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Patterning strategies: Patterning the resolutique

Global Strategies Project

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The number of strategies 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 is designed to keep this challenge to the forefront (but see also Note 4.1).

This note reports on the possible value of a patterning of the whole set of strategies based on three possible elements in the name of a strategy. The elements, which in each case constitute a relatively limited set, are: gerund operators; subject categories; and specific qualifiers.

1. Gerund operators

As discussed in the previous note in connection with Language Games, the editorial process of ensuring that a strategy has an appropriate name leads to the accumulation in the database of strategy names with a fairly limited set of action-oriented qualifiers. These are used in the literature to denote strategies when applied to members of the set of subject categories. For example:

  • "Studying" languages (insects, psychic phenomena, market indicators, etc)
  • "Empowering" women (citizens, agreements, leaders, etc)
  • "Informing about hazards of" nuclear energy (toxic waste, computers, sugar consumption, etc)
  • "Distributing" food (electricity, health facilities, wealth, etc)
These "action operators" can also be used to generate strategies, as was discussed in point 7. of the previous note.

In each of the above cases, the gerund operator could be replaced by a synonymous term, like "Researching", "Supporting", "Publicizing dangers of" and "Providing", respectively. 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 gerund operators indeed constitutes a limited set, as might be adapted from Figure 1 (based on value sets in Section VT, Volume 2 for additional detail of the method used, see discussion of Sections SP and ST, Note 4.1). Note also an alternative approach (with table) to a Typology of 12 complementary strategies essential to sustainable development

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 strategies. It was for this reason that an alternative approach was used for the companion volume Global Action Networks (Vol 3, Yearbook of International Organizations). The aim was to interweave the pattern of categories to facilitate recognition of interdisciplinary patterns of a higher order. Both broad and detailed categories identify subjects. Some 2,000 categories are currently used; new subject combinations are added each year. The categories are specifically designed to be responsive to the range of activities of some 25,000 international organizations. This relatively fluid system allows for continuing refinement and experiment. The approach is explained in detail in that volume.

When a strategy is registered in the database, computerized procedures automatically assign it category codes during the indexing process, based on keywords in the title(s). To date, this classification information has resided largely as dormant intelligence within the strategies database. It is expected that, like the "action-value" experiment described in point 1. above, investigation of the latent patterning of strategies according to subject could provide a rich source of new understandings on their "family" relationships.

3. Specific qualifiers

Strategies may share the same gerund operator and subject category but be distinguished by specific qualifiers. For example:

  • Training illiterate women in childraising
  • Training rural women in resource conservation
  • Training unemployed women in developing countries
All three strategies involve "Training women". In the first case, the specific qualifier is the disadvantaged group of "illiterate" women. In the second, the qualifier is a geosocial term, "rural". In the third, both types of qualifier are used in combination.

4. Patterning

A systematic pattern of strategies can be generated by combining these three sets of elements. The current database is therefore a first approximation to a comprehensive pattern of strategies. 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 strategies 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.

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.

The pattern of gerund operators can be explored further. In particular there is merit in exploring the relationship to the pattern of value polarities, which is experimentally presented for a limited data set in Section SP on "Strategy polarities". The link lies in the basic recognition that a strategy can only exist in the light of a value. It is the "action operators" that provide the strategic dimension and thus there should be some kind of mapping of them onto the set of values. In future editions there may even be merit in presenting the strategies in terms of the comprehensive pattern of action operators.

In the discussion of the pattern of values (Section VZ, Volume 2), 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 action operators might then lend themselves to similar treatment. Just as the value polarities indicate extremes of imbalance, the gerund operators might be configured to indicate the same.

In effect, the set of gerund operators provides a pattern of ways in which "things can happen". Further confrontation between the value polarities and the gerunds 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 strategies obviously needs to be tested by attempting to present all strategies in the database in terms of that pattern. As discussed earlier, one merit of this is to challenge names currently given to strategies and to identify strategies which are in effect duplicates. This approach would also expose the possible existence of strategies not currently reflected in the database. On the other hand, the exercise would also highlight strategies to which the current set of "action operators" is poorly adapted, thus suggesting lines for further improvement. Of special interest is the way in which strategies, 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.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential


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