Transformative Approaches Project
Context: Meshing imaginative vision and policy
Transformative Approaches Project |
The complexity of the policy challenges of sustainable
development, the need for "new thinking" and the importance of
more imaginative approaches to policy-making and organization are all now
1. Beyond "tinkering" and crisis management
There will continue to be many situations in which it appears expedient
to respond to priorities with the skills of crisis management. There will
always be opportunities for reconfiguring organizational structures and
lines of communication so as to suggest that adequate response is being
made to the problem dynamic -- at least in the shorter term. As many acknowledge,
more is however required. This is a real challenge to the imagination to
articulate new visions of appropriate order and of longer term significance.
2. The search for new forms of order
Do the imaginative possibilities evoked in the search for new forms
of order reflect a level of richness and complexity appropriate to the
emerging social reality? It can readily be argued that much of what is
proposed is "more of the same", offering "solutions to yesterday's
problems". Much of such thinking constitutes a "linear"
extrapolation from existing approaches to organization and policy design.
Despite pleas for "holistic", "quantum leaps" towards
more "integrative" approaches, these remain fuzzy in detail,
however attractive and appropriate they may appear in outline.
3. Beyond "boring" possibilities: the evocative constraint
It is increasingly clear that the emerging possibilities can only have
a chance of succeeding if they can be adequately articulated through the
media. This means more than the ability to "package" the possibility
in terms which are comprehensible. Many comprehensible policies are simply
boring and, as such, alienating. Unless the new approaches are adequately
evocative, triggering the imagination and a sense of participation, they
will of necessity be inappropriate. Appropriate policies call for a new
form of identification on the part of those whom they touch.
4. Conceptual scaffolding in support of imaginative proposals
Complex building designs require scaffolding to allow the complementary
structural elements to be held in position before they can counter-balance
the tensions and stresses they engender. It can be argued that imaginative
policy proposals require a form of "conceptual scaffolding" to
juxtaposition their complementary elements -- before they can be adequately
"locked into place" by a comprehension of the whole (a "global"
comprehension). Such conceptual scaffolding is required to anchor subtle
possibilities crafted by the collective imagination -- and to render them
communicable and credible. It is especially necessary given the degree
of opposition between interests representing vital, and complementary,
concerns in society.
5. Scaffolding from high technology and traditional wisdom
It has been argued that current policy-making language draws upon very
simple forms of conceptual scaffolding. As a result only simpler forms
of policy design are rendered possible. It can be readily argued that these
are inappropriate to the complex challenges of the present and the future.
Ironically, traditional wisdom from many cultures offers rich patterns
(whether from symbolism, mythology or folk tales) that can be used to interrelate
complementary structural elements -- and ensure their widespread comprehensibility.
This possibility remains to be explored. The ability to articulate policies
using such patterns may prove vital to the comprehensibility and credibility
of new policies appropriate to such cultures. The failure to consider this
dimension is a major factor in the "inappropriateness" of Western
management styles in such cultures.
The current dramatic evolution of computer technology and software offers
another form of scaffolding. Beyond the bar charts and pie charts of the
"business graphics" basic to most current forms of policy-making,
other forms of graphics are emerging. These forms blend image and data
in more dynamic and complex ways. As such they offer new vehicles for the
imagination and its articulation. Such technology can be used to give form
to hitherto unforeseenconceptual structures of great richness. And the
technology can help to render them comprehensible. The relevance to the
policy community remains to be explored. Ironically, such technology will
be used for entertainment before its wider relevance is investigated.
6. The chasm between imaginative possibilities and policy realities
There is thus a tragic "gap" between imaginative possibilities
and implementable policies. Existing policies, with all their acknowledged
defects, have had the advantage of having been exposed to articulation
into programmatic detail. In fact it is only hindsight on this implementation
in practice which has highlighted their defects.
Imaginative possibilities, however attractive they may appear at first
sight, do not inspire equivalent confidence concerning their satisfactory
implementability. New tools are required to bridge this chasm. Such tools
must offer the means of both articulating complexity and also of rendering
it comprehensible. This is the cognitive challenge of respecting the "local"
focus required for implementability, whilst providing a "global"
context for necessary comprehensibility.
7. Metaphor as a vital cognitive interface
Many recent studies suggest that metaphor plays a fundamental cognitive
role in giving form to new varieties of understanding. It has also been
demonstrated that people and cultures can become entrapped in simplistic
metaphors that are inadequate to the challenges that they face.
It is noteworthy that metaphor is used in many cultures and at all levels
of society -- and especially by managers and politicians. It is doubtful
whether modern management could function without the use of military and
sporting metaphors. It could be argued that the current rich use of metaphor
in slums is a means through which people reconfigure their cognitive environment
to ensure their psychic survival. Metaphor is also the traditional vehicle
through which the elders of a village or tribe articulated options in the
face of challenges -- drawing upon the wisdom of their culture. Many advances
in computer software design are explicitly made in terms of new "metaphors".
Metaphor would therefore appear to be a major unexplored resource through
which richer and more complex policies can be articulated and rendered
8. Policy implications
There is no lack of imagination or of visions of new approaches to social
organization. On the other hand, there are well-defined constraints on
what appears possible at any given time, given the current thinking and
procedures which have proved their worth.
If new forms of social order are to emerge in response to the challenge
of sustainable development, there is a need to break through the "imagination
barrier" imposed by the use of simplistic conceptual scaffolding.
There is a need to question the adequacy of the metaphors used to articulate
existing policies -- and to search for richer, more complex and more dynamic
metaphors. It is richer metaphors which will enable the articulation of
more complex policies appropriate to the challenge of sustainable development.
The success of the United Nations "Earth Summit" (Rio de Janeiro,
1992) may well not be measured in terms of specifics on which compromises
are agreed. These will be quickly forgotten except by specialists. If
there is to be the "fundamental shift in attitude" so frequently
called for, this can only be triggered and articulated by new and richer
metaphors. It is such metaphors which will give coherence to emerging
specific policies of appropriate complexity. It is such coherence which
will determine whether the policies are accepted by wider publics and interest
Great care should be devoted to exploring richer metaphors through which
to give a sense of coherence and pattern to the variety of complementary
interests represented at the Earth Summit. It is these metaphors which
could prove to be the most important outcome of the event -- and of most
relevance to the dilemma of sustainable development.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential