Abstract: Review of possibilities to enable policy-makers, notably
in developing countries, to embrace a strategically realistic vision of the
networking revolution that harnesses the opportunities and confronts the challenges
of that revolution. It is argued that it is vital that the advantages of networking
technology be adapted to enable policy-makers and their constituencies to
navigate fruitfully in a sea of conflicting initiatives, perspectives, overload,
and unforeseen challenges and opportunities. Reviews the kinds of knowledge-base
facilities that can capture contextual insights in support of action- oriented
dialogue under such circumstances, taking into account the conceptual richness
associated with non-linear, visual, aural and narrative presentations (that
offer strategic advantages to non- western cultures) in responding to complex
- A. Introduction
- B. Questionable information strategy dependencies
- Access | Classification | Penetration
- Dissemination | Property | Surveillance
- Interpretation | Disinformation | Credibility
- C. Visibility and transparency
- D. Challenge of coherence
- E. Using unexplored advantages of networking technology
- Sustaining new conceptual processes
- Avoiding distracting dependence on certainties
- Vulnerability to policy surprises
- Beyond the single perspective: Enhancing the ability to act in the absence
- Building on existing initiatives - rather than undermining them
- F. Governance through metaphor
- Metaphoric enhancement of policy-making in response to information overload
- Metaphoric empowerment of the disadvantaged
- Networking technology as a powerful metaphor
- G. Strategic alternatives for information
- Evoking resonance patterns
- Strategic cross-fertilization - beyond the delivery model
- Configuring strategic dilemmas for intersectoral dialogue
- Enhancing comprehension of complexity through multi-media information
- Promoting strategic short-cuts through networking technology
- Enabling perception-sensitive policy-making
- Supporting strategic nimbleness through networking technology
- Using networking technology to channel social unrest
- Enabling emergence and integration of new policy paradigms
- Ensuring emergence of integrative mnemonic cues
- Enhancing strategic dialogue through networking technology
- Enabling governance with a lighter touch
- H. Conclusion
This paper responds directly to the fundamental, and urgent, policy dilemma
of the role of networking technology in the immediate future and the concerns
expressed about its effects on those with limited access. It assumes that both
of the extreme scenarios that have been identified (viz. the reduction or increase
in socio-economic gaps) will manifest to some degree over the next decade. Highly
credible evidence for the preponderance of each will be available to those subscribing
to, or opposing, either outcome. Contrary evidence will be discredited or denied
by both. This corresponds to the evolution of the development situation over
the past decade -- the condition of the few improves according to selected criteria
and that of the many can be presented as static or declining dramatically. This
has been exemplified in the debate over the crises and opportunities of globalization.
The paper is designed to contribute towards enabling policy-makers in developing
countries and transitional economies to embrace a strategically realistic vision
of the networking revolution that harnesses the opportunities and confronts
the challenges of that revolution. It is therefore assumed that it is vital
that the advantages of networking technology be adapted to enable policy-makers
and their constituencies to navigate fruitfully in a sea of conflicting initiatives,
perspectives and unforeseen challenges and opportunities. The paper indicates
the kinds of knowledge-base facilities that can capture contextual insights
in support of action-oriented dialogue under such circumstances, taking into
account the conceptual richness associated with visual, aural and narrative
presentations that offer strategic advantages to non-western cultures.
The paper argues that the challenge to policy-makers in developing countries
and transitional economies is not one of more information but rather of surfeit
of information with contradictory strategic implications. The networking revolution,
as currently understood, promises to deliver even more information thus aggravating
the problem to which it should supposedly provide some remedy. This dilemma
is not resolved by producing more authoritative reports that will themselves
be subject to their own challenges. The focus is therefore on how to adapt networking
technology to facilitate the task of policy-makers and their constituencies
in understanding and responding to the immediate challenges they face using
new kinds of knowledge tools better adapted to their cultures and knowledge
preferences. The approach is designed to elicit realistic low cost approaches
relevant to the situation of those in developing countries.
B. Questionable information strategy dependencies
Policy-making can be claimed to be primarily focused, and dysfunctionally dependent,
on the following approaches to information. Their limitations need to be explored
in the light of the challenges to governance in the future.
In societies subject to rapid change and transformation, the dependencies below
leave much to be desired in terms of viable information support for policy-making.
With the rapid development of new information technologies, and their availability
in many countries and at many levels of society, the question becomes how policy-making
is to position and organize itself in relation to new opportunities. To facilitate
the emergence of coherent policy-making, with respect to each of these dependencies,
ways must be found to circumvent the constraints that they imply:
Present: A major concern for any person or group in the policy process
is "access". This is in most cases defined in terms of access to the
person most capable of supplying valued information or most critically positioned
to receive and act on information relating to a critical decision. But the efforts
by policy-makers (especially as candidates) to gain access to the attention
of voters through massive public relations (and increasingly electronic) campaigns
is also a major consideration. Access-fixation is the prime mode of lobbyists.
It encourages every form of bribery, subtle, legal or otherwise -- and influence-peddling
in all its forms. The latter quickly engenders a class of policy-maker focused
on the benefits to be derived from greater access -- a major challenge in developing
and transitional countries.
As the decision-making process increases in complexity in a democratic society,
and the number of interested parties increases, "access" as an effective
process becomes increasingly problematic. This may be simply described in terms
of the difference between 5 people endeavouring to acquire access to one person,
as opposed to the effort by 50, 500, or 1,000. Most democratic policy arenas
currently operate under the naive assumption that the number of legitimately
accredited lobbyists will not significantly increase (cf the case of NGOs seeking
access to the United Nations). What is to be concluded from the 10,000 lobbyists
supposedly active in 1999 in relation to the European Commission in Brussels
-- and what will the number be in 10 years, when the EU increases to 25-plus
countries? What is likely to be the response of someone being "accessed"
by such numbers?
The classic fallback in the event of access-saturation, practised by court
chamberlains throughout the centuries, is to impose filters. But whether in
terms of policy-relevant information content or criteria of democratic process,
it is questionable how much filtration can be realistically or usefully imposed.
Concern with privileged access, reflects a fundamental lack of faith in the
democratic process, in the capacity of its citizens, and in democratic procedures
for making policy-relevant information accessible. It is ironic in 1999 that
the new King of Jordan felt obliged to travel his own city in disguise to gather
information -- after having being individually greeted by several thousand citizens
on his accession.
Reframed: The access process needs to be reframed and transformed. Clearly
networking technology enables much more effective, and precisely formulated,
dissemination of messages to and from policy-makers. It also enables much more
effective spamming. The challenge is to explore (notably through simulations)
much more effective ways of filtering and channelling communications. On the
policy side this implies structuring filters to forward incoming messages to
appropriate destinations from which intelligent answers can be furnished --
whether or not their generation is automated.
The emerging vigorous efforts to communicate electronically with voters concerning
policy options -- to gain access to them -- may soon be matched by the efforts
of myriad government departments and lobbyists (eg surveys, communiques, information,
etc). Citizens can expect to be the subject of access barrages far beyond current
levels of commercial advertising. For policy-makers and others endeavouring
to communicate with relevant external partners, the challenge is to find ways
of personalizing such communications intelligently so as to be appropriately
channelled by recipient filters. Given the future quantities of information
and communicators, a key concern will be how to automatically redistribute (and
respond to) communications to avoid dysfunctional overload of any individual.
To the extent that none of these mechanisms is experienced as satisfactory,
new approaches will be required to face-to-face communications.
It is to be expected that all these innovations will be accompanied by new
kinds of abuse -- electronic replications of influence peddling techniques.
A key question will be how to reduce the quantity of information to be disseminated
and absorbed, especially through new ways of conceptual packaging so as to compress
its significance. This is as true of the policy-maker highly reluctant to attend
to "more than a page, double-spaced" as it is of other recipients
with a cold-call attention span of "17 seconds".
B.2: Security classification
Present: Vast quantities of information are subject to security classification,
notably information relating to access to information (cf encryption technology,
cyberwar techniques, surveillance technology, etc) or on topics deemed to be
"sensitive". In principle classified information is especially relevant
to policy-making or to the justification of existing policies. It is also deemed
vital to maintaining competitive advantage, whether understood in terms of national
physical security or extended to include economic security.
There is a marked tendency to classify information relating to any new threat
in order to prevent "public panic" and to facilitate the already complex
task of policy-makers. This effectively designs potentially vital resources
out of the decision-making process and leads to a confrontational relationship
with those to whom the decisions are eventually presented for approval and action.
Examples include: health information relating to the BSE crisis in the UK.
Given the quantity of classified information, the impression is created that
public policy is constrained by secrets too shocking to be integrated into the
stated rationale of public policy and on which newly elected officials must
be secretly briefed. Civil servants, even in intergovernmental organization,
sign non-disclosure agreements. Classified archives of such organizations are
shredded prior to their release date to avoid embarassment to member governments.
Awareness of the degree of classification, and rumours as to their nature, continues
to educate the public to be cynical about public statements by authorities endeavouring
to motivate them.
Reframed: The issue of message security is widely debated, as is the
challenge of circumventing it. The difficulties are almost certain to get much
worse. To bypass these issues new approaches are required which distinguish
between kinds of information that lend themselves to classification and those
that do not call for it -- or for which the resources are not available.
The key here would seem to be a new understanding of the kinds of information
that policy-makers can effectively process. It could prove to be the case that
the challenges of governance do not depend upon the kind of information which
tends to get classified and subject to restrictive distribution. In principle,
at least, such information is necessarily excluded from democratic decision
making -- however it may be used for certain "covert operations".
Present: Where "access" cannot be obtained by due process,
especially faced with security classification, intelligence agencies are called
upon by policy-makers to penetrate into the arenas of concern, some of which
may be labelled as unfriendly or actively hostile to such inquiry. This ranges
from "research" through to classical and industrial espionage. Policy-makers,
or those with appropriate security clearances, are then faced with the dilemma
of how to act upon such information, especially when they are not able to release
it to the public to seek justification for their actions. The mess surrounding
the US missile attack on a factory in the Sudan, and the subsequent inability
to justify it, "for security reasons", is an example.
Penetration raises major issues of right to privacy and confidentiality. As
a mode it invites counter-penetration and the attention of hackers, all of which
has established forms of cyber-warfare and cyber-terrorism which can only escalate
in replication of the arms race and the Cold War -- with the added twist that
it takes place between declared allies. The power, and legal right, to penetrate
can be seen as significantly eroding the kinds of principles elaborated in international
Reframed: Preoccupation with penetration could well prove to be a totally
obsolete approach that assumes an ability to gain access, and maintain control,
through a hierarchically orchestrated program. Just as there have been shown
to be limitations to the effective depth of organization hierarchies for management
purposes in modern society, it may become obvious that penetration is not what
ensures the sympathy of the penetrated or their entrainment to a desired end.
Stated metaphorically penetration relies on "masculine" invasiveness
that is liable to build resistance and resentment, denying "feminine"
associative involvement vital to building sustainable community to which policy
is supposed to be relevant. The strengths of intelligence penetration may be
seen in the Kosovo and Gulf War campaigns, but its limitation may be seen in
its subsequent irrelevance to the building of a sustainable community.
Present: Successful access and penetration is followed by preoccupation
with dissemination -- "getting the message out". The obsession with
mailing lists, unsolicited communication, and every form of advertising, is
an indication of this concern. It has become fundamental to electoral campaigns
and the communication of political intentions. Successful election is now closely
correlated with the dissemination budget, as with any product marketing. Most
intergovernmental agencies expend significant proportions of their budget on
"public information". The 1990s "cash for questions" scandal
in Westminster has demonstrated the extent to which parliamentarians -- even
in the "Mother of Parliaments" -- can be purchased to disseminate
Despite this, however, it is clear that both resistance to such messages ("propaganda
fatigue"?), and competition between mutually contradictory messages, severely
undermines the possibility of any coherent policy and its effective support.
Where the totalitarian route is not followed, protagonists may be tempted to
trash opposing policies or their supporters, thus creating further turbulence.
Reframed: As with penetration, dissemination places the emphasis on
an active source and passive receptors, typically termed "targets"
in marketing parlance. In a complex society, few people would choose to define
themselves as static, passive targets. Consequently communicating policy is
increasingly a matter of engaging some form of dialogue with elusive partners
who are increasingly equipped to evade targetted messages, however effectively
they may seem to be delivered. Some potential targets -- notably policy-makers
themselves --are now effectively heavily armoured, "en-fortressed"
and protected by guardians. (For a development of these points see: http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/targets.htm)
People are exposed to a variety of messages which are evaluated less for their
impact than for their import and longer-term consequence. Ironically, "hits"
in the music industry suggest that a product may "fly" for reasons
other than the extent to which people may have been targetted by message dissemination
campaigns. This is a challenge for policies of the future.
Present: There is increasing focus on the potential of information as
property, notably in the form of intellectual property (patents, copyright,
etc). The ultimate form of "access" is "acquisition". Like
voters, policy-makers may be bought, as exemplified in the process through which
director-generals of intergovernmental organizations are elected (cf media astonishment
at lobbying for election of the DG of UNESCO in 1999, or multinational "sponsorship"
of the WTO gathering in 1999). Such accepted practices would be condemned by
international observers in the case of elections in countries whose foreign
policies are bought in this way. The acceptance of "quid pro quo"
as a consequence of campaign funding support now completely conditions policy-making
by elected representatives in many countries held to be models of democracy.
Ironically, political factions and parties derive their identities in large
part from "their" policies -- effectively their property. Policies
themselves can thus be treated as property so that one party may need to avoid
at all costs any accusation that it is using the property of another party.
From a policy perspective, there is a conflict between information held as
property and the potential value of that information with respect to the handling
of a social issue or crisis. It is clearly in the interest of entrepreneurs
to acquire information and make it available at whatever price the market will
bear -- even if many are thereby excluded from this possibility. Many creative
consultants have copyrighted models relevant to policy-making that may only
be used under appropriate licensing arrangements.
The question arises as to how society could be held to ransom in order to acquire
access to the ultimate policy model capable of solving multiple social problems.
Similar questions arise with energy- or resource-conserving patents. In war
time, government may be free to bypass the niceties of copyright law and seize
such models "in the interest of national security". In peace time,
as with encryption and military-relevant technology, legislation may be passed
to ensure government control of innovation and dissemination to potentially
hostile powers -- or competitors for market share.
Of central concern is the policy implications of intellectual property that
may be of major benefit to those without the means to meet the market price
(as with some pharmaceutical products, notably relating to AIDS in Africa).
At what point does the issue of "global security" supersede that of
Reframed: Is there a way for policy-makers to circumvent or reframe
the challenges of intellectual property? Can copyright holders be made responsible
for harmful impacts resulting from use (or withholding) of their intellectual
property -- as with irresponsible sale of products to minors or rogue states?
The key question is whether what can be copyrighted is what is vital to the
processes of more coherent governance.
Conventional approaches assume that policy problems can be "solved"
by acquiring control of key intellectual property or know how (and possibly
disallowing it to others). Thus energy problems could supposedly be solved by
a device to produce cheap energy; and bio-tech advances offer the possibility
of disseminating patented viruses to inhibit human fertility in order to regulate
Whilst a policy problem may appear to be solved by such devices, this in fact
distracts from the new policy challenges of governing use of any accessible
device, those emerging, and especially their relationship to other social and
technical innovations. Gadget-fixation distracts from the policy art required
for a community to live with gadgets, their creation, their consequences, and
their obsolescence. It is questionable whether that art can be converted into
Present: In order to anticipate events on which vital decisions may
be required, the penetration process is increasingly systematized through electronic
information gathering techniques. These may be implemented through simple phone
taps and security cameras, or through much more complex systems and tracers
on telephone and internet traffic -- including the supposedly non-existent Echelon
system (now the subject of deep concern in the European Parliament, see: http://www.europarl.eu.int/dg4/stoa/en/publi/166499/execsum.htm).
Isolated cases may be justified by local security considerations and as a constraint
on crime. Systemic surveillance may be justified as a constraint on financial
fraud and terrorism.
However the systems, themselves subject to security classification (like Echelon),
may also be used to advance and protect economic, political and other interests
without public knowledge or approval, or consideration by elected representatives
supposedly responsible. Again it is seldom clear for whom surveillance information
is officially prepared and who benefits from it unofficially. The emergence
of a Big Brother society, and the parallels with totalitarians systems have
been frequently noted.
Reframed: It is questionable for how long policy-makers can effectively
control a society through widespread surveillance. The East German use of Stasi
informers is perhaps the best example of the strengths and weaknesses of this
approach. It is doubtful whether an electronic version would be successful for
longer. The social costs are very high and they again raise the question "to
If the purpose of surveillance is to ensure that information is generated and
transferred to bodies capable of acting upon it, it is useful to ask whether
this is not accomplished far more efficiently (at far less cost) through a richly
developed civil society. In such circumstances a very wide, and continually
renewed, variety of groups is constantly checking and responding to initiatives
that are felt to be inappropriate.
In a sense civil society is made up of "indicator groups" that monitor
the checks and balances of society -- as well as each other. The role of policy-making
is then to sustain the pattern of checks and balances by facilitating the activities
of these groups, rather than taking over their roles and rendering itself immune
to oversight. The relationship might be compared to gardener and garden -- with
the gardener striving to improve the quality of the garden rather than to micro-manage
the relationships between the species in it.
B.7: Central interpretation, collation and synthesis
Present: Massive information gathering, instigated in support of policy
concerns, gives rise to major problems of collation, interpretation and synthesis
in arriving at meaningful options. The process is also fraught with the possibility
of major errors, as exemplified by the three "outdated map" issues
of 1998-9 (cf. Italian cable car disaster, Chinese embassy bombing in Belgrade,
and the map used in Helsinki to negotiate the Russian presence in Kosovo).
Methods of systematizing the task through personal profiling and other models
can lead to abusive, invasive consequences that are a matter of increasing public
concern. It is increasingly the practice for authoritative studies to be commissioned
to support particular policy perspectives and dismiss alternatives. A highly
respected advocate of alternative economic scenarios, Hazel Henderson, discovered
that it was unnecessary to persuade economists holding views opposed to her
policy arguments -- they could simply be hired to produce studies in support
of these alternative views.
It is highly questionable whether intelligence resources of the appropriate
quality can be applied in such a way as to highlight the most appropriate options
for consideration. But by taking on this role, and applying vast resources to
it, authorities take on a responsibility which they may not be able to fulfil.
Reframed: It is assumed that policy-makers develop and maintain bodies
capable of interrelating and synthesizing all the information that can be gathered.
The visible manifestation of this ability is the semi-official policy think-tanks.
Can it be said that their processes and insights have proved of value to the
challenges of contemporary governance? They have indeed been valuable in the
drafting of specific proposals as a basis for legislation. But their success
diminishes rapidly as the range of issues increases -- namely at the core of
the challenge to modern governance of a complex society. It is not clear that
the richly funded equivalent functions of secret intelligence agencies are able
to do any better, however skilled they may be in undermining initiatives to
which they are opposed.
Again the challenge is what is the nature of the integration of knowledge and
insight that would offer meaningful new options to the policy-making process?
How should information technology be assisting the knowledge integration process
across sectors? How should it be assisting the challenges to comprehension of
complexity -- in anticipation of communicating insights to wider audiences with
whom consultation and dialogue may be appropriate? Given the advances in modelling
techniques, it is curious that the highly controversial (and much hyped) process
of "globalization" does not seem to have been the subject of any form
of simulation that might have identified vulnerabilities such as experienced
in the 1998 Asian financial crisis, or others to come. Simulation seems to be
significantly absent as a guide to major policy-making processes.
Why is it that application of relevant technology is always much further advanced
with respect to videogames than to policy processes -- to the point that the
military in 1999 is commissioning videogame makers for realistic simulations?
As with the brain itself, might it not be the case that distributed intelligence
-- as illustrated by the development of the Web -- offers greater possibility
of effective synthesis than efforts to acquire, interpret and synthesize such
insight in one single cell at which it is held as a secret monopoly?
Present: One prime use of information collected is to gain competitive
advantage through destabilizing policy opponents. This is especially useful
when the quality of information collected is inadequate to suggest more creative
policy options. Information may be effectively used to ensure that fruitful
relationships in support of policy alternatives are rendered unsustainable,
notably through the use of media "leaks", or more actively through
a wide range of news management and propaganda techniques, extending into psychological
warfare. Typically most serious opponents requiring military intervention are
stigmatized as morally or sexually perverted, drug addicts, or even, in some
cases, as cannibals.
There are few indications that information collection and collation leads to
new insights into social organization of value as policy options, rather than
as opportunities to reinforce current policies.
Reframed: Use of disinformation strategies by policy-makers has a long
and honourable tradition. It was possibly first articulated by Sun Tzu. More
recently it has been honoured by such names as "The Great Game", and
as a game the value of bluff is admired and associated with good card playing
skills. Efforts to destigmatize it are linked to its presentation as "news
management" as an extension of normal public relations. It is in this respect
that claims for its positive functions for society as a whole are made. It is
interesting that the first director of the UN Public Information Programme was
previously responsible for war propaganda in his own country -- presumably to
maintain the motivation and spirit of the population in support of the war effort,
as proved to be the case with NATO propaganda during the Kosovo crisis. To what
extent is this approach appropriate in response to major crises of contemporary
When is it necessary for policy-makers to maintain an upbeat news flow (the
"Good News") and to minimize any discouraging news? What happens when
the population has increasing access to alternative sources of information that
effectively question and discredit the information officially provided? What
responsibilities are policy-makers taking upon themselves when they selectively
present upbeat information (as in the case of the UK BSE crisis, or genetically
It would appear that a more fruitful approach would integrate an understanding
that the many disseminators of information are effectively engaging in selective
presentations of policy-relevant information. Each has a "take" and
an "angle" that they would prefer to others. The challenge is to create
a context in which these different takes can play off against each other so
as to encourage a richer approach to the issues, whilst protecting those who
need to be sustained by upbeat news. It is the challenge parents face with regard
to (dis)information concerning Father Christmas or the tooth fairy.
Present: In the presence of so much disinformation and hype, a traditional
response is to focus on the credibility of the source. This is in fact a standard
means of filtering out information, in the absence of any other means of assessing
its inherent credibility. The difficulty for policy-makers is that the communication
process has been so extensively exploited for political propaganda, military
propaganda, commercial advertising hype, religious dogma, and obfuscation by
"science" (cf regarding global warming or theories of evolution),
that people have become increasingly skilled in questioning its credibility
and forming their own opinions.
New information, especially from the highest authority, does not travel well
through this turbulent semantic environment. Who is credible to whom about what?
Hence the priority given to image management to distract from discreditable
facets of a person, an institution, or its policies. Supposedly the image becomes
the reality -- Potemkin people, institutions and policies! Unfortunately such
image manipulation is increasingly suspect and devalued. People are learning
to read behind the image -- and to infer what may not even be there (in the
light of continuing exposure to revelatory scandals).
Afruther difficulty is that credibility is closely associated with being "known"
-- especially to those receiving the information. Hence the access-fixation
of lobbyists and the aggravation of its associated dysfunctionalities. This
severely reduces the capacity of policy-makers to make use of insights emanating
from (or authenaticated by) other than their immediate circle. This leads to
a pattern of incestuous communication characteristic of many conferences on
the policy circuit.
Reframed: Given the crisis of meaning, and increasing suspicion concerning
any authoritative statement, the question becomes what form of insight can viably
travel through the turbulent semantic environment as a vehicle for coherent
policy-insights? Clearly information as such becomes severely denatured and
The transfer of humour, notably via the Internet, illustrates how a pattern
can travel well, even though its elements may be vulnerable to degradation.
The example of humour illustrates how a pattern that can be validated by the
receiver may offer clues to the challenge of credibility. Electronic communication
uses validation techniques at the receiver end to confirm the integrity of pattern
transfer. The learning from this example is that where information is used to
impose a particular pattern of understanding it has less chance of being received
than when it is carried by a pattern that the receiver can verify and apply
according to his/her own insights. In this sense the key to credibility lies
C. Visibility and transparency
Threading through and underlying all the above strategic dependencies are information
and policy issues relating to visibility and transparency:
- Access: fixation on gaining access to the visible in order to render one's
own agenda visible
- Classification: concern that certain information, policies and projects
(eg Echelon) should be covered up or rendered invisible. This includes many
corporate financial operations. For those who are visible, there is a concern
to control access and to avoid giving "recognition" to those who
might gain advantage from becoming more visible.
- Penetration: Concern to penetrate both the visible (because of their perceived
role) and the invisible or non-transparent (in order to determine their strategy);
hence the importance of "covert operations".
- Dissemination: concern to render an institution or program visible, preferably
much more visible than others, and to wider publics.
- Property: concern to acquire control of the images through which a body
or initiative is visibly identified (cf including the efforts to copyright
- Surveillance: this may be understood as a process of rendering visible and
transparent, even against the desires of those observed.
- Interpretation: this may be seen as making visible ("discovering")
a previously unknown pattern (of policy initiatives) through collation of
- Disinformation: as with any form of camouflage, this substitutes one form
of visibility for another.
- Credibility: visibility is credibility for many ("negative press is
better than none at all"); credibility is then acquired only through
Institutions, and their initiatives, as well as people, agonize over their
visibility because of the manner in which it is used to assess their effectiveness
and consequently their self-esteem (cf the debate on UNESCO's future in September
1999, 30 C/INF.12). Those that are not "visible" simply do not "exist"in
the eyes of many, who feel fully justified in this judgement. Those affected
by judgements that they are relatively invisible may buy into this logic and
feel that their survival is at stake. That the "invisible" may be
visible and valued elsewhere and to others (who may have better information
strategies) is not a concern. This allows "America" to be "discovered"
in 1492 and the "wheel" to be reinvented many times -- as is evident
from the prolifereation of duplicate databases and policy initiatives. That
many vital functions are performed in society by bodies "invisible"
to the majority, or to elites, is only a concern when failure in their performance
renders them visible.
The challenge of visibility is how many bodies and institutions can be simultaneously
visible without leading to some form of saturation or overload -- "visibility
fatigue". Like "market share", more is assumed to be good, and
dominance is best. The consequence of this simplistic strategy in a complex
society is that it thereby reduces the visibility of others (and their concerns),
when collaboration may be essential to viable strategies. It also forces many
bodies to adapt to invisible operation and stealth (as with uncivil society,
terrorist groups, and organized crime). NGOs only moved beyond token visibility
for United Nations agencies after the latter were forced to recognize the inadequacies
of their own programs. But the mindset leads to a "visibility race"
-- notably among NGOs -- analogous to the arms race, encouraged by the public
relations industry and justified by its criteria.
D. Challenge of coherence
D.1: Coherence through the vision metaphor
As the previous section indicates, there is a fundamental reliance on visibility
as a basis for a sense of coherence. Coherence is seemingly provided by visibility.
Exclusive use of the metaphor of vision in this way, is extended through efforts
to articulate a strategic "vision" to give coherence to the details
of any policy initiatives. Use of this metaphor is rarely challenged. The "vision"
metaphor, so characteristic of future strategy making and corporate training
programmes, implicitly excludes insights which might be suggested by other senses.
As argued elsewhere (Futures, April 1993), dependence on this vision
metaphor suggests the need to learn from the limitations of vision in reality.
It is impossible to see round corners. Blindspots are a problem, as well as
widespread defects of vision (short-sightedness, long-sightedness, colour blindness,
night blindness, etc), including total blindness -- which are the subject of
testing and corrective lenses, where possible. All have their strategic equivalents
-- but without any perceived need for opticians. This metaphoric reliance on
single-sense strategy, fails to recognize the strategic strengths associated
with others senses and is insensitive to the strategic vulnerability of the
sight metaphor itself. Vision has little long-distance penetrating power in
these turbulent times -- especially in not being able to see beyond its current
horizon. This reinforces a "flat earth" mentality, inhibiting any
sense of functional roundness.
Animals survive in nature by using a range of senses to maneuver through their
environment under a variety of conditions. Ironically, it is their metaphorical
equivalents that are often used to evaluate politicians and policies: "deaf"
to advice, a person who "listens", the right "touch", his
policies "stink", etc.
The question is whether policy information is not currently trapped within
a vision metaphor, despite such lessons from practical politics. In the confusion
of the present times, for which metaphors such as "darkness", "obscurity" and
"fog" are commonly used, reliance on vision as a basis for coherence is perhaps
a fundamental strategic error. Some strategies may "look good" (as
in a glossy presentation or on a developer's billboard), but do not "sound"
right and often "stink" in practice -- especially to those making
metaphoric use of such senses and who have to experience the subsequent implementation
of the strategies. Simply put, the vision metaphor relies on appearances at
a time when appearances have frequently proven deceptive.
Given the possibility of such error, it is ironic that most policy debate between
factions is based on information presented from particular "viewpoints"
-- through presentation of the "views" of representatives. The challenge
of coherence is then to provide some integrative framework for such views --
often in a "foggy" context in which they are effectively invisible
to each other, or beyond each others horizon. Use of several complementary metaphors
might make such policy integration possible and meaningful -- and give rise
to strategies that "sound" right. It is important to remember that
the vision metaphor is not necessarily the basis for coherence in cultures with
a strong aural tradition, nor amongst the young.
D.2: Information barrier and technocratic escapism
Policy initiatives find themselves, like aerospace vehicles, travelling just
below the sound barrier. Ironically information from them can often only be
communicated in "sound bites". Such initiatives are severely battered
by information that makes them difficult to control and endangers their structural
integrity, fundamental to their coherence. Such information is now highly dynamic
-- the "winds of change" move at ever higher speeds. Gone is the ability
of policies to glide gracefully -- characteristic of lower speeds. Breaking
through, and travelling beyond, the "information barrier" requires
new structures and controls whilst at the same time changing significantly the
relationship to information and its sources. Friction-free policy can then only
be envisaged and achieved by escaping from the conceptual gravity well associated
with particular patterns of information. A technocratic constituency even anticipates
this in its aspiration towards orbital habitats from which the world can be
peacefully governed by benevolent, uncontested control of information. However,
the future challenges of policy-making to be understood by extending the metaphor
to include relativistic effects, remain to be explored -- although these effects
already seem to be evident in a society characterized by major communication
D.3: Consensus on global frameworks
Another favoured approach to coherence is to formulate, advocate and campaign
for global frameworks so that agreement is ensured -- and therefore coherence.
This may be seen in the case of ethics, technical standards, language, trading
arrangements, ideology, religion, methodology, etc. Where possible these are
defined with legal-type instruments of which the Holy Grail is some form of
world constitutional government. Unfortunately these initiatives, ignore past
experience and are based on simplistic understandings of the factors that make
for meaningful cross-cultural consensus adequate for sustainable policies in
a complex turbulent society. As such they also obscure the possibility of identifying
and giving form to higher orders of consensus that might be sustained through
configuring otherwise incommensurable insights and perspectives vital to the
pyscho-social diversity of a complex society. The role of information technology
in this respect remains unexplored.
D.4: Building images of coherence
The appearance of coherence may also be created through branding -- namely
careful image building -- burnt into the mind of the perceiver. In the case
of an institution -- whether the UN, IBM or Shell -- this leaves obscure the
relationship between its image and the real coherence of its policies. How do
the images of the many UN agencies form a larger meaningful pattern? To what
extent do such bodies "exist"? Most multinational corporations exist
only as a tangled web of contracts, holding companies, offshore arrangements,
and letterheads, that even the financial press has difficulty disentangling.
As a social reality their existence is a figment of legal and media imagination
-- reminiscent of the tale of the Emperor's new clothes. What coherence is associated
with shorthand statements such as "Washington is opposed to Brussels regarding
hormones in beef"? What is "Brussels" -- or the "international
community", for that matter?
D.5: Coherence through policy commitment and leadership
Coherence may also be created through strong policy commitment and strategic
"leadership" -- as in election manifestos and other (inter)governmental
declarations. Charismatic leadership remains a strong force, whatever the contradictions
of the policies advocated (eg Saddam Hussein, Colonel Khadafi, Fidel Castro).
Unfortunately this approach is proving increasingly meaningless as the collective
memory of a previously deceived population is enhanced by public information.
Policy promises are increasingly made to be broken, if only due to "force
majeure". Commitments are diluted or implementation is rolled back or rendered
toothless. Even commitments to bring delinquent government policy-makers to
justice are eroded to a degree that is tantamount to guaranteed impunity (cf
commitments to investigate the finances of former dictators).
Many of the largest corporations invest heavily in their commitment to articulation
of forward-looking strategies capable of mobilizing their decentralized resources
around the world in support of a coherent strategy capable of offering them
a competitive advantage with respect to their competitors. In this context it
is therefore important to note the results of a recent survey of 350 major corporations
in the USA, most of which were in the midst of a major change initiative in
response to economic challenges and opportunities -- whether labelled as a strategy
or a plan. According to Peter Scott-Morgan, consultant to Arthur D Little, only
17 percent of the corporations were really satisfied with their initiatives
-- even through they were free of external constraints. Almost 40 percent were
positively unsatisfied, whether due to partial success or unforeseen delays.
Nearly 70 percent reported unforeseen problems and unintended side-effects.
Perhaps of most significance, 65 percent indicated that their initiatives had
been damaged by lack of effective support from managers and employers, as well
as by territorial battles of the usual kind. In commenting on these results,
Scott-Morgan notes (in The Unwritten Rules of the Game, 1994) that they
correspond to those of other similar surveys elsewhere. (see further comment
However corporations tend to be lavish in their expenditure on supporting information
D.6: Coherence through exclusion
A very common approach to coherence is to design out contrary policy perspectives,
namely any insights which disrupt the coherence favoured by a majority. This
is typical of initiatives to establish global frameworks and global dialogues.
It might be termed "synthesis by exclusion" through which policy committees
are "stacked" to preclude discussion of certain options. In this respect
the significance of many policies lies as much in what is not stated
(the "unsaid") as in what is stated -- a form of strategic denial
The policy "shadow" is then as much a part of the coherence of the
policy -- and tends to emerge unpredictably and disruptively on implementation.
When combined with the formulation of global ethical or other frameworks (see
above), such exclusion is especially deadly. This is best seen when such frameworks
exclude an understanding of non-dominant perspectives (often articulated in
other conceptual languages or cultures). The result is an exercise in blandness.
The tragedy of many modern policy debates, supposedly searching desperately
for "new thinking", lies in the manner in which policy options are
designed off the table before the negotiation process even begins. Examples
include non-simplistic approaches to major territorial disputes (http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/mathbom.htm)
and unconventional approaches to the challenges of unemployment and health.
Agenda 21, as a major policy document is especially significant for the manner
in which all feedback loops between policies in different sectors have been
designed out of a framework that is being widely used as a basis for sustainable
development. This leaves the departments of local government authorities responsible
for distinct chapters to discover the nature of those loops in integrating their
efforts with those of other departments responsible for other chapters. (On
the strategic challenge of feedback loops, see: http://www.uia.org/strategy/53buddhi.htm)
D.7: Learnings from coherence in interpersonal relations
It is intriguing that the challenges to coherence exemplified by the factors
above (access, penetration, etc) are well explored in the case of interpersonal
relationships (or in animal reproductive behaviour), where they are better understood.
Each term identifies an equivalent challenge and dilemma:
- access: obtaining some form of introduction to attractive potential partners
- classification: confidentiality (privacy) with regard to the fundamentals
of the relationship
- penetration: getting to know a partner, in its varying senses
- dissemination: ensuring that the partner is a vehicle for one's insights
- property: possessiveness (the relationship, and the other, as property)
- surveillance: verifying the behaviour of the partner
- interpretation: interpreting the significance of information about the partner
- disinformation: representing oneself and the partner, to oneself, to the
partner, and to others
- credibility: building up and maintaining one's credibility in a relationship
The coherence of a personal relationship typically transcends the specific
dynamics of this communication pattern -- although carried and constrained by
it. In a period of personal relationships severely challenged by the masculine
interpretation of some of these terms, the conceptual gender bias in the terminology
of policy information suggests that other metaphors may be needed to ensure
coherence and sustainability of policies in the future. For example ecofeminist
Janis Birkeland (1990) argues for the need to articulate a new form of planning:
"Planning is a wealth distribution process without a relevant normative basis,
structure, or conceptual framework that can comprehend or resolve the fundamental
ethical issues at stake. The existing decision-making concepts and processes
reinforce economic inefficiencies and inequities, generate risk and conflict,
and close off future options. A fundamental bias against environmental protection
and conflict prevention can be traced ultimately to patriarchal values which
underpin planning theory."
