This project is part of the more general long-term project for an Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, from which a general introduction may be accessed. This page introduces the strategies portion of that project. Information on the publication is also available in its hardcover and CD-ROM forms.
The detailed comments on the methodology used in preparing this current volume appear at the end of this volume (Section SZ). In particular, the question of how strategies (or "action proposals") are to be usefully defined for the purpose of this project is also discussed. The comments also include insights arising from the process of collecting and ordering the information for this publication, notably with respect to the challenges of governance.
Sections SB through SF of this volume contain entries on 8,963 strategies. These entries cross-reference each other as well as a further set of 20,339 entries present in the database but not published in this volume (for reasons of space and their relative incompleteness -- designated Sections SG, SJ and SK). The total number of strategy entries from which this volume was compiled is, therefore, 29,542 -- linked by a total of 84,890 relationships. Detailed statistics are provided in Section SZ (Note 1).
The strategies in this volume also have 21,599 cross-references to world problem entries profiled in Volume 1 of this Encyclopedia. Where possible, cross-references (currently 11,859) are also provided from strategies to specific international organizations in the companion Yearbook of International Organizations.
The prime source of information for the strategies in this volume are the 20,000 international organizations profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations. Needless to say, every effort was made to use effectively the documentation of intergovernmental organizations, especially from the United Nations family of organizations and their conferences. One major source, for example, was Agenda 21, the "global agenda for the 21st century" produced in 1992 as a result of the UNCED process. Efforts have also been made to use quite different types of sources, including strategies emerging from village level consultations in the third world, as well as media articulations of strategies active in the international community. The nature of the sources, and how they were used, is discussed in Section SZ.
4. Work in process
It is most important to appreciate the immense task that is represented by the collection of material on "strategies" employed or advocated by over 20,000 international bodies and other constituencies around the world. It is a task that might easily be considered both impossible and absurd, even if such a project could be generously funded. (On funding, see 1.8).
The current database of 30,000 "strategies" is the result of employing a particular method of collecting and processing information (described in Section SZ). In its present form, it represents the result of work initiated in February 1994 and completed for publication in July 1995 (comprising a total of approximately 18 person-months of research and editorial time).
As with the other databases in this Encyclopedia, the project is viewed as a long-term operation. Publication at any one time reveals many imperfections. Much work is "in process". The fact that some 20,000 strategies were excluded from the publication is one indication of this. Many of those excluded are as important as those included, others duplicate those included to some degree, or have not yet been usefully related to them. Editorial work treated all 30,000 strategies equally up to the point of going to press, when a somewhat arbitrary decision as to what to include had to be made. The division into Sections SB through SF has been made on the basis of some simple rules (discussed in Section SZ), but these too could be considered quite crude.
5. Scope and coverage
There are few compilations of strategies of this kind. Most efforts in this direction focus on particular strategies or sets of strategies. In the general spirit of this Encyclopedia, the objective here has been to cast a very wide net in order to locate very different kinds of strategy -- not simply those that are conventional favoured.
The question then becomes: "What is a strategy?". Many of the strategies collated here would be considered ridiculous from some conventional perspective. But given the strategic impotence of the international community, faced with situations like Rwanda, Bosnia and unemployment, those making such judgements are also vulnerable to the harshest of criticism.
6. Challenge of language
Adding to the complication of what constitutes a strategy is the question of how to decode the language in which strategic formulations are expressed. Political discourse often responds to failed strategies of the past by using new language. In practice it is seldom clear when new verbal formulations represent distinct initiatives as opposed to repeating old initiatives under new labels. At the same time, some constituencies may attach great strategic importance to particular verbal distinctions to which others are insensitive. In both cases, there is the additional complication of whether the strategy is intended as more than an exercise in wishful thinking. It is easy to suspect that many resolutions of international conferences are of little more significance than New Year's resolutions.
These published strategy profiles reflect some progress in clarifying such issues for some strategies. As an ongoing exercise, and for the database as a whole, much more remains to be done.
7. Ordering the set of strategies
At a time when the international community already finds it a major challenge, if not a virtually impossible one, to agree on any single strategy, a panorama of 30,000 strategies raises many questions. How indeed is it possible to make any sense of such strategic chaos -- without engaging in conceptual reductionism of the most dubious nature? One tentative step towards ordering the information on strategies has been taken by grouping strategies in terms of some 239 strategic polarities (Section SP). This serves as a special kind of index to the entries in Sections SB, SC and SF.
8. Feedback loops
The same ordering challenge occurred with respect to the world problem information (presented in its fourth iteration in Volume 1 of this Encyclopedia). In that case some experiments have been made to identify effective feedback loops which link together several problems (discussed in Section TZ, Volume 2). Such loops offer the potential of shifting the level of analysis as well as the level of strategic response. The nature of the shift is away from a focus on any particular problem (or strategy) to interrelated complexes of self-reinforcing problems (or strategies). For this reason, a selection of some 830 vicious loops of problems is published in this volume (Section SV). Clearly a similar analysis could be undertaken to identify self-reinforcing strategic loops once the strategy data has been subject to further work, specifically by refining "facilitating" relationships between individual strategies.
9. "The Answer"
The purpose of this volume is to endeavour to profile and juxtapose the multitude of strategic "answers", advocated by different groups at every level of society, in response to the challenges of the times. An effort of this kind readily evokes inquiry as to the editorial view on "what should be done" in the light of this exercise. To the extent that such a view exists, it is concerned more with the challenge of working with an ecology of strategies, whether mutually hostile or complementary to each other. The effort to identify "the strategic answer" or "the solution", as with the effort to identity "the key problem", is considered by the editors to be part of a mindset that is inadequate to the complexity of the challenge. The related dilemmas are discussed in Section SZ.
Extracts from commentaries to Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential