Projects Overview (Explanations)
Transformative Approaches Project (Explanations)
Processing Documents on Sustainable Development Issues
Configuring strategic dilemmas in intersectoral dialogue
Introduction to a process, described in the following documents, which are
all part of a separate report (Configuring
Globally and Contending Locally: shaping the global network of local bargains
by decoding and mapping Earth Summit inter-sectoral issues, 1992, 5
For other tables on strategies see: confidence
for sustainable development; Chinese
This provides a description of a process of clustering issues identified in the Brundtland
, and in sectoral
The issues were presented in a 6-part issue annex (Population
coding procedure is described below
Comments on Procedure
The initial objective was to devise a means of comparative processing of sectoral
declarations in order to clarify the positions of agreement and disagreement
amongst sectors on the range of Earth Summit issues. To this end a range of declarations
relevant to the UNCED process were collected (see checklist
On inspection it was decided that they did not readily lend themselves to a detailed
comparative analysis. There were two principal reasons. Firstly, the documents
were of a variety of forms which would have complicated any attempt at comparison
-- a number were not in fact "declarations". Secondly, the time and resources
finally available did not permit any detailed review.
In the light of the work on strategic dilemmas described in the commentary the
objective was redefined to glean from the documents the nature of the range
of Earth Summit issues to which the responsible bodies were responding.
The intent was to explore the match between the strategic dilemmas of and
the specific issues emerging from the various source documents. Initially the
Brundtland Report was scanned to obtain a broad range of issues and to cluster
them in terms of the 6 major dimensions of Figure
1a . The range of issues was then extended by incorporating the broader
problems registered in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential (1991) since these had been derived
directly from documents of international organizations and ordered into hierarchies
and networks, thus clarifying a number of terminological issues. This facilitated
nesting of issues in terms of broader and narrower concepts.
The revised checklist was then matched against the chapter headings of Agenda
21 and against the issues recognized in individual declarations. The documents
processed are described in the following document (see checklist).
To facilitate the match sought with Figure
1a, the identified issues were coded according to the dimensions of Figure
1a. Some remarks on the coding problem are given in a related
document. The results were presented in two documents:
- Issues clustered by principal subject (in 6
- Issues sorted by code combinations
The coding and final form of these tables were achieved as the result
of a number of iterations. Note that in 1999, a further experiments, using
virtual reality, were undertaken to configure such issues in three dimensions.
It must be remembered that the purpose of this exercise was to identify the
issues and not to determine which bodies had recognized, implicitly or explicitly,
which issues. For this reason the indication of source was made according to
the following guidelines:
- BR (Brundtland Report) was left as an initial source code
- Items from the Encyclopedia were left uncoded
- A21 (Agenda 21) as a source replaced the above
- New issues from declarations cite the document in which they were first
encountered, replacing Encyclopedia but not BR or A21
- If a more recent document provided a more articulated pattern of issues,
its source may have been cited in preference to any previous non-BR or non-A21
It is important to recognize that no issue indicates the complete
range of sources citing it.
Comments on Coding Sustainable Development Issues
The comments below relate to the coding of issues identified in the documents
described elsewhere with a view to their presentation in tabular form.
1. It is important to recognize that any form of classification can never
be politically neutral. Classification is a political act. Many classification
systems have in-built biases against either developmental or environmental
sensitivity, or both. How issue complexes and agenda topics get clustered and
ordered is not a trivial matter without consequence for the sustainability
2. It is important to review how general topics get regrouped into clusters,
whether for major reports (like the Brundtland Report), in agendas (like Agenda
21), or in specific declarations and policy statements. The question is how
clusters "break-out" of more general topic continua.
3. The difficulty in clustering and coding is much more at the general level
than at the specific level. Much work has been done at the specific level where
hierarchies of topics are relatively uncontroversial. Little work has been
done at the general level where clustering tends to be somewhat simplistic.
4. In any clustering exercise, there is a challenge in distinguishing (or
weighting) attributions to primary, as opposed to secondary, clusters. Distortions
in the allocation of issues to primary clusters in the checklist (Figure 9)
are corrected by the codes which indicate relationship to other clusters.
5. There is a continuing challenge in the ambiguity of the significance of
words conventionally used to label issue complexes. Some labels for agenda
items are deliberately designed to obfuscate. The intended scope of a label
may vary according to the political faction referring to it.
6. Some issue complexes are more clearly understood in terms of the "problems" with
which they are commonly identified rather than through the strategies or "solutions" via
which they are approached. In such cases the problem statements are often at
a more general level than the solution statements.
7. In clustering in terms of generality and specificity, there is a challenge
in shifting significance to more general or to more specific clusters.
8. It is useful to review the coding exercise in the light of the metaphors
of "chemical valency" or of "genetic codes." Thus issues may usefully be seen
as having as many "valencies" as there are codes attached to them (eg an issue
complex coded PER is therefore 3-valent; more complex issues may be 5-valent).
In the case of the second metaphor, just as there is an appropriate genetic
code governing the sustainability of living organisms, it could be argued that
there is an appropriate "genetic code" governing the sustainability of social
9. In any coding/clustering process there is a balance to be struck between
imposing order and responding sensitively to variations. This may be seen as
a balance between the need for restraint and the need for freedom.
10. It is useful to perceive the issues of sustainable development as implicit
in the challenge of producing a sustainable classification. What may seem credible
in the short-term in the light of immediately obvious requirements may be far
less appropriate in the light of broader and longer-term issues.
11. The coding process needs to be sensitive to conflicting perceptions, whether
in terms of "problems" as opposed to "solutions", or in terms of "reality" vs "vision".
These variants are all required to capture the challenge of sustainable development.
Stressing one at the expense of another does not meet the needs of all involved.
12. The coding/clustering challenge may be seen as akin to that of designing
a 3-dimensional crossword puzzle (involving features reminiscent of a good
computer game such as TETRIS).
13. The identification of clusters appropriate to the dimensions of sustainable
development corresponds in many respects to the division of governmental responsibilities
into ministerial portfolios and government departments. Any clustering of issues
and strategies should be challenged by the divisions of governmental responsibility
-- and vice versa.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential