Projects Overview (Explanations)
Transformative Approaches Project (Explanations)
Transformative Approaches to Social Organization
Overview: Transformative Approaches Project
Scope and rationale
Each of the approaches briefly described here is necessarily somewhat unconventional.
Each has its value in isolation and some are already successfully used on
that basis. The argument here is that, whether or not they are already used,
each can also be usefully understood as having strengths and weaknesses not
found in the others. In this sense their real value for the future lies in
The point to be made is that it is not any one single approach which is adequate
to the challenge of the present social complexity. Rather it is how a range
of fundamentally different approaches are combined to compensate for the various
weaknesses of each of them.
Analytical tools must necessarily continue to have their special role, but
many of the approaches grouped here highlight the need for new ways to represent
or visualize complex patterns. During any design process there is a need to
facilitate more creative comprehension of complexity than has proved possible
by linear descriptions or through analytical tools alone. The stress on complementarity
is therefore effectively a stress on a form of methodological group marriage.
- Transformative conferencing: Although meetings, and especially
international meetings, are recognized as performing a vital role in the
initiation of change, few attempts are made to rethink procedures which
have changed remarkably little over the past century. It is widely assumed
that no special skills or insights are required for fruitful meeting participation.
Those with such expertise rarely use it to advance the interests of the
meeting as a whole.
Considerable efforts have however been made to use new
forms of communication hardware, especially in order to handle the logistics
of meeting organization and administration. Many experiments have been made
with small group processes and facilitators, but it has not proved possible
to adapt such innovations to major international meetings where they are
often perceived as gimmicky or culture-specific, and for good reason.
fundamental problem seems to be disguised by the apparent success with which
agenda items, documents and participants are processed through well-tried
procedures. To the extent that meetings arouse the expectation of bringing
a diversity of implicit and explicit viewpoints into focus in order to give
birth to new possibilities for social charge, current procedures are however
deeply disappointing in that they are primarily concerned with implementation
of a pre-established schedule of speakers, document distribution and receptions.
They are in no way designed to facilitate the conceptual dynamics through
which significant new possibilities can emerge at the meeting itself.
hardware is designed to help presenters to communicate to other participants.
It is not designed to interrelate, even in computer conferencing environments.
As a result, meetings satisfy the lower shared expectation rather than rendering
explicit the subtle pattern of integrative insights to which the diversity
of participants can give form. They reinforce fragmentation thinly disguised
behind an array of resolutions for collective action to which participants
are only minimally committed, except when others are called upon to act.
Most striking is the inability to make use of available technologies to
enable meeting programmes to be redesigned in response to new insights emerging
during the meeting.
Paradoxically meetings are at present models of rigid
design in which people gather to discuss social change in the external environment
(over which they have minimal control). It would be difficult to design
a system which could hinder more effectively the process of giving form
to subtle patterns of integrative insights and empowering people to organize
for action in terms of them.
The challenge would therefore appear to be to
elaborate new conceptual frameworks within which a meeting may be perceived.
This should highlight the implicit dimensions of the problem and point to
more appropriate options. For unless a new attitude to the meeting process
can be elaborated, it seems highly probable that concealed inherent weaknesses
will continue to undermine and erode the value for social change of any
- Transformative Policy Cycles: 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.
Policies as conceptual schemes are notorious
for their inability to respond to longer-term cycles of change associated
with sustainable development. There is therefore merit in exploring ways
of thinking about cycles of policies which are deliberately designed to
allow for the emergence of the negative features of any particular policy
phase, and to correct them in subsequent phases (that will in turn engender
their own negative consequences).
An editorial experiment
was undertaken based on the pattern of concepts implicit in the much-publicized
Chinese classic, the Book of Changes (Towards
Another Order of Sustainable Policy Cycles: insights from the Chinese Book
of Changes, 1990). These
are transposed into a language which highlights the significance of such a
complex pattern of transformations in any organizational or meeting environment.
Its special merit is the explicit recognition of the need to shift from condition
to condition in order to ensure both healthy development and the ability to
respond to a turbulent environment. One traditionally recognized set of 384
transformational pathways between the conditions is indicated.
This project was initiated in 1986 in preparation for the third edition of
of World Problems and Human Potential in 1991. It formed part of a long-term
programme loosely described as an investigation into transformative approaches.
Organization and structure
1. Overview From the more concrete to the more imaginative,
the approaches included are the following.
2. Interactive database use: Although there has been
an explosion in the range of software and hardware facilities available through
which to interact with databases, many of them emphasize consultation of a
database rather than the manner in which its internal relationships are built
up and understood. The conventional approach to databases, and to reference
books produced from them, is to fcus on individual entries. The user is not
assisted in understanding the pattern of relationships between entries, other
than by a fairly crude grouping of entries into categories.
2.1 Hypertext editing (detailed
comment): There has been an explosion of interest in hypertext as a technique
for interrelating items in a large text database. The software techniques
for creating hypertext links are now well develped. Little attention has
been given to the conceptual challenges of creative editing of hypertext.
One approach to this challenge has been develped in connection with this
Encyclopedia, notably with regard to the complex pattern of relationships
amongst world problems.
2.2 Interactive graphics (detailed
comment): There is a vital distinction between the capacity to "look
as typified by use of telephone directory and and portraying the pattern
of relationships between bodies, concepts or issues, as typified by systems
charts, PERT charts, subway maps and mind maps. It is such maps which help
the user to ask more insightful questions that are less dependent on initial
3. Analysis: When dealing with networks consisting
of thousands of entities and relationships, it is extremely difficult for an
editor to detect redundant links. Routines can be designed to analyze the network
around an anchor point for different
types of redundancy, but the results to date have proved difficult to interpret
because they cannot as yet be related to a visual map.
3.1 Network analysis (detailed
comment): An increasing number of applications of graph theory have emerged
in the social sciences. GRADAP is an especially powerful package for the
definition and analysis of large networks of social entities. Many other
packages exist but few are able to handle more than a few hundred nodes or
relationships between them. Like all of themhowever GRADAP offers no means
of actually mapping the networks in a visually comprehensible form. The results
are presented as indicators or tables.
3.2 Identification of vicious and serendipitous loops (detailed
comment): There has long been recognition of how one problem can aggravate
another and of how several problems can reinforce each other. There has been
no attempt to identify systematically the existence of vicious loops or cycles
through which four or more problems constantly reinforce one another. A computer
program has been developed to explore the many pathways amongst the world
problems documented in this Encyclopedia and isolate such loops. This suggests
the possibility of moving from a focus on problems as though they were isolated,
of which few are, to one in which the focus is on the many vicious loops
of which a problem may be a member. See also examples
3.3 Q-Analysis (detailed
comment): This technique gives precision to understanding of the challenges
of comprehensibility amongst communities of people or organizations. Specifically
it shows how more complex patterns of understanding, or concepts of greater
complexity, can only be communicated with great difficulty by losing important
dimensions, or not at all, through certain patterns of relationship. It demonstrates
how complex messages can only be usefully cmmunicated through communication
channels that can handle such complexity. In the absence of adequate channels,
complex notions do not "travel well". It raises thre question of how to design
communication networks adequate to integrative communications of any kind.
4. Visualization and comprehension
4.1 Augmenting human intellect (detailed
comment): The fundamental importance of interactive graphics, in whatever
form, is its ability to facilitate understanding. Progress in understanding
is made through the development of mental models or symbolic notations that
permit a simple representation of a mass of complexities not previously understood.
The challenge is to discover ways of using the computer to augment human
intellect and the capacity to comprehend complexity.
4.2 Graphics environment for exploring relationship networks
comment): Because of the overwhelming volume of data, it is becoming increasingly
clear that conventional means of presenting such data do not respond adequately
to the needs of an important category of users. Users associated with the policy
elaboration process need new information tools which help them to get an overview
of the maze of data. Options need to be presented for discussion in terms
of a context of explicitly interrelated issues -- in contrast with the present
tendency to disguise this complexity by reducing it to a linear agenda of issues.
Users need "maps" of the pathways between text entries, especially in
complex subject areas. Such maps provide a sense of context which is lost in
many hierarchical presentations of data in linear text form. It is only from
such maps that users can quickly obtain an adequate overview of data in an
unfamiliar area to guide their efficient use of conventional information tools.
Such maps are of value precisely because they are richer than simple hierarchically
4.3 Network mapping (detailed
comment): There is a need to represent complex socially-significant networks
in visual form as is done in many other domains.
4.4 Holistic network mapping (detailed
comment): NETMAP is a powerful new software package that analyzes
very large and complex networks of relationships and presents the result
in a special circular graphic form. The approach permits new patterns of
relationship to be discovered between people, organizations, or problems.
Users can interact with the display to obtain more or less detail, or derive
displays based on other criteria. It offers unique possibilities for navigating
through hundreds of thousands of entities and relationships whilst retaining
both a sense of context and without loss of detail.
4.5 Structural outliner (detailed
comment): The spread of computers has encouraged the use of what are
termed "text outliners" as
a way of assisting authors and report writers to structure and work with complex
documents with many levels of heading. The challenge for the authors is to
be able navigate around such complex documents, retaining a sense of context
but without losing the ability to work on the content of the smallest sub-section.
To deal creatively with complex structures there is a somewhat analogous need
for a "structural outliner" software package. Its purpose would be to facilitate
the ability to envisage viable configurations of functions based on structures
more complex that those reinforced by the hierarchical organization typical
of text outliners. It responds to the need for potential collaborators to be
able to design
"conceptual keystones" essential to the coherence and viability of unforeseen
coalition possibilities in difficult situations of governance.
5. Discontinuity and non-linearity
5.1 Conserving decision-making diversity (detailed
comment): Advocates of new approaches readily fall into the trap of implying
that everything that came before was inadequate. This is especially dangerous
where seemingly outmoded techniques remain appropriate under other conditions,
especially where the latest advances cannot be made available. There is a
need to conserve a wide variety of forms of decision-making and to understand
how they intereact and support reach other.
5.2 Paradox management (detailed
comment): Although some of the emerging complexity of social may be handled
through 3-dimensional structures, there is increasing evidence that some
of the challenges derive from an essentially paradoxical quality to the policy
dilemmas with which people and groups are faced at all levels of society.
Dilemma and polarization are features of most social initiatives. Few initiatives
are unambiguously advantageous; few so-called problems are without their
advantages. There is an emerging need to be able to recognize and manage
5.3 Polarity entrapment (detailed
comment): Failure to manage paradoxes leads to entrapment. Since there
has been little attempt to develop the skills of navigating paradoxes at
the policy level, there is merit in exploring the possibility that some of
the paralysis of society may be due to such entrapment. As Geofrrey Vickers
noted: "A trap is a function
of the nature of the trapped." The challenge to be faced is whether groups
and individuals have effectively been enthralled by one pole of a polar dilemma
as a result of an overly simple comprehension of it, a neglect of the weaknesses
inherent in it, and a fearful rejection of the strengths associated with
the opposing pole. The balance called for is likely to be a dynamic one.
A static focus on a single pole of a dilemma is unlikely to be adequate in
the present turbulent times.
5.4 Confidence artistry (detailed
comment): Despite the pejorative connotations normally associated with
confidence artistry, there is much to be learnt from the strategic skills
that it implies. Furthermore, construed in a positive light, it can indeed
be argued that governance is primarily the art through which the confidence
of the people is transformed into various forms of action -- however surprising
that may prove to be to those whose confidence was used to give rise to it.
5.5 Challenge of insight cultivation (detailed
comment): Those concerned with the crisis of governance at all levels
of society are faced with a number of dilemmas. Their combined effect leads
to a form of "insight
impoverishment" within the policy-making environment. The leadership is effectively
starved of insights -- often without realizing this is the case. On the other
hand, available insights of considerable value may well go underused. Efforts
to remedy the situation are too often designed by those responsible for creating
it in the first place.
6. Configuring globally
6.1 Configuring intractable differences (detailed
comment): Many initiatives assume the need for some form of consensus
amongst all parties in order to be manageable and successful. In many domains
however such consensus has proved to be unlikely, or else unsustainable for
any length of time if it can be achieved. There is some possibility that
configuring differneces, without seeking to reconcile and resolve them, may
prove more realistic. Thisapproach depends on using patterns of difference
as a structuring feature through which new kinds of structure can be given
form. It suggests the need to set isolated bilateral agreement of any kind
in a broader framework as part of a coherent pattern of checks and balances.
6.2 Geometry of organizations, policies and programmes (detailed
comment): Nearly all efforts at organization design are based on structures
that can be conveniently represented in 2 dimensions with little distortion.
This is notably the case for both organizational hierarchies (as charts),
so-called matrix organizations, and the many experiments in networking (to
the extent that they are represented on maps at all). There is an emerging
case for exploring new kinds of organization and agreement that can only
be effectively represented by 3 dimensional structures, especially those
that derive their coherence from having some symmetry around a centre. One
group of structures of this kind could be based on polyhedral nets.
6.3 Tensegrity organization (detailed
comment): Much in the design of hierarchical organizations has effectively
been borrowed or learnt from the design of buildings. Conventional buildings
have been a powerful metaphor. The question is whether there is anything
to be learnt from other newer architectural and structural forms concerning
the design and integrity of unusual forms of organization -- especially if
these can better reflect the challenge of paradox and intractable difference.
Tensegrity structures offer a powerful new metaphor especially relevant to
the design of virtual organizations in e-mail environments.
6.4 Transformative policy cycles (detailed
comment): Conventional efforts at policy-making tend to be more or less
exclusively focused on single policies that are designed to replace previous
policies now considered inadequate or outmoded. The virtual certainty that
the new policy will itself come to be perceived as outmoded is not part of
the policy design -- except as the consequence of a transfer of power at
the termination of any electoral term. There is a need for polcies which
can transcend electoral cycles whilst reflecting the change of emphasis of
any change of power. In this sense there is a need to explore interlocking
cycles of policies. It is such cycles of policies which may prove more capable
of dealing with vicious cycles of problems. Interlocking cycles may prove
more approporate to the challenges of long-term sustainability in a turbulent
7. Global patterning
7.1 Transformative policy cycles (detailed
comment): This exercise is concerned with identifying and representing
patterns of change and with the development of better ways of responding
to its possibilities in various forms of socially organized activity, such
that developmental momentum is conserved within the pattern rather than being
7.2 Alternation between complementary policy conditions (detailed
comment): The vital point that emerges from the Chinese perspective of
the previous note is that it is not sufficient to conceive of organizational
conditions in isolation, as is the prevalent tendency among Western networkers.
The processes of change in which a policy cycle is embedded, or to which
it responds, require that the policy cycle consider itself in a state of
transience within a set of potential conditions. It courts disaster if it
attempts to "stick" to one
condition such as "peace".
7.3 Interrelating incompatible viewpoints (detailed
comment): This Encyclopedia seeks to respond to the dilemma of the many
possible views concerning the nature of sustainable human development. Usually
any such view considers itself more appropriate than other competing views.
Few views account for the existence of other views except as being predecessors
or misguided. And yet it is the interaction of such views within a conceptual
ecology which characterizes the dynamics of human society. Different views
engender different styles of human development and give rise to different
It therefore remains an interesting challenge to explore new ways of interrelating
the network of views, especially if it is possible to embody in such an exercise
features which give the whole a degree of complexity appropriate to the complexity
it is intended to encompass. It is also desirable to build in features from
other than western cultures. This is not a new challenge, although it may
nowappear more dramatic to some. An intriguing point of departure is a classic
Buddhist text entitled the "Brahmajala Sutta" (The Discourse on the
All-Embracing Net of Views). This appears to be unique in endeavouring to
map out as a system the complete set of fundamental viewpoints.
7.4 Global configuration from number theory (detailed
comment): A unique computer software package, Chryzode, has been developed
to enable the visual exploration of complex patterns generated using all
the riches of the mathematical theory of numbers as the relate to projective
geometry. It uses hitherto little explored mathematical properties to handle
the presentation of large amounts of information in a comprehensible manner.
Like the management tool NETMAP, described earlier (see also the inside covers
of this volume), Chryzode generates patterns of relationship by positioning
nodes on the circumference of a circle. In the case of NETMAP, the positions
can be determined by a clustering algorithm to facilitate comprehension.
It is tempting to argue that what is required is some kind of marriage between
the approaches of NETMAP and Chryzode, between the empirical and the abstract,
in responding to the needs of comprehending the complexity of the world problematique
in new ways, as well as to the complex relationships in the information of
human values and human development in this volume.
8. Dialogue and conferencing
8.1 Transformative conferencing (detailed
comment): The main concern is with highlighting problems and possibilities
relevant to the organization of more mature meetings on the new frontier
of high- risk gatherings in response to social development issues and the
global problematique. Attention is only given to the "mechanics" of meeting
organization (covered in the many books available on such matters) in so
far as they directly affect the psycho-social dynamic of the meeting.
8.2 Levels of dialogue (detailed
comment): There is a need to reframe the challenge of dialogue by distinguishing
forms which are essentially tokenistic or minimalistic from those which should
be able to open up new possibilities. The difficulty is that the latter are
easily obscured by the enthusiasms, low expectations and self-congratulatory
nature of the former. Only though such distinctions does it seem possible
to identify the genuinely new frontiers where pioneering work is called for
and to envision the future possibilities and challenges in that context.
8.3 Learnings for the future of dialogue (detailed
comment): There is the clear implication that dialogues of different
quality and consequence could be associated with distinct conditions, whether
considered as stages or frameworks. But the dangers of focusing on "higher
dialogue, at the expense of others forms, derive from the failure to recognize
the functions of each kind of dialogue and how they complement each other
8.4 Conceptual weaknesses of conferencing (detailed
comment): It is useful to consider the range of conceptual weaknesses
in both electronic networking and in conventional face-to-face conferences.
8.5 Metaphors of transformation in conferences (detailed
comment): The real challenge for conferencing in relation to the crises
of our times is to provide people with tools to counter the imaginal deficiency
from which we collectively suffer when dealing with complexity.
