Since its foundation, the UIA has sought
every possible means to use information to frame the challenges and opportunities
of governance in an increasingly complex world.
Profiling international advocacy groups (+working
A core activity of the UIA is the profiling
of some 50,000 international bodies, whether nongovernmental, civil society
bodies (NGOs) or intergovernmental agencies (IGOs). This notably includes
indication of the working relationships between them so as to provide
an understanding of the interweaving network of bodies that constitutes
the social fabric -- the social ecosystem through which society is governed.
Profiling articulated world issues (+systemic
The challenges of governance of the world
are those detected by the vast network of international bodies through
which national and local concerns are articulated. From 1972, the UIA
has developed profiles of over 50,000 world problems from the documents
of international bodies. Great emphasis is placed on the network of relationships
between these issues through which particular problems aggravate or alleviate
others through "vicious" feedback loops.
Profiling advocated world strategies (+systemic
In response to the problems detected by international
bodies, strategies and initiatives have been advocated or undertaken.
These are effectively governance initiatives, whether undertaken through
intergovernmental or nongovernmental bodies. Since 1984, the UIA has
developed generic profiles of some 50,000 of these initiatives. Again
the emphasis is on indicating the systemic relationships through which
individual strategies support or undermine each other.
Registering international meetings
International meetings are the most visible
manifestation of the activities of international bodies, in articulating
and implementing their strategies in response to the challenges of society
-- or in celebration of their values and interests. Since its foundation,
the UIA has registered over 250,000 such meetings and continues to focus
on the registration of some 7,000 scheduled future international meetings.
This information is made available to support the initiatives of international
organizations and the scheduling of their activities.
Knowledge mapping: A major concern is the
development of new ways to comprehend the complexity of the above networks
of insights through visual means and sound. A series of experiments has
been undertaken to permit user generation of virtual reality structures
to represent these complex networks and interlocking loops in a more
meaningful visual way. Profiles of problems and strategies on the web
offer users access to interactive self-organizing maps of complex networks
under user control to provide conceptual scaffolding for more integrative
insights. The challenge is to develop more integrative knowledge maps
to provide perspective, overview and context through which detail can
be explored interactively. Software challenges relating to comprehension
and visualization have been identified in a series of papers. Web experiments
using auditory cues are also in progress.
Meaning vs Information
Information overload is a major concern for
the future. Fragmentation of knowledge and lack of meaningful conceptual
integration processes are tragic consequences for the development process.
The UIA knowledge-bases provide a cross-disciplinary, cross-cultural
context in which to explore these challenges and to develop new conceptual
tools relevant to more fruitful policy-making. Studies explore the relevance
of metaphor to comprehension and governance.
Shifting the level of insight Registries
tend to focus on organizational and other entities in isolation at a
time when community building and initiatives depend on working with networks
of bodies, using networks of strategies against networks of problems.
The UIA with funding from the European Commission, has explored methods
of developing, refining and dynamically displaying the self-sustaining,
interlocking loops of problems, issues and solutions as a means of shifting
the level of analysis beyond seemingly isolated entities. Loop detection
and other algorithms have been developed in support of visualization
tools to assist mapping and navigation of complex organizational environments.
The significance of this work is that there has long been recognition
of how one problem can aggravate another and of how several problems
can reinforce each other. The UIA data registers many relationships between
problems in complex networks. Clearly such relationships may form chains
or pathways linking many problems. But hidden in the data as presented
is also the existence of chains that loop back on themselves. A loop
represents a description of a chain of consequences that produces a dynamic
outcome by feeding off itself (positive feedback = "vicious" or "virtuous" loops),
or by controlling itself (negative feedback). Typically a feedback loop
will be an important strategic issue in its own right. The purpose of
detecting feedback loops is to raise the level of analysis of individual
issues to a higher, systemic level - whether with respect to organizations,
problems or strategies. It is a technique that has the potential to add
extra meaning to basic data, particularly relevant for policy makers
and others concerned with understanding the interrelationships and root
causes of problems. This initiative seeks to enhance the capacity of
the organizational community in ways that are not possible by a focus
on isolated organizations and their relationships.
Enhancing community imagination and vision
The UIA has been actively exploring ways
of integrating its registry and profiling functions with the kinds of
virtual interactive environment in which imagination can be enhanced
to enable the emergence of new styles of organization. These possibilities
are seen as potentially vital at a time when conventional structures
have proven inadequate under many circumstances. As envisaged by Douglas
Engelbart and Ivan Sutherland in the early 1970s, there is every possibility
that radically different styles of virtual organization, configurations
of concepts, and community may be possible with structural devices whose
credibility, coherence and viability can exist only within a virtual
environment. There is much creative experiment with virtual environments.
The challenge to date is that no databases are adapted to rapidly populate
them to enable widespread access using web technology. The UIA data is
held in ways that has already lent itself readily to such experiments
with immediate payoffs for web users of its data. The significance of
such work was recently acknowledged at an international symposium of
AI specialists of the Global Brain Group (Brussels, 2000). Further experimentation
over the web has been curtailed by lack of resources.
Considerable attention has been given to
the multi-lingual challenge and to automatic translation procedures.
Emphasis is placed on multi-lingual keyword access from a variety of
languages, even when data is only available in English. Organization
descriptions have been translated into French, for example, with ACCT
Since the 1970s, the UIA has sought ways
to move beyond linear text to honour the reality of networks of relationships
between issues and the networks organizations and strategies that endeavour
to respond to them. The hypertext environment of the web has been ideal
for this, as well as various kinds of visualization and mapping techniques.
The cognitive possibilities of sonification have also been the subject
Metaphors and patterns
Since the early 1980s the Union of International
Associations has been exploring the role of metaphor and pattern in relation
to governance, understanding of world problems, articulation of more
appropriate organizational strategies, transformative conferencing and
dialogue, and knowledge organization.
Metaphors are a special form of presentation natural to many cultures.
They are of unique importance as a means of communicating complex notions,
especially in interdisciplinary and multicultural dialogue, as well as
in the popularization of abstract concepts, in political discourse and
as part of any creative process. They offer the special advantage of calling
upon a pre-existing capacity to comprehend complexity, rather than assuming
that people need to engage in lengthy educational processes before being
able to comprehend.
Although frequently used in international debate through which strategies
are defined, the advantages of metaphor have not been deliberately explored
to assist in the implementation of such strategies. Each development policy
may be considered a particular "answer" to the global problematique.
No such answer appears to be free from fundamental weaknesses. A shift
to an alternative policy becomes progressively more necessary as the effects
of these weaknesses accumulate. However, since each such policy reflects
a "language" or mind-set whereby a worldview is organized,
no adequate "logical" framework can exist to facilitate comprehension
of the nature of such a shift or of the process of transition between alternatives.
The UIA has undertaken a variety of online
experiments in representation of complex patterns of information using
virtual reality techniques, mapping techniques and classification systems
of non-western cultures.