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Projects Overview (Explanations)
World Problems Project (Explanations)

Significance: Unique features

World Problems Project

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1. Phenomenological approach

The "world problems" incorporated in this section are those identified by specific constituencies and groups of experts in the light of their own criteria and world views. Where information from different constituencies appears to be identifying the same problem, it is integrated into a single description. The editorial research endeavoured to honour the language and emphases of the original constituencies rather than to impose particular interpretations upon the information so as to fit the problem into the editors' own classificatory framework.

2. Scan-based problem search

Although the better-known problems can be identified in information systems by their names ("inflation", "torture", etc), most problems cannot be readily detected in this way. Many problems do not have well-defined names and may only be identified by phrases of some length. Several variants may then be possible when synonyms are used. Interrogating an information system for "problems" is not productive since that term, or its synonyms, is seldom a descriptor for the document containing information on a specific problem. Furthermore, although many specific problems are the subject of documents that are identified in their titles, the majority are only mentioned as chapter or section headings, or in the body of the text. Detecting problems for addition to this section is therefore most effectively done by extensive scanning of a wide variety of documents. This procedure extends the catchment area much beyond that based on any predetermined classificatory framework and ensures the incorporation, rather than the exclusion, of unforeseen problems described in the literature.

3. International and multi-cultural sources

Information is included on problems recognized in many countries and cultures. Deliberate efforts have been made to include problems perceived in non-western cultures, even when they do not accord with the views prevailing in the international community.

4. Multi-disciplinary sources

Efforts have been made to include problems recognized by a wide variety of disciplines, whether those of the natural or of the social sciences. Some problems may be acknowledged by single disciplines, others by clusters of disciplines, and others by no currently existing discipline.

5. Sensitivity to undervalued constituencies

The search for problem perceptions has been extended to include some problems recognized by no international or academic authority, especially those only recognized by practitioners in the field, or by those actually experiencing the problem. Whilst there is widespread consensus about the better-known problems, there are constituencies around the world which are sensitive to other kinds of problems. Such constituencies may be either numerically small, disempowered, misinformed, relatively disorganized, or simply unskilled at gaining recognition for their problems by the international community. This section aims deliberately to incorporate such problems where they can be detected. The intent is to identify what different constituencies experience as painful and important, whatever the views of others may be. Such problems as "apathy", "sin", "witchcraft", "abduction by extra-terrestrials", "blasphemy" and "wife-beating" are therefore also included, even though they may be of little interest to many conventional approaches to "world problems". A major reason for this approach is that people are moved by what touches them, however irrational this may appear from another perspective. Unless there is greater recognition of the relative importance currently attached to problems in a democratic society, there will be little understanding of the steps required to reallocate resources to "refugees" from the considerable amount people currently choose to allocate to "wrinkles".

6. Collection of biases

The problems included reflect many biases, whether political, ideological, cultural or religious. The particular bias of this project is that recognition of the spectrum of such biases is considered as basic to the formulation of more appropriate strategies. Since initiatives are engendered and sustained by such biases, it is assumed that they will continue to contribute directly to the dynamics of society and must therefore be woven into any more general strategy, however incompatible they appear to be.

7. Inter-problem relationships

There is a widespread tendency to treat problems in isolation and to design organizations insensitive to the relationships between problems. In this section much effort has been devoted to indicating relationships between problems. One set of relationships indicates the general/specific (broader/narrower) links between them. Another indicates the functional (aggravating, reducing) links between them.

8. Integration of detail within overview

Through the indication of an extensive pattern of relationships between problems, it becomes possible to integrate very specific problems, with which people may identify more closely, into more general (or fundamental) problems on which policy-making and organizational strategies tend to focus.

9. Open categorization

The problems included are of many types and reflect many levels of expertise and degrees of sensitivity. This section does not establish definitive categories to cluster such problems. The pattern of relationships links problems of quite different types. How such categories should be established in the light of the priorities of any particular user, thus becomes a decision to be made by the user. Users benefit by being confronted with the need to make that decision because it offers them the opportunity to review the assumptions that it is so easy to make when excluding certain types of problem as irrelevant to some current concern. This is one reason for randomly distributing the problems within any section. Ideally, on any given page, any user should find a third of the problems to be obviously relevant, a third as raising challenging questions as to whether they might be relevant, and a third that could only be considered as irrelevant (if not ridiculous). Such is the diversity of preoccupations that it is to be expected that different users would select and reject different problems. The presentation helps to encourage reflection on which problems are important or irrelevant to whom under what conditions.

10. Counter-claims

In order to reflect the questionable status of many problems in the eyes of particular schools of expertise, the descriptions of problems include a "counter-claim" where possible. This presents any arguments against the existence of the problem as formulated. Such counter-claims help to demonstrate that the problem domain is a highly turbulent one in which many so-called facts are treated as totally questionable from other perspectives.

11. Establishment of a framework

This section constitutes a framework within which problems can be "registered" and located whatever their status in the eyes of authorities or experts of any persuasion. Other attempts to document ranges of problems tend to exclude those that do not correspond to the current fashions and priorities of the international community. This section establishes a framework within which degrees of relevance can be explored and then revised, without endangering the pattern of perceptions.

12. Longer-term perspective

Although much effort has been devoted to collecting information on problems currently perceived as important, whether fashionable or not, the framework is designed to permit the inclusion of problems of less immediate concern. Potential problems of the medium and long-term future, especially those for future generations, are also included in order to provide a "foresight" dimension. The framework also includes what might be considered problems of the past (or of the ignorant and superstitious), such as "eclipses" and "demons".


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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