Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

Status message

You are currently in UIA's online document archive. These pages are no longer maintained. To search the full archive click here.

The Encyclopedia is currently undergoing redevelopment !

10.3 Design choices for global coherence

Efforts to analyze existing inter-sectoral patterns can clarify many of the challenges and opportunities for a more coherent approach to global dialogue and "bargains". All parties in such dialogue are however necessarily immersed to a fairly high degree in their particular perspectives. Such a "bottom-up" approach clearly has some limitations. It would therefore also seem appropriate to take a complementary ("top-down") approach by looking to ways of representing the desired qualities of coherence and sustainability in "ideal" models of inter-sectoral dialogue as a global pattern --provided the diversity of sectors is duly respected. This note is an exploration of one such model.

Sectors may usefully be considered as each being a piece of a "jig-saw puzzle" which have to be "fitted together". From a "bottom-up" perspective, a systems approach would be an appropriate point of departure through which to establish the links between the sectoral pieces. But from a "top-down" perspective an initial concern is some sense of the overall shape of the finished puzzle -- where the sense of being "finished" emerges from a specific realization that "everything has been fitted into place". Important characteristics would then include coherence, sustainability and some form of meaningful overall pattern. Humanity is indeed faced with a challenge of how to fit the pieces of the puzzle together to create a meaningful new pattern, whether or not it is called a "new world order".

Expressed in such terms the "top-down" approach becomes an exercise in design in the richest sense of the term. Some initial choices may be arbitrary, but constraints must emerge to determine the "goodness-of-fit" of different pieces to possible positions in the puzzle.

1. Choice of design tool

The design choices below can each be made in succession, leading to one particular design. This may be quite satisfactory for those by whom, and for whom, the design is produced. If this is the case the argument in the following paragraph is irrelevant.

It is fairly clear that at the most fundamental level different cultures favour different design criteria in selecting principles and patterns of organization. This also tends to be at the origin of certain differences between groups and factions within any given culture. This suggests the need for a design tool which can be readily reconfigured to reflect different design preferences. Such computer-based tools are becoming increasingly available to designers to assist in the process of dialogue with customers (whether for major buildings, landscaping, houses, interior decoration, clothing, or personal aesthetics). The point to be made is that globality can give rise to many different articulations at the local level. It is the set of possible articulations which reflects the full richness of globality. Any particular articulation of globality can only serve particular local interests. In this sense it is the design tool which is the key to different insights into appropriate global organization -- each of which is necessary, but none of which is sufficient.

2. Choice of surface

In this spirit, one appropriate (but arbitrary) choice for the shape of the puzzle is a spherical surface. This has the advantage of having properties isomorphic with that of the Earth's surface and as such has mnemonic value in relation to any patterning of "global" dialogue. It also has the advantage of challenging the conceptual complacency with which one would tend to think about a puzzle based on a flat surface. The puzzle of global sustainability must be a challenge to conceptual complacency. Introducing a third dimension is one way of doing this. A puzzle in three dimensions is a challenge to most of us.

3. Choice of sectoral representation

It can now be arbitrarily assumed that the sectors are to be represented by flat zones disposed around the spherical surface so as to touch each other on all edges. The choice of "flat" zones is useful in that it is a reminder of the necessary non-globality of individual zones. Each zone must necessarily function with some degree of "flat-earth" mentality -- this is a natural characteristic of"local" thinking appropriate to local action. If only a few zones are recognized the result will only approximate very crudely to a sphere (as is the case with a tetrahedron or a cube). Each zone is then relatively large and the sharp "edges" suggest a high degree of conceptual or functional discontinuity. But, on the other hand, it would take an infinite number of very small zones to truly constitute a spherical surface with no perceptible discontinuity.

4. Choice of number of sectors

The number of sectors has not yet been officially recognized in an unambiguous manner. On the basis of the number and type of government ministries, one arbitrary approach would be to consider that their are 12 key sectors and 20 secondary sectors. For as in the design of any cathedral, some basic numerical proportions have to be arbitrarily chosen as a basis for the design pattern. In the light of the previous point, these larger numbers suggest a lesser degree of conceptual and functional discontinuity between the sectoral zones. Any political choice of the number of sectors to be officially recognized thus has consequences for the nature of the global pattern. Adding or removing one sector under political pressure is thus not a trivial matter for the sustainability of that pattern.

5. Choice of shape of sectors

It might be assumed that each sectoral zone could have a distinct shape. But for the novice puzzle doers that we are on a planetary scale, it would be more realistic to assume arbitrarily that the pieces are of only one or two simple regular shapes (such as triangular, square, pentagonal). This is less complicated than with the many shapes generated by the intersections of major latitudes and longitudes in mapping the surface of the Earth.

