Visualise the complexity

The transition of territories towards sustainable societies presupposes changes in the way people consider them and manage them (i.e., are capable of visualising the complexity and of managing relationships). Operational tools are required to implement these changes. A relational atlas is one of these.

The atlas is a digital tool for semantic mapping that makes it possible to “pull the strings” of the actors, themes and means of action. It establishes links between descriptors, making it possible to browse from one question to the other.
As with a geographical atlas, you start from a very general mapping of a territorial system and its governance, and move from there to far more detailed “local maps”.

Why this relational approach ?

Because of the very nature of a territory and its governance. If local territories are called upon to play such a fundamental role in the transition towards sustainable societies, it is precisely because they are the best locale to manage relationships. However, this potential is not always realized. Having a comparative advantage in the treatment of relationships does not necessarily mean that territories use it. For example, in many territorial authorities, the tree-like structure of the technical and administrative services, each placed under the authority of an elected representative who jealously guards their power, leads to a segmentation of policies. The same issue arises for other actors at their different levels: practitioners, researchers, students and so forth.

What relationships are we talking about?

A territory is a network of actors who act and interact. However, each actor only has a partial, truncated view of the territory and its problems, and only perceives part of the relationships that make it up, thus inhibiting action.
The atlas suggests paying attention to the description of relationships, rather than to the connected items: What connects these two ideas? These two policies? These two actors? This explains why the technical construction of the atlas is not based on a tree but on a grid: each item is connected to a minimum of two other items. The characterization of the relationship through an ever more detailed description of the items makes it possible to define interpretation groups for a problem (all the items connected by this relationship).

Therefore, the atlas is a tool for understanding territorial ecosystems in an evolving state, and subject to debate and discussion.
As general descriptors combine, they become increasingly detailed and specialized. The more you enter into detail, the more the descriptor may be long, forming a clause that recalls the combination you just carried out.

A matrix system: a territory’s components cross the angles of approaches

The atlas aims to remedy the limitations of thesauruses that do not permit the treatment of transversality. In its construction, the atlas does not have a tree-like but a grid approach, selecting among all possible combinations those that are pertinent for action (= which are the good markers?).

It is based on the crossing of two founding questions of CITEGO :

  • What makes up a territory?
  • What makes up governance, i.e. how do relationships work and how are they managed within a territory?

Therefore, to build the matrix, the fundamental dimensions for the creation of relations had to be determined. These dimensions are the large categories indicating a territory’s makeup (= its components) and a governance (= the angles of approach).

Component (one colour per component)

  • Society and territory: A territory is the concrete living space of a society. Therefore this category is interested in social groups, demographics, etc.
  • Economy and territory: A territory organises production factors and is characterized by economic and commercial structures, property markets, employment areas, etc.
  • Territorial ecosystem: Societies and economies are set in their natural environment (air, water, soils, climate, biodiversity, etc.)
  • Infrastructures and networks: A territory is not just a surface area, but a physical collection of offices, housing units, factories, public facilities, etc.
  • Cultural and immaterial capital of territories: A territory has a specific history and culture that are the fruit of legacies inscribed in space but also in time (cooperation mode, representations, organisation of social groups, etc.)
  • Spatial organisation: A territory is the spatial dimension of a society that organizes it in neighbourhoods, public spaces, wastelands, and so forth, and that is subject to development and planning, etc.
  • Flows: As the site of material and immaterial relationships (flows of people, raw materials, work, information and money), territories are always dynamic
  • Institutions: A territory is a political space, the headquarters of public and private institutions whose design, powers and assigned roles will be decisive with regard to its organization
  • Relations between a territory and the world: A territory is in a permanent relationship with other near or distant territories, on a higher or lower scale (organization of the flows, generalized use of a single currency on different national territories, etc.)

Angles of approach (one symbol per angle of approach)

  • Constituent parts: general description of a territory from its society to its social composition
  • Types of territories: makes it possible to characterize the multitude of territories and describe their diversity (villages, cities, predominantly rural territories, tourist town, industrial town, etc.)
  • Territorial dynamics: this category is interested in territorial movements in cultural, demographic, economic and ecological terms, under the influence of factors such as way of life, or changes in technical systems
  • Territorial actors: individuals and social groups that are both protagonists of governance and beneficiaries of public policies
  • Domains of governance: they regroup pursued policies and their management (social policies, health policies, economic policies, etc.)
  • Means of governance: the full range of means at the disposal of territorial authorities (taxation, regulations, standards, planning, etc.)
  • Governance principles: there are a total of 5 – the legitimacy of the exercise of power; democracy and citizenship; the relevance of the governance regimes; the partnership between actors and the capacity to manage relationships; the articulation of the governance levels

The atlas, a tool of the mediation cycle

The atlas is a tool for:

  • Browsing between the documentary resources of the website:
    To inform yourself, find additional information, broaden the theme under study
  • Learning on a given theme:
    To visualise / represent the complexity, connect, feed off the experience of others
  • Methodology to support territorial actors:
    To create together with a partner a local map of a problem on a given territory, facilitate the interpretation of the territory and therefore action