been explored
in earlier papers (see references) and in the section on metaphor in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential (1991).
1. Beyond "tinkering" and crisis management
There will continue to be many situations in which it appears expedient to
respond to priorities with the skills of crisis management. There will always
be opportunities for reconfiguring organizational structures and lines of communication
so as to suggest that adequate response is being made to the problem dynamic
-- at least in the shorter term.
As many acknowledge, more is however required. This is a real challenge to
the imagination to articulate new visions of appropriate order and of longer
2. The search for new forms of order
Do the imaginative possibilities evoked in the search for new forms of order
reflect a level of richness and complexity appropriate to the emerging social
reality? It can readily be argued that much of what is proposed is "more of
the same", offering "solutions to yesterday's problems".
Much of such thinking constitutes a "linear" extrapolation from existing approaches
to organization and policy design. Despite pleas for "holistic", "quantum
leaps" towards more "integrative" approaches, these remain fuzzy in detail,
however attractive and appropriate they may appear in outline.
3. Beyond "boring" possibilities: the evocative constraint
It is increasingly clear that the emerging possibilities can only have a chance
of succeeding if they can be adequately articulated through the media. This
means more than the ability to "package" the possibility in terms which are
comprehensible. Many comprehensible policies are simply boring and, as such,
Unless the new approaches are adequately evocative, triggering the imagination
and a sense of participation, they will of necessity be inappropriate. Appropriate
policies call for a new form of identification on the part of those whom they
4. Conceptual scaffolding in support of imaginative proposals
Complex building designs require scaffolding to allow the complementary structural
elements to be held in position before they can counter-balance the tensions
and stresses they engender. It can be argued that imaginative policy proposals
require a form of "conceptual scaffolding" to juxtaposition their complementary
elements -- before they can be adequately "locked into place" by a comprehension
of the whole (a "global" comprehension).
Such conceptual scaffolding is required to anchor subtle possibilities crafted
by the collective imagination -- and to render them communicable and credible.
It is especially necessary given the degree of opposition between interests
representing vital, and complementary, concerns in society.
5. Scaffolding possibilities from high technology and traditional
It has been argued that current policy-making language draws upon very simple
forms of conceptual scaffolding. As a result only simpler forms of policy design
are rendered possible. It can be readily argued that these are inappropriate
to the complex challenges of the present and the future.
Ironically, traditional wisdom from many cultures offers rich patterns (whether
from symbolism, mythology or folk tales) that can be used to interrelate complementary
structural elements -- and ensure their widespread comprehensibility. This
possibility remains to be explored. The ability to articulate policies using
such patterns may prove vital to the comprehensibility and credibility of new
policies appropriate to such cultures. The failure to consider this dimension
is a major factor in the "inappropriateness" of Western management styles in
The current dramatic evolution of computer technology and software offers
another form of scaffolding. Beyond the bar charts and pie charts of the "business
graphics" basic to most current forms of policy-making, other forms of graphics
are emerging. These forms blend image and data in more dynamic and complex
ways. As such they offer new vehicles for the imagination and its articulation.
Such technology can be used to give form to hitherto unforeseen conceptual
structures of great richness. And the technology can help to render them comprehensible.
The relevance to the policy community remains to be explored. Ironically, such
technology will be used for entertainment before its wider relevance is investigated.
6. The chasm between imaginative possibilities and policy realities
There is thus a tragic "gap" between imaginative possibilities and implementable
policies. Existing policies, with all their acknowledged defects, have had
the advantage of having been exposed to articulation into programmatic detail.
In fact it is only hindsight on this implementation in practice which has highlighted
Imaginative possibilities, however attractive they may appear at first sight,
do not inspire equivalent confidence concerning their satisfactory implementability.
New tools are required to bridge this chasm. Such tools must offer the means
of both articulating complexity and also of rendering it comprehensible. This
is the cognitive challenge of respecting the "local" focus required for implementability,
whilst providing a "global" context necessary for comprehensibility.
7. Metaphor as a vital cognitive interface
Many recent studies suggest that metaphor plays a fundamental cognitive role
in giving form to new varieties of understanding. It has also been demonstrated
that people and cultures can become entrapped in simplistic metaphors
that are inadequate to the challenges that they face.
It is noteworthy that metaphor is used in many cultures and at all levels
of society -- and especially by managers and politicians. It is doubtful whether
modern management could function without the use of military and sporting metaphors.
It could be argued that the current rich use of metaphor in slums is a means
through which people reconfigure their cognitive environment to ensure their
psychic survival. Metaphor is also the traditional vehicle through which the
elders of a village or tribe articulated options in the face of challenges
-- drawing upon the wisdom of their culture. Many advances in computer software
design are explicitly made in terms of new "metaphors".
Metaphor would therefore appear to be a major unexplored resource through
which richer and more complex policies can be articulated and rendered comprehensible.
8. Policy implications
There is no lack of imagination or of visions of new approaches to social
organization. On the other hand, there are well-defined constraints on what
appears possible at any given time, given the current thinking and procedures
which have proved their worth over the years.
If new forms of social order are to emerge in response to the challenge of
sustainable development, there is a need to break through the "imagination
barrier" imposed by the use of simplistic conceptual scaffolding. There is
a need to question the adequacy of the metaphors used to articulate existing
policies -- and to search for richer, more complex and more dynamic metaphors.
It is richer metaphors which will enable the articulation of more complex policies
appropriate to the challenge of sustainable development.
The success of the United Nations "Earth Summit" (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) may
well not be measured in terms of specifics on which compromises are agreed.
These will be quickly forgotten except by specialists. If there is
to be the "fundamental shift in attitude" so frequently called for, this
can only be triggered and articulated by new and richer metaphors. It
is such metaphors which will give coherence to emerging specific policies of
appropriate complexity. It is such coherence which will determine whether the
policies are accepted by wider publics and interest groups.
Great care should be devoted to exploring richer metaphors through which to
give a sense of coherence and pattern to the variety of complementary interests
represented at the Earth Summit. It is these metaphors which could prove to
be the most important outcome of the event -- and of most relevance to the
dilemma of sustainable development.
Annex 4: Research Background
This initiative builds on a number of areas of work over the past decade.
- Forms of Representation sub-project of the Goals, Processes and Indicators
of Development programme of the United Nations University
- Sections on communication elaborated for the Encyclopedia of World Problems
and Human Development of the Union of International Associations
- Work on childrens imagery of the future, notably through projects of
the World Futures Studies Federation (notably through the work of Eleonora
- A range of initiatives concerned with the cognitive role of metaphor
(notably by Lakoff, Johnson and Schon)
- An international initiative to identify appropriate imagery to convey
the insights of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(see Annex 7)
- Increasing recognition of the role of guided fantasy in envisaging opportunities
for new social policies or forms of peace (notably as explored by Elise Boulding)
- Work of the UNESCO/United Nations University initiative (in Pondicherry)
on expression of complex issues in cartoon imagery with locally formulated
captions (based on the work of Yona Friedman)
- Conventional attempts by the Public Information programmes of the United
Nations Special Agencies to develop poster and other visual materials to
focus concern on substantive issues
- Research on imagery vital to scientific development over the past century
- Explorations of imagined realities and constructed realities, both from
a philosophical and from a psychological perspective, and the implications
of computer generated virtual realities
- Emergence of a new generation of computer databases to facilitate "information
visualization" (notably Rooms from Xerox PARC)
Annex 5: Focus of Research
(a) Characteristics of structured imagery
The work would focus on the characteristics of designed (or selected) images
in terms of:
- encoding adequate levels of complexity
- ensuring comprehensibility
- ensuring stability of the resultant pattern
- reducing the "charge" of polarized opposition by setting such opposition
in a larger context
The work would also focus on the concrete implications in terms of:
- representation of effective checks and balances in structural terms
- the design significance of "trade-offs" in bargains between opposing parties
- institutional design through interpretation of diagrams
- articulation of legal and contractual clauses referenced to diagrams
- development of accounting and financial cycles in the light of complex
Finally the work would also explore:
- the personal implications of such structured imagery, especially from
the perspective of career positions and personal development
- the degrees of freedom offered within such complex structures for new
forms of "corruption" and the ways in which they can be contained or rechannelled.
(b) Components and priorities of image research
The components and priorities of the programme are indicated in the accompanying
diagram (see Annex 1). This is designed to distinguish certain valuable approaches
from one another and to suggest some relationships.
Clearly there is a history of work in this area, although very little of it
has been focused on policy-related issues, institution building or conflict
resolution. The diagram is designed to suggest how this programme might build
on aspects of such work whilst avoiding some of the traps associated with it.
The diagram also responds to the fact that most of the points of focus can
be interpreted in a restrictive sense as well as in a sense which is highly
relevant to policy issues. Thus there is a sense in which "symbols" are indeed "structured
images" with powerful implications for conflict resolutions. There is also
a restrictive sense in which this significance is lost and they function as
little more than signs. The labels could thus be moved around the diagram along
the connecting lines. However as given, it suggests the priorities appropriate
to this project and the strategic opportunity at this time
Some conventional strategies (symbols, posters, etc) are therefore "played
down", whilst others (metaphor, guided fantasy) are "played up" as a context
for the focus on structured imagery.
(c) Research output
This would include:
- Design and selection criteria for images
- Production of sets of images of increasing levels of complexity
- Institutional implications for complex bargains
- Insights into the nature of non-linear agendas and agreements
(d) Method of work:
This would include
- Conventional research papers of design characteristics of catalytic imagery
- Image design
- Exploration of the use of computers in support of image-based institution
buildings and conflict resolution
- Meetings, if and when appropriate
In the light of past experience with research networks and their productivity,
emphasis should be placed upon:
- strategically sensitive initiatives, rather than repeating a do-able pattern
of research with of limited concrete relevance
- avoiding approaches which require dealing with large quantities of contacts,
correspondence, or data to the detriment of the research output
- avoiding institutional "games" and formal relationships of limited substantive
relevance to the research programme
- avoiding token participation
- focusing on output of direct relevance to the conflictual situations described
- avoiding "superficial" or "unstructured" imagery of limited cognitive
relevance to the situations described
Annex 6: Institutional arrangements
(a) Possible core participation
- Union of International Associations (Brussels)
- Development Alternatives (New Delhi)
- IFC-UNCED (Geneva)
- International Peace Research Association (Vancouver)
- IUCN-World Conservation Union (Geneva)
- Prelude (Brussels)
- World Futures Studies Federation (Helsinki)
- UNESCO (Paris)
(b) Possible additional institutional participants
-- Council of Europe (Strasbourg)
- EEC (Brussels)
- Commonwealth Secretariat (London)
- Club of Rome (Paris)
- International Foundation for Development Alternatives (Geneva)
- International Society for Mental Imagery Techniques (Paris)
- Society for International Development (Rome)
- Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism (Trento)
- Communication/Media NGOs
- United Nations University (Tokyo)
Annex 7: Comveying Earth Summit Insights
- Information overload: One of the characteristics of the
Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro will be the quantity of information, whether
governmental or nongovernmental -- and whether in the form of position papers,
background documents, handouts, reports or declarations. Both policy-makers
and the media will be subject to an unusual degree of information overload.
Much of the information will be underused, both at the event and in its aftermath.
- Shifting awareness: The real test of the Earth Summit,
as many have suggested, will however lie in its ability to "shift the level
Without a doubt, information is necessary to this process. But the shift
will be anchored and given credibility by those few images which can give
coherence to the complex insights that emerge to interrelate fruitfully the
many powerfully conflicting interests.
- Beyond consensus: Much hope is being placed in the emergence
of a new consensus at the Earth Summit. It is readily forgotten that consensus
is easiest when it is superficial. Beyond such consensus there is the continuing
reality of the tensions between groups with incompatible goals and mind-sets.
It is the imagery that reconfigures that reality which will open opportunities
for appropriate action.
- Penetrating power of imagery: It is the few key images
a thousand words" -- which will focus an imaginative approach to the wealth
of information. It is around them that the media can build stories meaningful
to a wider audience. It is these images which ensure that the insights are
carried where information cannot penetrate -- whether into the interstices
of industrialized societies or to the far corners of the Earth. It is the
images which will be remembered long after the Earth Summit is forgotten
by all but its participants.
Clues: Meaning of "insightful imagery":
To fulfil the function indicated above, such imagery needs to go beyond "description" or "prescription",
problems" or "envisaging solutions", and beyond "blaming" or "exhorting". Clues
to the "Factor X" which can catalyze more fruitful responses may perhaps be
found in one or more of the following:
- Parables ... for those of religious inclination, what
are the "parables" of Rio?
- Learning pathways ... for educators, what are the "learning
pathways" and "journeys" opened up by Rio?
- Wisdom stories ... for those aware of the power of the
story teller, what "stories" or "fables" can carry the insights of Rio?
- Case studies ... for those with a management orientation,
what are the "case studies" which evoke the policy dilemmas and opportunities
- Proverbs ... for those recognizing their power, what
are the "proverbs which can guide initiatives emerging from Rio?
- Myths ... for those touched by the power of myth, what "myths" or legends" capture
the dilemmas and opportunities of Rio?
- Metaphors ... for those convinced of the fundamental
cognitive role of metaphor, what are the "metaphors" which capture and
reconfigure the challenge of Rio?
On the one hand, we seem to need "catalytic convertors" for our "exhausted
imagination". But on the other, our cultural heritage constitutes a huge "gene-pool" of
the imagination on which we can draw in response to the planetary dilemma.
- Catalytic imagery: Care must however be
taken in finding appropriate images. Superficial images will not evoke new
ways of acting. What indeed are the "images" which will catalyze more sustainable
forms of action -- evoking and guiding appropriate programmes? How can such
images best capture and carry the insights emerging from the sectoral and
inter-sectoral concerns of the Earth Summit?
- Multi-level imagery: The art of appropriate imagery is
to permit people to derive different levels of significance from it (by unpeeling
it like an onion). At its most superficial level it may offer succinct explanations,
or it may provide a symbol or slogan exhorting political action. Much more
is required of the imagery from Rio. Somehow it must also carry insights
into the nature of the appropriate balance between conflicting priorities.
But above all it must be the catalyst for creative insight into the way forward,
both for the individual and for groups -- whether in policy-making or in
concrete action programmes.
- Complementary imagery: The Earth Summit is being organized
in terms of 3 working groups (Land, etc; Oceans, etc; and Institutional mechanisms)
and intends to have 6 outcomes (Agenda 21, Earth Charter, Conventions, Technology
Transfer, Financial Resources, and Institutions). Imagery is required to
carry the essence of each of these initiatives and the shift in attitude
required to empower them. But that imagery must also render comprehensible
the essential complementarity between these initiatives. Much more is therefore
required than the sort of unrelated poster images traditionally produced
by the different Specialized Agencies of the United Nations.
Annex 8: Formal Structure of Declarations: Challenge and Opportunity
"More of the same ?" Many have recognized the danger that the Charters and
Action Plans emerging from the UNCED process will be characterized by features
- Pious sentiments and token phrases
- Marginal adaptations of existing initiatives
- Empty frameworks, postponing tough decisions
- Idealistic and inoperable proposals
- Responses to short-term political
- Absence of catalytic and multiplier effects
- Uninspiring sterile detail aggravating information overload
- Unrepresentative perspectives
- Inhibition of unforeseen and local initiatives
Conceptual traps of the drafting mind-set A multitude of declarations, charters, resolutions and action plans have been
produced over the past decades. In many cases they have been adequate to the
visions of their producers, especially where the concerns were specific, local
or well-defined. This leads to the easy assumption that structuring such documents
is a relatively minor editorial task -- with which many in the international
community are familiar. Concern is focused on the conceptual challenge of the
content and not on the framework within which that content is set.
This conceptual trap engenders documents organized into neat series of points
and sub-points that are the epitomy of linear, hierarchically-structured, thinking.
Whilst appropriate in many circumstances, this structuring principle is widely
recognized as quite inadequate to the complexities of the global problematique.
However insightful the content, the simplistic structure of such documents
encourages the kinds of thinking that reinforce inadequate organization of
institutions and information systems -- and the inappropriate decision-making
Document organization of a higher conceptual order The challenge appears to
- ensuring higher degrees of order to reflect the many non-linear (and
non-hierarchical) relationships between the parts of the document;
- embedding into the structure the organizing principles which more appropriately
reflect the operational challenge;
- preserving a degree of simplicity to
ensure that the document is comprehensible as a whole and as a set of parts.
The first two call upon levels of insight which have been articulated over
recent years, and recognized by many disciplines as breakthroughs in understanding.
These breakthroughs have occurred in response to the complexity of natural
phenomena and through recognition of the inadequacy of the old conceptual frameworks
in handling them. It would appear vital that such understanding be reflected
in documents purporting to organize our response to the future of the planet.
The third aspect of the challenge calls for new ways of relating such insights
to those of handling and presentation of information.
B. Challenges to Presentation
There is a need for many perspectives to interact to clarify the content of
global declarations and render them appropriate. But equally there is a need
for many with expertise in new forms of order to interact to clarify the dimensions
which need to influence the conceptual framework within which that content
is presented. These formal properties are necessarily a challenge to ways of
thinking that have proved inadequate. They might include:
- - Consensus / Contention: Here the challenge is to move
beyond superficial expressions of consensus and solidarity. These obscure
the real differences that reflect complementary functional preoccupations
vital to the survival of any complex global system. The "conflict" between
such preoccupations needs to be articulated in the form of shared tension
("contention") or strain ("constraint").
This then limits the destabilizing excesses of each of them.
- Continuity / Discontinuity: Here the challenge is to
ensure the coherence and continuity of the form of the document whilst providing
for the presence of perspectives which are inherently incompatible with one
another. The art is to use the mutual rejection by particular perspectives
as a structuring device that creates the shared tension which expresses and
energizes the sense of continuity.
- Simplicity / Complexity: Here the challenge is to ensure
a form that is comprehensible as a whole whilst embodying a degree of complexity
that honours the diversity of preoccupations. The art is to ensure the presence
of comprehensible symmetry effects at various levels to avoid the need to
focus on lower levels of detail unless required. It is the simplicity that
anchors the sense of coherence from which the various levels of detail may
- Enfolding / Unfolding: Here the challenge is to ensure
that the form of the document is such that it may be "unpacked" to various
levels of detail according to the needs of users at the time. Similarly,
it should be possible to conceal such confusing levels of detail by "packing" them
away so as to present a relatively simple document. In this way, the full
complexities are always present implicitly, whatever the degree to which
they are explicated in any one version.
- Completeness / Incompleteness: Here the challenge is
to ensure that the form of the document recognizes the limitations of the
insights from which it arose. Some degree of completeness is naturally essential
as the basis for any consensus. But the implication of "completeness" evokes
legitimate objections, both from those whose views were inadequately reflected
at the time, and in the light of insights that emerge after its completion.
A sense of "incompleteness" is required to open the door to unforeseen
reinterpretations, rather than inhibiting such initiatives by creating a
sense that appropriate future action can be completely defined.
- Comprehension / Incomprehension: Here the challenge
is to recognize the problems of comprehending a document of global scope.
This applies both to the well-informed, sensitive only to particular preoccupations,
as well as to those who find much of its detail incomprehensible, whatever
their background. The form of the document should be designed with redundant
and mnemonic features to guard as much as possible against its "dismemberment" through
selective incomprehension. On the other hand, the form should draw attention
to the possibility of comprehending the conceptual challenges and paradoxes
of globality in new ways -- whether through personal insight or future discoveries.
- Constraints / Freedoms: Here the challenge is to interweave
into the form of the document an appropriate balance of constraints and freedoms.
Some may be seen as global constraints opening up local freedoms. Others
may be seen as local constraints that provide the guarantee of global freedoms.
