Using Integrative Propositional Analysis to analyze the potential usefulness of “People sharing Resources” Theory and indicating directions for advancement
Quilligan is a respected name in the integral community. His is a champion of the Global Commons and provides strong suggestions for how we might come together to become more effective stewards of our planet. While everyone is entitled to her or his views, James Quilligan suggests that his views are improvements over other approaches such as cap-and-trade strategies to reduce carbon emissions. Because his suggestions suggest radical changes to our global culture, careful analysis is indicated. In the present paper, I use Integrative Propositional Analysis (IPA) an emerging methodology specifically developed to provide a rigorous analysis of conceptual systems such as his. IPA is focused on understanding the complexity and systemicity of theoretical systems. In this paper, IPA identifies structural strengths of Quilligan’s theory as well as opportunities for improvement and the likelihood of its effectiveness in practical application.
Keywords: Integrative Propositional Analysis, metatheory, theory of theory, Quilligan, global commons, conceptual system, policy, energy policy
Our planet and its uncounted inhabitants face a fearsome array of problems. As individuals, we face the global economic crisis. As individuals with some sense of future events, we are rightly concerned with global warming and related ecological disasters. The stakes are high; perhaps the highest. The fate of our planet hangs in the balance along with the fate of untold future generations of children. It is clear that we must change. The big question is what direction do we go? Some have suggested new approaches to managing our carbon emissions through cap and trade, or an emissions tax. Others argue for alternative approaches that are more wide reaching.
In his article, “Interest Rates and Climate Change” Quilligan (2010) challenges the value of carbon tax and the cap and trade approaches to reducing greenhouse gasses and improving the ecosystem. Central to his argument is the idea that Earth’s resources are badly mismanaged by the present system of governments, corporations, and consumers. And, that global sustainability could be better achieved by “global commons.” The commons idea was developed in a previous article (which he refers to) titled, “People sharing Resources” (Quilligan 2009).
Changing to a global commons approach amounts to a tremendous shift in our economic, social, industrial, and governmental processes. If our society were to undergo this shift, every facet of our lives would be altered. Prices would change; the very nature and understanding of money would change. Governments would follow different rules, and new governing relationships would be developed to decide how to best use our limited resources and how best to distribute the wealth.
With stakes so high and the changes so vast, it seems more than reasonable that we take every effort to understand what is involved. We do not want to be herded along by a great orator. Nor do we want to wait, in indecision, until the system falls apart around us. We live in the information age, so we have access to a vast array of facts. Yet, data alone is insufficient to understanding a situation and making successful decisions. Especially in situations such as we are in, where there is no clear answer.
In the present article, I provide an analysis of the global commons approach as developed by Quilligan in his 2009 article. This is not a typical academic evaluation where one might argue about the validity of the data, provide commentary, or parse comments into the invisibility of minutia. Instead, this method is based on integrative propositional analysis (IPA) – an emerging approach that has proven effective in the analysis of conceptual systems such as theories, policies, ethics, and models. This approach has generated some interest in the integral community at conferences, publications, and personal conversations including an analysis of integral theory, itself (Wallis 2008).
As will be explained in more detail in the following sections, IPA involves the rigorous deconstruction and reconstruction of a conceptual system. Authors’ texts are carefully investigated to identify casual propositions. Those propositions are diagrammed to clarify the casual and co-casual relationships. The diagrams are analyzed to calculate the Complexity (breadth) and Robustness (systemic interrelationship indicating usefulness). This approach has been attracting attention among scholars and practitioners for its usefulness as an analytical tool.
In this article, I take the stance of an observer who is interested, yet objective. I would very much like to avoid what seems to be an impending ecological catastrophe. I do not begin this investigation with pre-conceived notions around which theory is “right” (even if there is such a thing). Instead, I focus specifically on the conceptual system – my own area of scholarship. In this, I hope to add a new dimension (or two) to the ongoing conversation. And, with luck, provide you (the reader) with an additional tool to make very difficult decisions.
In this article, I am looking at Quilligan’s work as a theory or mental model for how he believes the world works, or should work. Of course, we are all entitled to our own opinions and world-views. Here, however, he is presenting arguments, his reasons, for why billions of humans should change their views of the world and adopt his. Therefore, it seems some rigorous approach may be useful.
In the present analysis, I am working form a very specific disciplinary and methodological perspective. My starting assumption, based on perspectives from integral theory (Wallis 2010b), and systems thinking (Wallis 2009a) is that everything in the world is connected. We live within a vast web of interrelated and co-casual systems and sub-systems. The world is a system. The Integral Review is a system including publishers, editors, authors, readers, and ideas. Ideas may also be understood to exist in relationship to one another as a system or structure (Dubin 1978).
