BUILDING AN "INFORMATION SOCIETY" FOR THE NEWLY INDEPENDENT STATES
Salvatore Imbrogno, Ph.d
The Newly Independent States (NIS) are evolving in the concepts of "Democratization, privatization and transformation" of their individual States where each represents a unique culture with specific socioeconomic and political subgroups and, where within each it is expected that they
Co-exist in an emerging, larger and more complex system; namely, the Social transformation of the political system from highly centralized planned societies to a market oriented economy.
This degree of convergence within and between each NIS can only be Realized through a communication network in each state and between states; Widespread teleworking; widespread access to scientific and leisure Database; development of preventive heath and welfare systems. Electronic and especially digital technologies, have made it possible to combine a transmission of information, sound text and images in a single high performance system; hence, the potential for a convergence of cultural plurality of diverse values, interests and beliefs within and between states.
It is within this conception of information where survival or Decline of the NIS stands to rest in the achievement of democracy, privatization and transformation. A social welfare system is envisioned as a major player in the creation of an information society which intends to be self-steering; self -organizing and self-regulating through an open and free horizontal and vertical transfer of information. This entails a universal and comprehensive social welfare system functioning in an electronic and information technology for social policy planning, social program planning and management and social projects and operations.
A first task toward creating a multi-level human service system within the context of an information society requires the adaptation of a comparative research strategy capable of discerning differences between these levels while at the same time integrating similarities into THE COMPARATIVE METHOD IN AN INFORMATION SOCIETY
Given that a human service system comprises multi-level functions groups within a larger social system and are each distinctive because of their different levels of complexity and, given that the NIS in this new awareness, advocates for interdependence and interrelatedness, conventional comparative methods designed to isolate and fragment parochial values and idiosyncratic functions become pitfalls in a world of new knowledge, information and technology.
It is common to define mainstream comparative methods as a study of data from at least two member states and/or from any two multi-level social welfare functions that each are involved (Ragin, 1983). These comparative methods call for collecting and analyzing empirical data. This is a precondition for exercising statistical control over causal variations. A research objective is to explain, analyze and interpret diverse experiences in two analogous welfare systems in the multi-levels of practice; namely, either macro-level social policy planning and development; meso-level social programming planning and management or micro-level project plans and operations but not all.
In contrast to this single case design, a variable oriented strategy applies the basic and derived concepts inherent in the social dimensions to social welfare structured in the multi-functions of a cybernetic model. It would have universal applications to any level of complexity from macro-systems (i.e. European Union); to meso-level cross-comparisons between societies (i.e. France and Germany) and finally, complexity from macro-systems to a micro-level state of a single entity in project plans and operations. No single case design of a linear causal analysis is chosen; no matter what substantive area is selected for study (i.e. health, poverty, aging etc.); or on whatever level of complexity under scrutiny (i.e. less developed to complex).
Scholarship emerging from the European Union highlights the need for a viable alternative to a conventional comparative method; notably, one that can discern differences between member states within the multi-level functions of each state while at the same time integrating similarities into a contemporary social welfare system. A theoretical construct that provides the foundation for mutual exclusiveness while simultaneously creating the conditions for mutual inclusiveness has important implications for the EU. It is an innovative and experimental perspective that would avoid the pitfalls of isolating and fragmenting any one function (or sub-group) on any one level.
A CYBERNETIC MODEL FOR CENTER-MARGINAL SUB-GROUPS
A cybernetic model is defined as a dynamic acquisition and utilization of information. It is now presented as a means to "sweep in" EU's concepts of a universal social dimension to a n integrated welfare state into the multi-level functions of social welfare policy development and production:
A cybernetic model encompasses multiple, combinatorial and cumulative causes. Two major observations can be explicated and incorporated into the basic and derived concepts of new ways of acquiring, transmitting and utilizing information:
A variable oriented strategy does not attempt to understand or interpret specific empirical outcomes on any one level of functions in a small number of sample cases or in empirically defined sets of cases but does search for new information that increases interdependence on all levels between people and their social institutions.
EXISTING PERSPECTIVES AND EMERGING PRESCRIPTIONS
What is unique about this information society is that it attempts to integrate information acquired on the economics of a quality based production (i.e. science and technology) with the information on social progress and human development (i.e. social philosophy and humanism). Notably, it is a "new world view" of shared social institutions and the pursuit of common goals as for example, with one currency and a unified citizenry embarking upon an experimental federal system. It constitutes the integration of a massive cultural plurality of diversity with a "Union" that is heavily invested in the dynamics of information acquisition and utilization on a grand scale.
