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Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Strategic ecosystem: Network strategy

Global Strategies Project

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1. The strategic reflex

The conventional approach of an organization or group to any problem situation is to elaborate a strategy, whether explicit or implicit. But, as Section P (Volume 1) attempts to show, the number, variety and interrelationships of the problems are such that it is legitimate to question whether any conventional strategy could be even partly adequate.

2. The hierarchical trap

A fundamental difficulty is the predilection for simplistic hierarchical representation of the interrelationships between concepts, between organizations, and between problems. This is so despite constant exposure to evidence that these hierarchies do not contain the complexity with which society has to deal.

It is for this reason that it is questionable whether conventional strategy, which is based on the assumption that it can be formulated and administered through a hierarchical chain of authority, can respond to the needs of the time. Neither a hierarchical organization nor a hierarchy of concepts can handle a network of environmental problems, for example, without leaving many dangerous gaps through which unforeseen problems may emerge and be uncontainable.

It is rather like trying to use 18th century (redcoat) military strategy to fight guerillas. The redcoat military hierarchy and mode of warfare is completely out-manoeuvred by guerilla network activity. An even more uncomfortable parallel may be that of the admirable attempt of the Polish cavalry to contain a tank invasion in 1939.

3. Element of the strategic challenge

The elements of the strategic challenge at this time include:

These networks, and others, are not static structures. They are rapidly changing, growing and evolving in response to pressures, tensions, needs and aspirations perceived in very different parts of the social system. These networks, and their component sub-networks, are not controlled or controllable by any single body, if only because the complexity cannot be handled by any single body or group of bodies.

4. Organization without an organizer

The strategic problem therefore is how to ensure that the appropriate organizational resources emerge, and are adequately supported and provided with appropriate conceptual tools, in response to emerging problem complexes. But it would seem that this must be achieved without organizing and planning such organized response - for to the extent that any part of the network is so organized, other parts will develop (and probably should develop) which favour alternative approaches.

The challenge is therefore to develop the meaning and constraints of what may be termed a network strategy. This is an approach which facilitates or catalyses (rather than organizes) the emergence, growth, development, adaptation, and galvanization of organizational networks in response to problem networks, in the light of the values perceived at each particular part of the social system.

5. Value correctness

To the point that such values may not be the "right" values, it is only possible to respond that the challenge is to use the dynamics of the social system to heal itself, to compensate for inadequate values (by the educational action of group on group), and thus to mature the social system. The strategic problem is to ensure that all possible resources bring themselves to bear on the perceived problems, but without introducing at the highest level any element of organizational imperialism, or, in its absence, what might be called conceptual imperialism (or even fascism).

The most enlightened developed-country value, may well be an inappropriate straitjacket in a developing country's cultural context. Any such strategic simplification can therefore only lead to alienation, possibly apathy, and of course even to countervailing action.

6. Competence

The degree of organization introduced by a body thus defines the level at which that body is competent to operate - the greater the degree of programme control and organization, the more restricted the scope of its possible effective operation.

The challenge is to speed up some of the dynamics of the social system so that organizational, conceptual, and value inadequacies become more rapidly evident in order that more appropriate substitutes may be evolved. This is a learning process essential at every point in the social system.

7. Coordination ?

To the point that any such strategy needs to be coordinated, the response can only be that at this time all that is possible (or even desirable) is a form of augmented auto-coordination within organizations and organization networks. The challenge is to find the right means of facilitating whatever auto-coordination is possible, recognizing that to the extent that the degree of coordination is considered inadequate by one part of the network, it will attempt to elaborate tighter forms of coordination, whatever the views of the other (possibly alienated) parts for which a different approach may be successful.

It is interesting to note, for example, that some of the more recently created United Nations structures place great emphasis on the notion of a network and de-emphasize the notion of central organization (eg the United Nations University, the UN Environment Programme's information service).


From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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