Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

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The Encyclopedia is currently undergoing redevelopment !


Committed long-term investment 

The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential research has been supported financially by its originators (see History of the Encyclopedia for more information) and the courageous publisher K.G. Saur Verlag. Prior to the contribution of the European Commission in 1997-9, over its previous 20-year development period, this had amounted to around US$400,000 (on average $20,000 per year). In terms of UIA work input, the current content of the Encyclopedia represents an investment of 20 professional "person-years" (an average of one full-time person each year). But equally essential to its realization have been three other types of resources: the materials produced by more than 20,000 international organizations, freely provided and usually without copyright restrictions, for which the UIA serves as a clearing house; the sophisticated use of computer techniques to establish and manage links between disparate data elements (which in 1986 won an international prize for application of computer techniques to typesetting); and enthusiastic editorial contributions from volunteers.

Potentials "On-Hold" 

In 1996, the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential entered one of its dormant periods. Investment by its publisher in "the next edition" is by no means certain, and will require demonstrated commercial returns on current published stocks of the Encyclopedia. For the foreseeable future, further editorial and development work will be intermittent and largely "voluntary". A current dream, for example, is to enable true interactive partnership in the editorial process by the users of the electronic Encyclopedia - through facilitated feedback from the CD or Internet, or on the Internet by the selective capture of information or via specialised newsgroups. Another is to enable visualization of the complex networks of problem/strategy interrelationships. As a first step, closed loops of self-perpetuating problem complexes have been identified. Identifying sustainable cycles of strategies which break such vicious cycles has the potential to raise the analysis of global issues to a new systemic level, but again is unlikely to be realized in the short-term.

Institutional support 

In principle, the UIA should be able to encourage the interest of other institutional partners (UN bodies, broad- interest regional bodies, foundations concerned with global issues, etc) in further development of the Encyclopedia - even to the point of running UIA data on an intergovernmental server. In practice, such collaboration usually runs tangent to what is feasible. Lobbying and applying for funds are lengthy (and often costly) exercises. Available funding is often of a short-term nature and/or heavily tied to narrow subsets of data. Few funding institutions have guidelines which can accommodate projects that are international rather than smaller-scale, cross-sectoral rather than bounded, inter-disciplinary rather than subject-defined; most wilt when faced with a project which is all three. Is there a way through?

Sectoral data projects 

Similar to, but distinct from, the previous approach, is the ability of the UIA to propose a service to improve specialized areas of Encyclopedia data (eg habitat, refugees, etc) in terms of networks of problems and/or strategies. An additional feature could be the interlinking of the vital statistics of organizations concerned with such issues. Sectoral proposals could be offered to clusters or coalitions of potential partners who might support it. The product would be a specialized disk or a CD, or possibly a set of Web pages. Parties which might be concerned in different ways include:     
  • partner (or client) institution (or coalition of institutions)
  • funding agency (if different from above)
  • the UIA itself
  • an editorial group (if different from the UIA) 
The challenge would be to work out the nature of the boundaries to protect everybody's interests whilst improving the general quality of the data. Rather than propose work through the UIA directly, for example, it might be proposed and undertaken through a semi-autonomous body with a distinct identity.


Related to, but distinct from, the previous two prospects, is the possibility of seeking some form of sponsorship for the improvement of the Encyclopedia as a whole, or for subsets of data. Some forms of commercial sponsorship would better suit the Internet environment.