The Union of International Associations (Brussels,
since 1910) maintains inter-related databases on over 56,000 world problems,
40,000 intergovernmental and nongovernmental (NGO) organizations (and
their meetings), 33,000 organizational action strategies,
as well as on 3,000 human values and 5,000 approaches to
human development, as well as integrative concepts,
and metaphors of relevance to governance. Items in each
database are extensively hyperlinked amongst themselves and to other
databases. URLs are provided to over 15,000 Internet resources of international
bodies. [access via http://www.uia.org/data.htm]
The prime sources of information are the
international networks of governmental and civil society bodies profiled
in the organizations database -- notably through the documents they produce,
especially on the web. The information is selectively restructured to
reflect the insights of constituencies with very different concerns,
rather than being reconciled with an imposed conceptual scheme. Special
effort is made to reflect both claims and counter-claims with
respect to particular problems or strategies in order to capture the
dynamics between concerned parties and to facilitate dialogue between
Web, CD-Rom, and Books
The data is currently made available via
the Web, on CD-Rom and in reference book form (notably the annual 4-vol. Yearbook
of International Organizations, 37th edition; the 3-vol. Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential, 4th edition; the International
Congress Calendar, 40th 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.
Considerable attention has been given to
the multi-lingual challenge and to automatic translation procedures.
Emphasis is placed on multi-lingual keyword access from a variety of
languages, even when data is only available in English. Organization
descriptions have been translated into French, for example, with ACCT
The editorial process whereby the data is
collected, maintained and interrelated is in many respects as innovative
as the nature of that data -- especially given the logistical and resource
constraints in developing quality databases. The work has been done through
a multi-lingual team of people sharing files on a local area network
since 1984. This now has wide area extensions, together with extensive
use of data from the web, and systematic incorporation of off-site hyperlinks.
Essentially, however, the knowledge-building process is an extension
of the activities of the thousands of organizations from which information
is continually received.
A particular conceptual innovation is associated
with the emphasis on "hyperlink editing" to increase the
coherence and comprehensibility of relationships between organizations,
problems, strategies, values, etc. Together the databases currently have
in excess of 500,000 hyperlinks. Major research work is currently being
done to identify "vicious" and "serendipitous" loops
linking problems or strategies -- and, implicitly, the organizations
with policy and strategic concerns. This approach is designed to shift
the level of perception from isolated entities to complex systems of
entities. Such feedback loops offer a more integrative approach to development
challenges and policy-making.
A major concern is the development of new
ways to comprehend the complexity of the above networks of insights through
visual means and sound. A series of experiments has been undertaken to
permit user generation of virtual reality structures to represent these
complex networks and interlocking loops in a more meaningful visual way.
Profiles of problems and strategies on the web offer users access to
interactive self-organizing maps of complex networks under user control
to provide conceptual scaffolding for more integrative insights. The
challenge is to develop more integrative knowledge maps to provide perspective,
overview and context through which detail can be explored interactively.
Software challenges relating to comprehension and visualization have
been identified in a series of papers. Web experiments using auditory
cues are also in progress.
Participative knowledge-base development
The data is provided by organizations from
around the world. From January 1999, individuals and groups have become
active participants in the interactive knowledge building processes associated
with the development-oriented databases. The organization of the data
allows users to improve the quality of the knowledge bases: feeding in
or amending information, to comment in their own terms (positively or
negatively) on existing information and linkages, and to offer alternative
(integrative) hyperlink access maps to portions of the data. This facility
is being integrated with electronic dialogue environments referencing
Meaning vs Information
Information overload is a major concern for
the future. Fragmentation of knowledge and lack of meaningful conceptual
integration processes are tragic consequences for the development process.
The UIA knowledge-bases provide a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural
context in which to explore these challenges and to develop new conceptual
tools relevant to more fruitful policy-making. Studies explore the relevance
of metaphor to comprehension and governance.
Knowledge-building processes are severely
challenged by communication bottlenecks, whether of a conceptual or technological
nature. The UIA process is concerned with building bridges across the
following "gaps": Information providers vs Information users;
Specialized vs Interdisciplinary approaches; Technology rich vs Technology
poor; Strategy proponents vs opponents; Concerned parties vs Policy makers; Focus
on simplicity vs Focus on complexity.
Challenges and Opportunities
The UIA is an international nonprofit organization,
funded primarily through sale of its information products. These are
distributed through a major international channels for reference material.
It has been very successful in positioning its technological and content
development and exploiting the latest low-cost software and hardware.