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Union of Intelligible Associations

Projects Overview (Explanations)
World Problems Project (Explanations)

World Problems and Global Issues Project

Overview: World Problems Project

Scope and rationale
Organization and structure
Information content
Method and development

Explanatory comments

Reservations and disclaimer
Media used & multi-media

Scope and rationale

The purpose of this project, one of the major dimensions of  the Encyclopedia, is to identify the complete range of world problems perceived by international constituencies, whether as a focus for their programme activities, their research, their protest, their recommendations, or as part of their belief system. An entry has been established on each. This provides a context within which the network of specific relationships perceived between these problems may also be identified.

As a whole, this section endeavours to present all the phenomena in society that are perceived negatively by groups transcending national frontiers. These are the phenomena which engender fear and irrational responses as well as those constituting a challenge to creative remedial action. Groups are very strongly motivated by the problems which infringe their values and arouse their indignation. As such problems are a major stimulus driving the development of society. The perceptions documented raise useful questions concerning the nature of problems, and what is meant by the "existence" of a problem, especially when other groups consider that perception irrelevant, misleading or misinformed. There is great difficulty in obtaining and editing material on problems, rather than on incidents, remedial programme action, theories, or other frameworks through which perception of problems is filtered. So to that extent, it could be argued that this section assembles information on which people collectively have great difficulty in focusing, namely information whose significance, whether deliberately or inadvertently, is collectively repressed, displaced onto some less threatening problems, or projected in the form of blame onto some other social group.


This project was conceived as the complement to the Human Development Project in the original conception in 1972 of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential -- then titled the Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential. Further explanation is provided in comments on Background and acknowledgements (as well as on Precedents and parallels and Precedents in history and tradition).

Organization and structure

The types of problems distinguished are discussed elsewhere (World Problems: Type Codes). As a consequence, this section contains 7 sub-sections as follows:

Problems Sub-sections Problem Profiles Relationships
  1996 2000 1996 2000
Descriptive sections . . . .
Abstract problems (PA) 0 196



Basic universal problems (PB) 170 187



Cross-sectoral problems (PC) 575 722



Detailed problems (PD) 2,162 2,740



Emanations of other problems (PE) 3,857 5,378



Exceptional problems (PF) 3,072 3,917



Cross-referenced sections . .    
Very specific problems (PG) 2,153 30,279



Problems under consideration (PJ) 214 12,716



Totals 12,203 56,135



In 1996 (as a consequence of the 1994-5 edition), the section contained entries on a total of 12,203 world problems grouping 24,092 problem names. The entries were linked by 113,330 cross-references. As indicated, it is divided into 5 sub-sections (PB through PF) containing descriptive entries. Two further sections (Sections PG and PJ) correspond to entries which are indexed and cross-referenced (in Sections PB through PF), but were not printed. For more details see World Problems and Global Strategies: statistics on profiles and relationships (1996-2000). Notes on the significance and methodology are given in a commentary.

Information content

Profiles of world problems, and their relationships, as perceived by international constituencies (intergovernmental organizations, international nongovernmental associations (NGOs) and other bodies -- profiled in a complementary source: Yearbook of International Organizations):

Method and development

The entries are based on information obtained from international organizations, a wide variety of reference books, or reported in the international media. The procedures for identifying world problems are described in a commentary. These were designed to detect both well-publicized problems as well as little- known problems, whether recognized by official bodies or not. The procedures include methods of handling hierarchies of sub-problems which extend down to a level of specificity that it would be inappropriate to attempt to handle at this stage.

Source: The world problems and issues presented are those recognized by over 20,000 international organizations (profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations) and other constituencies. Some of the problems may be recognized by many organizations, others may only be recognized by loose networks, movements or isolated groups of experts.

Names: Problems do not have unique or official names. Many of the problems profiled have two or more other associated names associated to reflect different keywords and ways of describing them. Some have up to ten names. Any alphabetic list, based on a single name per problem, is therefore an essentially arbitrary ordering of the problems. As a random presentation of the contents of the database, it has the advantage of drawing attention to the variety of concerns faced by individuals and groups. Some problems are decidedly controversial -- and may even be described by other constituencies as strategies.

Development: It is important to recognize that the database is continually being expanded with user participation, notably through the addition of more specific problems that are aspects of those already included and the interaction between problems in vicious cycle loops (see Feedback Loops Linking World Problems).

Explanatory comments

Detailed explanations and commentary are also provided in a collection of 32 documents

Research studies on world problems and the global problematique, written in relation to this project and to international organizations, are directly accessible from separate checklists:

Many of the studies are concerned with how information on the multitude of perceived world problems might be more fruitfully organized. The development of the databases and the user-interfaces on the web are being developed with this in mind.

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 27 documents.


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 is frustrated and impeded by world problems, and through the world problems engendered by the unbalanced pursuit of particular forms of human development (or by the conflict between different forms of human development).
  • Integrative knowledge: By the importance of integrative knowledge for comprehending the nature of the global problematique; by the manner in which that problematique calls for new kinds of integrative knowledge.
  • Metaphors and patterns: By the problems of communication in a global society and by the need to communicate the nature of world problems.
  • Transformative approaches: By the importance of such approaches in offering some new leverage in responding to the global problematique.
  • Human values: By the direct correspondence between disvalues and problems, and by they manner in which problems only become perceptible in the light of the values upon which they infringe.

Reservations and disclaimer

Reservations: The emphasis throughout this project has been placed on providing descriptions of less well-known problems, particularly when the extensive material available on the better known problems contained neither succinct descriptions of them nor descriptive material which could easily be reduced to succinct descriptions. The problem descriptions here represent a compilation of views from published documents (usually from international organizations) and are in no way intended as an accusation or a criticism of any particular group or country by the editors or publishers of this volume. The text provided does not necessarily constitute the best possible description of the problem, since a compromise has had to be struck between availability of information, the resources to process it, and the space available (in the case of the hardcopy version).

By including or excluding particular world problems, the editors are in no way implying either approval or disapproval of the problem as conceived or as described. The same problems tend to be viewed differently by different groups in society. For one group a problem is of the utmost importance and urgency, for another the same problem is insignificant, does not exist, or is completely misconceived on the basis of available facts. Inclusion of a problem in this section is therefore not considered by the editors to mean that the problem "exists", but only that a functionally significant group of people in a number of countries believe, or claim to believe, that the problem exists on the basis of the facts available to them.

Disclaimer: This Encyclopedia necessarily includes some problems which appear "positive" (at least to some constituencies) and may indeed be treated separately as strategies (in the strategies database). Some "problems" which are of great concern to one group, may be seen as a solution by another group. Similarly the strategies of one group may be seen as problems for another group. Problems of today may have been governmental policy in an earlier period, as in the case of the drug and slave trades. "Abortion" is an example of a highly controversial problem as defined by some that is also treated and perceived as a strategy by others. "Thieving", and even "blinding children" (to improve their income as beggars), may be amongst the few strategies open to the impoverished. On the other hand, many seemingly "positive" strategies (such as "the Green Revolution") may be criticized for their "negative" consequences by significant constituencies. This collection of problems should NOT therefore be considered as a simple list of "negative" problems identified by the organizations providing the information.

The data presented challenges the user to exercise discrimination in determining under what circumstances a problem (such as "structural adjustment") is defined and in what way it may be "positive" or "negative" in its nature. This is often the dilemma faced by leaders and policy makers. Some problem profiles have explanatory texts, where available, to clarify conflicting claims as to the "positive" or "negative" aspects of each problem from different perspectives. Many problems are perceived to have both "positive" and "negative" consequences in aggravating or alleviating other problems (indicated by hyperlinks).

The data therefore represent one attempt to depict the "ecosystem" of interrelated problems active in society, whether actually or potentially. Inclusion of "problems" on this list should not be considered to imply that they are advocated by the UIA.


Statistics on world problems (and relationships between them), 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 on-line.

Media used & multi-media

The information generated by this project on world problems (and relationships between them and with entities profiled in other projects) has been published initially in the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential; subsequently it has been made available on-line.

Networks of perceived relationships between problems can be explored with the experimental visualization techniques associated with the on-line version of the world problems database.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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