Policy Alternation for Development

Implications for information processing

Anthony Judge

The transformative right-hemisphere step advocated in the previous section can be advantageously complemented and challenged by a left-hemisphere focus on innovations in structured information processing. As argued in an earlier paper (58), the information systems currently installed or envisaged facilitate, in the Club of Rome's terms, maintenance (adaptive) learning but not innovative (shock) learning. This applies particularly to the development information systems promoted by the intergovernmental community. Maintenance learning calls for information systems in support of existing programmes for problems recognised in the past. Innovative learning calls for systems which enable unforeseen future problems to be anticipated:

"Innovative learning is problem formulating and clustering. Its main attributes are integration, synthesis, and the broadening of horizons. It operates in open situations or open systems. Its meaning derives from dissonance among contexts. It leads to critical questioning of conventional behind traditional thoughts and actions, focusing on necessary changes. Its values are not constant, but rather shifting. Innovative learning advances our thinking by reconstructing wholes, not by fragmenting reality..." (60, p. 42).
The systems required involve a degree of preparedness and an ability to redefine classificatory frameworks (not just to reshuffle and augment predefined lists of categories in a participative environment. These possibilities have been designed out of most existing systems. This may be seen in the cumbersome way in which the intergovernmental community has to re-equip itself at the information level for each newly discovered problem (e.g. environment, energy, etc.). The academic community is in a similar situation.

Bateson makes the point:

"At present, there is no existing science whose special interest is the combining of pieces of information. But I shall argue that the evolutionary process must depend upon such double increments of information. Every evolutionary step is an addition of information to an already existing system. Because this is so, the combinations, harmonies, and discords between successive pieces and layers of information will present many problems of survival and determine many directions of change." (29, p. 21)
As argued elsewhere (58): "Retrieval systems focus queries in the light of the user's existing knowledge and biases." The Club of Rome report notes: "We submit that many of the difficulties of learning today stem from the neglect of contexts." (60, p. 23) Soedjatmoko states: "Part of our incapacity to comprehend fully what is happening to us in the changing conditions of the world, despite the plethora of available information, lies in the operational inadequacies of present conceptual frameworks." (59) What is needed at this time is a new variety of computer software which facilitates conceptual pattern formation as part of the inquiry process. The challenge is to facilitate accumulation of patterns, and of patterns of patterns. This is in total contrast to current approaches which only meet the needs of users who assume that they know the pattern about which they require further information. Existing systems reinforce contextual ignorance. The need is for pattern building software to enable users to interrelate and nest their range of preoccupations in a flexible, non-simplistic manner which is inherently integrative.

Some possibilities have been discussed in earlier papers (58, 73) to counter the current erosion of collective memory, namely negative societal learning. The related implications of information networks for a transnational university have also been explored (68, 74). It is to be hoped that the newly created, development-oriented World Centre for Computer Technology and Human Resources (Paris) will focus on such questions. They correspond to Attali's concluding plea for the mobilisation of "technologies reductrices des couts d'organisation." (5, p. 295)