Innovative Capacity / Application Development
within a strategic reframing of the Union of International
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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