EU's ingenuity sparkles. It has rightly integrated a conventional comparative single case design (i.e. linear causal analysis) with a corresponding synthesis design that coalesces the multiple variables manifested in the functioning of member states both within the union and within the multi-level functions of each member state. EU refers to this as "vertical cooperation" not in the traditional sense of a one directional track of either a deductive or inductive reductionistic inquiry but rather a cyclical process of information exchange. The former would result in classical linear causal analysis subject to statistical control in either a deductive (i.e. EU's top/down; policy is an independent variable) or inductive inquiry (i.e. EU's bottom/up; policy is a dependent variable) but not both. A synthesis design function unifies the deductive and inductive systems of inquiry to become a "third way" or the philosophical conception of a cybernetic model.
In sum, EU is adapting a classification scheme that inductively discovers invariance (i.e. 15 member states) while discerning patterns of associations to a larger whole ( Commission of the European Communities, September 1993).
EUROPEAN UNION AS AN INFORMATION SOCIETY
In this relatively new union an "information and communications technology" (ICT) has emerged and is expected to underpin human activities. A movement toward an information society affects all aspects of society and the interrelatedness of 15 member states. It is creating within the Community the following interdependent common information areas:
This constitutes an information system: storage, processing and transmission function for the EU as for example, Eurydice, which is an information network on education in the European Community; Missoc is a mutual information system on social protection in the member states of the Community; Elaine is a European local authorities information network on ethnic minorities; Rimet is an information network on immigration from third world countries.
EU is moving in the direction of a horizontal and vertical transfer of information needed to strengthen, reinforce and integrate information transmitted from one member state to another: from top (EU) to bottom (center-margin member states) and conversely from the bottom/up. This constitutes what EU has labeled a "new synergy and synthesis": a coalescence necessary for realizing a social dimension in a welfare state. ..." Information and communication technologies are transforming dramatically many aspects of economic and social life, such as working methods and relations, the organization of companies, the focus of training and education, and the way people communicate with each other" (Commission of the European Communities, November 1993, p.92).
One way to capture the essence of this "new information society" is to demonstrate how EU's new information and communication technologies are acquired and utilized. For example, when viewed from a multi-level functional perspective of a social welfare system within and between member states, a vertical and horizontal information transfer is installed for a cybernetic state:
When information is transferred in a vertical mutual interaction and a horizontal mutual integration, a cybernetic feedback network is installed.
If each horizontal level is taken literally as a unique value and distinctive function the following consequences result:
EU places emphasis on one social dimension; subsidarity, to avoid the consequences of elitism. When these multi-level functions are integrated, the functional outcome is different from any one level taken separately. A recognition of the vital importance of subsidarity for a "common information area" within the Community is established. An information society stands at the center of a horizontal and vertical transfer of information necessary for social interaction on one level and/or any one member state and a social integration on multi-levels for all member states.
INFORMATION SOCIETY AND THE DIMENSIONS TO SOCIAL WELFARE
As noted, much is made of such terms as the mutual interaction and mutual integration of information. Other terms have been introduced such as a "new synergy synthesis"; to reflect a similar meaning when applied to the meanings given to social dimensions of a welfare state namely, a social dialogue (information and communication) energizes social subsidarity, social integration, social cohesion, social solidarity and social inclusion. Taken together, it has been identified as a "third way" (Imbrogno, April 1994).
A third way introduced humanist principles ("personalism") to the social dimensions of an economic existence. Jacques Delors was a strong advocate of this view throughout his presidency of the European Commission. It focuses on combining economic dynamism with social progress - a linkage that can only be achieved through a social dialogue between member states.
EU established five concepts to a social dimension of a welfare state:
These concepts constitute a social dimension in a welfare state that have all but substituted for the conventional usage of such terms as social welfare, social work and the human services. (Commission of the European Communities, May 1993).
These social dimensions of a new welfare system serve as a vital component to formulating the internal referents, generating the procedural processes and establishing the systemic boundaries upon which the policies and politics of the EU will evolve in practice. The greater the EU movement toward social cohesion, integration, inclusion and solidarity in its pluralistic community the more cohesive and coherent will be social welfare policy . The independent variable is the information and communication technology. It is clear that EU seeks to reconcile competitive paradigms by building on the restricted parochial perspectives of member states. A more advanced and broader paradigm is produced in the synthesis of the social dimensions to social welfare. It is strengthened and reinforced by a social dialogue that includes a free movement of people; promoting equal opportunities for women and men in a changing European society.
There is little enthusiasm from some member states for full harmonization of social welfare schemes across the community. For example, the United Kingdom was the only member not to sign the social policy provisions of the Maastricht Treaty in 1993 (Commission of the European Communities, 1993). The long standing social and economic disparities between member states in welfare, social security and employment are not easily reconcilable. As would be expected, the idea of equalization and standardization is of particular interest to less developed member states, notably, the Greek and Portugal member states both of whom have been recipients of ESF funding ( D. Loumidi, personal communication, April 18, 1994). The social dimension to a welfare state which evolve within the multi-level functions of social policy, programs and services are currently in the throes of deep-seated culturally diverse interests, values and belief systems.
