The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

Editor: Union of International Associations
Publisher: K. G. Saur Verlag

About the Encyclopedia

The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential 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.

Free Online Database

Released in 2000 - Currently under re-development [Read more]
Editor and publisher: Union of International Associations

The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential Online 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.

Content

The Encyclopedia Online consists of six main databases, each complementing each other:

  • World Problems - Issues: 56,564 profiles, 276,791 links
  • Global Strategies - Solutions: 32,547 profiles, 284,382 links
  • Human Values: 3,257 profiles, 119,255 links
  • Human Development: 4,817 profiles, 19,757 links
  • Patterns and Metaphors: 1,275 profiles, 4,535 links
  • Integrative Concepts: 633 profiles

Access the Database

More details about the Encyclopedia databases may be found in the links below.

World Problems - Issues Database

Aim

To provide a more comprehensive understanding of world problems in order to enhance the ability to deal with the challenges humanity faces.

Content

The World Problems database includes profiles of the problems humanity faces and the relationships between them - from Absentmindedness, AIDS and Avalanches, to Xenophobia, Youth Unemployment and Zoonotic Bacterial Diseases.

Rationale

In the past, much effort has gone into the focus on seemingly isolated world problems, such as unemployment, boredom, endangered species, desertification or corruption. The World Problems database shifts the focus to the hunt for complex networks and even vicious cycles of problems (see definition above).

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 which causes so many to despair. 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.

Global Strategies - Solutions Database

Aim

To enhance the ability to formulate effective strategies to global problems.

Content

The Global Strategies database attempts to record and map the relationships between strategies and solutions that humanity actually or potentially uses - from Awarding prizes, Breaking down cultural isolation and Campaigning, to Wishing and Using witchcraft.

Rationale

The international community invests much time and energy in formulating and implementing strategies. However, the tendency is to perceive such strategies in isolation.

Whilst organizations may be able to identify precisely the set of problems to which they are responding, it is usually much less clear what strategy they are employing in the process. This is because organizations quite often have strategies which are not distinguishable within the organization from programme orientations, working style and the general objectives for which the body was originally established.

Also, the current approach limits strategy formulation. The conventional way of addressing any problem situation is to elaborate a strategy, but given the number, variety and interrelationships of the problems, as detailed in the World Problems database, it is uncertain whether any conventional strategy could be adequate.

Given this complexity, there is a great advantage in clarifying the range of strategies currently being pursued in response to global problems. This database of strategies indicates the merits and clashes of various strategic approaches which can then be rendered much more explicit to planners.

Human Values Database

Aim

To promote understanding of the values, which are the guiding principles of human behaviour, in the hopes that a more comprehensive understanding will enhance the ability to deal with current global challenges.

Content

The Human Values database attempts to record and map the relationships between human values - from Anarchy, Boredom and Creativity, to Xenophobia, Youthfulness and Zealotry - and which often occur in value polarities of constructive or destructive values.

Rationale

The debate on social policy at the local, national or world level makes many references to concepts such as equality, justice and liberty. These are abstract concepts of great ambiguity and imprecision. However, in attempting to formulate social policy for the future, values must be fed into the decision-making process. Therefore, the utility of any such policy depends on an understanding of the complex and shifting architecture of values that regulates human behaviour.

What are values, how do they relate to one another, and how do they change? How do they relate to the problems with which society is confronted? Knowledge of these matters remains primitive relative to the needs of the time. And, no problem can be recognized, or adequately formulated, unless the values involved, and the apparent threat to them, are stated. Many world problems can be specifically associated with the values which they threaten or violate in some way.

Human Development Database

Aim

To provide a context for concepts of human development that are used in essentially different and frequently non-interacting sectors of society, and to draw attention to those concepts of human development which have hitherto been excluded from serious consideration within the international community.

Content

The Human Development database provides descriptions of human development approaches and the relationships between them, as perceived by different beliefs systems, disciplines, religions, and cultures - from Absolution, Balancing yin and yang and Chakra centres of consciousness, to Xenophrenia (or psychism), Yantra yoga and Zen meditation.

Rationale

The term "human development" relates to concepts that people identify with, consider meaningful or reject in their search for growth and fulfilment in life. It points to a process which is of vital interest at a time when the organization and future of life on this planet is challenged by the consequences of past understandings of that same process. For it is human development, through its lack of restraint, which has given rise to a high proportion of the problems of the world.

The Human Development database describes briefly the complete range of concepts of human development. It includes concepts legitimated by the psychological and psychoanalytical establishments as well as those promoted by the various contemporary growth movements. It also includes concepts from religions and from belief systems of different cultures. Entries are included on explicit concepts of human development and on therapies, activities or experiences in which a particular understanding of human development is implicit.

Concepts are also compared, for instance between those that place importance on the psycho-social development of the individual as a unique human being, from those which effectively stress the development of the individual conceived merely as a socio-economic unit. The Human Development database also provides information on the range of modes of awareness, as well as on the states of consciousness with which people identify during the process of human development, indicating where possible how these are perceived as interrelated stages.

Patterns and Metaphors Database

Aim

To explore the role of metaphor and pattern in relation to governance, understanding of world problems, articulation of more appropriate organizational strategies, transformative conferencing and dialogue, and knowledge organization.

Content

The Patterns and Metaphors database provides descriptions of metaphors and the relationships between them - from Ambiguous Boundaries, Boats and Ships and Cycles of Religious Festivals, to Unity and Diversity, Voice, and War.

Rationale

Metaphors are a special form of presentation natural to many cultures. They are of unique importance as a means of communicating complex notions, especially in interdisciplinary and multicultural dialogue, as well as in the popularization of abstract concepts, in political discourse and as part of any creative process. They offer the special advantage of calling upon a pre-existing capacity to comprehend complexity, rather than assuming that people need to engage in lengthy educational processes before being able to comprehend.

Although frequently used in international debate through which strategies are defined, the advantages of metaphor have not been deliberately explored to assist in the implementation of such strategies. Each development policy may be considered a particular "answer" to the global problematique. No such answer appears to be free from fundamental weaknesses. A shift to an alternative policy becomes progressively more necessary as the effects of these weaknesses accumulate. However, since each such policy reflects a "language" or mind-set whereby a worldview is organized, no adequate "logical" framework can exist to facilitate comprehension of the nature of such a shift or of the process of transition between alternatives.

Many familiar metaphors of alternation exist through which the characteristics and limitations of such a shift may be understood. This database is interested in the possibility of deliberately designing metaphors in support of innovative development.

Integrative Concepts Database

Aim

To identify classes of symbols considered significant in traditional and modern cultures; and to enhance understanding of the range of symbols that remain active in society and which can be called upon as a cultural resource to give focus to international programmes given that they embody special significance in establishing the identity of international campaigns in relation to other initiatives.

Content

The Integrative Concepts database details the symbols - from Abstraction, Analogy and Adaptation, to Union, Visualization and World Unity.

Rationale

Symbols are of special importance in embodying significance and giving focus to any campaign or programme and in establishing its identity in relation to other initiatives. Whilst much work has been done on symbols in order to market commercial products or political parties, almost none has been done on their value in communicating the key ideas associated with development strategies.

Furthermore, when advocating or imposing the use of particular international sets of values, needs or qualities, it is not recognized that these effectively compete as functional substitutes in traditional societies with other sets of qualities represented by hierarchies of gods, spiritual beings, or natural phenomena perceived as governing those qualities or some of them.

Given the relative rapidity with which such sets are now formulated it is not surprising if they are viewed as artificial, bloodless and unrelated to the complex pattern of qualities associated with traditional sets of symbols.

The lack of success of public information programmes, using a confusion of unrelated symbolic gimmicks, is therefore understandable. There would therefore seem to be a need to understand the range of symbols that remain active in society and which, as a cultural resource, can be called upon to give focus to international programmes.

4th Print Edition 1994 - 1995

Published from 1976 to 1995
Editor: Union of International Associations
Publisher: K. G. Saur Verlag

Out of Print
Please see online version
Hardback (approx. 1264 pp.)
ISBN: 3 598 11225 4

The print edition of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential 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. With a total of nearly 20,000 entries, linked by over 158,000 cross-references, this edition is more comprehensive than any of the previous editions. Entries themselves have been rigorously updated and extended in both quantity and content.

  • Encyclopedia Volume 1: World Problems

    The first volume of the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential describes over 12,000 world problems, which are linked by some 120,000 relationships of 7 types. Problems included are those identified in international periodicals but especially in the documents of some 20,000 international non-profit organizations profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations.

    This volume is divided into 5 sub-sections containing descriptive entries, and 2 further sub-sections corresponding to entries which are indexed and cross-referenced, but are not printed.

