Transformative Approaches Project
Context: Beyond the constraints of text
Transformative Approaches Project |
1. Unexplored resources
The process by which new possibilities are currently being explored
is almost completely conducted through verbal and textual exchanges. The
nature of new structural arrangements is then finally defined and given
form in legal texts. The structure is thus envisaged, agreed and defined
through linear text.
As is clear in any complex design situation (whether concerning buildings,
machinery, factory systems, or chemical molecules) imagery is vital to
comprehension of richer and more complex possibilities. Such imagery may
be so complex that it can only effectively be managed and manipulated by
computer (as in computer-aided design).
Where efforts are at present made to use imagery in response to challenging
problems of governance, it tends to be limited to video promotional presentations
or to classical organization charts. The former tends to avoid articulation
of structure and the latter encourages simplistic rearrangement of organizational
units, usually only in a hierarchical array.
There is a significant body of evidence to indicate that creativity
and innovation are catalyzed and sustained by imagery and metaphor. It
is these which provide the conceptual scaffolding to capture an insight
into new and more complex patterns that can reconcile hitherto unrelated
phenomena. This applies in all fields of human activity.
From this perspective there is a strong argument for exploring the characteristics
of structured imagery vital to the articulation of new patterns of relationships
in areas critical to governance at this time. Such imagery could be used
as a complement to text-based discussion of such possibilities. However,
as with the concept of a spiral staircase, there are presumably quite simple
institutional structures which it would be considerably easier to discuss
on the basis of an image rather than through a necessarily complex textual
description. Work on structured imagery is vital to clarify the nature
of such options. It is these options which cannot be effectively envisaged
through the current text-based debates.
2. Nature of a complementary approach
Giving increasing weight to imagery, offers the possibility of turning
the present approach "on its head". Instead of producing text
and then looking for images to illustrate it -- the focus is on looking
for images to carry a structural insight, before looking for text to explain
it. This benefits from the ways in which imagery is often part of the creative
process through which social innovations take form.
This approach is in effect an effort to seek a more appropriate balance
between the cognitive functions represented by imagery and text. It could
even be argued that failure to explore the imagery dimension is an expression
of functional imbalance at the cognitive level. From this perspective,
text could be seen as reinforcing so-called patriarchal, left-brain approaches
at the expense of the so-called feminine insights and right-brain approaches
carried by imagery.
The extent to which policy-making is media-driven has been frequently
noted in recent years. Policies are unsustainable unless they can be effectively
carried by the media. Text-based policies are difficult to express in the
visually oriented media. This forces the media to develop "stories"
which do not reflect the complexity of the issues and policies designed
to respond to them -- they capture the imagination in a distorted manner
which fails to harness it in support of the policies.
3. Improving the range of options
There is a marked tendency for the extremely divisive situations discussed
here to be understood in terms such as the following:
- Favoured position (the "reasonable" perspective, the "normal"
view, "my side")
- Opposing position (the "unreasonable" perspective, the "dissident"
view, "their side")
- Complicating factors (many "sides", multiple dimensions)
- Resolution ("peace", "harmony", "sustainable
This sequence may be viewed as a progression in complexity from a single
position to the transcendence of such positions (reminiscent of the dialectic
tradition). It might be coded as a form of counting: from one and two,
through "many", to a final, desirable "null" state.
The question to be asked is whether the fundamental strategic options facing
the planet should be confided to such a primitive numbering system and
the limited geometrical configurations which it allows. Significant issues
tend to have more than two "sides". What are the geometrical
forms which can give coherent insight into the governance of a multi-sided
It is of course possible to describe a wide range of phenomena using
a binary numbering system, as is done in computer systems. But binary codes
are not readily comprehensible. As with the numbering system, those cultures
and languages whose counting ability is limited to one, two and "many"
are viewed as impoverished (in that respect at least). There is advantage
in articulating "many" into a sequence of numbers which then
allow a range of structural configurations to be described unambiguously
and comprehensibly. (The harmonious "null" state, which is the
goal of most forms of conflict resolution, then functions like a zero in
a numbering system, rounding off a sequence. It thus "sets the stage"
for work towards more subtle levels of "harmony" or "sustainable
development" in terms of which new kinds of distinctions need to be
reconciled at a higher null state.)
4. Image-based governance
It is possible to envisage a situation in which every major policy is
carried by an image or set of complementary images. This then becomes the
focus of a new form of consensus -- rather than the text "explaining"
the image. The image is not developed, after the fact, to make the text-based
initiative palatable, as in present public information initiatives. The
image is then central both to the structure of the policy and to any media
initiatives. In a sense it is the image which provides the ordering principle
for any text. In computer terms, textual commentary and explanation is
"hung" on the different structural features of the image.
Such developments would then open up the possibility of what amounts
to image-based consensus, and the associated formal agreements. This is
the way in which design-based contracts are agreed. As in the construction
of a building, a piece of machinery, or a production system, it is the
design "specifications" expressed in diagrammatic form on which
agreement is reached. It is the central or underlying image which creates
the context on the basis of which detailed arrangements can be qualified
in textual form.
This approach offers an alternative to dependence on agreements based
solely on the text of resolutions, declarations and treaties. In the light
of the experience of past decades, it would be wise to question the adequacy
of these as a support for the emerging challenges of governance.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential