World Problems Project (Explanations
World Problems and Global Issues Project
Overview: World Problems Project
Scope and rationale
The purpose of this project, one of the major dimensions of the
Encyclopedia, is to identify
the complete range of world problems perceived by international constituencies,
whether as a focus for their programme activities, their research, their
protest, their recommendations, or as part of their belief system. An entry
has been established on each. This provides a context within which the
network of specific relationships perceived between these problems may
also be identified.
As a whole, this section endeavours to present all the phenomena in society
that are perceived negatively by groups transcending national frontiers. These
are the phenomena which engender fear and irrational responses as well as
those constituting a challenge to creative remedial action. Groups are very
strongly motivated by the problems which infringe their values and arouse
their indignation. As such problems are a major stimulus driving the development
of society. The perceptions documented raise useful questions concerning the
nature of problems, and what is meant by the "existence" of a problem, especially
when other groups consider that perception irrelevant, misleading or misinformed.
There is great difficulty in obtaining and editing material on problems, rather
than on incidents, remedial programme action, theories, or other frameworks
through which perception of problems is filtered. So to that extent, it could
be argued that this section assembles information on which people collectively
have great difficulty in focusing, namely information whose significance,
whether deliberately or inadvertently, is collectively repressed, displaced
onto some less threatening problems, or projected in the form of blame onto
some other social group.
This project was conceived as the complement to the Human
Development Project in
the original conception in 1972 of the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential -- then titled the Yearbook
of World Problems and Human Potential. Further explanation is provided
in comments on Background
and acknowledgements (as well as on Precedents
in history and tradition).
Organization and structure
The types of problems distinguished are discussed elsewhere (World
Problems: Type Codes). As a consequence, this section contains
7 sub-sections as follows:
|Abstract problems (PA)
|Basic universal problems (PB)
|Cross-sectoral problems (PC)
|Detailed problems (PD)
|Emanations of other problems (PE)
|Exceptional problems (PF)
|Very specific problems (PG)
|Problems under consideration (PJ)
In 1996 (as a consequence of the 1994-5 edition), the section contained
entries on a total of 12,203 world problems grouping 24,092 problem names.
The entries were linked by 113,330 cross-references. As indicated, it is divided
into 5 sub-sections (PB through PF) containing descriptive entries. Two further
sections (Sections PG and PJ) correspond to entries which are indexed and
cross-referenced (in Sections PB through PF), but were not printed. For more
details see World
Problems and Global Strategies: statistics on profiles and relationships (1996-2000). Notes on the significance and methodology are given
in a commentary.
Profiles of world problems, and their relationships, as
perceived by international constituencies (intergovernmental organizations,
international nongovernmental associations (NGOs) and other bodies -- profiled
in a complementary source: Yearbook of International
Method and development
The entries are based on information obtained from international organizations,
a wide variety of reference books, or reported in the international media.
The procedures for identifying world problems are described in a commentary.
These were designed to detect both well-publicized problems as well as
little- known problems, whether recognized by official bodies or not. The
procedures include methods of handling hierarchies of sub-problems which
extend down to a level of specificity that it would be inappropriate to
attempt to handle at this stage.
Source: The world problems and issues presented are those
recognized by over 20,000 international organizations (profiled in the Yearbook
of International Organizations) and other constituencies.
Some of the problems may be recognized by many organizations, others may only
be recognized by loose networks, movements or isolated groups of experts.
Names: Problems do not have unique or official names. Many
of the problems profiled have two or more other associated names associated
to reflect different keywords and ways of describing them. Some have up to
ten names. Any alphabetic
list, based on a single name per problem, is therefore an essentially arbitrary
ordering of the problems. As a random presentation of the contents of the database,
it has the advantage of drawing attention to the variety of concerns faced
by individuals and groups. Some problems are decidedly controversial -- and
may even be described by other constituencies as strategies.
Development: It is important to recognize that the
database is continually being expanded with user participation,
notably through the addition of more specific problems that are aspects of
those already included and the interaction between problems in vicious cycle
loops (see Feedback
Loops Linking World Problems).
Detailed explanations and commentary are also provided in a collection of
Research studies on world problems and the global problematique, written in
relation to this project and to international organizations, are directly accessible
from separate checklists:
Many of the studies are concerned with how information on the multitude of
perceived world problems might be more fruitfully organized. The development
of the databases and the user-interfaces on the web are being developed with
this in mind.
Note that more general comments and explanations, regarding the collection
of projects initiated within the framework of the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential, are available in a collection
of 27 documents.
The contents presented by this project may be considered as complementing
the other projects in ways such as the following:
Human development: By the
manner in which human development is frustrated and impeded by world problems,
and through the world problems engendered by the unbalanced pursuit of
particular forms of human development (or by the conflict between different
forms of human development).
Integrative knowledge: By
the importance of integrative knowledge for comprehending the nature of
the global problematique; by the manner in which that problematique calls
for new kinds of integrative knowledge.
Metaphors and patterns: By
the problems of communication in a global society and by the need to communicate
the nature of world problems.
By the importance of such approaches in offering some new leverage in responding
to the global problematique.
Human values: By the direct
correspondence between disvalues and problems, and by they manner in which
problems only become perceptible in the light of the values upon which
Reservations and disclaimer
Reservations: The emphasis throughout this project has been
placed on providing descriptions of less well-known problems, particularly
when the extensive material available on the better known problems contained
neither succinct descriptions of them nor descriptive material which could
easily be reduced to succinct descriptions. The problem descriptions here represent
a compilation of views from published documents (usually from international
organizations) and are in no way intended as
an accusation or a criticism of any particular group or country by the
editors or publishers of this volume. The text provided does not necessarily
constitute the best possible description of the problem, since a compromise
has had to be struck between availability of information, the resources to
process it, and the space available (in the case of the hardcopy version).
By including or excluding particular
world problems, the editors are in no way implying either approval or disapproval
of the problem as conceived or as described. The same problems tend to
be viewed differently by different groups in society. For one group a problem
is of the utmost importance and urgency, for another the same problem is
insignificant, does not exist, or is completely misconceived on the basis
of available facts. Inclusion of a problem in this section is therefore
not considered by the editors to mean that the problem "exists", but only
that a functionally significant group of people in a number of countries
believe, or claim to believe, that the problem exists on the basis of the
facts available to them.
Disclaimer: This Encyclopedia necessarily
includes some problems which appear "positive" (at
least to some constituencies) and may indeed be treated
separately as strategies (in the strategies
database). Some "problems" which are of great concern
to one group, may be seen as a solution by another group.
Similarly the strategies of one group may be seen as problems
for another group. Problems of today may have been governmental
policy in an earlier period, as in the case of the drug
and slave trades. "Abortion" is an example of a highly
controversial problem as defined by some that is also treated
and perceived as a strategy by others. "Thieving", and
even "blinding children" (to improve their income as beggars),
may be amongst the few strategies open to the impoverished.
On the other hand, many seemingly "positive" strategies
(such as "the Green Revolution") may be criticized for
their "negative" consequences by significant constituencies. This
collection of problems should NOT therefore be considered
as a simple list of "negative" problems identified by the
organizations providing the information.
The data presented challenges the user to exercise discrimination
in determining under what circumstances a problem (such as "structural
adjustment") is defined and in what way it may be "positive" or "negative" in
its nature. This is often the dilemma faced by leaders and
policy makers. Some problem profiles have explanatory texts,
where available, to clarify conflicting claims as to the "positive" or "negative" aspects
of each problem from different perspectives. Many problems
are perceived to have both "positive" and "negative" consequences
in aggravating or alleviating other problems (indicated by
The data therefore represent one attempt to depict the "ecosystem" of
interrelated problems active in society, whether actually
or potentially. Inclusion of "problems" on this list should
not be considered to imply that they are advocated by the
Statistics on world problems (and relationships between them), in the light
of the methodology of this project, are provided in tables in the commentary and were published in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential. They are also also available
used & multi-media
The information generated by this project on world problems
(and relationships between them and with entities profiled
in other projects) has been published initially in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential; subsequently
it has been made available
Networks of perceived relationships between problems can
be explored with the experimental visualization techniques
associated with the on-line
version of the world problems database.
of World Problems and Human Potential