My scholarly activities have been dedicated to understanding how ideas might be understood and how they can be measured as a system. That process of measurement is Integrative Propositional Analysis (PA). It is essentially a metatheoretical approach (Wallis 2010b) where metatheory is understood as the study of theory. IPA has been used effectively across a broad range of disciplines including integral theory (Wallis 2008), complexity theory (Wallis 2009a), social entrepreneurship (Wallis 2009c), organizational learning (Wallis 2009b), ethics (Wallis 2010c), physical science (Wallis 2010a), policy (Wallis 2010d; Wallis 2011; Wallis 2013a), psychology (Wallis 2012b), and others. It has also been proposed as a useful tool for integrating theories across disciplines (Wallis 2012a; Wallis 2013c).
Philosophically, IPA is tool for analyzing conceptual systems such as theories (Wallis 2013b). IPA is the only tool that provides a quantitative analysis of qualitative relationships. Therefore, it overlaps modern, postmodern and post-postmodern (integral) ways of thinking (Wallis 2010b). In short, IPA provides a rigorous measure of how well a conceptual system is self-contextualized, its systemicity, and the extent to which it “is” a system. And, therefore, the extent to which the theory may reflect a part of our understanding of reality (which, presumably, exists as a system).
It is generally understood from a postmodern perspective that facts, or truths, are never whole unto themselves. They are only recognized as such when viewed through the context, lens, or frame of some conceptual systems such as a model, policy, or theory (Edwards 2010). So how do we judge the sufficiency or validity of the theory?
According to traditional approaches of science, we should test that theory through experimentation. That is problematic for Quilligan’s theory. Particularly in comparison with other theories the purport alternative answers to our growing global crisis (including those who say that there is no crisis!). That is because we cannot “test” the theory in practical application without spending huge sums of money, completely reshaping our society, and waiting for decades (or centuries) to see if the end result is as predicted.
We cannot afford to take the wrong action and we cannot afford to take no action. What are we to do? How do we know the path forward? The answer to this conundrum rests within the structure of the theory itself. Each concept, or aspect, within the theory has validity and value. That value is best understood within the context of the other aspects of the theory. Thus, the aspects within the theory, indeed the theory itself, become a self-contextualizing conceptual structure.
For decades, it has been accepted that theories with a high level of structure would be more effective in practical application (Dubin 1978; Kaplan 1964; Stinchcombe 1987). The problem is that there has been no way to rigorously measure that thing called structure. Instead, academicians and practitioners alike relied on intuition – often with disastrous results (Wallis 2011).
The Relevance of Integrative Propositional Analysis
In this sub-section, I will cover some foundational concepts related to IPA and discuss some reasons why IPA should be considered an effective method of analysis.
First, there are at least five foundational structures of logic (atomistic, linear, circular, branching, concatenated) (Wallis 2012a). These are used for linking aspects within a theory. Each is like a stone that might be used for constructing a building. However, not all stones are alike. Some are better suited to building than others.
For a reliable structure, the most useful stones that are those shaped like blocks or bricks. For a reliable theory, only the concatenated structure seems to have any meaningful relationship with the usefulness of the theory. That is to say, a theory containing a higher percentage of concatenated structures (compared with other structures) is one that will be more effective in practical application. Thus, the concatenated form of logic is “privileged” in this form of analysis. This is important because it provides a useful direction for additional development of the theory.
The benefit of the concatenated structure may be seen in the Hegelian dialectic (e.g. Appelbaum 1988) where thesis and antithesis combine to create synthesis). Another strong supporter of concatenated structures is Bateson who argues that a “dual description” is more effective than a single description (Bateson 1979). Consider, for example, a theory: “More A and more B and more C combine to generate more D.” In that theory, “D” is the concatenated aspect because it is the result of two or more causal aspects.
In contrast, it is well understood that circular logics (such as tautologies), atomistic logics (such as “truth” claims), and linear logics (simple, casual relationships) are not useful
In a recent analysis, I found interesting relationships between the structure of theories and the usefulness of those theories in practical application (Wallis 2010a). In a study of theories of electrostatic attraction, I found that theories of antiquity were simple with fewer concatenated structures and so lower levels of structural interrelatedness between the concepts.
During the scientific revolution theories became much more complex. In practice, they also reflected improvements in the effectiveness of electrical experiments. It has been said that every scientist had his or her own theory (much as today, in the social sciences). By the end of the scientific revolution there was only one theory that possessed a high level of effectiveness. And, importantly, each concept within that theory was casually related to every other concept of that theory. Or, from another perspective, all of the aspects were concatenated. Because that relationship mirrored (or seemed to mirror) the co-casual relationships between aspects of reality, Coulomb’s theory became universally accepted in practice. The usefulness of that conceptual system may be seen in its use around the world and its effectiveness in designing electronic devices such as cell phones, computers, and satellites.
In another recent analysis, I used IPA to analyze another set of conceptual systems. In a case comparative study of policy models, I found that some models fail while others succeed. The more successful models had higher levels of structure while the failing models had lower levels of structure (Wallis 2011).
This ability to determine the potential effectiveness of a conceptual system allows us to evaluate Quilligan’s view of a global commons. By analyzing the structure of his theory “on paper” we can see if his theory is likely to be effective in practical application. And, if not, IPA will provide paths for improvement.
It may be argued, by some, that Quilligan’s paper does not represent a theory. Instead, that his writings should be considered as a point of view, exposition, a set of ideas or something which implies or states that IPA is not an appropriate method for analysis and that the conclusions drawn from this IPA study are not valid or useful. To this potential charge I say that Quilligan’s paper includes a set of propositions. These are clearly in evidence throughout the paper. Those propositions, presented in a single paper, have some level of coherence. Thus, they fit the definition of theory. So, whether the effort were purposeful, or not, Quilligan has clearly provided a theoretical model for how the world, in his opinion, should work. The question, from a systemic perspective, is this. To what extent is Quilligan’s theoretical proposal systemic? That is to say, what is the level of systemicity of his theory; and, by inference, how real or useful might it be in practical application.
To summarize this subsection, IPA is a valid and useful tool for analyzing Quilligan’s paper as a theory on Global Commons. IPA can be expected to provide effective paths for advancing our understanding and implementation of global commons and advancing what might be called “global commons theory.”
Integrative Propositional Analysis: What it is & How to do it
Integrative Propositional Analysis is a six-step process for deconstructing, reconstructing, analyzing conceptual systems. In this section, I describe each step and provide an example of how I conducted that step. At the end, of the section, I present a summary of Quilligan’s theory as a whole.
- Identify causal propositions within a body of theory
For this step, I made a very careful reading of Quilligan’s paper to identify causal propositions that described the world he envisions.
For example, on the first page, the section titled, “tragedy of Enclosures” contains a number of propositions that reframe the more widely known “tragedy of the commons.” This section also contains a brief summary:
When local users communicate, build trust, and organize to create rules to govern how their resources should be used, they can protect their commons from overuse in the interest of the common good.
(Quilligan 2009, p. 36)
To clarify causal relationships, this passage may be rephrased as:
More communication by locals and more that local users build trust and more that local users organize, the more they will create rules to govern how their resources should be used. The more such rules are created, the more their resources as a commons will be protected from overuse and used for the common good.
I believe that this rephrasing does not substantively change the author’s original meaning. The rephrasing makes it easier to diagram the propositions.
In the present analysis, I strive to avoid statements that are unclear in terms of their causal relationships, examples provided, and negative statements. For example, where Quilligan states, “It’s clear that society needs to build a much deeper awareness and stronger identify between its local and global commons” (p. 37).
There is no data or citation to support this claim. Nor does it describe a causal relationship. There is a negative implication that society does not have a “deep awareness and identity” which does not help to explain. That is to say, it does very little good to say what something is “not” compared to the vast benefit of saying what it “is.” For example, if I were to say, “Find the key under the front mat, let yourself in the house, and eat some of the pie you will find on the table.” You would have a useful set of instructions. If, on the other hand, I were to list all the things that are not on the table and all the places where the key is not to be found, much information would provided… but it would be of little or no use.
- Diagram those propositions.
For the propositions listed in step #1, I developed the following diagram. Here, each conceptual aspect of the theory is placed in a separate box. Each causal relationship is indicated by an arrow. The results are seen in Figure 1.
Figure 1 – Sample diagram of causal relationships of the “tragedy of enclosures” section
- Identify linkages between conceptual aspects and integrate all aspects to the degree possible.
Looking at Figure 1, it appears evident that there are a number of aspects that are the same. These can be overlapped to create a diagram of the propositions that is more integrated than fragmented. The results are seen in Figure 2.
Figure 2 – Sample diagram of integrated causal relationships
- Identify the total number of aspects within the diagram
Because each aspect is in a single box, we need merely count the number of boxes to identify the total number of aspects. In Figure 2, there are five boxes representing the five aspects.
This provides a useful measure of the conceptual breadth, or range, of the theory. This also indicates specifically what aspects are included in the theory as well as (by inference) those aspects that are not included in the theory.
At this stage, one might be tempted to “unpack” the aspects. For example, the box on the far right contains the aspect, “More protection from overuse of their commons in the interest of the common good.” There may be some impulse on the part of the analyst to say that there are several aspects here including protection, overuse, commons, and interest. That unpacking effort might be an interesting exercise of intellect and creativity (and, ultimately, may lead to new and useful insights). However, that would be a departure from the author’s original intent. Recall that our goal here is to analyze, not to revise (that may come at a later step).
- Identify the number of concatenated aspects
A concatenated aspect is one that is resulting from two or more causal aspects. In Figure 2, one aspect meets that criterion: “More creation of rules to govern how their resources should be used.”
- Determine the Robustness by dividing the number of concatenated aspects by the total number of aspects.
Quite simply, there is one concatenated aspect (Step #5), which is divided by five total aspects (Step #4). Therefore, the Robustness of this sample portion of Quilligan’s theory of commons is R = 0.20 (the result of one concatenated aspect divided by five total aspects).
Essentially, this provides a measure for the systemicity of the theory. It tells us how well interconnected the aspects of the theory are. And, as such, an indicator of how effective the theory might be in practical application.
For this investigation, I first examined each section of Quilligan’s paper and engaged in all six steps of the Integrative Propositional Analysis method. Then, I returned to the original text to check my assumptions and make revisions as seemed appropriate given my re-reading. Next, I recoursed to Step #3 to integrate all the aspects into a single model. The complete mapping of the interrelated casual propositions can be found in Appendix A.
Analysis / Results / Discussion
Following the IPA process as described above, I investigated the individual sections of Quilligan’s paper. The results of each individual section are presented in Table 1 and Figure Looking at each section of the paper individually
Table 1 – Sectional Analysis
|Tragedy of Enclosures||
|Global Common Goods||
|Commons Reserve Currency||
Figure 3 – Complexity and Robustness of individual sections
Based on my analyses individual theories typically have fewer than ten aspects and rarely more than 20 (http://projectfast.org/datatable.html). Similarly, Robustness for individual conceptual systems (such as theories and policies) are rarely greater than R = 0.33 (on a scale of zero to one with one being the highest). Therefore, like existing theories and policies, these cannot be expected to be highly effective in practical application. In some sections, the Complexity is higher than others. As higher Complexity is associated with some improvement in effectiveness, those sections that are more complex may be expected to have a slightly greater effectiveness in application.
For the next step, I investigated conceptual overlaps and linkages between the aspects found in the complete theory to gain a better understanding of the complete conceptual system.
In that investigation, I found three areas of focus where it seemed that there might be sufficient overlap between propositions that might be used to create a larger, more carefully integrated theory. The first is seen in Figure 4.
Figure 4 – First step of integrating two propositions around the topic of global common goods
Here, in Figure 4, it seems that Quilligan means the “same thing” in each aspect where he discusses multilateral system of government. And, that the version of multilateralism in the top, right, box merely provides more detail.
Quilligan presented the lower of the two propositions as a conundrum. It may be interesting to note that this process of integrating the models helps to provide a path forward to solving that problem. That is because the original conundrum contained six aspects – none of which are concatenated. Therefore, it is essentially a linear model, which cannot be expected to provide much usefulness in understanding a situation or suggesting how it might be changed.
When the top proposition is added (by means of the overlapping aspect of multilateralism), the new theory is a new conceptual system with complexity of C = 7 and a Robustness of 0.14 (the result of one concatenated aspect divided by seven total aspects). This process of integration has created a theory with more Complexity and more Robustness and so a greater opportunity for successful understanding.
The second opportunity for integration is focused around the general idea of global common goods. Figure 4 shows those propositions in diagrammatic form. Those aspects within the circles are those where there seems to be sufficient overlap allowing for the integration of those propositions. Figure 5 is a more refined version of that overlap.
Figure 5 – Completed integration of two propositions around the topic of global common goods
Applying step #4 to Figure 5, it should be clear that there are nine aspects. Therefore, the Complexity of this focus is C = 9. Applying Step #5, it may be seen that there is only one aspect, which is the result of more than one causal aspect (box is indicated with a double line). Applying step #6, we can determine the robustness by dividing the number of concatenated aspects by the number of total aspects. This gives a Robustness of R = 0.11 (the result of one concatenated aspect divided by nine total aspects). From this analysis, a few things become clear – along with a few opportunities for improving the theory.
