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Diversitas Project: Registry and database capacity of the UIA

The UIA has specialized for nearly a century in registering a variety of entities of international significance, according to opportunity and within the constraints of circumstances and resources.

Registered entityPeriodNumberMediumLinks
International organizations1910-200254,000Database137,000
Bibliographic records
general (with IIB)
conference proceedings
publications of/on int. organizations




Biographies of int. org. executives1992-200234,100Database 
International meetings




World problems/issues1976-200256,411Database265,300
Global strategies/solutions1995-200233,000Database240,000
Human development modes1976-20024,800Database16,100
Human values1976-20023,200Database23,200
Links between entities1951-2002 Database768,600

The key to UIA’s ability to thrive and provide a service throughout a turbulent century has been its capacity to design and implement low-cost, computer-enhanced methods that avoid the challenges of information overload. Curiously, the provision of cross-sectoral information with a global focus has proved highly problematic and costly, if not impossible, to much better endowed intergovernmental and for-profit organizations, whose services are generally limited to “snapshots” (not updated) or to single sector, single language or national data.

With the increase in the amount of information associated with the global community of organizations, the UIA has adopted from 1972 a radical dependence on in-house computer systems and expertise. It had one of the first LAN systems installed in Belgium (1984). This systemis continually re-specified, developed and maintained to facilitate the management of the UIA’s “thick” registries (table above and detailed below) and the provision of services associated with them. As an indication of programming capability, the UIA is currently using a suite of 300 programs within the Advanced Revelation environment to manage its relational registries and export them to other formats for directory or CD production, images in VRML or SVG, XML, etc. The web serving variant, using the same file structure, has a further 170 programs.

The UIA has an international reputation for producing registry products of high quality on a regular basis, over decades, within the very tight production schedules required for low-cost reference book and CD production in partnership with for-profit enterprises. These capacities have been seamlessly integrated with the interactive services associated with the web dissemination of this registry data since 1996. For example, prior to switching to a full online web service in 1998, the UIA generated, for demonstration purposes, over 10,000 interrelated web profiles on organizations, problems and strategies (some in parallel languages) with more comprehensive listings of entity names as entry points – indexable by web search engines to give exposure to organizations and their concerns usually prior to their acquisition of URLs.

The UIA has considerable experience with regard to the management of sensitive registries and the development of associated services in a techno-centric environment. It has demonstrated unique expertise in reconciling the capacity to sustain an information-focused relation with a large number of registered entities with the evolving range of technologies, despite the often problematic political, social and economic environment within which this needs to be done.

Of great importance in taking on the management role of such a critical resource is the awareness, as a result of decades of experience, of UIA relative to the management and strategic issues in striking a balance between rapidly evolving technological opportunities and the legitimate sensitivity of many organizations to being over-questioned, over-exposed, and the target of increasingly quantities of unsolicited communications and harassment – as a result of listing in a registry, however carefully it is designed for their benefit.

The UIA sees the need to distinguish clearly between classes of services, such as “essential”, “desirable” and “optional” or “registry services” as distinct from “other (non-registry) services. In this connection, UIA would maintain its existing “thick” registries separately from the .org “thin” registry. Whilst explicitly recognizing in its statutes the merit in principle of “activating” the nonprofit community as a whole, the UIA is especially sensitive to the fact that relatively few organizations – except on a symbolic basis – wish to be in any way conscripted in practice into “membership” of larger communities that qualify or distort their individual sense of identity and promote policies over which their own membership has relatively little control. The enabling services proposed by UIA would by promoted and implemented with this in mind, especially in the case of bodies in sectors or cultures that may not identify fully with limited understandings of “civil society”.

It is for such reasons that the UIA has long downplayed its institutional role in maintaining such registries. It has instead promoted the registry itself – notably the Yearbook of International Organizations. This avoids any socio-political issues associated with a non-information relationship of individual registrants to the UIA.

Major current ‘registry’ activities

The UIA currently handles nine major databases, equivalent to registries, of varying size and degrees of complexity. Most are web-delivered and many are interactive.

International organizations: The UIA has an inclusive approach to what it profiles in its coverage of the global network of some 50,000 nonprofit bodies[1] in the Yearbook of International Organizations: Guide to global civil society networks. It focuses on bodies that indicate a balance of activities in three or more countries. However, it extends its coverage at a lower priority to bodies that are primarily national with some international activities. It is especially attentive to bodies of unusual form that challenge any simple criteria: networks, clubs, hybrids, “non-organizations”, religious orders, funds, non-membership bodies, etc. It covers bodies with every kind of human activity and concern, provided they themselves are non-profit, irrespective of whether the objective of the members is primarily for-profit. This coverage allows the definitional issues of the subsets constituting the community of civil society bodies, NGOs, voluntary associations, citizens groups, etc, to be answered by users rather than being imposed as part of the registry activity.

Country participation: As part of the profiling of international organizations, the UIA has, since 1983, provided information on the country involvement in such bodies through their memberships. Some 350,000 links between countries and organizations are currently published in the Yearbook of International Organizations (volume 2) – and on CD since 1995, and on the web since 2000. This information does not at this stage include details of any national counterpart(s) because of the obvious resource challenges of maintaining such data.

Sectoral participation: As part of the procedure of registeration of international organizations, the UIA has, since 1983, provided information on the sectoral associations of such bodies through their aims and activities. This is published as a form of “Yellow Page” classified guide in the Yearbook of International Organizations (volume 3) – and on CD since 1995, and on the web since 2000. The 800 subject categories are also used as the basis for classification in the electronic variants of the following registries.

Problems (civil society issues): Since 1972, the UIA has been assiduous in registering the social and environmental problems that preoccupy international constituencies. These have been profiled in a succession of editions of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. The profiles of some 56,400 problems (with 265,300 links) are now made freely available over the web – embedded in an evolving network of hyperlink relations between them. The information for these profiles is obtained from the documents of international bodies or from others in the public domain. The focus is on profiling the problem and extending the range of problems registered. Links from problems to organizations (and their websites) are given when the concern is specific. Since many of the problems are highly controversial to some, attention is specifically given to the inclusion of “counter-claims” denying the arguments substantiating the problem. This is done to hold the often vigorous dynamics between constituencies within the community of organizations. Every effort is made to embody the language and perspective of the bodies sensitive to such problems – rather than to reframe the arguments within a particular ideological framework.

Strategies (civil society solutions): Since 1994, aware of the evolution of the 1990s into the decade of international agenda meetings, the UIA has been assiduous in registering the strategies advocated by international constituencies (having first completed a substantial exercise to this end in 1921). These strategies have been profiled in the last two editions of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. The profiles of some 33,000 strategies (with 240,000 links) are now made freely available over the web – embedded in an evolving network of hyperlink relations between them (over 1 million hyperlinks with and between the Strategies, Problems and associated databases). As with the problems they address, the information for the Strategy profiles is obtained from the documents of international bodies or from others in the public domain. The focus is on profiling the strategy and extending the range of strategies registered. Links from strategies to organizations (and their websites) are given when the concern is specific. As with the Problems register (see above), attention is specifically given to the inclusion of “counter-claims” denying the arguments in support of the strategy.

Human development (and modes of awareness): Since 1972, the UIA has endeavoured to register the range of approaches to human development that is often the declared, or underlying, objective of strategies advocated by individual organizations. These have been profiled in a succession of editions of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. The profiles of some 4,800 understandings of human development, and any associated modes of awareness, are now made freely available over the web – embedded in an evolving network of hyperlink relations between them. The information for these profiles is obtained from in the public domain, notably on the web. This registry is especially important because of its sensitivity to modes of thinking characteristic of non-western cultures.

Human values: Since 1972, the UIA has endeavoured to register the most comprehensive range of human values because of the manner in which they underlie ability to perceive problems and guide strategies in response to them. These have been profiled in a succession of editions of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential. The profiles of some 3,200 human values are now made freely available over the web – embedded in an evolving network of hyperlink relations between them. In contrast with the other profiles above, this information is an experiment in responding to the poly-semantic nature of value-terms that is often at the origin of international misunderstanding.

International meetings: Since its origins in 1910, the UIA has endeavoured to register international meetings and has records going back to 1607. Since 1952, information on future international meetings, especially those organized by nonprofit bodies, are profiled in the International Congress Calendar of which a web variant is currently under test. This information is made available to support the initiatives of international organizations and the scheduling of their activities. Over 25,000 future international events are currently registered. Prior to the commercialization of such data, the UIA produced bibliographies of the proceedings of such meetings – initially with support of the US National Science Foundation.

Biographies of executives of international organizations: Since 1992 the UIA has provided biographical profiles of the principal executives of international nonprofit organizations through a succession of editions of a Who’s Who in International Organizations – currently also available on CD and via the web. Electronically this information is linked to and from the relevant organizations.

Bibliographies of international organization materials: The UIA has long tracked studies about international organizations by the academic community as well as the key publication series produced by such organizations or about their concerns. This information is published as part of the Yearbook of International Organizations (volume 4) – as well as on CD and on the web.

