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Method: Relationships between strategies

Global Strategies Project

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Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

Showing relationships between strategies is as vital a part of the editorial process as providing a text description. Two main groups of cross-references are provided between individual strategy entries. These are:
  • hierarchical cross-references showing conventional broader/narrower "trees" or "families" of strategies; and
  • functional or "affective" cross-references relationships between individual strategies which are facilitating or constraining.
The process of indicating the initial relationships between strategies is an extension, if not an integral part, of the naming process (Note 3.5). The relationships, even if only first approximations, position a strategy with respect to others and confirm its distinction from them. It is also part of the patterning process discussed in Note 4.2.

A strategy may have any number of cross-references, but the maximum number of any one type seldom exceeds 20. The 29,542 strategies in the database currently have some 84,890 cross-references between them. The 9,203 entries printed in this volume (Sections SB through SF) contain 61,034 of these relationship links.

1. Hierarchical relationships

In the case of the hierarchical group of relationships, for any individual strategy there are two types: "broader" strategies and "narrower" strategies. These have the usual meanings. In contrast to conventional systematic hierarchies, however, any one strategy may have several broader strategies. The relationship is reciprocal in that if "Strategy X" is designated a narrower strategy of "Strategy Y", then "Y" automatically becomes a broader strategy of "X".

Regrouping of strategies into strategy groups using broader/narrower relationships avoids the quantitative difficulties of having too many strategies at too great a level of detail. Different methods of handling groups and establishing cut-off points were used on an experimental basis (Notes 4.3 and 4.4). Constructing such strategy hierarchies was considerably facilitated when the source documents had attempted some such categorization of the strategies.

Of the 9,203 strategies in this volume, the number emerging at the top of hierarchies is 1,339 (SB=153, SC=148; SD=367; SE=392; SF=279). Those at the bottom of hierarchies total 1,116 (all in SD-SF). 1,956 strategies are not located within a hierarchy, explaining why the "top of hierarchy" numbers are spread out; with further work they would be expected to concentrate in the higher sections.

2. Functional relationships

In the four types of functional cross-reference, the described strategy: is "constrained by" (a cited strategy), "constrains" (a cited strategy), is "facilitated by" (a cited strategy), or "facilitates" (a cited strategy). Clearly this group of relationships forms two complementary pairs. As in the case of broader/narrower pairs, reciprocality is automatically established in the database such that "Strategy X" facilitates "Strategy Y" generates the relationship that "Y" is facilitated by "X".

In certain cases a strategy may both constrain/facilitate and be constrained/facilitated by the same cited strategy. This form of "co-dependent" relationship can be illustrated with familiar bi-polar feedback systems such as "increasing real wages facilitates increasing prices" whilst at the same time it is true that "increasing real wages is facilitated by increasing prices" producing the so-called "wage/cost spiral". Other examples could be constructed around pairs of strategies increasing/decreasing "conservatism/

liberalism", "regulation/deregulation", "centralization/

decentralization", etc, and more interestingly "per capita GNP/life expectancy", or "protection of public rights/deregulation".

Functional relationships between strategies are included either where they were specifically mentioned in the available documents or where they could be reasonably inferred from such material. However, it is rare for documents to be systematic in their description of the relationships between strategies. Even when a relationship is stipulated, it may not be clear whether it applies for the whole of a strategy hierarchy or for only some component part.

Relationship networks have, therefore, to be built up from several different sources. Some effort has been made to "tidy up" such networks, but in general the practice adopted is to keep adding relationships as they are available in order that the networks can be more thoroughly criticized later with a view to improvement. It is generally easier to criticize errors of commission than to undertake the extra effort to remedy errors of omission.

Of the 9,203 strategies in this volume, 5,389 were positioned at one end of a functional chain only: 3,718 facilitating other strategies, but not being facilitated themselves (or being facilitated, but not facilitating); and 1,671 constraining other strategies, but not being constrained themselves (or being constrained, but not constraining others). These data strongly suggest many "broken" or uncompleted strategy chains, and highlight the benefit of continuing editorial work on such functional cross-relationships.

3. Tentative relationships

It must be strongly emphasized that no cross-reference can be considered "permanent". Cross-references are treated more like pointers. During the editorial process pointers may be modified into a more appropriate configuration. Typically a pointer from Strategy A to Strategy B may be replaced by one from Strategy A to Strategy C, plus another from Strategy C to Strategy B -- if Strategy C appears to be an intermediary. Some pointers are more obvious and permanent than others which are tentative or only approximate.

Clearly all the different forms of cross-reference interweave to form a very complex network. When indicating functional relationships between strategies, the information available may not be sufficiently unambiguous as to whether the pointer should be made to a broader strategy or to one of its narrower strategy. Or the information may only mention the relationship to the narrower strategy, when the context suggests that it could be more appropriately made to the broader. In this sense, whatever link is given can only be considered tentative, subject to modification later in the editorial process.

4. Computer checking

The editorial process of checking relationships is both extremely time consuming and subject to error. Much use is therefore made of software routines both to ensure reciprocity of relationships and to check for various forms of redundancy. Examples of such redundant patterns of linkages include:

  • both Strategy A and a narrower strategy of Strategy A are indicated as facilitated by Strategy B.
  • more subject to query, several narrower strategies of Strategy A are facilitated by Strategy B, which could possibly be replaced by Strategy A is facilitated by Strategy B.
5. "Unrelated" strategies

As part of the editorial process, it is useful to ask such questions as:

which strategies are not part of another strategy ?

which strategies are not undermined by other strategies ?

which strategies do not undermine other strategies ?

which strategies do not facilitate some other strategy ?

Whilst it is probable that there are only a limited number of strategies at the top of strategy trees, it is less clear whether all strategies are parts of such trees. It is probable that for a strategy to be a strategy it should cluster or facilitate some other strategies, but whether strategies linked in this way form "islands" separate from other similarly linked strategies remains to be explored.

From an editorial point of view, it is clearly important to focus on the first question, if only as a means of detecting duplicate narrower strategies. This question is also important in the case of highly specific strategies (such as specialized energy-saving construction techniques), which it may not be useful to represent in the system at all but for which some broader strategy can be usefully included, even if no information on it exists (the class of ecological building techniques, for example). Strategies based on interpolations of this kind appear in the printed volume by their skeletal form with name(s) and cross-references, but without any other descriptive text.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


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