World Problems Project
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1. Possible future improvements
(a) Inclusion of new problem entries and revision of information included
in each entry, with addition of information where appropriate to produce
a more complete description.
(b) Revision and extension of the system of relationships between problems
to include such features as (a) relationships arising from a situation
in which one problem is perceived as having displaced another, as a result
of new understanding of the nature of the problem (whether or not this
understanding is widespread); (b) relationships arising from recognition,
as a result of analysis, that a problem is a symptom of a more fundamental
problem (as distinct from cause-effect relationships between problems of
equivalent level); (c) relationships arising from educational considerations,
namely indicating the next more complex problem, in which the nature of
the problem is reformulated in more sophisticated terms; and (d) relationships
arising from the historical order in which problems were perceived and
displaced by others.
(c) Extension of the system of relationships between problems to other
series to include such features as: (a) international organization sub-units
specifically concerned with the problem; (b) resolutions of major United
Nations bodies dealing specifically with the problem; (c) qualification
of relationships, such as those with international bodies, to specify whether
they are concerned with policy, research, management, public information,
or information exchange.
(d) Inclusion in entry descriptions, where appropriate and where such
information is available, of statements criticizing the existence of the
problem as described (namely counter-arguments or counter-claims).
(e) Inclusion in the entries, where appropriate, of other subheadings
such as (a) details of how the problem has developed over time and how
it is expected to develop in the future; (b) list of countries in which
the problem is known to occur; (c) information centres which keep track
of the problem (other than international organizations); (d) standard reference
books dealing with the problem; (e) international meetings dealing with
(f) Development of alternative problem classification systems.
(g) Identification of key people who are closely associated with action
against particular problems by functioning as catalysts for the generation
of new organizations, programmes, or other initiatives. A separate section
listing such people could be cross-referenced to the problems series.
(h) Development of computer programmes to draw attention to errors in
the ways in which the hierarchies of cross-references for particular problem-areas
have been indicated.
(i) Development of computer programmes to plot out onto "maps" certain
problem networks around core problems. Such maps could be included as illustrations
accompanying the descriptions of such problems in future editions. More
complicated maps could also be constructed showing how the network of organizations
matches, or fails to match, the network of problems. Collections of such
problem-based maps could be published in a form of atlas accompanying future
editions of this volume. The identification of vicious and serendipitous
cycles is of special interest in the light of the preliminary investigation
(see discussion in Section TZ).
2. Questions for the future
Interesting questions that emerged during the course of work on this
(a) How can networks of relationships be analyzed systematically as
networks to determine what are the most important focal points for action,
and what different meanings could then be attached to "importance"?
(b) How can comprehension of complexity be improved without artificially
forcing relationships into (definitive) hierarchical groupings thus doing
violence to any inter-hierarchical linkages?
(c) Might it not be useful to investigate the result of using the mathematical
technique to convert relationships between points into points in a network?
Useful insights may then emerge from being able to switch between the perception
of problems as linked in a network of relationships and the perception
of problems as relationships which intersect at certain points.
(d) Given that the number, variety and relationships of human diseases,
and the nature of their effects on the individual are now well understood,
do they not suggest ways for organizing thought about the range and variety
of psycho-social problems and their impact on the psycho-social system?
(e) Is it as ecologically inappropriate to ask the question "What are
the five most important problems (organizations, etc) in the social
system" as it is to ask the question "What are the five most important
animals (plants, etc) in the natural environment"?
(f) Can the relationships between problems (or between organizations)
be usefully conceived as analogous to the food webs and trophic levels
within which animals are embedded? Does this help to suggest why different
kinds of problems emerge as being of major importance at different times?
How might the evolution of problems and problem systems be conceived in
(g) From what is the stability of a "problem ecosystem" (as it might
emerge from the previous point) derived? Is it useful to distinguish between
degrees of (negative) maturity of problem ecosystems and to attempt to
determine the amount of energy required to maintain them? Is anything suggested
for better understanding of problem systems by the fact that a highly diversified
ecosystem has the capacity for carrying a high amount of organization and
information and requires relatively little energy to maintain it, whereas,
conversely, the lower the maturity of the system, the less the energy required
to disrupt it (as emphasized by R Margalef)? Thus anything that keeps an
ecosystem oscillating (or "spastic"), retains it in a state of low maturity,
whence the possible danger of simplistic reorganization of organizational,
conceptual, or value systems. Is the problem of understanding and organizing
the maturation of natural ecosystems of a similar form to that of understanding
and organizing the disruption of problem ecosystems?
(h) Given the absence of sufficient comparable information to produce
sensitive, widely-acceptable, quantitative world models covering all aspects
of the psycho-social system, to what extent can increasing the number and
variety of non-quantitative relationships and entities documented lead
to valuable insights of greater acceptability? In other words, to what
extent can knowing less about more (and organizing that knowledge) compensate
for not being able to know more about less? Can any relationships be established
between the amount of information, the type (quantitative, structured or
unstructured qualitative), the manner of representation, and its degree
(i) To what extent is the complexity of the problem system with which
humanity is faced greater than that which its organizational and intellectual
resources are capable of handling? Worse, is there a widespread unacknowledged
preference for simplifying the representation of complex problem (and other)
systems down to less than 10 elements so that they lend themselves to easy
debate in public and in a policy-making environment? Are organizational
and conceptual resources then marshalled and structured to match the problem
system as simplified rather than to handle it in its more dangerous complexity,
thus running the (unacknowledged) risk of leaving the problems uncontained
and uncontainable by the resources available? Does this suggest a corollary
to Ashby's Law of Requisite Variety which might read: That any attempt
to control a psycho- social system with a control system of less complexity
(ie of less variety) than that of the psycho-social system itself
can only be made to succeed by suppressing or ignoring the variety (ie
reducing the diversity) in the psycho-social system so that it is less
than the relative simplicity of the control system? Such suppression tends
to breed violence, however.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential