About the Encyclopedia
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a collaboration between UIA and Mankind 2000, started in 1972. It is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems humanity is confronted with, as well as the challenges such problems pose to concept formation, values and development strategies. It is a response to the fact that many institutions are trapped in inadequate policy metaphors.
The Encyclopedia places emphasis on the potential of new metaphors for governance as a major unexplored resource to enable paradigm shifts, and offers radically different perspectives to policy-makers, social researchers and those concerned with development strategy. By focusing on both problems and strategies, as well as constructive and destructive values, it endeavours to transcend the usual polarization of issues and responses to them. The Encyclopedia thus encourages the discovery of a new conceptual dynamic for understanding and action, sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and paradigms by which people are separated - both from each other and from a promising future.
The problems, strategies, values, etc presented in the Encyclopedia are those recognized by the international organizations profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations. It attempts to present the world as people experience it, whether negatively or positively.
Feedback Loops and Cycles
An unusual feature of the Encyclopedia is the inclusion 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.
A cycle is a chain of problems, with each aggravating the next, with the last looping back to aggravate the first in the chain. An example of a vicious cycle is:
Alienation > Youth gangs > Neighbourhood control by criminals > Psychological stress of urban environment > Substance abuse > Family breakdown > Alienation.
Such cycles are vicious because they are self-sustaining.
Organizational strategies and programmes that focus on only one problem in the chain tend to fail because the cycle has the capacity to regenerate itself. Worse still is that such cycles tend to interlock, creating the complex of global problems. Identifying vicious cycles is a first step towards designing cycles of strategies to reverse or break them. Better still, some problems are linked by serendipitous cycles in which each problem alleviates the next - and, even better, some strategies function in serendipitous cycles to reinforce each other and break vicious problem cycles.