Programmes to improve the productivity and welfare of the poor, who in many countries do not share even a common language with government administrators, have always posed special problems. Increasing concern about the cost and replicability of programmes is leading to greater involvement of beneficiaries in the construction, maintenance, and financing of local projects that hitherto either were provided and run by government or were simply unavailable. People-centred programmes are particularly hard to manage because of the degree of uncertainty involved. First, goals can be abstract ("community self-reliance", for example) and performance not quantifiable in terms of construction time and costs or profits and losses. Second, there is little knowledge of how to design suitable programmes, because they involve changing human behaviour patterns that vary among cultures and localities. Third, the success of a project depends on whether people want the services it offers: project managers therefore often have to create demand. The task of management is thus more one of experimenting and learning than of implementing known procedures, as is the case with physical development.
The Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential is a collaboration between UIA and Mankind 2000, started in 1972. It is the result of an ambitious effort to collect and present information on the problems with which humanity is confronted, as well as the challenges such problems pose to concept formation, values and development strategies. Problems included are those identified in international periodicals but especially in the documents of some 60,000 international non-profit organizations, profiled in the Yearbook of International Organizations.
The Encyclopedia includes problems which such groups choose to perceive and act upon, whether or not their existence is denied by others claiming greater expertise. Indeed such claims and counter-claims figure in many of the problem descriptions in order to reflect the often paralyzing dynamics of international debate. In the light of the interdependence demonstrated among world problems in every sector, emphasis is placed on the need for approaches which are sufficiently complex to encompass the factions, conflicts and rival worldviews that undermine collective initiative towards a promising future.
Non-profit, apolitical, independent, and non-governmental in nature, the UIA has been a pioneer in the research, monitoring and provision of information on international organizations, international associations and their global challenges since 1907.