Systemic Mapping of Strategic Dilemmas
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Prepared as a statement (see others
on the occasion of the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992) for the International
Facilitating Committee for the Independent Sectors in the UNCED process (Geneva).
Portions of the text were published in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential
(1994-5, vol 2) and in the online
version of its commentaries (to which links below are made) shaping the global
network of local bargains by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral
In a follow-up
report to his involvement as Secretary-General of the Brundtland Commission,
Jim MacNeill articulates for the Trilateral Commission the policy options for
sustainable development in terms of "shaping global bargains"
(Beyond Interdependence, 1991). In this sense a global bargain involves at
least two parties and two issues, implying a trade-off between the parties on
the issues. However according to this perspective the arenas to be subject to
bargaining emerge haphazardly as a result of conventional political processes.
There is no systemic sense of how the bargains interweave to ensure the sustainability
of development as whole. There is no sensitivity to issues which can be
conveniently ignored by powerful majorities. In a real sense this corresponds
to the traditional paradigm of ad-hocery which has contributed so much to the
emergence and maintenance of the present crisis.
pages provide an overview of a response to this challenge. The overview
consists of the following elements:
- Description of the approach to systemic mapping of strategic dilemmas, introducing
the subsequent figures. This refers to Document E (separate) in which over
450 Earth Summit issues are itemized on the basis Agenda 21, NGO declarations,
and other documents
- Pattern of strategic dilemmas in table form (see Figure 1) designed to code
and organize strategic dilemmas of sustainable development. Sustainable
development is a function of the pattern as a whole rather than of its components.
- Caricatural presentation of competing visions of global order based
on traditional hierarchical thinking (see Figure 2).
- Globally patterned network (see Figures 3A and 3B) chosen to be compatible
with the set of strategic functions in Figure 1. The areas can then be used
to signify issue- specific bargain arenas. The network is thus a globally
organized network of local bargain arenas (where global and local are
understood in a functional rather than a geographical sense).
- The systemic coherence of the network pattern of Figure 3 becomes clear
when it is seen how the 2-dimensional network may be folded around the
surface of a sphere in 3 dimensions (see Figure 4). This establishes the
functional "globality" of the pattern of bargain arenas and the
associated strategic dilemmas
- The bargaining arenas in Figure 3 are tentatively identified in the light
of interpretations of the code combinations (see Figure 5). The significance
of the code combinations is based on the clustering of issues in declarations
(see Document E). The pairs of complementary triangles in Figure 3 are used
to reflect the two complementary interpretations of each code in Figure 5,
namely development-focused and environmentally-sensitive.
- Further insights into how local bargains may interlock may be obtained by
considering the tensegrity structures which illustrate the principles by which
spherical structures can be rendered self-sustaining in practice (see Figure
6). Tensegrity structures are effectively patterns of sustainability.
purpose of the inter-sectoral dialogue is to raise the level of inter-sectoral
debate. The challenge is to move beyond simplistic consensus and beyond
acrimonious restatement of established positions. The challenge is one of
moving towards higher orders of consensus.
To explore and
illustrate new possibilities, the focus of the exercise described here is on
identifying "strategic dilemmas" underlying debates on Earth Summit
issues. These are the dilemmas which reflect such seemingly irreconcilable
concerns as safeguarding watercourses versus exploiting essential hydro-electric
energy reserves. The assumption is that the set of these local (namely
issue-specific) long-term dilemmas may offer clues to new patterns of global
(namely inter-sectoral) strategies and bargains.
There were two
points of departure:
A brainstorming exercise in the identification of polarizing dilemmas.
This proved to be unsatisfactory because it lacked any systemic ordering.
Clustering of issues identified in the Brundtland Report, Agenda 21, and
in sectoral declarations. Over 450 such issues now appear in a checklist
(see Document E). As a checklist this document has the merit of providing a
crude context for specific sectoral concerns. However this is not enough. It
fails to respond to the need to raise the level of debate by offering a global
(inter-sectoral) context for specific bargains, checks and balances. Such
checklists, like Agenda 21, are effectively overwhelming. They encourage
simplistic attempts to identify "the most important problem" whose
solution it is hoped will magically transform all the others.
Figure 1 is one
attempt to respond to this situation by showing how different social functions,
understood as strategic opportunities, interfere with each other to engender a
pattern of strategic dilemmas. In that pattern each strategy may take a
privileged role or may in turn be constrained by other strategies. For example,
when "environment" is a privileged function, "well-being
(+jobs)" may be sacrificed, whereas, when "well-being (+jobs)"
is the privileged function, sacrificing "environment" is the
alternative option. Neither option is satisfactory, but both appear to have
dilemma may of course be "resolved" by short-term measures, but the
nature of the dilemma renders such solutions unsustainable in the longer-term. Sustainable
development is a function of the pattern as a whole rather than of its
The choice of
six principal functions as the basis for the pattern in Figure 1 is of course
arbitrary -- but it is certainly more systemic than the chapter organization of
the Brundtland Report or of Agenda 21. A different number of clusters could
have been used, bearing in mind the constraints of over-simplification and
Network of bargain
tabular presentation of Figure 1 is itself a conceptual trap. It encourages a
very mechanistic approach to the pattern of dilemmas, reinforcing tendencies to
much-contested forms of "linear thinking". The linearity may be deliberately challenged by allowing the
information to be encoded or projected onto a network. In this exercise the
network has been deliberately chosen to facilitate comprehension of global
properties of the pattern of strategic dilemmas (see Figure 3A and 2B). As
noted below the global significance of the pattern, and the basis for its
sustainability, only emerges when its form in three-dimensions become apparent.
In the network
the principal lines traversing the pattern are used to represent the six
selected strategic preoccupations of Figure 1. They are coded
by the same letters. Most of the lines can only appear as broken in two
dimensions, although in three they are seen to form unbroken interlocking
circles around a sphere (see Figure 4). In this exercise, the interlocking of
these circles creates a pattern of triangles and pentagons. These may be
understood as simpler (3-valent) and more complex (5-valent) bargaining arenas
around specific concerns.
in the network can be described by a 3-letter code reflecting a particular
combination of the original 6 strategic functions. On the basis of work on
coding the declaration issues according to these functions (described in
Document E), a tentative indication of the significance of each code is given
here in Figure 5. The codes appear in two columns. The left hand column
indicates a development-focused application of the strategies. The right
hand column indicates an environment-sensitive application of the strategies.
In both cases typical problems resulting from inappropriate implementation are
indicated. Keywords from that indication have been inserted into the network
clear that on a single network pattern (Figure 3A: Alternate A), two triangles
appear with the same code, and are therefore used here to indicate the
development-focused and the environment-sensitive keywords for that code
combination. They are on opposite sides of the network (notably when displayed
in three dimensions). Only half of the 20 possible combinations appear on that
pattern. A further 10 appear in the second version (Figure 3B: Alternate B).
The two versions result from the different orders in which the functions can
appear. The complete range of Earth Summit issues and related strategies is
effectively mapped onto these two networks.
the bargaining challenge
In contrast to
that approach, the patterning exercise here emphasizes the necessarily
global structure of the network of issue-specific bargains. Namely it
starts from an assumption of inter-sectoriality (functional globality) and
allows specific sectoral (functionally local) concerns to emerge as features of
the pattern of strategic options. From this perspective, it seems extremely
doubtful that local issue-specific bargains (emissions, forests, etc) can be
effectively struck in isolation from the global context of strategic dilemmas
-- as tends currently to be assumed. Any such isolated bargains would therefore
tend to be unsustainable in the longer-term.
perspective does however suggest that articulation of these dilemmas within a
global framework may redistribute the tensions which currently make it
extremely difficult to achieve issue-specific bargains of any consequence in
isolation. This redistribution may well provide unsuspected contextual support
for such bargains by rendering explicit a new pattern of checks and balances. Where
bargains are no longer treated in isolation, tensions which would otherwise
have to be dealt with explicitly within a given bargaining arena (reducing the
probability of success) may now be recognized implicitly as contextual to that
the importance of treating the totality of Earth Summit issues as a set of
inter-weaving strategic options in order to reduce the difficulty of achieving
success on particular fronts.
This approach points
to new policy possibilities in which the degree of global consensus required is
reduced to a minimum (in a design sense) by localizing the patterns of
disagreement. In this way disagreement no longer acts globally -- tearing
apart the global community. Rather it is locally confined and understood as
a long-term strategic dilemma on which "consensus" can only be achieved
in the short-term. Sustainability thus lies at the global level not at the
There is a need
for richer, and more challenging, imagery to capture the complexity of
strategic options to clarify new options both for policy makers and wider
audiences. The two-dimensional representation, for "local" purposes,
of the "global" structure of the Earth clarifies the challenge. The
importance of the shift to three-dimensional representation is particulary obvious
in this geographical parallel between representations of the Earth as a globe,
and the many efforts to project such information onto 2-dimensional maps --
each with their special distortion. It is the inadequacy of the 2-dimensional
representation which highlights the value of the 3-dimensional structure in
stressing globality and providing a context for local
Both in the
two- and three-dimensional forms the imagery proposed here is an invitation
to reflection along new lines. As intended, it deliberately breaks with
familiar patterns. It invites further reflection and experiment to better
portray the relation between global and local -- and the strategic
opportunities which emerge. It is possible that the main value of the
structures presented lies in the mapping exercises that they encourage, namely
in the creativity and reflection that they evoke, rather than in any particular
pattern which may be favoured.
The merit of
the 3-dimensional representation of the Earth Summit issues is that it may be
used to clarify why strategic dilemmas appear to emerge. Bargain arenas have
been recognized here in pairs of triangles in a network pattern. The
"dilemma" in each case may be seen as a failure to recognize the
global properties of the structure which separate the two complementary
(but distinct) arenas -- for these are on opposite sides of the spherical
structure. Collapsing the distinctions into a two-dimensional representation,
in which the triangles are super-imposed, is what guarantees the appearance of
a dilemma. It is an appropriate global consensus which allows them to be
understood as separate, thus eliminating the dilemma.
In practice the
construction of three-dimensional spherical structures (like geodesic domes)
requires understanding of more than those surface features with which the
bargaining arenas have been associated here. According to the principles of
tensegrity (namely tensional integrity) explored by R Buckminster Fuller, new
types of global structures may be created that are self-sustaining by a
particular three-way pattern of tensile forces. Such a structure is not
supported or maintained (by special authority structures). It is pulled outward
into sphericity by inherent tensional forces which its geometry also serves to
restrain (see Figure 6). It responds as a system with local stresses being
uniformly distributed throughout the structure, and uniformly absorbed by every
part of it as a classic example of synergy. It is not necessary that these structures
should be patterned on regular polyhedra, but the tension networks are most
economical when their strands run for considerable distances without changing
direction -- and preferably along great-circles.
structures clarify ways in which individual bargains need to be interlocked
using local elements of disagreement ("compression elements") within
the global network of agreement ("tension elements"). Tensegrity
structures are effectively patterns of sustainability. The challenge is to
find useful ways to encode such patterns to offer insights into the strategies
of sustainable development.
It is necessary
to use two alternate versions of the network pattern with this approach. This
may not be the case with other coding approaches along these lines.
Complementary projections are however also required in geographical mapping.
Organic molecules essential to life (notably benzene) are based on resonance
between two complementary structures. Most tensegrity structures exist in
right- and left-handed versions.
It is important
to recognize that there are whole families of network patterns that correspond
to different spherical structures in three dimensions. That presented here
suggests just one way of "cutting the strategic cake". There are indications that increasing the
complexity of the network in order to explicitly capture more detailed issues
could provide global contexts which make it even easier to handle
issue-specific bargains. What is required is a special database which could
enable people to shift between different levels of functional detail as is done
between maps in geographical atlases and in geographical information systems.