Most encyclopedias focus only on positive, sanitized aspects of society, presenting an idealized worldview that denies the shadow of humanity. The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential attempts to present the world as people experience it, whether negatively or positively. The phenomena described are those which inspire both hopes and fears, whether real or imaginary, about the world's future. They constitute a challenge to creative remedial action, functioning as a powerful stimulus to the development of society.
The Encyclopedia deliberately presents fundamental contradictions -of cultures, ideologies, beliefs, and even "facts" - in an effort to explore the complex, dynamic middle ground of possible solutions to the problems of the global village as perceived from different perspectives. The Encyclopedia is innovative in that considerable effort has been devoted to identifying the many conflicting perceptions and priorities which constitute the dynamic reality of world society. Such information is usually difficult to extract from research literature stressing theories, administrative documents justifying programs, political manifestos defending ideological positions, or from news commentaries on current events. For example, while the intention of many paths of human development may be to alleviate suffering, paradoxically their blinkered pursuit is often a prime cause of world problems, notably in the case of religious conflict.
The Encyclopedia includes issues which international constituencies, notably those represented in the Yearbook of International Organizations choose to perceive and act upon, whether or not their existence is denied by others claiming greater expertise. Indeed such claims and counter-claims figure in many of the problem and strategy descriptions in order to reflect the often paralysing dynamics of international debate. In the light of the interdependence demonstrated in every global sector, emphasis is placed on the need for approaches which are sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and rival worldviews that undermine collective initiative towards a promising future.
An unusual feature of the hypertext format is the manifestation of specific feedback loops and cycles through which problems reinforce and sustain each other. This shifts the level of attention from isolated problems to problem cycles -- and by implication to sustainable strategy cycles via serendipitous relationships between strategies. Users of the Encyclopedia are encouraged to discover new approaches to understanding and action through the deliberate juxtaposition, within the same context, of contradictory perceptions and fundamentally incompatible viewpoints. By juxtaposing different, but complementary, perspectives, the Encyclopedia is deliberately designed to challenge unquestioned patterns of response to the crises of the times and to evoke new insights in the reader. In this sense it is full of shocks and creative surprises.