Logos and emblems: In addition to intellectual property issues associated directly with their URLs, international organizations are increasingly challenged by issues of use and abuse of their logos – as well as obtaining guidance on designs as yet unused. The UIA responded to this in 1997 by producing a World Guide to Logotypes, Emblems and Trademarks of International Organizations. This information is scheduled to be made available on the web and linked to the organization profiles.

Statutes of international associations: Since the beginning of the 20th century the UIA has been concerned with the highly problematic legal status of international nongovernmental organizations and has been involved in a variety of initiatives to remedy this, most notably with the Council of Europe. As an extension of its registry activity in profiling international bodies, the first edition of a compilation of the legal statutes of these bodies was produced (International Association Statutes, 1884) but proved uneconomical. Links are currently provided to the websites of the organizations.

Links: The UIA has made every effort to move beyond registering isolated entities (whether organizations, problems, etc) to registration of the formal and systemic links between such entities. In the electronic form of these registries, these are the basis for a unique facility for navigation between entities in a particular registry and to entities in other registries.

Common registry structure

Except in the case of logos, the above registries (and other smaller ones) use what amounts to a common meta-data structure enabling management of profiles through the same application and file structure (linear hash files exploited by an Advanced Revelation database suite, including a web serving variant). Since 1984, the common structure has facilitated a variety of maintenance, analysis, and re-formatting operations, notably for directory and CD production (XML variants), as well as for web serving (HTML) with associated generation of graphics (mapping applets, VRML) and export to third party visualization packages.

Typically the “thick registry” profiles include fields equivalent to names (with multilingual variants), multiple addresses (including electronic), historic and contextual information, descriptive, and relational information (multiple forms). Aside from some 13 common fields of administrative information, each profile may use up to 26 such data fields, with numerous additional symbolic fields (over 600 in the case of the organization profiles). Profiles in the case of organizations vary in size from basic name/address information to in excess of 64k of data.

Multi-sectoral, evolutionary

As indicated earlier, subject coverage – whether for organizations, problems, strategies or meetings – is multi-sectoral. The registry functions respond to the variety of human activity that manifests rather than being pre-determined by a particular subject framework. For this reason the UIA had to develop a multi-lingual thesaurus that could evolve rapidly in response to innovative activity.

Access facilitation

The UIA pursues several strategies in relation to issues of access relating to the community of organizations.

  • Enabling direct contact with registered organizations. From its first web initiatives in 1996, the UIA has enabled access by web users to the sites of international organizations by systematic listings of such sites in a manner that ensures that they are indexed by search engines.

  • Enabling pass-through links from UIA profiles. As an extension, or alternative, to information profiled by the UIA on an organization, users can transfer to the organization’s own website. This illustrates the UIA’s policy of non-stickiness in relation to the data it maintains.

  • Organization password access to own profile and network. Since 2001, non-governmental bodies profiled in the UIA registry are supplied with a password to enable them freely to explore their own profile and that of any bodies with which they are formally associated or have working relations.

  • Bridging the digital divide. As noted earlier, the UIA maintains contacts with international bodies, wherever they maybe based, using whatever technologies are possible for the recipient, from post through fax, e-mail and web. The rapid uptake of Internet facilities has allowed the UIA to maintain connections with bodies first made by post. The UIA first demonstrated the potential of Internet use for NGOs from a developing country in Dakar in 1980. The UIA is currently assisting a partner organization to develop a network of 45,000 Internet cafes in villages across the Indian sub-continent.

Feedback facilities and interactivity

Currently any user in the organization community can respond interactively to the profiles in the various databases in the following ways:

  • send general comments on all databases
  • send general comments on individual databases (as indicated on any profile page from a database)
  • send specific comments about individual entries (as indicated on any profile page)

Registered users can supply on-line feedback on any profile entry through the comment facility (enabling other users to view those comments immediately from the relevant profile):

  • comments may be specific to any part of a profile
  • comments may be about the entry as a whole

Qualified user-editors can edit entries on-line, resulting in modified texts that overlay earlier versions when other users access a given profile. Other users can then choose to view such comments. Clearly the challenge is to find ways to work with this flow of information, bearing in mind the difficulties of editorial style, quality of content, quantity, and the constraints on ability to process whatever is received.

[1] 50,000 profiled organizations, with a core of some 20,000 existing bodies that can be defined as international in some way, depending on criteria, and with over 137,000 links between them and over 355,000 organization-to-country links.