First, the low robustness indicates that this theory, by itself, is unlikely to be successful in practical application. Second, the theory is more complex than its constituent propositions. Therefore, the present effort does represent some advancement in the theory.
Generally, the theory may be advanced by increasing Complexity and Robustness. For the eight aspects that are not concatenated, each one represents an opportunity for improving the theory. For example, the proposition “More direct collaboration between local resource users and multilateral institutions” supports the creation of global common goods. However, there is nothing that supports “more direct collaboration.” If a scholar could identify two aspects that are causal to increasing direct collaboration, we would be able to increase the number of concatenated aspects and improve the theory.
Another general grouping can be found around the idea of collective commons shown as an integrated diagram in figure 6.
Figure 6 – Integrated propositions around the general topic of Collective Commons
Applying steps of IPA to the theory diagramed in Figure 6, it should be clear that there are 15 aspects giving a Complexity of C = 15. There are three concatenated aspects (indicated by the double line around those boxes. The Robustness is therefore R = 0.20 (the result of three concatenated aspects divided by 15 total aspects). Here again, the Robustness is too low to expect that this theory can be applied with any reasonable expectation of success. However, it should be noted that the theory presented in Figure 6 is more Robust and more Complex than the theory presented in Figure 5. Therefore, the latter is more likely to be effective than the former. And, of course, if we were to apply both at the same time, we might expect to have still better results.
The entire theory, as a whole, may be summed up as having a Complexity of C = 76 with 10 concatenated aspects for a Robustness of R = 0.13 (the result of 10 concatenated aspects divided by 76 total aspects). Thus, the theory as a whole is highly complex. However, it is a “simple” form of complexity – it merely reflects that there are a large number of aspects.
The theory as a whole is much more complex than any individual section. This, to me, indicates that there is not much overlap between the aspects presented in the various sections. While this may be admirable because it is not repetitive, it also indicates that the conceptual aspects are not sufficiently integrated to be well understood in relationship to one another. This is like a slightly defective dictionary.
A dictionary is effective, to a great extent, because each word is defined in terms of other words within the dictionary. Thus, if one term is not well understood, the reader can “follow the trail” from one definition to another until understanding is achieved. In contrast, Quilligan’s defective dictionary is full of words that are not well defined. While some may find this an effective writing style – where there are many opportunities for interpretation – the present analysis suggests that the lack of integrated understanding means that Quilligan’s theory may be a useful source of inspiration, but will not be so effective in implementation. Thus, in its present form, I cannot in good conscious recommend that the seven billion people of the world adopt Quilligan’s theory.
The low level of integration between the many ideas suggests two key problems to its implementation. First, each person will interpret his theory and its application in a different way. This will lead to conflict. Second, the theory as a whole is too large for any one person to understand. Thus, if it were implemented, each individual would take a small piece – and may see that piece as being in conflict with the pieces of others. For example, one person might argue with another that one part is “more important” than another – and is therefore more deserving of funding and support (much as Quilligan has argue that his approach is more deserving than cap-and trade approach to reducing carbon emissions).
From a positive direction, when a theory is more integrated, there is more opportunity for practitioners to use that theory as a kind of a map for improved collaboration. While each practitioner might be focused on a specific set of aspects, the causal relationships would indicate how the work of each might inform and support the work of the other. This would mean looking at the theory, in some sense, as a workflow diagram.
In contrast, theories are often created by “cherry picking” a variety of aspects from multiple extant theories (Wallis 2012a). This has led to a growing number of “Frankentheories” and has not supported the development of more effective theories and practices in the social sciences (e.g. psychology, sociology, economics, business).
Such disconnected ideas are more easily disconnected and so more easily misinterpreted (Wallis 2010c). For example, “Thou shalt not kill” is often reinterpreted to mean something like, “Thou shalt kill some people and not others.” Clearly, a difficult situation, to say the least.
Personally, I suspect that there are vast potential benefits to the creation of a sustainable global system. I do not believe any plan for understanding our global system is possible without a coherent system of thinking – a coherent theory. Our world is a system that can best be understood through a systemic understanding. A system of thinking is more effective for understanding and application … For example, section 6 – figure 3 – branching out leasing of resources and collecting rent is used to finance entrepreneurship, for-profit development, and protecting specific commons. Three groups may look at this – and each sees their own personal interest. Each sees the lion’s share going to their own specific industry. The entrepreneurs will then fight with the for-profit organizations and both might fight against the idea of replenishing specific commons. Even within the interest group for replenishing the commons, individuals may argue about “which” commons should be more replenished than others. The easy answer to this problem is to say, “Well, they will simply develop a rational rubric to make those decisions.” To that I would reply with equal ease, that this is exactly the problem we face. And, to simply say we have decided to make a decision does not much advance the cause. From a hard-sciences perspective that is akin to saying “We can solve our energy problems by inventing a carbon-free electric generator.” The key idea is that deciding to invent a miracle machine is not the same as actually inventing it.