Policy-making based only on "one night stands", using what amounts
to conceptual contraceptives, has little chance of giving birth to anything
new or of providing an adequate context for its development. Do delinquent,
alienated policies result from broken strategic frameworks? Dysfunctionalities
in prevailing attitudes to personal relationships are reflected in dysfunctionalities
in policy-making and vice versa.
E. Using unexplored advantages of networking technology
There are assumptions associated with the "networking revolution" that sustain
the opposing policy perspectives addressed by this paper -- and thereby undermine
sustainable policy-making, especially with respect to developing or transitional
economies. It is clear that for those seeking hegemonic domination, whether
of a political, ideological, religious, cultural or other form, "coherent
policy-making" is well served by the networking revolution in ensuring
them means of access, security, protection of property, penetration, surveillance,
knowledge interpretation, disinformation, and credibility to that end. It is
very difficult for those promoting development of such technology to prove that
these are not the prime objective. There may be other benefits. Whether these
adequately counter-balance those that result in such domination remains to be
The particular focus here is therefore on the manner in which networking technology
impacts on social and policy processes in a context in which the conceptual
implications of the "networking revolution" are effectively ignored, resisted
or denied -- or become the subject of uncritical hype.
Under such circumstances society is effectively becoming dependent on a technology
without using either that technology, or the conceptual revolution it implies,
to successfully manage the transition that it is engendering. Consequently it
will be argued that the technology tends to be used to replicate existing dysfunctional
modalities without ensuring that its implications for new socio-cultural benefits
can be widely understood, explored or shared.
E.1: Sustaining new conceptual processes
The challenge is to highlight ways in which networking technology might sustain
a new set of conceptual processes more appropriate to sustainable development.
The focus needs to be on both the level of governance and within the disadvantaged
communities of society -- notably "beyond the last telephone pole".
There is much evidence that networking technology can enable alternative
social processes, but little indication that the possibilities of that technology
have been used to sustain significantly different conceptual modes through
which more sustainable modes of socio-economic organization could be discovered
and sustained. There are even features of the methodologies that might be applied
to analysis of the networking revolution that reflect a mindset that the networking
revolution has in practice displaced. For example, emphasis tends to be placed
on the creation and control of communication networks, in a manner consistent
with equivalent military preoccupations regarding battlefield intelligence.
A more interesting question is whether new forms of conceptualization are engendered
and sustained. What forms might networked, or distributed, intelligence take?
How might its emergence be recognized?
The policy-making reflex, influenced by its military origins, is to ensure
the flow of insight to a focal point -- even if this is overloaded to the point
of ineffectiveness. In principle at least, networking technology should both
facilitate the operation of distributed intelligence and encourage other modes
of knowledge management and creativity that obviate the need for knowledge centralization.
Coherence would then emerge through some form of complementarity and resonance
as is evident in the operation of the neural networks of the brain.
E.2: Avoiding distracting dependence on certainties
In the light of this approach, and in a period widely characterized as turbulent
and subject to increasing social unrest, the effort to identify economic certainties
over the next decade is itself a manifestation of conceptual processes that
are resistant to the implications of the networking revolution. This is exemplified
by the socio-economic status accorded the Internet in 1999 compared to its significance
five or ten years previously -- on the basis of information then available.
Generating any equivalent study for the next decade, based on today's information,
distracts from the challenges of deriving and making use of insights relevant
to the forthcoming decade from whatever information is currently available.
Such a study would merely add to the range of conflicting information already
perplexing decision-makers and their constituencies.
The challenge is to explore the advantages of the networking revolution in
sustaining a process through which constituencies are able to identify what
insights are relevant to their own sustainable initiatives in a period of rapid
change, a surfeit of information, and conflicting views on what lies ahead.
Irrespective of new insights, many significant constituencies will continue
to act in the light of false certainties to which their current momentum binds
them - and will be successful according to their own criteria, even if the certainties
are subsequently proven false. The adaptability of market mechanisms to the
networking revolution (notably with respect to information, finance, oil, arms,
drugs, and entertainment) is such that their survival need not be a focus of
How can policy-making sustain longer-term orientation in the presence of uncertainty
without becoming trapped in a fire-fighting, knee-jerk response to challenges
as they arise? This dilemma is becoming even more sharply focused for individuals
in an uncertain socio-economic environment.
E.3: Vulnerability to surprises
If there is a single certainty it is that the future will not be surprise-free.
- as the BSE crisis demonstrated in Europe, quite minimal revelations or incidents
could invalidate most authoritative planning scenarios.
- a single EMP burst could undermine years of electronic innovation, as could
more vicious forms of electronic virus.
- a biological example would be the discovery that the HIV virus could be
distributed by mosquitoes -- despite current evidence to the contrary based
on minimal research. Like other unforeseen biological surprises, this could
completely reframe the situation of mosquito-ridden developing countries where
AIDS is already endemic and which derive significant foreign exchange from
- the crisis regarding the suppression of information, over many years, concerning
the health effects of tobacco illustrates how surprises may be hidden in "classified"
It is therefore important to highlight the policy challenges of what might
now be appropriately called the "outdated map syndrome" -- irrespective of the
resources that might have been devoted to collection of information. Policy
initiatives can useful be understood as vulnerable to "O-ring" problems
(it was failure to ensure communication of suspected problems relating to the
O-ring that resulted in the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, despite
all the advantages of technocratic policy making). It is perhaps only the martial
arts (aikido, etc) that offer appropriate training in the psychological discipline
of anticipating surprises.
E.4: Beyond the single perspective
Pursuit of authoritative certainties designed to marginalize alternative perceptions
and collapse dilemmas is a mark of the pre-networking era and a key feature
of the current challenge to effective governance of democratic societies. In
a complex society a diversity of perspectives is vital to ensure the possibility
of effectively responding to unforeseen situations (cf Ashby's Law in cybernetics).
The pursuit of a simplistic global consensus view denies the system learnings
associated with biodiversity and the limitations of monoculture. It is essentially
insensitive to the variety of conditions under which many live. Policy-makers
cannot afford to depend on their ability to mobilize public opinion and align
support behind a consensual perspective for any length of time. (see Strategic
ecosystem: beyond "The Plan" http://www.uia.org/strategy/52ecolog.htm)
The emerging issue for decision-makers at every level of society (including
rural communities) is how to make sense of conflicting information, and lack
of information, without simply subscribing to a currently fashionable dominant
perspective in a desperate bid for coherence. The issue is what kind of policy-making
is appropriate and possible in a sea of conflicting initiatives and perspectives
- and how networking technology can empower people under such circumstances.
E.5: Enhancing the ability to act in the absence of consensus
It is widely assumed that more information will necessarily increase the ability
of decision-makers to achieve a greater degree of consensus on urgent issues.
This is questionable in the light of the well-established pattern of delays
on Yugoslavia and other humanitarian issues (including the earthquake in Turkey
in 1999) -- leaving aside delays in response to many environmental challenges.
The implication of the networking revolution is the ability of bodies in a network
to act on their own initiative according to the information at their disposal
- a process promoted under the term subsidiarity.
Given the poor track record of international consensus decision-making, there
is a case for broadening explorations of "innovative consensus building"
to include degrees of innovation somewhat greater than indicated by the following
rather timid proposal from the NATO report on Environment and Security
"...selected innovative approaches to consensus building exist that
should be epaneded to exten the areas of common interest which will facilitate
decision-making. Such innovtive mechanisms include the establishment of expert
panels on specific questions that support seeking solutions by arguing rather
than political bargaining. Also, round-table discussions on specific topics
in the framework of negotiations reduce the likelihood of pure posturing and
help focus negotiators on matters of substance. Such informal events promote
a common learning process, support the establishment of a knowledge-based
consensus and related scientific or expert communities and allow for non-governmental
and expert input for the common good" (22.214.171.124, p. 156)
There is however a major conflict between commitment to prior consensus (before
any action is possible) versus timely action (in response to dramatic need).
The challenge is to adapt networking technology to facilitate this process of
timely action whilst avoiding the current heavy investment in collective non-decision-making
in vain expectation of consensus.(http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/nondec.htm)
To compensate for the challenges of consensus building, the NATO report adopts
stronger language in speaking of instruments of implementation (126.96.36.199), majority
decision-making (188.8.131.52) and democratisation (184.108.40.206) without effectively
addressing the contradictions between these perspectives. Information technology
can perform a vital role in addressing these issues -- see Spherical configuration
of interlocking roundtables: electronic enhancement of global self-organization
through dialogue patterns (http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/interlock.htm)
E.6: Building on existing initiatives - rather than undermining them
There is a momentum to development of the information society that implies
challenges for both users and the many providers of new "authoritative" information.
For example, it was recently estimated that there were 16,000 health sites on
the Internet. Whereas the challenge in 1999 maybe what to do with calls from
colleagues to "check out" 10 valuable new web sites every day, in
a year or so the number may be 20-50, and soon perhaps even more. The easy response
is to ignore such initiatives and develop new ones.
Attention is required to initiatives that build on the continuing emergence
and interlinkage of foci of information and action. The challenge is to design
information tools that work with the momentum of the information society, and
the enthusiasm and commitment it engenders, rather than against it. In particular
the challenge is to avoid implementing new initiatives with fresh resources
that undermine existing initiatives with their own resource base, however inadequate.
F. Governance through metaphor
The following arguments are developed in papers accessible via: http://www.uia.org/metaphor/metacom.htm
F.1: Metaphoric enhancement of policy-making in response to information
There is an inherent danger in reliance on acquisition of more information
to resolve policy dilemmas and to focus action to sustainable ends. It is characteristic
of major international policy conferences that it is through key metaphors that
differences and possibilities of agreement are articulated. Striking examples
in the development of the European Community have been the extensive reference
to "pillars" and "baskets" during treaty negotiation conferences.
It is through such metaphors that complex flows and patterns of information
are handled. Policy debate cannot be effectively focused on the detail articulated
in the thousands of pages presented at a conference. Ironically policy information
is normally designed to be as free of metaphor as it is of any form of visual
aid. No effort is made to identify richer and more fruitful metaphors -- as
vehicles for the imagination, pillars and baskets date back several thousand
As suggested in an earlier paper (Judge, 1987: http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/govmet87.htm):
Governance is then fundamentally the process of ensuring the emergence and movement
of such "guiding" metaphor-models through the information system, as well as
their embodiment in organizational form. Such stewardship also requires sensitivity
to the decreasing value of any metaphor-model (at the end of its current cycle)
and the need to adapt institutions accordingly. The stewardship required of
the metaphor-model "gene pool" is analogous to that currently called for in
the care of tropical forest ecosystems - as the richest pools of species and
as vital to the condition of the atmosphere.
The merit of this vision of governance is that it does not call for a radical
transformation of institutions - which is unlikely in the absence of any major
catastrophe. Rather it calls for a change in the way of thinking about what
is circulated throughout society's information systems as the triggering force
for any action. At present governance in the international community is haunted
by a form of collective schizophrenia - a left-brain preoccupation with "serious"
academic models and administrative programmes, and a right-brain preoccupation
with the proclivities of public opinion avid for "meaningful" action (even if
"sensational"). This schizophrenic battle between models and metaphors could
be resolved by legitimating the metaphoric dimensions already so vital to any
motivation of public opinion as a vehicle for the models. There needs to be
a two-away flow however from model-to-metaphor and from metaphor-to-model, as
in any interesting learning process.
In a sense this proposal is only radical in that it advocates the legitimation
and improvement of processes which already occur -- if only in the sterile and
demotivating manner highlighted by Johan Galtung. New metaphors are constantly
emerging in the arts and sciences. They are used by politicians. Presumably
some of them are used in the existing policy-making processes of governance.
But the ecosystem of metaphor-models is an impoverished one. It is totally divorced
from the cultural heritage of the world.
It is precisely through using networking technology to enhance disciplined
use of insightful metaphor that policy-makers will be able to comprehend more
complex issues and possibilities, dialogue more effectively with those holding
opposing positions, and communicate coherently with their constituencies. Policy-making
is, ironically, faced with a challenge of metaphoric impoverishment that inhibits
ability to draw on rich metaphors (possibly more readily accessible in developing
cultures) capable of charting pathways through policy minefields.
Rather than the sterility (repeatedly remarked by the media) of Summit communiqués,
is there not a case for such events to highlight new metaphors through which
policies may be framed and given coherence? Although not a metaphor as such,
"sustainable development", like "networking", is perhaps
only successful in providing coherence to the extent that it is used as a metaphor.
F.2: Metaphoric empowerment of the disadvantaged
Both internationally and nationally there has been a marked tendency to promise
much more than it has proven possible to deliver: "health for all by the
year 2000", "employment for all", "education for all",
"freedom from hunger", "justice for all", "security
for all", "shelter for all", etc). This has severely undermined
the credibility of the institutions in question and contributed to increasing
political apathy with regard to their programs. The danger of the networking
revolution is that it will promote "communication for all" and "information
for all" for a conveniently distant future time -- and face similar delivery
problems in practice.
There is a need to focus on what kinds of enabling knowledge can be effectively
communicated that will bypass the inherent obstacles to empowering the disadvantaged
to respond more effectively and immediately to their own condition when promised
deliveries are postponed or seem likely to fail.
F.3: Networking technology as a metaphor
One of the most striking features of networking technology is that metaphor
is explicitly used to guide understanding of the process of its software and
hardware innovation. Less recognized, but equally striking, is the manner in
which use of networking technology provides an extremely detailed metaphor to
guide understanding of possible new forms of social interaction and the conceptual
processes that underlie it. In effect built into the current use of networking
technology are behaviours which, as suggestive metaphors, have yet to be adapted
to the kinds of exchange of insight that would be most directly beneficial and
empowering both to policy-makers and their constituencies.
The challenge is to identify a set of distinct activities characteristic of
those intimately engaged with networking technology to demonstrate how these
behaviours suggest analogous behaviours relevant to sustainable development.
These are behaviours already characteristic of any (young) person engaged in
constantly responding to the opportunities of the information technology environment
-- independently of any particular bodies of authority and critical of the information
they purvey. In effect the information technology offers strategic options to
which people learn sophisticated responses. Examples include: responding to
software and hardware "upgrades", adapting older equipment, "downloading"
new software (including "shareware"), locating and loading new "drivers",
user discussion groups as a source of "do-it-yourself solutions" to
practical technical difficulties (rather than depending on inadequate information
from producers), resolving "compatibility" problems (converting between
formats), "filtering" e-mail messages, avoiding viruses, etc.
The degree of empowerment offered to people to upgrade their relation to the
information environment in a do-it-yourself mode is what is required with respect
to other social concerns. How can people (or groups) locate and download more
relevant concepts as they emerge and when they seem appropriate, if only on
a tentative trial basis -- before buying into them? By comparison, in what ways
is access to non-computer knowledge of social relevance hindered by vested interests
(educational authorities, professions, academic disciplines, labor unions, etc)?
How much of this obstruction is a reflection of information policies that directly
hinder sustainable development?
G. Strategic alternatives for information
G.1: Evoking resonance patterns
The quantity of policy-relevant information will continue to increase exponentially.
For the policy-makers concerned with governance -- who are obliged to have a
cross-sectoral perspective -- the only possibility is to enhance the ways in
which information and knowledge are patterned. In effect what is required are
techniques for information self-organization to bring out such patterns. It
is not information or knowledge that is required. There is already a surfeit.
Rather what is urgently needed is more fruitful ways of looking at patterns
The challenge then is to find new ways of communicating a new perspective.
The policy-maker needs new ways to shift between perspectives and to acquire
"poly-ocular vision" (as suggested by Magoroh Maruyama, http://www.uia.org/strategy/124alt16.htm)
in order to acquire depth of perspective. Especially in the case of strategic
dilemmas, and sets of radically opposed policy options, the challenge is to
be able to configure all options within larger frameworks that justify the conditions
under which each is relevant as a complement to the others -- namely a context
for partisan perspectives (cf http://www.uia.org/transfor/a11.htm).
It is within such larger frameworks that forms of resonance between incommensurable
options can emerge as a basis for higher orders of consensus as well as new
kinds of knowledge or social structures (cf http://www.uia.org/strategy/171alt54.htm).
Information technology is required to provide conceptual scaffolding for such
structures, especially when their coherence and integrity is only partially
recognized and understood. The work of Stafford Beer in this respect merits
It is ironic that policies tend to be formulated and supported by a "party",
exemplifying the partisan nature of a policy supposedly of benefit to the whole.
Even when parties successively achieve power through a process of alternation,
it is unclear that the alternation between policies they support is an adequate
design solution to the more complex challenges of society. Using information
technology to maintain the coherence of such "policy cycles" does
however merit exploration (cf http://www.uia.org/transfor/64envpat.htm
G.2: Strategic cross-fertilization - beyond the delivery model
The networking revolution is presented, with its supporting technology, as
something that needs to be "delivered" to developing countries and
transitional economies to enable them to benefit from the economic advantages
of global civilization. Almost no serious attention is given to the possibility
that non-western cultures may have their own conceptually unique content and
their own preferred ways of working with that content. The networking revolution
may be more significant under such circumstances through the new ways it enables
those cultures to take advantage of their own content for their own socio-economic
benefit. However it may also be of great value in terms of unforeseen beneficial
patterns that can then be used to order western content - a cultural analogue
to the pharmaceutical products currently derived from rain forest diversity.
There is a need to focus on ways in which non-western cultures can use networking
technology to empower their own styles of action and on how their approach may
be of benefit in the current crises of the western paradigm favoured by the
international community. In particular attention should be given to the use
of such technology by aural and visual (in contrast to text-dependent) cultures
in a period when there is a widespread shift to multi-media and entertainment
uses of networking technology and away from text. This may offer a strategic
advantage to such cultures.
G.3: Configuring strategic dilemmas for intersectoral dialogue
In preparation for the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development
as a follow-up report to his involvement as Secretary-General of the World Commission
on Environment and Development, responsible for the Brundtland Report), Jim
MacNeill articulated for the Trilateral Commission the policy options for sustainable
development in terms of "shaping global bargains" (Beyond Interdependence, 1991).
"The notion of a 'global bargain' conjures up many images, especially within
the broad context of sustainable development...In its simplest terms, a bargain
involves at least two parties and two issues. It implies a trade-off between
the parties on the issues. The group of nations, developed and developing,
that have come together to form a bargain must agree to give up something
in order to get something else. As a rule, they would give up a path of development
in a given sector that is unsustainable and thus represents a threat to themselves
and the other negotiating nations or the global commons."
In this sense a global bargain involves at least two parties and two issues,
implying a trade-off between the parties on the issues. However according to
this perspective the arenas to be subject to bargaining emerge haphazardly as
a result of conventional political processes. There is no systemic sense of
how the bargains interweave to ensure the sustainability of development as whole.
There is no sensitivity to issues which can be conveniently ignored by powerful
majorities. In a real sense this corresponds to the traditional paradigm of
ad-hocery which has contributed so much to the emergence and maintenance of
the present crisis. In particular there is little understanding of how to deal
with a set of strategic dilemmas -- and the possibility that information technology
might be used to configure such sets to highlight unforeseen strategic opportunities
that are obscured by simplistic ad-hocery.
The difficulty is that bargains are typically discussed in the verbal and textual
mode. In this mode, notions of "giving up" in order to "get something else"
are understood in the simplest terms and therefore readily evoke opposition.
This opposition is indeed legitimate in terms of the "two-dimensional" images
(of "sides") through which they are currently discussed. It would not however
be so necessary in terms of more complex configurations (of "sides") as advocated
above and discussed in detail elsewhere (http://www.uia.org/transfor/a11.htm).
It is intriguing that from a design perspective such disagreement can be usefully
designed into global solutions as an essential feature of their integrity --
consistent with principles of both architecture and biodioversity. The obsession
with policy consensus is extremely dysfunctional, obscuring exploration of alternative
approaches vital to complex crises.
G.4: Enhancing comprehension of complexity through multi-media information
Multi-media information facilities regularly used by children currently offer
possibilities for comprehension of patterns of information more complex than
those that policy-makers choose to address. Corporations are currently investing
heavily in the challenges of visualization of information and are marketing
products accessible only to the few. There is little evidence of their use in
It is curious that the major NATO review of Environment and Security
(1999), places stress on the importance of data and data bases (5.3), non-linearity
of complex systems (4.2.1), and developing decision-making in international
institutions (6.2.4). But, despite a focus on reciprocity/feedback loops (2.3.2),
it fails to comment on the total absence of such connections in the data normally
used for cross-sectoral policy-making, as typified by the organization of Agenda
21. It is these loops which are supposedly fundamental to modelling environmental
stress (5.2.1) as a basis for decision support systems (5.4).
In the light of the arguments above regarding configuration of strategic dilemmas,
it is worth noting the significant advantages of very modest experiments by
the Union of International Associations in providing visual interfaces to its
extensively hyperlinked databases on 30,000 world problems and 35,000 strategic
responses, as well as on the 20,000 international organizations from the information
is essentially derived (accessible via: http://www.uia.org/data.htm).
These ongoing experiments (funded during 1997-9 within the EU Info2000 project
of DG-XIII), currently make use of virtual reality techniques and spring map
Java applets. They are being extended to use of sound (http://www.uia.org/dyna/vizexp.htm).
In every case the concern is with cognitive (rather than decorative) use of
multi-media to enhance comprehension and navigation of complexity. Further developments
should involve configuring the displays and mnemonic sounds in the light of
the possibilities with respect to configuring strategic dilemmas. A project
to extend and orient this initiative to developing countries, and with their
participation, has been approved by the World Bank InfoDev program.
G.5: Promoting strategic short-cuts through networking technology
In the many arenas in which development programs have promised to deliver (health,
education, food, employment, etc) the emphasis is placed on fully educating
people to acquire the qualifications to be considered competent to act. In a
period of potentially severe humanitarian crisis, this is a fundamental trap
that has emerged as a result of the irresponsible assumption that cultures can
best develop by imitation of western models and western-style "qualification".
Given the difficulty of enabling people to acquire either the appropriate information,
or the qualification assumed necessary for its appropriate use, it is useful
to ask how people can acquire, what knowledge, enabling them to act usefully
(in their own terms) without relevant qualifications. The markets of West Africa
are full of extremely successful entrepreneurs whose success is not due to acquisition
of an MBA. Similar statements may be made with regard to their garages and factories.
In many cases the emphasis on a particular style of education has the effect
of disempowering people who would otherwise be able to take initiative to respond
more appropriately to their local circumstances. This is in marked contrast
to the entrepreneurial initiatives of many apparently disadvantaged people and
groups able to short-cut this conventional model and the dependence it creates
on external assistance. It is especially to be regretted when the education
has been designed in response to challenges of the past and on the basis of
educational resources that are not available -- and are very unlikely to become
A turbulent society can neither be navigated nor governed using conceptual
tools which seek to rely on prediction of certainties and outcomes in a period
of accelerating change. However the networking revolution is capable of sustaining
processes relevant to more dynamic forms of management and sustainability. In
a period when the Internet offers do-it-yourself information on every topic
(including bomb construction), it is appropriate to consider how such short-cuts
may work with respect to the areas in which the delivery model has been less
than successful. In particular it is important to explore the possibility that
some cultures may be more skilled at deriving socio-economic benefit through
interacting with information in the visual or aural modes to which they have
a predisposition, than in the text modes alien to their tradition and increasingly
to younger generations.
The concern is therefore to identify the characteristics of the conceptual
tool kit that will enable people, communities, corporations and governments
to act in response to emerging crises. What is becoming "street-wise"
for people and communities who have to survive in information-rich contexts
where the strategic issue is what information to focus on and how to make use
of it? What are the minimum sets of concepts from the various disciplines (economics,
etc) necessary for survival and thrival?
G.6: Enabling perception-sensitive policy-making
Major incidents such as the BSE crisis in the UK (followed by that on genetically
modified organisms), have made it apparent that policy-making needs to take
account of perceptions as much as "proven" facts. As noted by the
NATO report on Environment and Security (1999):
"Whether or not environmental stress contributes to the potential incidence
or escalation of conflict depends heavily upon the perceptions of the actors.
Perception influences the position regarding environmental stress. Resource
scarcity is not a scientifically defined benchmark; it is largely a factor
of perception....It is also important, whether the stakeholders perceive another
group as responsible for their impaired well-being." (2.4.1, p. 104)
The question is then how to combine perceptions with harder data, especially
when both perceptions and data are subject to challenge from different strategic
perspectives. This is the basis for the initiative, initiated in 1972, of the
Union of International Associations in gathering concerns articulated by the
full range of international bodies identified in its Yearbook of International
Organizations. The information profiles have appeared in a succession of
editions of its Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential and
are currently availabe on the web (via http://www.uia.org/data.htm).
G.7: Supporting strategic nimbleness through networking technology
The strategic challenges of an uncertain future are increasingly articulated
using terms such as "nimbleness", "flexibility" and "agility"
- and the ability to "turn on a dime" - notably in the case of Internet-oriented
organizations. This is in striking contrast to the style of many major institutions
whose survival is often cushioned from shocks - in marked contrast to initiatives
in developing countries and transitional economies.
The question is how to make use of networking technology in a manner consistent
with such a nimble strategic style. It is one thing to organize information
systems to allow rapid reconfiguration of organization units and collaborators.
It is quite another to combine that with the ability to reconfigure relationships
between substantive preoccupations in the light of emerging, or tentative, insights
into more powerful integrative perspectives offering strategic advantage in
response to new challenges.
G.8: Using networking technology to channel social unrest
The challenge of the policy dilemma addressed by this paper lies in the consequences
of increasing socio-economic gaps - whether or not these are a matter of perception
rather than fact. The failure of the delivery model in the eyes of the disadvantaged
is widely recognized as a potential source of considerable social unrest in
the immediate future. Networking technology has not been designed to transpose
social unrest (even in democratic societies) into forms from which creative
responses to crises can emerge in a sustainable manner - although there are
a number of examples of such use.
There is a need to focus on the uses of networking technology to facilitate
expressions of concern and their articulation within new forms of social organization
capable of responding to those concerns - minimizing, to the extent possible,
the usual destructive expressions of social unrest.
In a world where the level of investment in "research and development"
is considered an important indicator of the probability of "being left
behind", it is amazing that the there is no equivalent category of investment
in psycho-social "research and development". Whereas tax and other
advantages are accorded in support of scientific research and technological
development as a matter of standard policy, those engaged in the psycho-social
equivalent are discouraged, hindered and even criminalized. Policy options relevant
to social unrest and "sustainable community" are expected to emerge
from established modes of thought in a manner which would be considered ridiculous
in the case of technical innovation. Whereas a laboratory explosion is treated
as a strong indicator that some parameters need to be changed if an experiment
is to give new insight, a disaster in an experimental community is treated as
a strong indicator that community experimentation of any kind should be forbidden.
Knowledge structures need to be sustained in new ways to facilitate exploration
of new styles of community organization.
G.9: Enabling emergence and integration of new policy paradigms
Those frustrated by the track record of policy and information initiatives,
especially in the light of emerging challenges, increasingly emphasize the need
for "new thinking" and "a new paradigm." Seemingly the current
dominant paradigm provides the wrong kind of coherence. There is however the
danger of switching (even if that were collectively possible) from one inadequate
paradigm to another whose inadequacies will take time to be recognized.
Ways of organizing knowledge need to be developed to sustain the emergence
of paradigms and of the ecology of such paradigms. In a complex society this
is essential to avoidance of information system design that entraps policy thinking
in a single inadequate paradigm (as the basis for "The Plan"). Failure
to do so merely guarantees the emergence of incompatible policies and the information
systems to sustain them. Society is then faced with the challenge of integrating
these disparate knowledge systems or suffering the consequences of failing to
build on their complementarity. It takes a knowledge ecology to respond effectively
to a psycho-social or environmental ecosystem (cf Ashby's Law of requisite variety).
G.10: Ensuring emergence of integrative mnemonic cues
Policy-making with regard to global systems relies on very simplistic mnemonic
cues to carry and integrate the detail and interrelationship of its preoccupations.
Thus Agenda 21 is a complex maze of relatively impenetrable legalistic jargon.
The mnemonic cue by which it is carried for wider imaginative appreciation is
the ubiquitous image of Planet Earth (typically on the binding of the document).
Together these reinforce a form of schizophrenia between a holistic image that
cannot be grounded in any policy detail and a tangle of policies for which there
is no memorable structure.
Both for policy-makers and their publics, there is a need to use the multi-media
facilities of information technology to hold conceptually a variety of integrative
images that can be mined (in the sense of knowledge mining) for the complex
patterns of policy arrangements and the issues to which they respond. The mnemonic
organization of such cognitive devices needs to be continually improved -- it
is a new frontier. Are policy documents singable? Do they have the cultural
status of a great poem like the Kalevala or the Mahabarata? If not, why not
-- if they are to be experienced as moving and motivating?
Much contemporary policy-making may be usefully compared to a "flat earth"
mindset unconcerned with what it cannot see (often because of a deliberately
restricted mandate). This is at a time (analogous to the 15th century) when
the implications of the functional roundness of the global system have yet to
be understood -- even if images of Planet Earth provide symbols of such understanding.
Despite "globalization", the World Wide Web, and the Lonely Planet
Guide, who has circumnavigated the psycho-social system as a functional
globe, rather than a geographical one? Who would know by what maps to guide
such exploration, and how to navigate its roundness?
Without mnemonic organization, and reinforcing patterns of associative resonance,
the coherence and integrity of a policy cannot be communicated, comprehended,
or sustained. The concept of sustainable development has yet to be rendered
G.11: Enhancing strategic dialogue through networking technology
The ability of a group of policy-makers to process information in order to
engender strategically coherent policies is highly dependent on the nature of
the dialogue within which supposedly complementary perspectives are interrelated.
It is only a slight exaggeration to suggest that the effective rate of innovation
in this process is several orders of magnitude less than the societal and technological
innovation that the dialogue process is intended to manage.
In theory innovations in groupware are designed to facilitate this dialogue
process. In practice such groupware is helpful only when its discipline is effectively
imposed (or contractually accepted by participants) and when the range of issues
is susceptible to essentially mechanical selection and prioritization. The more
challenging issues of governance, involving peer groups whose relationship is
to be determined as part of a non-mechanical group process, are not assisted
by available forms of groupware -- or those on the drawing board. To a large
extent the markets for groupware, and thus the principles governing its design,
are derived from the corporate sector in which the awkward factors (faced by
societal governance) can be excluded from any policy process by fiat. It is
noteworthy that facilitators (with their patented dialogue processes) are excluded
from complex policy-making arenas where no implicit contract exists between
participants and where key roles are attributed as part of the negotiation.
The opportunities for technical enhancement of dialogue are considerable. The
challenge is that it is not clear what kind of dialogue needs to be enhanced
to achieve coherent policy-making. There is a tremendous investment in achievement
of consensus at all costs, prior to the any possibility of action. This consensus
assumption tends to develop skills in non-decision-making and collective avoidance
of responsibility in the face of urgent issues. There has been almost no exploration
of opportunities for coherent policy-making with designed-in disagreement, although
this can be reframed as necessary complementarity of perspective to encompass
Factors to be interrelated include:
- meaningful juxtaposition of cross-sectoral information,
- validation of cross-cultural perspectives (and their associated linguistic
- different preferences for styles of communication and information,
- differing tolerances for complexity and simplicity,
- need to be able reframe insights into higher orders of coherence and consensus
for appreciation by constituencies external to the dialogue.
These challenges and opportunities are explored in: Spherical configuration
of interlocking roundtables: electronic enhancement of global self-organization
through dialogue patterns (http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/interlock.htm)
G.12: Enabling governance with a lighter touch
Traditionally, especially in classical Chinese philosophy of governance, the
art of governance is to do as little as possible. It might be inferred that
this can only result from cultivating a mindset that ensures sustainable relationships
throught society. The intriguing possibility is that information technology
might facilitate articulation of patterns of insight that embody the rich variety
of concerns and strategic trajectories. This might well involve aesthetic dimensions
as much as conventional statistical indicators and systems analyses. Information
technology would then assist the integration between aesthetic and scientific
insights in response to unforeseen challenges and opportunities.
In a period when education and entertainment are being integrated as "edutainment",
and policy issues are often flavour-of-the-month fashions cultivated by spin-doctors,
there is a strong case for exploring new approaches to strategic articulation.
Reframing the pattern of information dependencies (identified at the beginning
of this paper), this might give:
- access: transformed with the use of new forms of match-making technology
to ensure appropriate and mutually beneficial interaction
- classification: transformed with insights typical of a gardener sensitive
to the need for some new initiatives to be protected from the glare (of publicity)
by appropriate filters and electronic protocols
- penetration: transformed into a mode more reminiscent of courtship (than
rape), as is increasingly evident in some forms of negotiation (and exemplified
by "handshaking" between electronic systems)
- dissemination: transformed into dialogue and exchange rather than unilateral
information transfer and insensitive conceptual spamming -- perhaps a form
of knowledge barter
- property: transformed through recognition of other forms of relationship
to products and estates (real or virtual), inspired by insights from mathematics
and the arts (rendered coherent and comprehensible primarily with the aid
of information technology)
- surveillance: transformed into a pattern of mutual checks and balances sustained,
and developed by an enhanced civil society (in which such ecological relationships
are clarified by information technology)
- interpretation: transformed into the constant search for more comprehensive
framings to integrate the diversity of understandings in society (and primarily
rendered feasible through information technology)
- disinformation: transformed into the generation of fruitful stories through
which established understandings can be sustained or challenged in order to
enrich public dialogue through potential alternative insights
- credibility: transformed through greater insight into the variety of essential
roles in society and how they sustain or challenge each other.
All the above could contribute in some way to giving meaning to the art of
"governance with a lighter touch". In no way, however, should
this undermine more conventional uses of information in specialized areas. The
strength of such governance would lie in the richness of the patterns it offered
-- with more flexibility and opportunity than the conventional approaches entrapped
in the linearity more valuable for specialized concerns. Through becoming a
source of better "strange attractors", governance would then pull
society into the future rather than vainly endeavouring to push it (http://www.uia.org/uiadocs/values93.htm).
This is a classical function of leadership.
The core theme of this paper focuses on the need for policy-making to shift
from an information-focus to a pattern-focus -- especially with respect to the
governance of society. The powerful non-technical variant of this is metaphor,
already widely used to capture and communicate insights into policy alternatives
-- and in which non-western cultures (and the disempowered) have proven strengths.
There is a very strong case for enhancing use of metaphor at all levels of society
as a means of enabling new responses to complex crises. This enhancement could
usefully be facilitated through networking technology, especially where this
opens the way to insights into more complex patterns (to which many are already
being exposed through video games, "special effects", and virtual
environments). Metaphor is a recognized key to creativity and innovation, notably
in information technology. It has yet to be directly applied to social and knowledge
organization in response to complex crises . information technology can be used
to support this, especially in order to build new structures rather than simply
to analyze existing ones.
At this stage, and increasingly in the future, it is becoming clear that even
the most insightful strategies, formulated in sensitive dialogue between representatives
of appropriate constituencies, cannot be heard or comprehended as credible in
wider society -- even if people listen to presentations of great skill. But
even if authorities are nevertheless able to engage in their implementation,
such strategies cannot effectively deliver what is required in response to complex
crises -- other than to those predisposed to accept this implementation process.
Briefly the paper argues that policy-making can only achieve the necessary
coherence required in response to complex crises through shifting from information
obsession to a lighter pattern-oriented touch through which constituencies are
themselves empowered to act in new ways. This has been exemplified by the phrase:
"Don't push the river; guide the canoe".
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