Projects Overview (Explanations)
World Problems Project (Explanations)
Patterning problems: Patterning the problematique
World Problems Project
The number of problems and their degree of interrelationship are a continuing challenge to comprehension. Without any patterning, the amount of information is overwhelming. The simplistic patternings characteristic of conventional practice in documentation systems are however part of the conceptual problem rather than the solution. They disguise complexity and create deceptive impressions of order where order is lacking, or rather where higher forms of order are implicit. The very simple ordering used in this Section P is designed to keep this challenge to the forefront. A more complex regrouping of the problems by subject, inspired by the periodic classification of chemical elements, has been available in a companion volume Yearbook of International Organizations (Volume 3), up to 1993..
This note reports on the possible value of a patterning of the whole set of problems based on three possible elements in the name of a problem. The elements, which in each case constitute a relatively limited set, are: negative operators; subject categories; and specific qualifiers.
As discussed earlier in connection with Language Games, the editorial process of ensuring that a problem has an appropriately negative name leads to the accumulation in the database of problem names with a fairly limited set of negative qualifiers. These are used in the literature to denote problems when applied to members of the set of subject categories. For example:
In each of the above cases, the "negative operator" could be replaced by synonymous terms, like "insufficiency of ", "irresponsible use of ", "dangers of" and "imbalance of". There could be a question as to whether the substitutes were true synonyms or whether they signalled real alternatives. More interesting is the possibility that the range of negative operators indeed constitutes a limited set, such as might be ordered as in Figure 4 (based on value sets in Section VT).
2. Subject categories
The history of classification is largely the history of ways of patterning subjects. Unfortunately, few of these initiatives are of much use in patterning problems. It was for this reason that an alternative approach was used with the companion volume (Global Action Networks). This allows for continuing refinement and experiment between annual editions. The approach is explained in detail in that volume. The aim was to interweave the pattern of categories to facilitate recognition of interdisciplinary patterns of a higher order. Within any cell of the matrix (identified by a 2-digit number). More detailed categories are available since a 4-digit numeric code is used to identify subjects. Some 3,000 categories are currently used. The categories are specifically designed to be responsive to the range of activities of some 25,000 international organizations and the problems they encounter.
3. Specific qualifiers
Problems may share the same negative operator and subject category but be distinguished by specific qualifiers. For example:
A systematic pattern of problems can be generated by combining these three sets of elements. Those currently in the database are an approximation to this comprehensive pattern of problems. It should be quickly noted that the pattern is itself simplistic, although much more complex than existing patterns. But paradoxically it is perhaps just this quality that might make it satisfactory to the Cartesian mindset that so dominates the international community. Its main merit would be in providing a focus for criticism, since its weaknesses are so evident. It corresponds to efforts to achieve satisfactory urban planning through use of the grid system. The advantage is that problems are effectively "zoned". The weakness is that the zoning is an imposition on a higher order of complexity which cannot be satisfactorily represented through the grid system.
The pattern of negative operators can be explored further. In particular there is merit in exploring the relationship to the pattern of values clustered in Section VT. The link lies in the basic recognition that a problem can only exist in the light of a value. It is the negative operators that provide the problematic dimension and thus there should be some kind of mapping of them onto the set of values.
For any patterning to be meaningful, it should aim for more than can be achieved by a simple grid. This is the objective of continuing work on the pattern of subjects (in Global Action Networks), which can be represented on a grid although the relationship between the columns and rows is based on an analogy to the much more complex periodic table of chemical elements. Attempts have been made to represent this in a variety of forms, including circles and spirals. The intent is to render explicit integrative dimensions which are lost, or implicit, in the grid pattern.
In the discussion of the pattern of values, the suggestion has been made that the value polarities might usefully be mapped onto the surface of a sphere, interwoven in a "tensegrity" structure to reflect the integrity of their tensional interdependence. Imposing spherical curvature on the grid renders the pattern of values finite but unbounded. In this form it constitutes a whole which may prove psychologically more meaningful, for the same reasons that mandalas are used to render complexes of psychic functions meaningful in an integrative manner. The set of negative operators might then lend themselves to similar treatment. Just as the value polarities indicate extremes of imbalance, the negative operators might be configured to indicate the same.
In effect the set of negative operators provides a pattern of ways in which "things can go wrong". Further confrontation between the value polarities and the negative operators could increase the sophistication of the latter set without jeopardizing its comprehensibility. In this form it could constitute a valuable checklist for policy weaknesses in any domain.
5. Future "massaging" of the database
The value of any pattern of problems obviously needs to be tested by attempting to present all problems in the database in terms of that pattern. As discussed earlier, one merit of this is to challenge names currently given to problems and to identify problems which are in effect duplicates. This approach would also expose the possible existence of problems not currently reflected in the database. On the other hand, the exercise would also highlight problems to which the current set of negative operators is poorly adapted, thus suggesting lines for further improvement. Of special interest is the way in which problems, which are unusual in terms of the implicit operator (not the subject category or qualifier), raise questions about values which have not been rendered sufficiently explicit. They may even point to the emergence of new values.
In future editions there may even be merit in presenting the problems in terms of the pattern of negative operators.
Figure 4: Possible set of "negative value
qualifiers" organized in terms of "principles of integrity" (see also
equivalent table for
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