Clearly, the success or failure of the information society is very much contingent upon a social dialogue (i.e. communication) within and between member states.
SOCIAL INTEGRATION IN AN INFORMATION SOCIETY
Notwithstanding the politics of an information society, a system integration in the acquisition and transmission of information in the European Community is possible through the development of social policy, programs and services.
If it is accepted that a social dialogue enables member states to arrive at desirable, innovative and total system policy decisions, then social integration becomes key toward transforming the "ideals" of policy into the realities of designing, developing and managing social programs. EU refers to social integration as the backbone of an "active society" that interconnects desirable social policies, feasible economic strategic planning to actual social outcomes. A "mutual synergy" of the desirability of policies, strategic feasibility and actual operations is envisioned by EU's universal and institutional conception of social insurance as self -allocations and provisions within the context of state guarantees.
The idea behind social integration is to combine social programs to include education, training, employment and equal opportunities for women and men, social protection, social services, housing, health etc. This is predicated upon the underlying assumption that social problems in one area affect problems in other areas; that is, problems are inseparable and not measurable apart from the whole of EU. Standing alone, income maintenance programs are inadequate and were never perceived as a means to get people back into the system. Income maintenance programs should provide "social protection" not only to prevent people from impoverishment but also to restore them to acceptable standards of living. This social activity is given over to neighborhoods and communities.
Problems in welfare are not only matters of disparities on the socioeconomic scale, but also between those integrated into society and those excluded. The causes are multiple and include unemployment; the impact of industrial change on poorly skilled workers; the evolution of the family structures and decline of the traditional forms of social solidarity; the growth of individualism and the decline of traditional representative institutions; and finally new forms of migration, illegal immigration and the movement of populations compound traditional forms of poverty concentrated in declining urban areas.
The key to the creation of an open and free information society aspiring to the fruits of a cybernetic state (i.e. monitoring outcomes and evaluating outputs as a continuous function) is totally contingent upon the degree and extent to which EU can realize social integration. It is a critical non-controllable variable to which EU connects it into the economic production base of the community. This poses a wicked policy problem. Social integration is not only a social and psychological problem involving the cultural diversity of member states, it is also an economic problem involving the distribution and redistribution of economic goods and services between them.
THE ACTIVATION OF AN INFORMATION SOCIETY
EU's objective is to encourage the contribution, participation and commitment of member states as social partners in networking, information exchange systems and experimental projects that can produce creative and innovative policies (i.e. policy development) as well as tactical implementation (i.e. policy production). Specific remedial and preventive projects need to be in place. For example, the modernization of the exchange of data between social security institutions in a better exploitation of technology; the widest dissemination of information to the public; guaranteeing the young employment; educational programs for self-renewal; networking in the exchange of human and social resources etc.
No where is this more prominent than in the way information is disseminated on women's rights and opportunities. For example, the socioeconomic data on women reveal a very different picture of society from what is commonly assumed by Europeans. Over a quarter of women are heads of households- they live alone or as single parents. Over half are in paid work. Women are having fewer children and are on equal footing with men in schools and universities. The working careers of increasing numbers of women are resembling those of men, with no break in between to bring up children. In the process of reconciling economic performance and human needs, EU's options for social policy now take into account women's rights and opportunities.
A current focus is on integrating educational action programs in the field of educational training for employment (FORCE); PETRA action program for vocational training of young people and their preparation for adult and working life, and COMETT program designed to create cooperation between universities and industries. Information networking has not excluded other social welfare programs such as the prevention of poverty, health care, aged, disabled housing etc.
The following represents a sample of the scope of social programs and projects in social security, social protection and living conditions. More extensive data can be secured from the EU ( Europe. The European Community as a publisher 1991-1994. Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, Luxembourg):
Options to European social policy are being advanced as a "third way" comprising the basic and derived concepts that constitute a social dimension of a welfare state that is responding to changing socioeconomic conditions and precipitating a need for innovative and experimental community action programs. A cybernetic model is presented as both an alternative comparative social research method and as an applied analytical method to study the European Union experience. Together they serve to unravel the complex dynamics to EU's options for a social policy.
A multiple, combinatorial and cumulative causal explanation is intrinsic to the mulit-level functions of cybernetic systems. When placed within the context of the various components of a social dimension in a welfare state, an alternative comparative research strategy emerges. The result is a cybernetic model. As a result, a cybernetic model offers new and different insights for social welfare development as follows:
Experiences in the European Union served to illustrate the viability of this model. It results in new insights to scholarly research in the multi-level functions of global awareness; fresh and challenging pedagogical content and finally, a method that offers a major breakthrough toward constructing innovative and experimental models.
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