Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

Projects Overview (Explanations)
World Problems Project (Explanations)

Criteria: Problem inclusion

World Problems Project


1. Tentative positive definitions

(a) Any condition believed to threaten the balanced physical and psycho-social development of the individual in society, whether the threat is directly to his personal well-being, to the values which he upholds, or to features of his environment on which he is dependent.

(b) Any condition believed to cause or constitute social regression or degradation.

(c) Any condition before which society is currently believed to be in some way helpless, because resources cannot be brought to bear upon the problem.

(d) Any condition believed to render social change uncontrollable or discontinuous, or which so increases the complexity of society that it becomes incomprehensible in its totality and consequently unmanageable as a whole.

The following guidelines for problem inclusion have been used. As guidelines, exceptions are made whenever this appears appropriate.

2. Geographical spread

The problem should be recognized in at least three countries or considered to exist in at least three countries. Resources should preferably be allocated to its solution in at least three countries. Problems included relating specifically to one country only are those which are the subject of a United Nations resolution (eg apartheid, zionism). Problems can be considered as "world" problems, either because they require solutions on a global scale (eg the international monetary crisis), or because they are present in a number of different countries, even if only local solutions are required (eg urban problems). Ecotype boundaries are also used to define problems, ie "tropical", "mountainous", "arctic", "temperate", "arid" etc.

3. Geopolitical and geo-social spread

In this edition, some of the former distinctions made on the basis of geopolitical and socio-economic criteria have been collapsed. The premise is that it is not necessarily appropriate to separate world problems on such bases, but to treat any differences at the level of incidence. This is an example of considerable attention given to "lumping" problems formerly held separate. In particular, the separation has been greatly reduced between "developing" (or "underdeveloped") country problems and problems of the same name in "developed" countries. For example, the problems of unemployment in different types of countries have been combined. For distinctions worth holding between geo-political groupings, boldface sub-headings have been used within the problem description, eg "Island States" and "Former socialist countries". "Rural" and "urban" problems remain so distinguished because the type of problems found in urban and rural settings usually transcend any national differences, eg the density of urban living poses a similar complex of problems anywhere in the world, just as rural isolation does. However, there are perhaps further questions which should be examined as to the legitimacy of maintaining geo-social distinctions such as "rural"/"urban"; "inner city"/"suburban", etc.

4. Disciplinary spread

The problem should be common to, or with implications for, more than one discipline and should preferably have implications for different classes of discipline (eg natural and social science disciplines). This excludes problems internal to a discipline.

5. Expert recognition

The problem should be recognized by more than one expert, preferably by experts in different countries, and if possible by an international governmental or nongovernmental body. In other words, the problem should have an adequate "constituency".

6. Expert documentation

The problem should be the subject of serious articles, scholarly studies, official reports, or reports of international meetings. The problem must be adequately documented, or its recognition must be adequately argued. This does not however imply the need for any check on the validity of the argument.

7. Time period

The problem should have been the subject of documents dating from 1970. Problems no longer considered to be active are not included (although more exceptions to this have been accepted than for the previous edition).

8. Duration

Short-term calamities, natural disasters, man-made disasters, massacres, wars, or calamitous events, are not treated as individual problems, although appropriate groups of such disasters (eg earthquakes in general, as contrasted with an individual earthquake disaster) are so treated.

9. Potential problems

The problem can be a potential or future problem, even a "vulnerability", namely a problem that does not currently exist, because some threshold has not yet been passed, but whose emergence is predicted for some foreseeable future time and for which preventive action is advocated now.

10. Autonomous problems

The problem should preferably be in some way distinct and clearly possible to isolate. But where the relation between a sub-problem and the problem of which it is a part is not immediately apparent, or the dependence of one on the other is questionable or ambiguous, subproblems are treated as problems in their own right, particularly where the sub-problem is perceived as having distinct relationships with other problems. (The nature of the problem-subproblem relationship is indicated by cross-references within each entry.)

11. Seriousness

There should be some indication that the problem, if not solved, will aggravate or cause some social tension, or alternatively is a key factor in preventing the solution to other problems that result in such tensions. This means that seemingly trivial problems may be included if relatively large amounts of resources are allocated to their solution rather than to the solution of what others may consider to be more serious problems.

12. Secret problems

The documentation available that legitimates concern with the problem should not be classified or secret material, for obvious reasons. (Clearly, however, such secret problems may exist and, for that very reason, be of special importance.) For those problems for which secrecy and cover-up policies are believed by significant constituencies to be in operation, isolated examples of problems may be considered sufficient evidence for the existence of the problem as a world problem. (Counter-claims refuting the claims for the existence of the problem would then be sought from the published documents of the institutions held to be responsible for such policies.)

13. Natural environment problems

Problems of pollution, resources, population, and the reduction of environmental variety have been considered in detail with an effort to locate suitable cut-off points for nested problems.

14. Emotions as problems

Emotions such as anger, hate, jealousy, fear, and anxiety have been considered for inclusion as general problems.

15. Structural violence problems

Problems relating to any forms of discrimination, imbalance in resource usage, social injustice, or unparticipative decision-making have been considered in detail.

15. Moral and ethical problems

In contrast to the previous edition, clearly defined problems of this type have been included. The emphasis has been on problems experienced in practice, not on those that emerge as distinctions in philosophical or theological debate.

17. General problems

See following note.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential