Union of Intelligible Associations (Complementary initiatives and historical context)
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Union of Intelligible Associations

Innovative Capacity / Application Development

within a strategic reframing of the Union of International Associations (2005)

[reframe index]


The capacity to innovate, whether with respect to technology or in the development of information products and services, has been a key to the long-term viability of the UIA. This is also reflected in the flexible distribution of tasks and the capacity both for collective self-organization and the individual learning capacity of key personnel in response to new opportunities.

Technology uptake

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), virtual reality (1998), inter-institutional data integration (1999), online web data services (2000), sonification (2000), XML (2001), scalable vector graphics (2002). Generically these innovations are possible at the UIA because of an in-house capacity to handle a variety of cross-platform and interface situations -- typified most basically by the early multilingual challenges of accented characters.

Information products

The key to UIA's ability to thrive and provide a service throughout a turbulent century has been its capacity to design and implement low-cost, computer-enhanced methods that avoid the challenges of information overload. Curiously, the provision of cross-sectoral information with a global focus has proved highly problematic and costly, if not impossible, to much better endowed intergovernmental and for-profit organizations, whose services are generally limited to "snapshots" (not updated for lack of long-term funding) or to single sector, single language or national data.

The UIA data is currently made available via the Web, on CD-Rom and in reference book form (notably the annual 5-vol. Yearbook of International Organizations (37th edition); the 3-vol. Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential (4th edition); the International Congress Calendar (41st edition); the Who's Who in International Organizations (3rd edition). The Yearbook is now subtitled Guide to Global Civil Society Networks. Data has been maintained in electronic form since 1976.


From 1971, the UIA has sought ways of providing visual tools to enable the organizational community to map the complex nertworked environment in which bodies function -- as a guide to coalition and partnership formation and improved decision-making. In the on-line form of these databases (www.uia.org/data.htm), users already have access to several different kinds of on-going experiment that would be developed as a service to facilitate community building.

Its approach to increasing the "visibility" of international bodies was the particular reason for which it received funds for its major "multi-media" contract with the European Commission.

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.

Remote collaboration

Qualified user-editors can edit entries on-line, resulting in modified texts that overlay earlier versions when other users access a given profile. Other users can then choose to view such comments. Clearly the challenge is to find ways to work with this flow of information, bearing in mind the difficulties of editorial style, quality of content, quantity, copyright, and the constraints on ability to process whatever is received.

Facilitative communication

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.

Work organization

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 for self-organization.

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.

The work of the UIA on visualization and sonification of its databases has proven significant as a simulation of the emerging "global brain" (2000).
The UIA has maintained a reputation in the meetings industry for introducing new technologies relevant to its long-term concern with increasing the capacity for fruitful dialogue in conferences, notably in alternative styles of meeting.

Application development

The UIA registries use what amounts to a common meta-data structure enabling management of profiles through the same application and file structure. Since 1984, the common structure has facilitated a variety of maintenance, analysis, and re-formatting operations, notably for directory and CD production (XML variants), as well as for web serving (HTML) with associated generation of graphics (mapping applets, VRML) and export to third party visualization packages.

Computer software

It is important to recognize the innovative research in relation to the adaptation of information technology to enhance the value of UIA information to users. It is the UIA's capacity in this respect that has been the subject of various project proposals, notably to the European Commission

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