The way to avoid cherry picking is to use whole theories and to strive for integration.
Moving form past to future, we will now take a bit of time to consider the implementation of Quilligan’s theory in terms of its structural integrity. Briefly, let us consider a scenario where all seven billion inhabitants of the world universally adopted Quilligan’s theory. Even if such a thing were to happen, there would be long periods of conversation, negotiation, and experimentation. Some people would implement some parts of Quilligan’s theory sooner than others. That implementation would serve as a test period of Quilligan’s theory. For example, based on his propositions, we would expect that the more we include people in decisions that directly effect them, the more we will close the gap between resource users, managers, producers and providers. And, as a result of that, there will be more formalization of the process of just governance and democratic oversight. If the planned causes do not lead to the anticipated effects, we would be forced to conclude that the theory is not correct. When a theory is not well integrated, a claim might be made that the remainder of the theory is correct and so the implementation should proceed. This may be thought of as a kind of seperability – where removing part of a theory will not endanger the perceived validity of the remainder of the theory. However, this is exactly the difficulty we face today as a nation when our elected leaders present a multitude of ideas absent a high level of coherence between the ideas. For example, in the 1980’s the Australian government presented a plan for resolving their economic crisis. Despite the complexity of the plan, there was little measurable internal coherence. The plan had a Complexity of C = 14 and a Robustness of R = 0. The plan failed (Wallis 2011).
In short, my research has shown that rousing rhetoric is no substitute for a coherent policy. The present analysis shows that Quilligan’s approach has a low level of coherence suggesting that it is not ready for implementation. However, it does seem to have a high level of complexity. Therefore, it may provide a good platform for moving forward through conversation and collaboration.
While the theory, by itself, is not ready for reliable implementation, there is a rather exciting opportunity here to integrate these many aspects to create a theory that is more Robust and so more likely to be effective in practical application.
Conclusions and Continuations
In this section, I will briefly summarize the substance and focus of the present paper. I will also delve into some intriguing opportunities for readers to engage Quilligan’s theory and improve upon it – in ways that are meaningful and measurable. In the present paper, I have advanced the field of global commons thinking by a critical metatheoretical analysis of Quilligan’s theory of global commons. The present analysis provides a new and useful view of Quilligan’s theory that others may use to further advance the field.
Using IPA, I investigated the text or Quilligan’s paper to identify propositions. Here, I took a conservative approach, striving to minimize personal interpretation and use the words and meaning of the original author. Following that deconstruction, I engaged in a reconstruction of the conceptual aspects to identify overlaps among the aspects. This provided opportunities for integrating the theory to create a more cohesive whole.
As a whole, Quilligan’s theory of creating a new world through the multilateralism of a global commons is high in complexity containing 76 separable aspects. The internal coherence of the theory is low with a Robustness of R = 0.13. The low Robustness indicates that the theory is unlikely to be effective when placed into practice. The high Complexity indicates a fertile ground for advancing the theory (as will be detailed below).
There are some weaknesses to the analysis presented in this paper. First, it is important that any study be grounded in reality. That is to say, there should be empirical evidence supporting the claims inherent in the propositions of the theory. In Quilligan’s paper, there are a large number of propositions – each essentially making a claim of “truth.” The claim, for example, that a total redefinition of wealth would lead to a more multilateral system of government. Quilligan’s article provides very little in terms of empirical support for his many claims. While the present analysis of the structure of his theory assumes that his claims are substantive, the theory as a whole would be greatly improved if it were supported by data from rigorous studies.
Without such studies, we must rely on his theory’s ability to “make sense.” This, of course, is a very difficult standard. Because, as frequently happens, what makes perfect sense to one person may be incomprehensible or senseless to another. Therefore, we must rely more heavily on IPA because Robustness provides a rigorous measure of sense-making ability with some level of objectivity.
Quilligan argues, (rightly, I suspect) that we need a new way of thinking in order to address the critical problems of the world. There, he echoes Einstein – saying essentially that we cannot solve the problems of the world with the same thinking that caused the problem. I agree. And, I suggest that the same insight may be applied to our ability to advance theory. That is to say, we cannot create theory that is useful and successful with the same kind of process that we have used in the past to create theories that are unsuccessful. Those are the theories, and related practices, that have brought our planet to its present state.
Previous methods for evaluating theory are primarily intuitive (Wallis 2010b). That is, when one looks at a theory one makes an intuitive judgment as to the adequacy of that theory. Certainly, Quilligan has done this in his paper where he evaluates existing theories that propose differing ways to reduce carbon emissions – and concludes that they will not work as well as his method. Of course, none of these theories have been applied in their totality, so there is no empirical evidence to support or deny his claims.
The key to this conundrum is that intuition is only reliable in situations where a person is intimately familiar with the context. For example, when I walk into a dining room, I can immediately and intuitively judge the difference between the food and the non-food objects. This familiarity is based on a lifetime of experience with dining rooms (including an encounter with wax fruit many years ago).
Our regular use of intuition in every situation of our daily lives has brought us a false sense of the usefulness of that tool. Because we use that tool so frequently, we believe that it will be effective in every situation. However, in the present situation, we have no deep intuitive understanding of our global ecological crises. We have an intuitive sense of it, but that intuition is poorly developed and unreliable. No person on Earth has experienced multiple global ecological crises and used those experiences to develop deep insights into what works and what does not work for resolving (or failing to resolve) those crises. The global ecological system is much too complex.
A similar difficulty might be seen on a smaller scale. For example, consider the difficulty of designing a radio. For such a complex task, an engineer requires the use of multiple theories that are proven to be highly effective. Theories, by the way, that have a high level of Robustness. In contrast, intuition is insufficient for designing a radio. We cannot use intuition to build a radio any more than we can use intuition to evaluate theories or resolve global problems. We need more rigorous approaches.
In addition to advancing the field of global commons, the present analysis also advances the field of metatheory. Previously, IPA has been used to analyze theories that are relatively concise – consisting of a few propositions (typically, presented on one page or less). In the present paper, I’ve advanced the science and practice of critical metatheory by using IPA to analyze a “large” theory – consisting of multiple pages of propositions.
Rather than ending this paper with conclusions and recommendations (as is relatively common for academic papers), I will end with an opening for continuation. Scholarly readers are invited and encouraged to use IPA as a tool to analyze conceptual systems such as theories and policies (Wallis 2013a). IPA provides a “David’s sling” – a small, simple, tool that may be applied to great effect.
Paths to Improvement
Appreciation, evaluation, and comparison are all useful ways to look at a body of theory. Here, I have appreciated the direction, importance, and complexity of Quilligan’s theory. I have also used IPA to evaluate the individual sections and the theory and compared them. Additionally, I have analyzed his whole theory and provided a rigorous measurement of its structure; including Complexity and Robustness. That effort, by itself, may be useful in a number of ways. For example, the analyses and comparison of the individual sections suggests opportunities for additional exploration by Quilligan and others. There is also significant opportunity to improve each section individually, and the theory as a whole. From a structural perspective, this conceptual system can be improved in some direct ways that will rapidly lead to a more effective and useful theory. In this section, I will explain how scholars can improve Quilligan’s theory in a variety of ways. Using IPA, the results of these kinds of analysis may be measured for Complexity and Robustness – thus providing an objective indicator for directions of advancement. Readers (scholars and practitioners) are encouraged to:
q Check my work
It would be useful for some scholar to replicate all or part of the present analysis. You might, for example, read Quilligan’s article and see if you develop the same propositions that I have. You may also want to start with the propositions that I have diagrammed in Appendix A. you may want to print those out and use an old fashioned version of cut-and-paste (with real scissors) and see if you develop the same level of integration that I have done in the presented analysis. A more charitable view (albeit less rigorous) might identify more overlaps between the aspects and suggest a more Robust theory.
q Focus on the core
The core of the theory is that part where the aspects are more closely interconnected (Wallis 2009b; Wallis 2009c). One path to improving the Robustness of Quilligan’s theory is to drop those aspects that are not well connected to other aspects. This will reduce the conceptual breadth of the theory (which may be a detriment) although the remaining core of theory is more likely to be effective when applied.
q Engage in a collaborative parsing
A group could collaborate on their work with each scholar taking a specific part of the theory. The theory, as a whole, then serves as a map to aid in the scholars’ investigations and efforts to validate parts of the theory and to identify new causal relationships between existing aspects. This will be more effective when the model is more Robust.