However such a design needs to go beyond a mechanistic approach. To be appropriate
it needs to provide for a transformative or evolutionary dimension that reflects
changing understanding of the nature of constraint and freedom.
- Symbol / Sign: Here the challenge is to ensure that
the document can fulfil its function as a symbol of an appropriate new order.
However at the same time, for it to be of operational significance, it must
also serve as an indicator of a pattern of actions through which that order
can be given form.
C. Clues to Formal Properties
- Classification sciences: Faced with the limitations of
traditional hierarchical systems, the classification sciences have been obliged
to explore more complex approaches. These take account of such advances as
the impact of quantum logic on the organization of knowledge and the use
of non-Boolean lattices of complementary languages. Such insights can usefully
influence the organization of any multi-level, multi-part document where
conventional approaches would obscure the interconnections between its elements.
- Multiple logics: Faced with the limitations of classical
logic, there has been exploration of multi-valued logics, of fuzzy logic,
as well as of the logics of non-Western cultures. This has been linked to
investigation of multiple realities and universes. Such insights can usefully
influence the organization of a document in which the stress must be placed
on relating incommensurable approaches in defiance of conventional either/or
- Information sciences: Concern with the challenges of organizing
and penetrating complex patterns of information has led to the development
of such tools as "outliners", information rooms and information visualizers.
These have developed understanding of the various ways to pack and unpack
patterns of information to facilitate overviews and minimize overload. Such
insights can usefully influence the organization of a complex document which
must be open to exploration at many levels of detail.
- Physics: Fundamental physics has encountered and responded
to major conceptual challenges that have redefined understanding of: singularity,
discontinuity, symmetry, complementarity. Such insights can usefully influence
the organization of a document which must radically reframe the relationship
between local and global concerns.
- Mathematics: The many developments in mathematics provide
a rich pool of insight from which to draw in identifying new ways of organizing
sets of elements, whilst preserving the multi-dimensional richness of their
relationships. Such insights can be used to open up new opportunities for
ensuring the presence of appropriate relationships between a multitude of
disparate elements in a document.
- Symmetry and geodesic structures: Challenges to engineering
and architecture have highlighted the significance of regular 2- and 3-dimensional
structures encountered in nature. These have proved of importance, notably
in the design of tiling, packaging, computer memory, and geodesic domes,
where radical new approaches to symmetry, balance, and resource optimization
are required. Such insights can usefully influence the organization of a
document that call for new ways of balancing the tensions between disparate
and opposing elements whilst enhancing global continuity and coherence.
- Self-organization: The challenge of understanding the
conditions of emergence of organization from apparent chaos has led to remarkable
developments in the theory of self-organization. Such insights can usefully
- Self-reference: The challenge of self-reference in logic,
language, the information sciences and psychology has led to a richly articulated
understanding of recursiveness and embedding. ****
- Metaphor: Research into the cognitive function of metaphor
highlights its potential role in providing fundamental organizing frameworks
for complex patterns of information.****
- Aesthetics: The
formal principles governing the organization of music, poetry and the plastic
arts offer alternative ways of understanding the challenges of harmony and
global comprehension in the presence of rich patterns of apparently discordant
Annex 9: Conceptual Keystone Design: a computer-based structural "outliner"
Many documents of fundamental importance to societies, organizations and groups
(or even to an individual's creative processes) are based on sets of principles,
values, qualities, policies, initiatives or other points (eg declarations,
charters, action plans). These are usually listed out as a numbered sequence,
possibly with sub-points. The conventional method of producing such documents
favours linear thinking at a time when non-linear, contextually-oriented approaches
are often believed to be more appropriate to ensure higher levels of integration
amongst the elements of the set. A number of computer-based text "outliners" are
now widely available to facilitate production of such hierarchically structured
This proposal suggests the need for a computer-based structural "outliner" to
facilitate a non-linear approach to the creative production of such "conceptual
keystones". The need for a more integrative approach may be seen in the occasional
efforts to group conceptual elements into a table, a pie-chart, a diagram,
or even into a form of mandala. In each case the structure is seen as providing
the integrative perspective that links a variety of disparate, but complementary,
elements that together ensure the viability of the larger pattern.
It is envisaged that the proposed PC-based structural outliner would be used
in a manner somewhat similar to the conventional text outliners. However the
software would offer many ways of configuring the evolving set of elements
within a variety of non-linear structural frameworks, whether in two or three
dimensions. The geometric and symmetric properties of these would be used to
suggest levels of coherence and integration absent from conventional presentations.
The user would be offered a number of ways of building up the conceptual "keystone".
In each case, the result would take the form of a geometric (and normally symmetrical)
structure in two or three dimensions with elements of text attached to its
- Text points (to be converted via template or rules into structure)
- User chosen
- tiling as in Wordperfect tables (to be converted)
- empty library shape (to be filled)
- filled library shape (to be edited / altered)
- User drawn
- shape (to be filled)
- mind map (to be optimized into a shape or structure)
The user would be able to draw upon a library of structures and symmetric
- Library of conventional structures
- Tables (Matrices) in 2D and 3D
- Library of other structures
- Traditional forms (mandalas, etc)
Two main modes can be envisaged:
- Attach text to directly to structural features (and move text items between
- Convert text (outliner) points into features (lines, sides, volumes, great
circles) of selected shapes
Both of these exist in simpler form in conventional text outliners
The thesaurus would be designed to provide facilities beyond those usually
provided by such a function.
- Complements: Its main function would be to facilitate
selection of complementary sets of terms, depending on the size of the set
with which the user was working. With respect to a single element set, the
synonym function is all that is called for. As usual, synonyms and antonyms
are required for what amounts to two element sets. But what is also required
is the ability to process items in 3-part, 4-part sets.
- Broader / Narrower: The thesaurus would also be used to
enable identification of terms corresponding to broader or narrower terms,
especially the contextual terms appropriate to the set as a whole.
- Traditional sets: This feature would enable users to browse
relevant traditional sets of differing numbers of elements corresponding
to the size of the set being worked (tertiaries, quaternaries, etc).
- Academic sets: This feature would offer access to sets
elaborated in contemporary academic studies.
- User modified: The user would of course need to be able
to amend the thesaurus in the light of specialized interests and evaluation
of the library versions. The user would build up a library of complementary
sets reflecting his/her specialized concerns and sense of the balance between
Restructuring (by rules, by library, or by indications)
- Text reveal / hide: This feature would suppress or reveal
the text associated with particular structural features.
- Structure hide / nest / pack / simplify: This feature
(as in text outliners) would be used to conceal levels of detail. In the
case of complex structures, this would be achieved by a transformative reduction
to a simpler structure (eg from a complex polyhedron to a simpler polyhedron).
This reduction would conceal the text associated with the suppressed detail.
- Structure reveal / unpack / complexify: This feature would
unfold levels of structural detail. A simple structure could thus be unfolded
(from a simple polyhedron to a complex polyhedron). This could follow a previously
chosen transformation pathway or offer transformative options at each stage.
In an edit mode, text could then be input directly (or called in from the
thesaurus) into the different facets of the revealed structure.
- Optimize existing
- Propose alternatives
- Indicate complementaries
- Switch from 2D to 3D presentation
- Potential complementaries
- Structural families / periodic tables
- User additions / indications
Indexing / Access
- Text to structured
- User additions to index
- Structural relationships (via features or globally)
- Common keywords (via index)
- Geometrical similarities / isomorphisms
- User indicated associations
The major emphasis in each of the following cases is to enable the user to
articulate a complex pattern whilst maintaining a sense of coherence and ensuring
a configuration of functional checks and balances.
- Functional units in organizations
- Organization chart
- Complementarity and balance of functions
- Lines of communication
- Principles in a declaration
- Complementarity and balance of principles
- Action plan or policy
- Policy elements
- Highlighting policy integration
- Classification system (books, information, etc)
- Filing codes
- Tracking disparate interests
- Mind mapping
- Clarifying systems
- Philosophical organization
- Integrating incoherent patterns
- Exploring structural transformation pathways
- Introduction of new elements
- Restructuring (simplification / complexification)
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