Projects Overview (Explanations)
Metaphor Project (Explanations)
Governance through Metaphor Project
Overview: Metaphor and Patterns Project
Scope and rationale
A variety of forms may be used for presenting and communicating new information.
Designers of any new strategy in response to the global problematique must
necessarily select and encourage modes of communication that will facilitate
mobilization and coordination of resources, ensure appropriate interaction
between those participating, as well as enabling communication with those affected
by the strategy but unskilled in the conceptual or procedural language through
which it is organized.
- Metaphors are a special form of presentation natural to
many cultures. They are of unique importance as a means of communicating
complex notions, especially in interdisciplinary and multicultural dialogue,
as well as in the popularization of abstract concepts, in political discourse
and as part of any creative process. They offer the special advantage of
calling upon a pre-existing capacity to comprehend complexity, rather than
assuming that people need to engage in lengthy educational processes before
being able to comprehend.
Although frequently used in international debate
through which strategies are defined, the advantages of metaphor have not
been deliberately explored to assist in the implementation of such strategies.
Each development policy may be considered a particular "answer" to the global
problematique. No such answer appears to be free from fundamental weaknesses.
A shift to an alternative policy becomes progressively more necessary as
the effects of these weaknesses accumulate. However, since each such policy
reflects a "language" or mind-set
whereby a worldview is organized, no adequate "logical" framework can exist
to facilitate comprehension of the nature of such a shift or of the process
of transition between alternatives.
Many familiar metaphors of alternation
exist through which the characteristics and limitations of such a shift may
be understood. This programme is interested in the possibility of deliberately
designing metaphors in support of innovative development.
Any form of international "mobilization
of public opinion" (using the
conventional military metaphor), to engender the much sought "political
will to change", is dependent upon communication. This is especially the
case when the insights required to guide that change are complex, counter-intuitive
or simply not clearly communicable within any one conceptual language.
- Patterns of concepts: Most conceptual schemes, whether
purely theoretical or basic to the practical design of a development programme,
are organized into sets of concepts, principles, priorities, or functions.
Several such sets may be interrelated in a more elaborate scheme. It is the
pattern of such interrelationships which ensures the coherence and integrity
of the approach. Patterns therefore constitute a special form of presentation.
Such patterns tend to be presented in isolation and often such that only
the sub-patterns are explicit. Little is known about them as conceptual patterns.
Given the need to interrelate concepts into a coherent pattern, so that they
can be effectively communicated without loss of information, it is appropriate
to explore the design of conceptual patterns of many elements and interconnections,
whether explicit or implicit. Such explorations can contribute to the development
of pattern languages through which groups can define and interrelate the
non-material features appropriate to the quality of life in their environment.
of communication: For optimum communication, a
strategy should make use of a set of distinct and complementary forms through
which information can be communicated under different conditions, with
each form counteracting the weaknesses and excesses of others. This section
endeavours to describe briefly the range of forms of presentation that
can be selected and combined in any communication strategy. It deliberately
avoids the usual tendency to focus narrowly on some particular set of forms,
such as the mass media.
The section contains 528 entries each describing briefly
a different form of presentation or implying a different mode of communication.
Where the information is available, each entry indicates the strengths or
weaknesses of that mode, especially in relation to development processes. More
are provided separately.
- Integrative symbols: This focus emerged from the recognition
of the special importance of symbols in embodying significance and giving
focus to any campaign or programme and establishing its identity in relation
to other initiatives. As a focus for public attention, their choice is far
from being an arbitrary matter. It is a response to constraints which need
to be better understood if human resources are to be more effectively mobilized.
They give visual form to abstract concepts by which development processes
are organized especially in traditional cultures which do not respond to
conventional forms of presentation. The relationship between the symbols
by which people are motivated (or alienated) is also of vital importance.
are provided separately.
The purpose of this project is to review the range of communication
possibilities and constraints of metaphor, pattern and symbol. This is
partly in response to the narrow focus of recent major intergovernmental
initiatives under the extremely misleading titles of "International
Commission for the Study of Communication Problems" (limited to the mass
media) and the "International Communications Year" (telecommunications
hardware) by UNESCO and ITU respectively. It is however a direct consequence
of participation by the editors in the Forms of Presentation project of
the Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development project of the United
Since the early 1980s, in relation to the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential, the role of metaphor and pattern
in relation to governance, understanding of world problems, articulation
of more appropriate organizational strategies, transformative conferencing
and dialogue, and knowledge organization. This
has been presented at a number of international meetings.
Organization and structure
As a whole the project provides a framework within which to review alternative
ways of interrelating items of information to facilitate comprehension and
Experiments: In addition to the research
described above, a number of experiments in developing metaphors have been
- Metaphors of alternation: The 1991 edition presented
88 metaphors elaborated as an editorial experiment in facilitating
comprehension of transition and change, especially in some ordered manner
between complementary alternatives (see Metaphors of
Alternation an exploration of their significance for development policy-making, 1984). The phenomena
selected as substrates for the metaphors include: those familiar to everybody
(eg walking, breathing), those especially significant to rural communities
(eg crop-rotation, getting water, animal movement), those familiar to industrialized
societies (eg driving, media diets, vitamins) and some key physical or technological
phenomena (eg electric motors, metabolic pathways, magnetic containment of
are provided separately.
- Transformation metaphors: Earlier editions of the Encyclopedia
have used the Chinese Book
of Changes as a template for the generation of metaphors relevant to
networking (1986) and policy-cycles (1991). On this site this experiment
has been further extended as a very extensive demonstration (Transformation
Metaphors derived experimentally from the Chinese Book of Changes (I Ching)
for sustainable dialogue, vision, conferencing, policy, network, community
and lifestyle This is accompanied by a commentary, 1997).
- Pattern language: The pattern language work of Christopher
Alexander suggests the possibility that the physical pattern he explores
of relevance to architecture and urban planning may be of relevance as templates
to organization at the social, conceptual and psychic levels. Of his 253
patterns, 66 have been explored in this way (5-fold
Pattern Language, 1984). The approach is
discussed in a commentary.
253 entries are an editorial experiment based on a "pattern language" developed
by a team led by the environmental designer Christopher Alexander as an aid
to designing physical contexts in which quality of life is enhanced. Selected
patterns have been used, according to the methods of the previous section,
as substrates for metaphors such as to suggest ways in which social, conceptual
and intra-personal contexts may also be "designed". A special merit
of Alexander's approach is the detailed integration between the component
patterns provided by relationships reflecting a profound understanding of
the socio-physical environment which is extremely realistic, exceptionally
harmonious and unusually sensitive to development potential. The cross-references
presented here are metaphorical versions of the relationships indicated by
- Adapting formal declarations:
The results of various experiments with metaphor, as explained explained
below, are also presented on this site as demonstrations:
Method and development
The procedures used in preparing this section are discussed in detail
in a commentary.
Development: In addition
to the refinement of the selected metaphors, the variety of
phenomena used as a basis for such metaphors could be increased.
A better indication could be provided of the strengths and
limitations of each metaphor. This would enable groups of complementary
metaphors to be interrelated by a pattern of cross-references
as explored in Section MP. This points toward the possibility
of producing a repertoire of metaphors that may be used to
communicate complex insights into a wide range of social phenomena
whilst at the same time empowering them conceptually to explore
new patterns of organization in which dynamic processes are
emphasized, rather than static structures.
In addition to the refinement of the description
of each form, much more effort is required to determine
under what conditions any particular form is appropriate
or inappropriate. This would then enable cross-references
to be inserted linking forms together into patterns of
complementary forms that could prove more effective than
present reliance on a limited number of unrelated forms.
The selected groups of patterns could be further developed,
especially that based on the use of Alexander's work as a
substrate. That work was deliberately designed to produce
a "pattern language" which people and communities
could use to design their own environments. An analogous
pattern language could be developed to enable people and
groups to design (and redesign) their own conferences and
Detailed explanations and commentary are also provided in a collection of
40 documents. As a whole the projects provide a framework within which to review
alternative ways of interrelating items of information to facilitate comprehension
Research studies on metaphor, written in relation to this
project and to international organizations, are directly
accessible from separate checklists:
Many of these studies have explored the role of metaphor
as a basis for new approaches to social and conceptual organization.
These are reinforced by the recognition within the software
industry that new metaphors are the key to new interfaces
for knowledge management. The information on metaphor,
and how it can be organized and presented, is seen as one
of the keys to the global organization of knowledge about
organizations, strategies, or problems.
Note that more general comments and explanations, regarding
the collection of projects initiated within the framework
of the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential, are available
in a collection of
The contents presented by this project may be considered
as complementing the other projects in ways such as the following:
- Human development: By
the manner in which human development options are communicated,
and through the evolution of forms of communication following
efforts to communicate new insights into human development
the manner in which integrative knowledge is communicated,
and through the evolution of forms of communication to
reflect new aspects of integration.
- World problems: By
the problems of communication in a global society, and
by the need to communicate the complex nature of world
approaches: By the evolution of communication techniques
(especially in meetings), and by the need to communicate
- Human values: By
the manner in which human values are communicated, and
through the intrinsic value of communication in maintaining
the fabric of global society.
Reservations and development
Reservations: The entries indicate the
possibility of developing a technique for designing powerful
metaphors. As this is an exploratory exercise, individual
entries may call for substantial revision. The value of the
information in a section of this kind is in the extent to
which it gives an understanding of the set or pool of available
forms on which a programme designer can draw. There are of
course whole libraries on many of the individual entries
but they seldom help to convey this understanding. The information
available seldom detailed the unique strengths or weaknesses
of any particular form as they must necessarily be recognized
by those attempting to design a communication strategy using
complementary forms. The entries are therefore indicative
rather than definitive. Entries have occasionally been included
because they raise useful questions about the scope and content
of this section.
Although the results of this deliberate editorial experiment
are interesting and indicative of further possibilities,
the entries raise many questions concerning the appropriateness
of the language used. The language is stilted, forced and
artificial in order to explore the correspondence between
the different metaphorical levels. It highlights the difficulties
of making what may be vital distinctions in the social, conceptual
and intra-personal realms, compared to the richness and subtlety
of the vocabulary and imagery available for similar distinctions
at the physical level. This points to the merit of treating
the physical level distinctions as a metaphor through which
the possibility of equivalent distinctions at other levels
may be explored.
Statistics on metaphors and patterns, in the light of the
methodology of this project, are provided in tables in the
commentary and were published in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential. They are
also also available
Media used & multi-media
The information generated by this project on various aspects
of this work
has been published initially in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential; subsequently
it has been made available
The current multi-media experiments are seen in part as
the exploration of visual metaphor to offer new insights
into the challenges of organization. The experiments with
sound are in part based on the recognition that in the search
for harmony in global society, there is some merit in exploring
the extensive and well-articulated understandings of musical
of World Problems and Human Potential