within a strategic reframing of the Union of International
The UIA’s registry activity derives
from a coherent, consistent, evolving information strategy dating back
over a century. This page gives a sense of this trajectory in order to
demonstrate the strategic logic of its continuing to provide enabling
services to the non-profit community and beyond.
The UIA has always operated at the interface
between information, its organization and enabling the global community
of associations to which this information is relevant. The UIA has a
tradition of rapid response to new information technologies as an early
adopter of: in-house computers (1972), word processing (1973), computer
typesetting (1974), email (1979), meta-data structure (1984), LAN relational
database operation (1985), automatic translation (1994), CD-ROM technology
(1995), web technology (1996), hyperlink editing (1997), VRML (1998),
inter-institutional data integration (1999), online web data services
(2000), sonification (2000), XML (2001), SVG (2002).
In the rapidly evolving period of ISP emergence, the UIA was the founding
member 1997 of a cooperative, Agora, based in its own offices from
which it provided Internet connectivity to the NGO community in Belgium
through a T1 line. Agora was at that time the Belgian node of the Association
for Progressive Communications (APC). These facilities were absorbed
in 1999 into XS4ALL, another community oriented ISP, that itself was
absorbed into a corporate ISP that currently provides UIA connectivity
and hosting of portions of its site. The online services have however
been based in-house since their experimental origin in 1998.
Most recently innovation has focused on enabling
web users to generate, reconfigure and print, from its databases, a multitude
of network maps or to view/export such networks through third party packages
(Decision Explorer, Netmap). Generically these innovations are possible
at the UIA because of an in-house capacity to handle a variety of cross-platform
and interface situations, and typified most basically by the early challenges
of accented characters. In 1986, as an early example, the main UIA registry
product received the UK HMSO Printing World Award for the most innovative
application of computers to typesetting.
Throughout the 1970s the UIA was a strong
advocate to international NGOs of the new concept of organizational networking
and its associated challenges [more]. It was a user of Murray Turoff’s
experimental Electronic Information Exchange System, funded by NSF, that
became operational in 1976 as the great-great-grandmother of all virtual
communities and promoted its significance for the community of non-profit
Throughout the 1970s the UIA was a strong advocate to international
NGOs of the new concept of organizational networking and its associated
challenges [more]. It was an early user of the experimental EIES email
system funded by the National Science Foundation, that became operational
in 1976 as the great-great-grandmother of all virtual communities,
and promoted its significance for the community of non-profit organizations.
These different threads had led to contact in the 1970s with Douglas
Engelbart at the ARPANET centre in Menlo Park (and even an offer to manage
the centre). Engelbart was a key source of inspiration at the UIA, as
elsewhere, for many concerned with the development of hypertext and associated
graphics in support of knowledge navigation. Contact with that community
was resumed through a UIA keynote speech to the Electronic Networking
Association: Transformative conferencing: re-enchantment of networking
through conceptware (San Francisco, 1990).
The UIA was involved in the earliest stages
of the UN-based Inter-Agency Group on Indexing and Documentation that
resulted in the Macrothesaurus. The UIA’s early expertise in information
systems resulted in its involvement as reporter in two successive consultations
in the early phases of the development of UN information systems (Acquisition
and Organization of International Documentation, 1974; Utilisation of
International Documentation, 1980). The UIA provided consulting expertise
to UNESCO in 1984 with respect to the development of UNESCO’s in-house
country data system, followed by later consultations concerning the feasibility
of sharing data with UNESCO.
The original focus on information classification led to UIA involvement
in the Committee on Conceptual and Terminological Analysis (COCTA)
and the International Society for Knowledge Organization in the 1970s.
Association with the early work on computer graphics, resulted in production
of a film on Visualization of International Organization (1971). Two
decades before the emergence of “knowledge management” as
a theme, a study on Knowledge representation in a computer-supported
environment (1977) articulated much of the design philosophy of UIA
Computer enhanced editorial operations
The documentation, editing and research work
became dependent on use of in-house computers from the 1970s, intensifying
with the development of relational databases in 1985. Shared access
to files has long been a central feature of effective editorial teamwork
and procedures to process profiles – whether on a profile-by-profile
basis, across profiles, or within a network of profiles. The development
of these operations continues in response to new technologies, operating
systems and access to the web.
The UIA has developed and maintained intensive
use of computer facilities to enhance the capacity of a limited group
of people to work together on regular productions tasks with a high capacity
Given the collective dependence on computers, and the task-oriented focus
on documentary research, many aspects of the work at the UIA are to a large
degree self-organizing rather than conventionally hierarchical. This is
consistent with the nonprofit nature of the organization but is somewhat
unusual for an organization operating to tight budgets and schedules.
Long-term staff commitment
Documentary work typically calls for a longer-term
commitment from staff and collaborators who need to develop familiarity
with a multitude of organizations and the facilities through which they
may be profiled and researched.
The core preoccupation of the UIA is the
use of information to facilitate the activities of international bodies
and those concerned with the issues to which they respond. This has resulted
in early work on knowledge classification and dissemination, modes of
international organization, improvement in the quality of meetings and
dialogue, and development of computer-enhanced communication facilities.
Cutting edge initiatives
Throughout the 1970's the UIA was a leading
advocator of the new concept of "networking" amongst the
community of organizations. It has sought by every means to embody that
perspective in its registry activity as the basis for building community.
It now manages some 500,000 hyperlinks as part of this activity. The
challenge is to use these as "scaffolding" to enable the emergence
of new kinds and levels of social organization and responsiveness.
With the shift towards a "semantic web", the question is whether
the pathways through the network of organizations, problems, stratyegies
and meetings can be presented such as to facilitate new approaches to organization.
To this end the transition from the "information highway" metaphor
into what has been termed in a UIA study as the "songlines of the
noosphere", through the global configuration of hypertext pathways
as a prerequisite for meaningful collective transformation, or more speculatively
the "sacralization of hyperlink geometry". (1998). Software application
development is conducted towards this and related ends.