q Increase complexity
One way to improve the theory is to bring in additional aspects. This will have the effect of increasing the complexity of the theory in the short run. And, may lead to increased identification of co-casual relationships in the long run. This will increase difficulty of using model, but that can be balanced by increasing collaboration as noted above.
q Link theory with other theories
One weakness of the present theory is its low level of Robustness. By linking this theory with others, new causal relationships may be identified and a more Robust theory may emerge. These theories may come from a wide range of sources. For example, Quilligan has other papers and other theories, which may be analyzed and integrated with the present theory. There are other theories that may be integrated with this one – including theories from competing policy proposals.
q Link existing aspects (identify causal relationships between them)
While many conceptual aspects do not have clear causal relationships, that is only a result of the present analysis of Quilligan’s propositions. It is entirely possible that such causal relationships do exist and that the true Robustness of the theory is higher than indicated here. To identify those relationships, I invite you to look carefully at Appendix A and attempt to identify where causal relationships might exist. If you suspect one exists, you might investigate the literature to confirm your suspicion – or perform an experiment to confirm (or deny) that relationship.
q Provide better support (many propositions are not well supported by citations or hard data)
On the experimental front, Quilligan’s theory would be greatly improved if each and every proposition were supported by rigorous empirical data. A search of existing research might provide such information. A checklist, or data table, might be created to show which propositions are well supported by existing studies and which propositions require further research.
From a collaborative perspective, a group of scholars might assemble around this approach. Each person might undertake to research a few propositions. The combined result would be a very impressive paper. It would be interesting to see what percentage of propositions are well supported.
q Move to higher level of abstraction
Where there are two (ore more) aspects that are closely related, it may be possible to raise them to a higher level of abstraction. And, in the process, identify more areas of overlap, causal relationships, and increase the Robustness of the theory. For an abstract example, we might start with two aspects – one of apples and one of oranges. As such, they might represent two different aspects of disconnected theories. By shifting them both to the more abstract “fruit” they may be overlapped and provide an opportunity to integrate disparate parts of theory.
On a related idea, it has also been suggested that a more effective theory will be one where all the conceptual aspects exist at the same level of abstraction (Wallis 2012a). An individual with a good sense of abstract thinking might undertake to “shift” each of the aspects closer to the same level of abstraction. Once they have been standardized, it may be possible to identify more causal relationships between the aspects – and so increase the Robustness of the theory.
q Deconstruct complex aspects
While a rigorous application of IPA argues for using “whole” aspects, there are other approaches that may provide useful in the conversation to advance and improve theory.
For example, Appendix A begins with a part of the theory from section one. One aspect is “More protection from overuse of their commons in the interest of the common good.” This may be “unpacked” into two aspects (more protection from overuse, more common good). This would increase the Complexity of that particular model. When a number of complex aspects have been unpacked, it may become easier to identify overlaps between aspects and so create a more carefully integrated and Robust theory.
One warning, for the sake of rigor, is that this approach will have the effect of changing or interpreting Quilligan’s original perspective.
q Get fuzzier
In the present analysis, I have worked to remain true to the original author’s propositions and concepts. Mine, of course, is not the only interpretation. And, importantly, it is possible to look at similar aspects and accept that they are the “same thing” so that the concepts may be overlapped to find more causal relationships between aspects and develop a more coherent theory.
For example in the above analysis, I differentiated between the aspect, “More creation of rules to govern how their resources should be used” and the aspect, “More development of non-centralized rules and institutions pertaining to the major questions of access, control, use, and distribution of the wealth generated by the commons.” I suggest, based on my reading, that these aspects should not be overlapped because the conceptual differences between them are too great. In contrast, they might be viewed through a perspective as being the “same thing” and therefore be a candidate for overlap and the integration and creation of a more coherent theory.
To conclude this paper, the present IPA study provides an innovative and valuable perspective of Quilligan’s theory of global commons. Using IPA, scholars, such as yourself, have a new tool and new directions for improving Quilligan’s theory and moving our world more rapidly toward a future that is both sustainable and successful. I encourage you to engage!
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Diagramed propositions (section-by-section) of People sharing Resources” (Quilligan 2009).
Section #1 – tragedy of enclosures
C = 5
R = 0.20
Section #2 – Global Common Goods
C = 17
R = 0.0
Section #3 – Co-governance
C = 12
R = 0.25
Section #4 – Co-Production
C = 19
R = 0.11
Section #5 – Social Charters
C = 17
R = 0.12
Section #6 – Commons Trusts
C = 11
R = 0.18
Section #7 – Commons Reserve Currency
C = 6
R = 0.0