1. Reality of strategies
This project to gather and order information on "strategies" faces a number of fundamental challenges:
- information readily available in documents of international organizations tends to be ordered in particular, and often haphazard, ways which do not facilitate isolation of strategies;
- information identifying strategies is often embedded within texts rather than highlighted for definition as titles or subtitles;
- it is often unclear what is to be meant by a strategy or remedial response to a problem. There is certainly no standardized presentaton of such information;
- whilst particular organizations may have a relatively limited range of strategic or remedial responses, together the large number of organizations has a very large number of quite diverse strategic responses;
- it is frequently difficult to determine the extent to which named strategies from different sources, whether or not they are worded differently, duplicate or overlap one another;
- in the absence of supporting descriptive material, it is often difficult to determine whether a remedial response constitutes a real option or merely an artefact of skilful use of language, possibly to give legitimacy to a particular political position;
- the quantity of strategies and the logistic task of endeavouring to eliminate real duplicates and cluster related strategies means that at any one time much further work remains to be done, especially where budgetary and time constraints are severe.
The above challenges suggest the need for a more fruitful way of framing the challenge of dealing with such quantities of material and the conceptual challenge of ordering it, however tentatively.
2. Proto-strategies and action tracks
One approach is to consider the thousands of "strategy" names entering the database as potential trajectories for action whose nature is heavily conditioned by the possibilities of language. In this sense they might be considered as "proto-strategies", potential strategies, or embryonic strategies, in a conceptual matrix partially articulated by the possibilities of language. Such strategies then represent ways of structuring action on reality, where such action may effectively determine or define the nature of that reality.
3. Highway systems for a strategic cloud chamber?
Such trajectories are action routes together constituting a kind of highway network with numerous secondary and tertiary roads --down to unmade tracks. Efforts may be made to incorporate some of them into a "highway system" or a "traffic plan" with the aim of coordinating and rationalizing traffic flows -- such are the global action plans. Some roads may be heavily regulated and policed to reduce abuse. Others suffer extensively from such abuse -- or from over-regulation. It is clear that any conventional regulatory capacity is overwhelmed -- especially where sensitivity is required.
4. Embodying strategic trajectories
Organizations can seize upon such potential trajectories and embody them in programmes and projects. At any one time a sub-set of the universe of such trajectories will be so embodied. Others may not be given form in this way, although they may be discussed as options. Campaigns may be launched to advocate adoption of such strategies. Particular strategic trajectories may be extensively debated without every being incorporated in programmes. Some may on the other hand have been used in the past, and may be used once again in the future.
5. Comprehending the universe of trajectories
Greater understanding is required of this universe of potential trajectories, whatever the extent to which any are actively pursuedat any one time. Politicians and journalists are constantly nourishing this universe with new articulations of strategic options to distinguish their own position from those of other factions. Journalists in particular tend to label strategic proposals with new language in ways which may either sharpen or caricature their nature.
6. Plans and Counter-Plans
Of course few can afford the luxury of considering this strategic universe as a whole. Specialists in think tanks are obliged to seize upon sub-sets of it in ways which preclude any recognition of other sub-sets. In this way particular Action Plans are designed. These may possibly be perceived as irrelevant by constituencies beyond the mandate or interest of the think tanks, whatever their status. Alternative Action Plans may then be formulated on the basis of other trajectory sub-sets.
7. Identifying strategic clusters
At the same time, the flood of information makes it virtually impossible to process and order this information in any completely satisfactory manner -- even when the resources are available. New organizational sources of potential strategies (such as World Action Plans) and new processes for engendering them from data already received (as with work on organization profiles in the Yearbook of International Organizations or on world problem profiles from Volume 1 of this Encyclopedia), mean that such information must constantly be treated as an "ore" from which meaningful strategic clusters must be "mined" by suitable editorial research processes.
8. Configuring trajectories
Of great theoretical and practical interest is the possibility of configuring trajectories. This implies that, in addition to clustering strategies by subject and relevance domain, ways be found to provide a high order to such information. Possibilities are suggested by the work for this Encyclopedia on feedback loops (whether vicious or serendipitous) that shift the level of analysis. The discussion of global patterning (see Volume 2, Section TZ) is also indicative.
9. Challenge of incompleteness
A project like this one is therefore faced with the need to deal as usefully as possible with incompleteness. The editorial research concern necessarily focuses on how to configure such trajectories into a form which will minimize duplication whilst respecting distinctions which may later prove to be important. The project must necessarily be designed to capture what amount to strategic variants, namely to capture variety despite pressure from conventional category frameworks to exclude such variants. It is to be expected that these will clutter up the database, as noise in the system, whilst being gradually absorbed into clusters as valuable variants or until they are eliminated as true duplicates (or meaningless possibilities).