8.6 Structure of concluding declarations (detailed
comment): Many perspectives need to interact to clarify the content of
global declarations and render them appropriate. But there is also a need
for expertise in new forms of order to clarify the dimensions which could
influence the conceptual framework within which that content is presented.
Such formal properties are a challenge to ways of thinking that have proved
inadequate. They might include:
8.7 Policy forums as metaphors (detailed
comment): The organization of a meeting and its processes in fact provide
a remarkable metaphor of wider society and the challenge of using resources
more appropriately. The challenge of formulating more appropriate policies
is highlighted by the difficulties in meeting design.
8.8 Participant contract (detailed
comment): This note is an experimental outline of a proposed contract
between participants at a meeting. It is designed to acknowledge specifically
the interacting roles at
the shadowy "roundtable" hidden within every meeting. The emphasis is on
the nature of the specific contractual bonds between participants.
9. Envisioning meetings of the future: The possible
nature of meetings in the distant future is used as an exercise in clarifying
some of the dilemmas in moving beyond the unproductive nature of many meetings
faced with challenging problems and possibilities.
10. Context beyond text
10.1 Meshing imaginative vision and policy implementability
comment): The complexity of the policy challenges of sustainable development,
the need for "new thinking" and the importance of more imaginative approaches
to policy-making and organization are all now well-recognized.
10.2 Beyond the constraints of text (detailed
comment): The process by which new possibilities are currently being
explored is almost completely conducted through verbal and textual exchanges.
There is a significant body of evidence to indicate that creativity and innovation
are catalyzed and sustained by imagery and metaphor. There is therefore a
strong argument for exploring the characteristics of structured imagery vital
to the articulation of new patterns of relationships in areas critical to
governance at this time.
10.3 Design choices for global coherence (detailed
comment): Efforts to analyze existing inter-sectoral patterns can clarify
many of the challenges and opportunities for a more coherent approach to
global dialogue and "bargains". All parties in such dialogue are however
necessarily immersed to a fairly high degree in their particular perspectives.
Such a "bottom-up" approach
clearly has some limitations. It would therefore also seem appropriate to take
a complementary ("top-down") approach by looking to ways of representing the
desired qualities of coherence and sustainability in "ideal" models of inter-sectoral
dialogue as a global pattern --provided the diversity of sectors is duly
respected. This note is an exploration of one such model.
11. Configuring strategic dilemmas in intersectoral dialogue (detailed
comment): The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
(Rio de Janeiro, 1992) was considered of considerable symbolic, political
and substantive importance as the "Earth Summit". For that occasion there
was much concern to develop "inter-sectoral
dialogue". Essentially this meant dialogue between sectors which normally had
little communication and were suspcious of each others priorities. These included:
the scientific community, trade unions, the business community, NGOs, religious
groups, environmental groups, and the like. There is little experience with
such dialogue in a multi-cultural setting despite the vital complementarity
of the perspectives represented. The theme of inter-sectoral dialogue was continued
in the international conference on Partnerships for Change (Manchester, 1993).
New ways are required to weave together the themes evoked at such events.
checklist of documents describing the rationale and process
Strategic Dilemmas of Sustainable Development (Figure 1a)
of 2-domain letter codes (Figure 1b)
Models and Visions of Global Order via Function Dominance (Figure 2)
of Issue Arenas on Icosidodecahedral Net: Alternate A (Figure 3a)
of Issue Arenas on Icosidodecahedral Net: Alternate B (Figure 3b)
Representation of Icosidodecahedral Net of Strategies (Figure 4)
of 3-domain Dilemma Codes (Figure 5)
of Interlocking Elements for a Sustainable Global System (Figure 6)
11.9 Procedural notes and checklists
12. Poetry and policy-making: prospects for an arranged
comments): The theme here is the future relationship between poetry (including
rhythm) and policy making (including management) in their various forms.
This might even include the possible role of technology in reconciling them
in more meaningful and fruitful ways. Exploring the relationship between
such seemingly opposed concerns calls for continuing dialogue between imaginative
musing and the constraints of experience.
The links in the structured summary above provide access to the individual
commentaries. For convenience, and as with the other projects, a separate
checklist of such documents
Research studies on transformative approaches (written in relation to this
project, to international organizations and to the global problematique), are
directly accessible from separate checklists:
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
Reservations and disclaimer
The approaches discussed here are necessarily experimental and designed to
open up possibilities, especially in larger conference environments.
Media used & multi-media
The information generated by this project on transformative approaches has
been published initially in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential; portions of it have been made available