Problematique and the Club of Rome

By

Ken Bausch, PhD

Institute for 21st Century Agoras

www.globalagoras.org

 

The origins of the Club of Rome can be traced to a New York City restaurant in 1969.  Over food and drinks during a conference, Aurelio Peccei, Hasan Ozbekhan, and Alexander Christakis discussed ways to start an international initiative to address the global Problematique, namely the technology chasm as initially conceptualized in Aurelio’s book, the Chasm Ahead.  This book described the escalating technological chasm between the advanced industrialized countries and the third world countries (Peccei, 1969).  Aurelio was very concerned and committed to working on closing this chasm.

Earlier that year, Hasan had delivered a long paper in the Bellagio conference in Italy titled “The General Theory of Planning,” which was later published in a book edited by Erich Jantsch (1969) titled Perspectives on Planning.  During his participation in the Bellagio conference, Hasan had met Aurelio Peccei, an Italian industrialist and philanthropist.  Hasan had a good friend and collaborator Aleco Christakis who had a history of involvement with Constantine Doxiadis, the Ekistics movement, and the Delos Dialogues.

The triumvirate decided to name this initiative The Club of Rome (CoR), primarily because Aurelio was very fascinated with the American concept of the “club.”  It was agreed to produce a proposal that would lay out in detail the work that would have to be done to create a more livable world for all the people of the planet Earth. 

Subsequently, Aurelio, Hasan, and Aleco, aided by Erich Jantsch, put together the first conceptualization of the global Problematique in the monumental first proposal of the Club of Rome titled “The Predicament of Mankind” (1970).  With Aurelio making the connections and paying the freight, Aleco trotted the globe from Germany to Japan to Brazil and many points in between explaining the proposal and inviting world leaders to become members of the Club of Rome.  By the end of 1971, approximately 60 people from countries such as the USA, France, Japan, Russia, Germany, England, Italy, and many others, had accepted the invitation to become members of the Club.

The Predicament of Mankind, (for a review of the proposal visit http://sunsite.utk.edu/FINS/loversofdemocracy/Predicament.PTI.pdf ), was put together under the towering leadership of Hasan Ozbekhan, probably one of the best systems thinkers of the 20th century.  It described very eloquently the predicament of mankind.  It identified approximately 50 Continuous Critical Problems (CCPs), which on account of their strong interactions should not be addressed in a piecemeal fashion.  Such problems as the ”pollution problem,” the “inner city problem,” the “poverty problem” the “starvation problem” the “nuclear proliferation problem,” the “population growth problem,” and so on, are strongly interconnected contributing to the emergence of a new entity called in the proposal the global Problematique.  The concept and the name Problematique appeared for the first time in the Club of Rome (CoR) proposal.  The proposal recognized and described the futility of addressing these problems in a piecemeal fashion, instead of addressing them as a system of problems. It proceeded to conceptualize and articulate very elegantly a philosophical, methodological, and institutional framework for penetrating and resolving the global Problematique. 

Because no appropriate methodology was available in the early 70s for addressing the complexity and multidimensionality of the Problematique, the framework presented in the proposal was more like an architectural design than an engineering blueprint.  Some readers of the proposal considered it an outstanding conceptual breakthrough, but others, especially the systems engineers of the 60s, found it lacking in methodological specificity and rigor. 

The perceived lack of methodological rigor of the proposal contributed significantly in the decision of the Executive Committee of CoR to award, in the summer of 1971, a major grant to the systems dynamics group of MIT.  This group, under the leadership of Jay Forester who was an electrical engineer by training and  was a professor at the Sloan School of Management at MIT, had been working on developing the systems dynamics approach to the observation, explanation, and prediction of the dynamics of social systems.  Forester had already applied the method to industrial and urban dynamics in the 60s, so it was easy for him to persuade the Executive Committee that it was appropriate to apply the method to world dynamics.   The Executive Committee decided to sponsor the project on the development of the world dynamics model.  The major outcome of this project was the production of the “world model” using the methodology of systems dynamics.  The work and findings of this project culminated with the publication of the very popular book Limits to Growth in 1972 (Meadows, et al., 1972).  The controversial nature of the findings reported in this book gave a lot of publicity and notoriety to the CoR.

When the Executive Committee made this grant award to MIT to develop the world model, Hasan and Aleco resigned from the Club.  They both felt that the systems dynamics methodology, which was used for deriving an extrapolated future for the world system to the year 2150, compromised the original intent of the CoR proposal which was to discover and use a methodology capable of engaging the stakeholders in a dialogical process with sensitivity to their cultural situation and the praxis of their lives.  They felt that the system dynamics approach was perpetuating a paradigm of scientific elitism and social engineering in designing social systems, instead of legitimizing the wisdom of the people by engaging stakeholder in a dialogue for designing their futures.  Hasan joined the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Aleco got involved with the establishment of the Academy for Contemporary Problems with the financial support of the Battelle Memorial Institute.  Battelle was one of the founding sponsors of the CoR. 

Aleco working with John Warfield and many other colleagues, initially at the Academy for Contemporary Problems in Columbus, Ohio, and later in other academic institutions, has spent approximately 35 years of research, development, and testing in the arena to invent and apply the model and methodology that rendered the original architecture of the Club of Rome proposal usable and applicable in the field of practice.

The fruit of that research and practice is the Structured Dialogic Design Process (SDDP), which is set out in the book Harnessing Collective Wisdom and Power www.harnessingcollectivewisdom.com.

 

References

Christakis, A. N. (1988).  The Club of Rome revisited in: General Systems.  W. J. Reckmeyer (ed.), International Society for the Systems Sciences, Vol. XXXI, pp. 35-38, New York.

Christakis, A.N. and Bausch, K.B. (2006).  Harnessing Collective Wisdom and Power to Construct the Future.  Greenwich, Information Age.

Doxiadis. C. A., (1968).  Ekistics: An Introduction to the Science of Human Settlements, Hutchinson of London.

Meadows D. H., Meadows D., and Randers J. (1972). The Limits to Growth.  New York: Universe Books.

Özbekhan, H. (1969). Towards a general theory of planning. In E. Jantsch (ed.), Perspectives of planning. Paris: OECD Publications.

Peccei A. (1969 ).  The Chasm Ahead, Toronto: The Macmillan Company.