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Patterning problems: Classification and section attribution

World Problems Project

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1. Complexity of problem classification

The approach to problem classification is treated quite separately from the administrative question of providing a filing point for information (whether physically or electronically). In the first edition (UIA, 1976), problems were quite deliberately not classified in any way -- other than under the arbitrary filing number. The principal reason for this approach is that it was considered desirable to separate the logistical issues of managing the information from the highly controversial issues of how problems should be grouped. As has been argued elsewhere (Judge, 1981), classification is a highly political act - especially, when dealing with "world problems". These points are discussed further in the Introduction.

Problems may be classified by the object susceptible to the disease (problems of plants or animals), by the age of the object (problems of youth or elderly), by part of the object (problems of the eye or foot), by type of symptom (inflammation of tissue or dry rot), by location of occurrence (problems in transit or in storage), by geopolitical region (problems of industrialized or developing countries), or by causal agent (deficiency problems or problems of pests). Other bases for classification might also be envisaged.

2. Subject classification of problems

With the development of the Yearbook of International Organizations into a 3-volume publication in 1983, the third volume (UIA, 1989) entitled Global Action Networks (classified directory by subject and region) has been used up to 1993 to group together by subject both international organizations described in the first volume and the world problems from this Encyclopedia.

In a research oriented system it has been considered desirable to create an information processing context in which the manner in which the problems were grouped could be continually reviewed. This is the approach taken with successive annual editions of Global Action Networks. For each edition efforts are made to fine-tune the thesaurus structure currently numbering some 3,000 categories. New categories are added and the attribution of organizations and problems to categories and category combinations is modified.

The system of classification was developed after examining the possibility of using other international systems (UIA, 1989c, Appendix). It was partly inspired by the system developed by Ingetraut Dahlberg (Dahlberg, 1982) and partly by structural features of the periodic table of chemical elements (van Spronsen, 1969). It was deliberately designed to highlight integrative or interdisciplinary relations between categories. The thesaurus is continually redesigned as a system of categories to reflect the systemic relation between the preoccupations of international organizations.

A computer programme is used to reallocate problems to categories whenever a significant number of thesaurus modifications have been made. This is usually done annually. Interim changes are however relatively easily made. During the editorial process, any change made to indexed names results in the problem being reindexed and allocated to any relevant categories associated with the new words indexed. At any time therefore problems can be accessed via word, via specific subject category, via subject group, or via various Boolean combinations of these elements.

3. Section attribution of problems

The policy of resistance to subject classification has also been applied to the international organizations in the Yearbook of International Organizations. But in the latter volume the organizations are grouped into sections (A through U) which are based partially on degree of internationality. Although having little theoretical justification, the system has proved to be useful in practice in dealing with many exceptional forms of international body. Experience with this system led to the development of an equivalent one for world problems. This was tentatively presented in the 1986 edition as a special index (see Section PX in 1986 edition).

For the previous and current volume, this system has been refined and used to order the actual descriptions in Sections PB through PG (which absorbed entries originally allocated to Sections PP and PQ of the 1986 edition). Within the sections, problems are filed by their arbitrary number as in the Yearbook of International Organizations. Part of the editorial process, from edition to edition involves decisions on the appropriateness of any reassignment between the B through G sections. The resulting sections are as follows:

4. Derivation of section attributions

The following overlapping guidelines were used in allocating the section code letter during the editorial process:

Attribution to a particular section is not considered definitive. It is a pragmatic convenience. Some problems coded "F" could well have been coded otherwise. Problems which otherwise would have been coded "G", but have nevertheless acquired a description, are coded "E" so that they can be printed in this volume.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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