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Patterning problems: Patterning the problematique

World Problems Project

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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.

1.Negative operators

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:

These "negative operators" can also be used to generate problems. Some related issues are explored in the discussion of the link between such negative values and problems (see Section VZ).

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:

In the first case, the specific qualifier is a geopolitical term. In the second, it is a category of people, usually an exploited group. In the third case, both types of qualifier are used in combination.

4. Patterning

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 "strategies")
 
NATURE

--

Existence 

emergence of 
presence of 



failure of 
death of 
absence of
Quality 

excess quality 
overdesigned 



poor quality 
defective
Evolution 

overdeveloped 
overevolved 



underdeveloped 
undeveloped 
deterioration 
degradation
 (Pride)
SUFFICIENCY 

(accumulation)


 
 

--

Quantity 

excess, surplus 
oversufficiency 



shortage, 
lack of
Distribution 

pervasive- 
vectors of- 



maldistribution 
concentration 
imbalance 
monopoly of
Accessibility / Exposure 

forced exposure 
overexposure 



inaccessible 
unavailable 
underexposure
 (Acquisitive- 
ness)
DYNAMICS  

(motivation)


 
 

--

Action quantity 

hyperactive 
rapid pace 



inactive 
inertia 
paralysis 
slowness 
slow
Rate of change / growth 
proliferation 
too rapid change 



too slow change 
unchanging
Rate of transformation 

too rapid transformation 
chaotic revolution 



too slow transformation 
untransformative
 (Inordinate desire)
REPRESENT-  
ATION 

(assessment)


 

--

Comprehensiveness 

overcomplex 
incomprehensible 
excess variety 



superficial 
trivial 
shallow 
unrequisite variety
Veracity 

secrecy, cover-up 
obscurantism 
info. suppression 



disinformation 
hype, bias 
misleading 
fallacy
Certitude 

dogmatic clarity 
determinism 
fatalism 
unquestionable 



unclarity, doubt 
confusion 
limited vision 
too many questions 
too many options 
uncertainty 
non-verifiability
 (Envy)
ORGANIZATION  

(governance)

Structure 

overorganized 
overstructured 
 
 
 



fragmented 
unintegrated 
uncoordinated 
disunited 
unstructured
Regulation 

overregulated 
restrictive 
barriers 
overstandardized 
overconventional 
homogenization 



unregulated, 
uncontrolled 
unstandardized 
unconventional 
disorders, diseases 
undisciplined
Regularity/Phasing 

overpredictable 
routine, habitual 
short-term, too regular 
overprogrammed 
monotonous 



unreliable 
unpredictable 
unforeseen 
unprogrammed 
delay 
out-of-phase
 (Insatiability)
ACTION  

(reaction)


 
 
 
 

--

Orientation 

indoctrination 
forced conversion 
propaganda 
conditioning 
 



discrimination 
denial of right 
disparagement 
demeaning
Utilization 

abuse, overuse 
manipulative use 
profligate use 
unethical use 
avoidance of rules 
overefficient 



malpractice 
negligence 
evasion of rules 
inefficient
Appropriateness 

slickness 
overreadiness 
overreaction 
opportunistic 
overeffective 



inappropriate 
unsuitable 
unsustainable 
unpreparedness 
ineffective 
inequitable
 (Indignation/ 

Anger)

 CONSEQUENCE 

(of inaction)


 
 
 
 

--

Exposure to environment 
 
dangerous 
hazardous, risky 
overstimulating 
violence from 
disruption by 
destruction by 
hazards 



unstimulating 
unchallenging 
perversion by 
corruption by
Impact on environment 
 
endangering 
violence to 
violation of 
harassment of 
disruption of 
destruction of 



endangered 
unviable 
corruption of 
perversion of 
pollution
Insight / Learning 

 
overconfidence 
self-righteousness 
self-appreciation 
 
 
 



forgetfulness 
unlearning 
corruption of insight 
loss of integrity/will 
self-depreciation 
dependency
 (Stagnation)


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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