Jun 05 2009

Global networks and regional clusters

by at 9:51 am under Uncategorized

Designing a network for the first time — I feel like I’m reading about de Goya and turning around to finger paint.  Let’s get started… States comprise the strongest group of nodes in the network. They’re are influenced by links to their citizens. They’re influenced by other nations. And they’re influenced by financial institutions and NGOs. Financial institutions have fewer connections to be influenced by, lessening their accountability (or vulnerability to influence) within the network.   NGOs may lack links to be influenced by, but they also struggle for links to exert influence on other nodes.  One thing this structure shows is how Stiglitz’ Washington Consensus will persist unless more connections between nodes are made to increase influence on the financial institutions. However, we can’t have everyone connected to everyone. And banks
aren’t run by the public – that’s not how things work.  They’re sort of an inherently closed network or small world.  So what exactly do we need to shift the trajectory of the whole network?

What struck me most in the reading for this session was Scott’s and Storper’s article complaining about the lack of regional focus in recent literature.  As amateur as I am at international affairs, it was an exciting notion that I completely agreed with.  Where was the case-by-case analysis?  How is studying the issues at the macro-economic level useful if we spend more time examining trends than trying to solve individual problems? Collier did touch on regionalism in his bad-neighbors trap, but curiously I didn’t see Scott and Storper cite him. I understand that some failures result from systemic happenings and that leads people to question problems with the system.  But usefully applying insights from network will ultimately come down to individual cases.

This helps in understanding the problem our newly-sketched global network.  Perhaps these regions would represent a sort of small cluster that can collectively exert more influence than they could additively.  A few random connections between these clusters and the financial institutions could result in new ideas and changes that hadn’t occurred before.  Likewise, it’s the weak links that NGOs have that could start a serious change in the way the financial institutions behave.

Okay. Enough finger paining. Let’s bring some technology into this. I’ve been itching to bring this up and it’s going to tricky to tie into the architecture of our network, but that’s the great thing about blogs – no rules!  Hans Rosling works at gapminder.org and they’re doing some cool stuff with data visualization.  Watch this quick clip.


Rosling’s graph gives us spatial relations showing life expectancy and GDP moving over time. Can we apply this kind of modeling to our global network?  It leaves out the direct links (representing relationships) between all of the different nodes and what they mean.  But it does show show how technology brings network theory to life through visualization.  While the links are left out, spatial relations can still play an important role visualizing a network.  Rosling takes massive amounts of data and inspires us through new ways of understanding to draw new conclusions.

I’d love to see our network of nations, banks, and NGOs placed into a tool like Rosling’s.  We would be able to see growth, movement, trends, and changes in relationships that in turn change the shape of the network.  If we were able to see how the banks grew into power and where they might be in a few years, we might better understand what kinds of connections need to be made to move the network in the direction we want.

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