6. Choice of patterning constraints

In order to work out how the sectoral pieces fit together to approximate the global surface, some assumption must be made about the significance of the pattern. What dimensions of significance could be selected as a basis for interweaving the sectoral zones, providing a meaningful position for them within the global pattern? The number of such patterning constraints would also constrain the shape of the sectoral zones.

(a) Principle-governed choices: Several interesting approaches could be taken to this choice. It could be based on a limited set of 5 to 10 principal values, systemic functions, psycho-social functions, etc. In fact it might be based on any set of fundamental ordering principles. However it is important that these should be grounded and comprehensible, rather than meaningful only to a particular culture or discipline, however dominant. There is also merit in choosing a set which holds both natural and symbolic associations, with each mirroring and enriching the significance of the other at various levels of philosophical and psychological sophistication.

(b) Traditional five-fold option: So for this exercise the choice made is for the five-fold environmentally-oriented traditional set: earth, air, fire, water, metal, wood. One merit of the choice of this set is that it highlights the apparent conflict with the traditional western four-fold version: earth, air, water, fire. It is a reminder that it is less important which convention is used, although a set of constraints of that order is required. Each gives rise to a different pattern, but either may be used to engender a global pattern, as may other fundamental sets of principles. It is globality, coherence and sustainability which are the criteria, not the particular articulation of principles which may be chosen to bring this about in a given culture.

7. Choice of "locking" device

For the design to have some qualities of robustness to ensure its coherence, it is necessary to consider how the pieces lock together. Just placing them in the appropriate spherical configuration would not ensure that they stay there -- in fact any such attempt would immediately demonstrate the instability of the construct. What is required is some articulation of the way the pieces lock together to sustain globality, rather than collapsing together and/or breaking apart. Conversely this may be seen as the way in which disparate "local", "flat" elements lock together to engender (through a newdimension) a "new order" based on spherical globality. The device best characterized by maximal elegance and minimal use of resources is based on the principle which in architecture permits the construction of geodesic domes, namely tensional integrity. Through this device a dynamic balance is ensured between the "compression" forces tending to push the structure apart and the "tension" forces tending to pull it together. In this case the balance is only possible through a globally symmetrical structure. It cannot be sustained in a two-dimensional structure.

8. Choice of "tension" and "compression" features

In this design the "tension" forces binding the inter-sectoral puzzle together are the 5 principles. These may be thought of (like rubber bands or ropes) as circumscribing the sphere, intersecting at different points and thus outlining the pattern of sectoral pieces. But if only these binding forces are present, the sphere would collapse in on itself (thus symbolizing the fatal weakness of a purely ideal system). The design "trick" is then to make use of the strong local forces. These tend in practice to engender opposition between the sectors -- forcing them apart and preventing any form of inter-sectoral integration (as is typical in the absence of any overall systemic principles). Unlike the global principles, these oppositional forces do not constitute a continuous interlinked structure. Each acts only in relation to a particular part of the inter-sectoral configuration (with one sector specifically counter-acting the initiatives of another). The trick is to use the local oppositional force to tense the circumspherical elements in that neighbourhood, and to use those circumspherical elements to constrain the local force -- thus holdingit in place. It is the achievement of this dynamic balance which engenders and sustains the spherical structure and creates inter-locked positions for the individual sectors.

9. Unique identities of sectoral pieces

The identity of the sectoral pieces is then defined as unique: (a) partly by the unique combination of circumspherical elements which both delineate a tensional boundary and ensure that sectoral piece's unique contribution to the system as a whole, and (b) partly by the unique set of forces by which that particular sector opposes (in a "reactive" manner) any closer proximity, or blurring of functions, with that of neighbouring sectors (thus protecting its boundaries).

10. Attributing systemic significance to the structural elements

The five elements are not identical with the five objects whose names they bear but are subtle essences whose nature is however best manifested by those five objects

  • Water produces Wood, but destroys Fire
  • Fire produces Earth, but destroys Metal
  • Metal produces Water, but destroys Wood
  • Wood produces Fire, but destroys Earth
  • Earth produces Metal, but destroys Water
This traditional non-western perspective can be explored in relation to the more conventional western dimensions outlined in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Psycho-social cyclic functions corresponding to natural environment cycles (tentative)

Environmental Psycho-conceptual Communal 


Socio-Economic Symbolic 


"Fire" Heat cycles 

Radiation cycles






Political passions 

Political initiatives

"Hot potatoes"



"Water" Water cycles 

Hydrological cycles



Fellow feeling 



Consumer cycles 

Marketing cycles

Financial cycles

"Air" Air cycles 

Atmospheric cycles






Information systems 

Skills management

Educational systems



"Earth" Earth cycles 

Geological cycles



Solidarity Physical resource mgt 





"Biomass" Biomass (cycles) Experience 

Body of knowledge

Community Human resource mgt:  

Social systems

Organizational systems

Symbol systems
Constructs Natural order/Patterns 



Conceptual achievements Achievements 





Symbolic achievements