  • Encyclopedia Volume 2: Human Potential: Transformation and Values

    Volume 2 of the Encyclopediais divided into 5 sections: Human Development - 4,475 cross-referenced entries; Integrative Knowledge - identifes over 600 symbols considered significant in traditional and modern cultures; Metaphors and Patterns - over 1,300 metaphors and the 4,500 relationships between them; Transformative Approaches; Values and Wisdom - over 3,200 values, and maps over 120,000 relationships between them.

  • Encyclopedia Volume 3: Actions - Strategies - Solutions

    Volume 3 of the Encyclopedia contains descriptions of over 15,000 international strategies and action plans, and cross-references the world problems in Volume 1 and the international organizations described in the Yearbook of International Organizations. Profiled are the strategies currently employed by international bodies, whether in response to world problems or to enhance particular values or modes of development. It also provide the first systematic identification of several thousand vicious problem cycles to which such strategies need to respond, but provides the necessary remedial focus to balance this information and identifies mutually reinforcing strategic cycles.

    This volume is divided into 9 sub-sections, of which 5 contain descriptive entries, and a further 3 correspond to entries which are indexed and cross-referenced but are not printed.

  • Encyclopedia Past Editions

    The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential has also been published in three previous editions, beginning in 1986, and one edition under the title Yearbook of World Problems and Human Potential, published in 1976.

    All print editions of the Encyclopedia are out of print. The online version is freely accessible, however. For more information, please see the 'Online Access' tab above.

The Encyclopedia is currently undergoing redevelopment !

Users of the Encyclopedia

Universities, Researchers, Libraries, Educators, International Relations Professionals, Policy Development Professionals, Ministries, Not-For-Profit Organizations, Intergovernmental Organizations, Corporate Entities

Quotes from Encyclopedia Reviews

"No limit exists to the application of this Encyclopedia - it is an excellent data source for any type of theoretical and practical research."
- Journal of Documentation

"The term "awesome" is prone to overuse. Nevertheless, its use is entirely appropriate to describe this massive, rich, yet easily accessible work."
- Current Issues In Criminal Justice

"A really extraordinary help for mankind, could be of tremendous help for decision makers."
- Knowledge Organization

"The most comprehensive source of information on world problems, on how they are perceived to be interrelated, and on the human resources and strategies which can be used to challenge them."
- Scientific and Medical Network

"Many local, regional and global problems can only be solved through an integrative, holistic approach involving the identification of several hundred EFPVs. Here, the Encyclopedia is an invaluable conceptual and applied tool."
- Journal of Documentation

"Radically different perspectives are offered by this really exciting source of descriptions of human capabilities to policy-makers, social researchers and those concerned with development strategies."
- Knowledge Organization

"This is a valuable and important collection of information, and should not be missed."
- TRANET

"The insight and stimuli to be found in the Encyclopedia should be made accessible to as many people as possible."
- International Social Science Review

"If political bodies would really like to see citizens actively doing something about world problems, the Encyclopedia is the educational work which will give them the means to this end."
- International Social Science Review

"Occasionally a powerfully outstanding piece of work reminds us of what can, and should be achieved. This is one of them."
- Futures - Oxford

"The authors and the compiler of this Encyclopedia have tried to solve a problem that seems to utterly defy solution. Nevertheless they have solved it in some way."
- IC International Classification

"The Encyclopedia is a wonder that could only come from superhuman dedication, unremitting toil, a bit of genius, and, yes, a madness upon which the gods have smiled."
- The Futurist

"Like no other encyclopedia. Its subject-matter is unique: the problems facing humanity, the way international organisations and networks perceive those problems, and the ideas that exist about human potential."
- World Goodwill

"The Encyclopedia is full of fascinating, quite deadpan information about every conceivable problem, presented in an impartial manner, with both sides of every argument side by side."
- EFCT

"The healthiest challenge to problem thinking one could hope to find, a radical departure which sheds insight and sense."
- Inquiry Magazine

"A real treasure trove providing multiple insights into problem perceptions which both reflect and shape realities."
- Yehezkel Dror

"There is nothing like it, either in depth or scope. A unique contribution to our understanding of the global problematique."
- Peter Russell, author of Global Brain

"What an idea! Warmly recommended, a fresh approach that hopefully will stimulate more creativity in all of us."
- Johan Galtung, Olof Palme Professor of Peace Studies

"A powerfully outstanding piece of work ... as a research tool, a source of material and a continuing inspiration. We would all be better off if there were more works of this stature."
- Richard A Slaughter, Futures

"The Encyclopedia introduces the user gently to a highly unsatisfactory state of world affairs, providing him with an improved insight into the many contradictions in which world problems are ensnarled, and the reasons that they have come about."
- Robert Jungk, Zukunft