Encyclopedia of World Problems - Archived Information

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Summary of editorial methods and guidelines

Participative Encyclopedia: Summary of Editorial Methods and Guidelines

The profiles (and relationships between them) in the participative encyclopedia are created most usually from publicly available sources of information. Through the dynamics of the participative process, this information is subject to continuous revision, taking into account insights from both emerging coalitions of opinion and from perspectives articulated in public debate.

[Profiles and relationships] [Sources of information] [Editing context] [Editorial bias]



Profiles and relationships

  • Names: In the case of problems and strategies, special editorial attention is given to naming. Problem names are normally required to contain a negatively charged word (an implicit negative value) to signal the problematic nature of the problem. Absence of a negatively charged word is an editorial signal that the problem profile has not been appropriately focused. Strategy names are expected to include an initial gerund that emphasizes the action oriented focus (eg Monitoring pollution) -- as is characteristic of the names of many strategies advocated by the international community. A profile may have many alternative names to capture extant variants with useful alternative keywords. Some of these names may first be provisionally positioned there, pending acquisition of information only relevant to the variant interpretation -- which would later justify creation of a separate profile.
  • Hyperlink editing: Considerable effort is made to articulate relationships between profiles within a databases (eg problems) or between databases (eg problems to strategies, or to organizations). Since these relationships appear as hyperlinks in the profiles presented on the web, the process is essentially one of hyperlink editing. As with the text, no link is necessarily definitive and all are constantly subject to review. Hierarchies are continually modified, as are the functional relations between profiles, for both problems and strategies
  • Hierarchical positioning of information: Care is taken to position descriptive text and links at appropriate levels within a hierarchy. Thus narrower problems or strategies may have very little descriptive text (because little has yet been incorporated at the detailed level) -- compared to that at a more general level (from which implications for the particular may be inferred). Conversely, text seemingly relevant at the more general level might be more appropriately repositioned to more detailed levels, leaving the general profile as a framework for hyprlinks to the narrower profiles. Functional links may also be more appropriately positioned higher up a hierarchy, rather than replicating such links from all the narrower items within that hierarchy.
  • Hierarchical complexity: It is not assumed that a particular problem or strategy can only be part of a single hierarchy. A profile may point up to several broader profiles. It is accepted that a profile may have many narrower profiles associated with it and that this may eventually result in clustering into intermediate profiles.
  • Iterative reconfiguration of profiles and links: New information is constantly used to test the knowledge-base. This involves a computer-enhanced set of conceptual processes (problems | strategies) through which the patterns of knowledge are developed (problems | strategies) and refined (problems | strategies). A particular challenge is responding creatively to the "language games" through which issues and intitatives get defined (problems | strategies) in the policy and academic literature, and in the media.
  • Multi-media experiments: In order to provide extra assistance to editors in comprehending complex networks of relationship to detect areas meriting further work, various visualization and sound experiments are provided as on-line tools.
  • Selective use of index tools: The search facilities permit selection of items not in hierarchies, at the top of hierarchies, functional sources or sinks, and in loops. All these call for careful and continual checking as an indication of errors or areas requiring further work.

Sources of information

  • International focus: International sources of information and perspectives are valued over national and local sources. Indicative international statistics are preferred to national statistics. However where international information is lacking or unavailable, national and local examples may be used.
  • Copyright and copyleft: To the extent possible, the profiles are based on public domain information, especially that received from international organizations. Such information has often been very carefully prepared to filter out particular biases. Extensive use is made of other sources in weaving new phrases, sentences, or larger amounts of text into existing problem and strategy profiles. Since no profile is considered static or definitive, material from many sources will be combined in the continuing process of developing profiles.
  • Authoritative information: With respect to both problem and strategy profiles, the quality and authority of information available in the public domain is frequently challenged. The profiles endeavour to capture the dynamics of such disputes, especially in the way that they inhibit action. No particular source is considered an authority that may not be challenged.
  • Nothing is complete: The project is ambitious and is only feasible because of a particular logistical bias. Information is fed in when it is immediately available. If the amount of effort to acquire the information is too great at a particular time, further information will not be sought. Users are however pointed onward through a facility that generates web query links based on keywords in the profile names.
  • References and sources: The text used in the body of a profile is seldom associated directly with a bibliographical reference. This is partly due to the fact that information on problems and strategies is frequently only a detail in much more general documents. Partly it is due to the manner in which descriptive profiles are constantly subject to editorial amendment in the light of clearer statements -- precluding direct quotation of text which may later be amended. The bibliographical approach taken is to refer users to books relevant to the profile, if such exist, and to refer users on to web documents through generated search queries. Periodical citations are rarely used; specialized bibliographies are favoured.
  • Constituency bias: Priority is given to including information that reflects concern by particular constituencies, whether or not the problem or strategy is taken seriously by other constituencies. This means that the profiles reflect a wide variety of biases that are a reflection of biases active in society. The information presented in the light of such a bias may well be challenged by other information presented in the profile. To hold these contrasting perspectives special fields are used for Claim and Counter-claim. Special pleading, exaggerated and emotive claims may well be included there.

Editing context

  • Dynamic approach: The profiles and cross-references are subject to constant review. They may be amended every day. Nothing is definitive. Every new piece of information received may be usefully seen as a challenge to what has already been fed into the databases, especially if new descriptors are used to identify a problem or strategy.
  • Profile construction by accretion: In contrast to conventional practice, profiles are built up by accretion of information as it is received from sources encountered. Once entered, parts of the information may later be moved to other profiles if that is more appropriate.
  • Accreditation: In contrast to conventional practice, the "author/editor" of the profile is not identifed. This is because the information may derive from many public domain sources, and be edited by a number of people at different times. Many of these sources may only provide minor details in sub-sections of reports on quite different subjects. Bibliographic references are only included if the document treats the problem or strategy in a comprehensive way. Such references are included when they are immediately available. Because of limited resources, they are seldom the subject of special literature searches -- nor are the most recent documents necessarily included.
  • Redistribution of information: Amendments to one descriptive profile may require amendments to another. Profiles (eg problems or strategies) may be split or merged in the light of new information, greater precision regarding appropriate names, or greater clarity concerning the hierarchical structure.
  • Iterative editing: Because of the complexity of the editing task, new information may be positioned provisionally within the existing pattern of profiles. This anticipates further work which would then move that material to a more relevant position within that pattern. This approach frees the editors to pursue priority editing tasks, whilst deferring action on that material.
  • Conciseness: Problems and strategies are often described in the available literature with flowery text using special jargon that may preclude wider appreciation of the points made. An effort is made to rewrite such descriptions to focus on the problematic focus (of problems) and the action focus (of strategies). Succinct focused text, analogous in style to a legal brief, is an editorial preference.

Editorial bias

In addition to biases implicit in the points above, there are several overriding editorial biases (see more):

  • Comprehensiveness: The editorial policy is not to give special weight to problems or strategies in particular subject areas. In fact there is a definite resistance to currently fashionable topics which may replaced by other preoccupations within months or years. Nonetheless, problems and strategies in such areas are assiduously profiled as part of the larger pattern of problems and strategies that such fashions may ignore. Perspectives of marginalized or minority constituencies are especially valued as a reflection of cultural and cognitive diversity.
  • "Anti-topic": The databases are not concerned with "subjects" or "topics" of research, study or commentary. Every effort is made to focus on the problematic nature of problems and the action-oriented nature of strategies. This discipline contrasts with conventional "encyclopedic" approaches, thus focusing on the condition of society today within the editorial resources available.
  • "Anti-model": The problems and strategies profiled emerge from "models", "theories", "philosophies", "belief systems" and the like. The focus is to document the perception as it is valued by those so mobilized, but not to document the model as such, although it may be referenced incidentally in passing. It is accepted that this editorial bias is the reflection of an implicit model.
  • "Non-political": The problems and strategies profiled may well be associated with quite different political movements and perspectives. No particular perspective is valued but every effort is made to profile perspectives that may be little known or negatively valued by majority constituencies.
  • Classification: Strong arguments can be put forward for ordering the profiles in the different databases in particular ways. The tendency to do so is considered to be part of the intellectual trap of the times. This trap has been avoided by reducing the dependence on any particular classification system (see more). Particular thematic areas may be the subject of official classifications developed by mandated international agencies. Attention is given to such classifications in developing hierarchical relationships. But their "official" approaches are not considered as necessarily determining how hierarchies should be organized within the databases. Many official classifications have their own difficulties, including political pressures, and alternatives are continually proposed. The web search facility bypasses some of the challenges of classification by enabling searches by subject cluster and nested hierarchies.
  • English-language: The limited resources impose an unwelcome bias against material requiring translation into English. The assumption was made that this was to a significant degree corrected by the extensive use of materials formulated in the multi-lingual environments of international organizations (profiled in the associated Yearbook of International Organizations). Searching of the databases is however possible through use of a wide range of keywords in languages other than English.

An extensive commentary on the scope of each database is available from any profile page. Note also the warning to users.