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Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Strategic ecosystem: Beyond "The Plan"

Global Strategies Project

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1. Absence of strategy tracing

There has never been any lack of comprehensive strategic plans in response to global, regional, national or local challenges. More are generated every year, notably by major United Nations conferences. It is not clear whether any international agency tracks commitments to such plans. No systematic record appears to be kept of action taken on the multitude of resolutions by international conferences. Few governments have the resources to keep effective track of their obligations with respect to international agreements.

2. Ignoring previous or co-existing strategies

Difficulties arise because each such plan tends to be formulated in a context which effectively ignores the previous plans to which adherents have usually made long-term pledges. New strategies may endeavour to respond to new understandings of the global challenge by effectively updating the strategic elements of previous plans. Whether this process removes the obligation to adhere to previous commitments is usually quite unclear. Often the implementation of past commitments is quietly forgotten.

3. Continuing generation of strategies

In this context the status of any new global, comprehensive plan easily becomes an exercise in wishful thinking for some and an exercise in extreme cynicism for others. Neither position will prevent the continuing generation of such strategies, however limited the constituency to which they appeal over any extended period of time.

4. Continuing focus on "The Plan"

What is the reason for this desperate need to formulate a single comprehensive strategic plan of action -- that will subsume all other plans, draining resources from them because of the priority it is accorded? Military strategy formulation is usually based on the selection of a single strategy from many strategic scenarios. If one fails, there are usually fall-back plans. But is there not a case for encouraging a variety of plans -- according to different styles of action -- and capable of channelling the energy and enthusiasm of different constituencies?

From a strategic perspective "one-plan thinking" is necessarily doomed to failure faced with a problematique that, hydra-like, takes many forms and is in continuous mutation. The conceptual challenge is, paradoxically, to find a suitable form for the plan which is many plans, and which itself evolves over time as the ecology of those plans.

5. Ecology of strategies

There is therefore a strong case for shifting some attention to the nature of the ecology of strategies in operation at any one time. This ecology is the dynamic framework within which global strategies are born, live and pass away (however much they may continue to haunt the present after having disincorporated). Whilst most self-respecting global strategies have the ambition to be "the plan", it is rare that this self-acclaimed status is respected from the perspective of other strategic frameworks.

6. Status of particular strategies

As with niche-specific species, it is to be expected that any particular strategy would be designed to respond to a specific set of circumstances, however broadly conceived. As a result each such strategy tends to exclude features recognized as vital within other strategic frameworks. In this sense each strategy is of necessity reductionistic. It is relatively simple in order to be manageable within relatively simple institutional frameworks. It has to be relatively simple in order to be comprehensible to those who must allocate resources to it and ultimately to those who must approve the allocation of such resources through the political process. All this makes for a strategy which lacks the requisite variety for effective global governance.

7. Complementary strategies

Relatively simplistic strategies elaborated by one set of institutions evoke compensating strategies from other configurations of institutions. Some strategies naturally complement each other, compensating for each others weaknesses. Some strategies take over where others leave off. Some create the foundation and groundwork allowing others to emerge. Some are parasitical on others, or provide "piggy back" facilities allowing for other types of action. Some strategies are deliberately designed to undermine others, competing for their resources. Some strategies are simply mutually destructive and may result in total chaos in the societies in which they emerge.

8. The "right" strategy

Within such an ecology of strategies, the question as to which is the right or appropriate strategy begs the question as to the comprehension of the questioner. For a questioner sensitive only to a particular spectrum of social or environmental concerns, the only meaningful answer will be in terms of those concerns only. Other dimensions will be completely irrelevant, if not absurd, or dangerously misguided.

9. Challenge to comprehension

Who can presume to understand the full range of strategies making up the ecology? How is that understanding to be approached? How are differences of opinion concerning its nature to be reconciled --especially when such differences may be essential to the process whereby compensating strategies emerge in response to other limited strategic understandings? How can the tendency of relativism to paralyse action be circumvented?

10. Necessarily conflicting perspectives

As with efforts to "manage" any natural ecosystem, there will be radically different schools of thought. Some will favour a complete and detailed plan, leading to what others would perceive as a totally artificial garden or park, or even a structure of economically productive fields. At the other extreme will be those who would favour leaving the ecosystem in its wilderness state. In between will be found a variety of rationalizations for various forms of intervention.

11. Framework for strategic dialogue

The concern at this point is not whether one or other is right but rather that there is no suitable arena within which to explore the alternatives. Each constituency tends to be prepared to be economical with the truth in acknowledging the limitations of its own perspective or in accepting the validity of other perspectives. Parliamentary democracy highlights the weaknesses of dialogue processes in responding with sensitivity to the range of issues involved. A context is required in which truths valuable to some are "held", irrespective of debating procedures by which such views may be overwhelmed by those with other sensitivities.

12. Beyond conceptual complacency

There is some justification for expecting that the challenges of global governance will call for a complexity of response beyond that associated with simplistic responses to the ecosystem and its development. The conceptual complacency of those who know that their own approach is correct is a prime indicator of the inadequacy of their perspective. However any such perspective may well be vital in a strategic ecosystem dependent on a rich range of complementary and competing perspectives.

It is how the ecology of strategies is to be understood that is the challenge -- prior to, and during, any well-meaning global intervention. But paradoxically intervention there will necessarily continue to be, even in the light of necessarily inadequate comprehension.


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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