University of Earth
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Encyclopedia Project (Explanations)

Method: Procedures

Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


1. Scope

Details of the scope of each section are given in the introduction to each section and in the Notes on it. In general however every effort has been made to ensure coverage of perspectives from: industrialized and developing regions (North and South), socialist and capitalist economic systems (East and West), occidental and oriental cultures, and official and unofficial sources (governmental and nongovernmental). In doing so, attention was given to scientific and "unscientific" perspectives, whether well-documented or poorly-documented, fashionable or unfashionable, informed or "misinformed", and whether emanating from qualified elites or marginalized groups.

2. Method

Details of the method used for each section are given in the relevant Notes. In general the method employed is an extension of that elaborated over many years to locate and process information on the 20,000 internationally-active organizations currently documented in the 3-volume Yearbook of International Organizations, with which this project is intimately linked at all levels.

The method of gathering and processing information may be outlined as follows:

(a) Inflow and collection of material: A constant flow of material is received, particularly from international organizations sensitive to the preoccupations of sectors of society in every region and culture of the world. This is mainly in response to: direct mail requests (partly in association with regular contacts involved in work on the Yearbook of International Organizations), mailing of proof pages from the previous edition, exchange agreements with international bodies, purchases or loans of publications (or microfiches) from intergovernmental bodies, and special requests. This material is received in many languages, although the text extracted from it (for the Yearbook) is presented in English.

(b) Special information gathering initiatives: Particular efforts, including library searches and bulk acquisition of documents, are made in the case of bodies such as the Specialized Agencies of the United Nations, OECD, the Commonwealth Secretariat, and the Council of Europe. As might be expected, such sources are supplemented by journal searches, reference books, press cuttings and unsolicited material from a wide variety of sources.

(c) Scanning and selection: Documents are scanned for relevant material and, if the document is complex, portions are photocopied for classification and filing in different locations.

(d) Provisional file allocation: During the process of scanning and classification, provisional decisions are taken as to whether the item represents a new category (of "problem", etc) or whether the document could be appropriately filed within an existing category.

(e) Editorial processing: Editors then work on files by item. Each file might itself contain many documents, including books, from very different sources. The editors attempt to elaborate the clearest and most succinct presentation of the item by combining information from different source documents as appropriate. Every effort is made to use existing texts supplied by international bodies. When this is not possible, adaptations of texts presented in a variety of other documents are made.

(f) File allocation review: During the editorial process the status of the item is reviewed. This may lead to its being further subdivided into separate items, or integrated with some other item, or simply rejected as low-priority material.

(g) Indexing: The editorial process is assisted by working indexes which are updated automatically as a result of that process. This includes automatic classification of items by subject code, where relevant.

(i) Computer-assisted editing: Special programmes are extensively used for error checking. For some sections of the Encyclopedia, very extensive use of computers has also been made to explore various ways of reordering and regrouping the items.

3. Comment

(a) Editing: The task of preparing the final text is therefore an editorial process of making the best use of any number of items touching on the nature of the world problem, or the human development concept, as the case may be. It should be stressed, particularly in the case of the world problems section, that the task is conceived as being an "editorial" one. It is not "research" in the narrower sense in that editors are not called upon to analyze material in order to formulate judgements or new hypotheses concerning the problems in any particular domain. This said, the task of determining from a mass of documents in a file what problems or sub-problems are being identified there, explicitly or implicitly, is necessarily a form of empirical research in the broader sense of the term. It is the role of the editors to clarify any presentation and to use supporting texts to reinforce any relevant opinion expressed, rather as in the formulation of a legal brief. It is not the role of the editors to impose their own opinion on the material. One clear exception to this, in the case of world problems (and discussed in that section), has been to clarify the names used to denote world problems, especially when these are confused, in conventional international jargon, with the names of associated values or remedial strategies.

(b) Editorial experiments: The Encyclopedia includes a number of smaller sections of a deliberately experimental nature, such as those on values and metaphors. As noted above, in each case the method used is discussed in the Notes for that section. Wherever possible it is an extension, or a variation, on the editorial procedure outlined above.

(c) Scope: The design and coverage of the Encyclopedia, namely the sections selected for inclusion in it, were partly determined by the experience of the previous editions and the possibility of updating or (temporarily) excluding certain of its sections. The existence and final form of some sections, especially that on values, was influenced by the opportunity of experimenting with various possibilities of manipulating and presenting information via the computer facility with which the editorial work is done.

(d) Pragmatism: It is appropriate to stress the strong pragmatic influence on working methods as they affected the design of the Encyclopedia in its present form. As in any design problem there were constraints on resources and in this case, due to the restricted level of editorial funding, they were very tight for a project of this scope. The detailed procedures were continually reviewed and modified to achieve a satisfactory final result with the most efficient use of resources. Since the page space was necessarily also limited, another concern was to "pack" information as efficiently as possibly. These factors influenced, and were influenced by, the manner in which the text database system could be used or modified to facilitate the procedures leading to the final product.

(e) Outside review: Despite the technical possibility of doing so, a decision was made not to use resources to submit edited texts in draft form to competent authorities for comment or improvement prior to publication. In the case of the world problems section, for example, the assumption was made that an adequate formulation could be adapted from the documents originally supplied by international organizations claiming some competence in the domain in question, particularly if these had been sent in response to proof texts from the previous edition. This procedure proved much more efficient than that of requesting such bodies to elaborate problem descriptions (as was done for the 1976 edition). With some minor exceptions, commissioning them to do so was beyond the resources of the project. As part of an ongoing project, the existing texts will be submitted as proofs to concerned bodies to trigger responses for the next edition, as is done for the Yearbook of International Organizations.

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