Union of Intelligible Associations
Union of Intelligible Associations

Projects Overview (Explanations)
Global Strategies Project (Explanations)

Method: Document control and strategy description

Global Strategies Project


This note covers many of the routine methods and day-by-day procedures and guidelines used during the several months of active processing of documentation for strategies in this volume.

1. Administration vs. conceptual preoccupations

In planning and undertaking this project, a fundamental distinction is made between the administrative concern with controlling the flow of documents relating to strategies and the conceptual concern with naming such strategies (which includes differentiating them from other strategies, or merging ill-formed strategies with others) and interrelating them.

2. Streamlining the process

In making this distinction, it is then possible to streamline the total process of strategy identification into numerous separate tasks. The completion of each task (be it cataloguing a piece of potential source material, editing a database entry, or scanning a computer-generated list of format errors in the database) brings each strategy (and the database as a whole) closer its destination of being "well-formed" ie each strategy distinguished, represented by a substantial documentary file, well-named (particularly with respect to keywords which ensure adequate indexing), with a well-rounded description, and mature set of cross-relationships.

Because the technical and conceptual skills required for each process step are different, it is possible to constantly shuffle the administrative and editorial phases, distributing tasks according to individual ability, availability and the current stage of development of the overall process, whilst all the time being able to retain standards of classification and documentary excellence. As a example, the Encyclopedia has received significant contributions from people whose inadequate familiarity with the English language (for editing purposes) presented no handicap to their ability to manipulate software procedures or to perform many essential administrative tasks.

3. Computer environment

Some details of the computer software used to facilitate and control the editorial research on a network of conceptual entities is given in Section TZ (Volume 2).

4. Filing and numbering potential strategies

Systematic control is maintained by allocating an arbitrary filing number to each strategy as it is encountered, however "embryonic" or "tentative" it may be regarded at the time. This unique number identifies the strategy as an entry in the database and also identifies the physical file of material on it. Within the database, one or more strategy "names" (incorporating useful descriptors and common names) are associated with each entry number. The descriptors are immediately indexed so that each numbered strategy is accessible through any of the descriptors (or through the broader categories to which such descriptors have been allocated). Details on the strategy's provenance, its editing history, and other date and content codes are also added at this time. Any material subsequently collected on that strategy is channelled into individual physical files bearing the corresponding number.

The use of arbitrary numbers as filing points has a number of advantages:

This last point is of considerable importance in an evolving system. As indicated by the sequence of points in Figure 1, page 861, information accumulates around a filing number which may have a variety of words associated with it as partial, or even tentative, descriptors. When a strategy file number is first "opened" as a "new" strategy, the information associated with it and thedescriptors used may be quite tentative, especially in the case of complex strategies. Thus whilst some strategies can be clearly labelled with unambiguous descriptors (eg "Eliminating malaria", "Networking vehicle manufacturers"), others may eventually have a string of synonymous descriptors associated with them. Hence, an array of secondary names can arise. In the most complex cases requiring a string of descriptors, several variants of such strings, with different combinations of synonyms, may become associated with the file number.

As an example, the freshly-coined strategy "Dematerializing resource dependency" may be simple enough to describe in terms of "dissociating wellbeing from levels of material consumption" one of its alternative titles. However, in practice the strategy: (1) is a reversal of the prevailing socio-economic trends of at least some several decades, (2) has strong but confusing political connotations; (3) addresses fundamental issues of humans as ecological animals relearning environmental constraints; and (4) gains its finest expressions and most enduring examples from spiritual traditions. Each facet of the strategy will contribute additional keywords and strings of words to the strategy name, evenutally containing it in a net of apparently otherwise unrelated strands of meaning.

5. Redistribution of physical documents

It should be emphasized that strategies treated as "new" on their entry into the system may in fact be subsequently merged with other strategies. Single strategies may also be split into two or more distinct strategies. The physical documents are then moved into the files corresponding to the numbers of the destination strategies. The information in the database is also transferred accordingly, with a trace of the path noted in the original, now inactive, entry.

6. Convergence towards permanent numbers

Over time the majority of strategies become clearly established under their fixed numbers. Whilst new strategies entering the database may at any time lead to a conceptual re-evaluation of the status of the older strategies, the probability of any major shift becomes increasingly remote. But although the file numbers become increasingly stable, the name (or names) given to the strategy may continue to be refined by the process described below.

7. Editorial "definition" strategy description

Strategy descriptions are based on the information which accumulates in the physical file bearing the same number as the strategy in the database. Editorial work on the descriptions usually takes place after extensive work on the relations between the strategies in that domain (see Note 3.7). This means that when an editor examines the file and compares the contents with the computer record, it becomes apparent whether items in the physical file need to be moved to other locations because they are more appropriate there, or whether photocopies of certain items need to be made and transferred because they contain information relevant in several places.

The editorial intent is not to provide a final "definition" of the strategy but to provide a "description" and to clarify the preoccupations of the constituency concerned by the strategy. The process resembles the procedures of a prosecutor preparing a brief to present the defendant's case in the manner most likely to ensure prosecution. Sometimes, the standing of the organization lending its name to a strategy makes a stronger case than an intellectual justification of its merits or practicability. The actual text in the description may therefore be either very precise, amounting to a definition, or very loose, suggestive or contextual, depending on the kind of strategy and the information available. The text may be revised on a number of occasions, possibly as a result of being sent to an international organization in proof form for comment. Text paragraphs may be moved between strategies as a result of the processes described above.

8. Organization of strategy description

In addition to the "Description" of the strategy, other possible headings under which descriptive information may be provided include: "Context", "Implementation", "Claim" and "Counter-claim".

9. Distribution of material between descriptive paragraphs

Whilst the material available on some strategies can be clearly distributed amongst the descriptive paragraphs, for others this is not the case. Especially when information is inadequate or of low quality, or when the strategy is anyway difficult to articulate, one or other paragraph may be used to "carry" the available material. In some cases it may seem more appropriate to use the "Claim" paragraph only, accepting the bias inherent in the material to hand. In other cases, all that may be available is information on the situation in a particular country, which is then given as an example under "Implementation".

Statistical data indicative of the importance of a strategy is often only available for those countries that can allocate resources to the collection of such information and which are motivated to do so. For this reason, use is often made of data from the USA or Western European countries on the assumption that this at least indicates what the situation might be like in other countries if the data were available for them and accounting for socio-cultural differences.

10. Degree of editorial intervention

The preparation of a strategy description is very much an editorial process, ideally with minimal intervention by the editor. The intention is to allow the arguments of diverse constituencies (as advocates for a particular initiative) to speak for themselves. Where information is available from many sources, this may involve gleaning material from different documents and combining elements in a suitable manner. The quality of the description thus depends above all on the availability of appropriate texts and the copyright constraints surrounding them. One of the great merits of working with the documents of international organizations is that much of their material is either in the public domain or that they welcome wider use of it.

11. Language bias

Material prepared on strategies by international organizations has the additional merit that it has already had excessive national and cultural biases removed, or at least attenuated. This is of considerable importance because of a major resource constraint, namely the question of language and translation. Although the Union of International Associations receives information in a variety of international languages, its publications are normally in English only. And in the case of the Encyclopedia, non-English material is rarely used in order to avoid translation costs. This inherent bias is partially corrected by the use of international organization material which is designed for publication in several languages and may indeed have been translated into English from one of those languages.

12. Quality of information and description

Because of the logistical problems of assembling and editing appropriate material, as well as the lack of adequate information on many of the subtler strategies, the quality of descriptions varies. Some entries reflect an understanding of a strategy carefully articulated by an international organization. Others are based on information assembled from a variety of sources. However, some entries are based on what in intelligence circles is described as "low grade information". This is because the editorial bias is towardsinclusion (rather than exclusion) of dubious or poor quality entries in order at least to acknowledge the sensitivity of some constituency to that strategy. Once a strategy is established in this way, and appropriately indexed, higher quality information may become available to improve the description.

13. Subjectivity: Claims and counter-claims

It is important to stress that the editors are not attempting to present "the objective truth" by making editorial judgements on what is factual and what is not. The editors endeavour to present strategies as they are each perceived from the framework within which each is experienced as significant, using whatever "facts" are considered appropriate by bodies working within that framework. This is especially the case with the "Claim" and "Counter-claim" paragraphs. When such information is available, these paragraphs provide a means of reflecting more explicitly the dynamics within the international community between advocates and detractors of particular strategy conceptions. The existence of such dynamics is of course implicit in the juxtaposition of strategies which may easily be seen to be mutually exclusive.

14. Strategies without descriptions: description by context

Strategies may appear without descriptions for several reasons. The information received may not readily lend itself to the preparation of a description. Typically, this could be because of its (a) "non-strategic" orientation (the strategy arising from say situational, individualistic, habitual, accidental or unpremeditated conditions) or (b) "non-action" orientation (denoting, say, a style or fashion, a tradition, an attitude or an unconscious mode of being). The strategies "Observing holy days", "Vandalizing public buildings", "Respecting elders", "Avoiding the number 13" and "Taking risks" are instances of strategies where examples, contextual information, claims and disclaimers can be provided, but no coherent description of a strategy.

The strategy may be considered too specific to warrant a description (at least at this time), as is typical of those allocated to Section SG, eg "Using solar powered cooking stoves in rural areas" or "Creating city parks and green areas". In such cases the strategy name(s) is often sufficient to satisfactorily indicate the domain and mode of operation of the strategy. Its cross-relationships with other strategies, with problems and with organizations also serve this function.

Alternatively, the strategy may be so general or fundamental that it is not useful to attempt the challenge of producing an adequate description at this time. Who would take on the challenge of describing the act of "Praying" ? Such strategies may also be effectively "described" by their function in grouping more specific strategies within the logical context of relationships. "Eliminating antisocial behaviour" may be most effectively described by the types of behaviours seen as problematic (cross-relationships to "Problems") and related strategies (such as "Policing", "Educating children", "Honouring common values" and "Reducing unemployment").

Finally, even when adequate information has been received, editorial resources may not justify preparation of a description at this stage.

15. Comprehensiveness of description

It is important to remember that the number of the strategy serves as an arbitrary marker denoting its "existence". To this may be attached one or more "names" which give some indication as to the scope of the strategy, especially when they are not synonyms. The set of names may imply the presence of other name variants which are not present. But in many cases the set of names will not exhaustively indicate the scope of the strategy. The information available for the description may stress only an aspect of the strategy and thus be much less comprehensive, at this stage, than the set of names imply. The reverse may also occur in that the description may be somewhat broader than that implied by the names, especially when the description must provide contextual material in order to be meaningful.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential