Friday, 25 November 2011

Why Value Descriptors in lieu of Definitions?

Example Use of Descriptor for Paint
  • Definition--a concise explanation of the meaning of a word or phrase or symbol.
  • Descriptor--the phonological or orthographic sound or appearance of a word that can be used to describe or identify something.
The saying, "The Tao expressed is not the Tao," gives a clue to a basic problem with definitions. The very process of writing a definition of anything detracts from the true nature of the entity one is attempting to define. The reality is simply that definitions would be impractical to use if they even came close in their attempt to describe anything comprehensively.
A descriptor seeks only to provide sufficient information about an entity so it can easily be identified when compared to other entities.
An alternate definition of descriptor is: "a piece of stored information that is used to identify an item in an information storage and retrieval system."
So when a descriptor is used with human values: "A value descriptor is a piece of information used to identify a particular value."
When formulating each value descriptor, the Key Affiliate team used a set of criteria to evaluate the efficacy (capacity or power to produce a desired effect) of each.
To create efficaciousness value descriptors one must:
  1. Identify values which have like roles and work with the identified set of values. (For example, control/order/discipline, law/duty, law/guide, accountability/ethics, etc. all have an ordering role within their respective world-view -- each world-view has different beliefs about how the ordering should be effected, therefore, each world-view has a different value giving expression to the beliefs.) In working with the new descriptors for a set of values, we must ensure the role for each value within its world-view is maintained, and each descriptor clearly distinguishes each value in the set from the others. 
  2. Keep the value label and its descriptor simple using more common-usage words. For example, Collaboration/ Subsidiarity could become Collaboration/ Delegation. 
  3. Use word senses which are the most common interpretation of the word. 
  4. Ensure the descriptor of a value makes it simple to distinguish it from other values, particularly from other values which have labels of like-senses such as, for example: Cooperation/Complementarity, Collaboration/Subsidiarity, and Interdependence. 
  5. Not use other value labels within the descriptor. 
  6. Not provide examples of how the value may be lived -- this narrows the descriptor and could bias its meaning. 
  7. Ensure it facilitates the process of people working through the VAK questions to identify how they are living the value in their life.

Thus the criteria for evaluating the efficacy of a value descriptor become:
  • Is it simple? 
  • Is it constructed from common-usage words? 
  • Does it use words such that their most common meaning-sense is the sense intended? 
  • Does it faithfully describe its role in the world-view to which it belongs as a focus value - i.e. is it congruent with the beliefs of its world-view? 
  • Is it sufficiently different from other values whose labels have like-senses? 
  • Is it free of other value labels? 
  • Is it free of examples of how to live the value? 
  • Is it easily used with the VAK questions? 
In IT jargon, a descriptor which meets a set of desired criteria, is be said to be well formed.

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