Our society is in transition, a process of unprecedented scope and scale. In a globalized, multipolar world, where trust in institutions seems to be at an all-time low, we all know we need clear courses of action to deal with today’s big issues in society.
No single measures are enough anymore.
Is there a one stop solution that will make health care accessible and affordable for all?
Do you think there is one trick that will increase worldwide sustainable energy production, make fresh water accessible or reduce poverty?
So, now more than ever in the history of mankind multiple concerted and coordinated interventions are required.
And to plot real courses of action, you need good maps.
Bob Horn’s Infomurals
In 1998 Robert E. Horn wrote “Visual Language – Global Communication for the 21st Century” (Xplane Press – ISBN: 978-0-9742703-0-2) about how a new visual language was emerging. Now, in the 2020s, we know this is true. We are inundated by visuals and uncategorized data. And we need visual systems to help us make sense of it.
“For more than a thousand years humanity has used all sorts of maps to make sense of the world: navigational maps, maps of the stars, road maps, political maps, organizational charts. Today’s Big Issues affect us all and we need new maps to help us find real and effective courses of action.”Floor Kist
And Bob Horn’s information murals are meant to do just that.
From 1998 on, Bob Horn created information murals dealing with complex issues in society. From sustainability to nuclear waste, from defence to foreign affairs, from project management to ethnic conflict.
Information murals like these could only have been the product of a political scientist and artist.
What do Infomurals do?
The increased complexity of the world often requires hundreds of factors to be considered in a single decision. Mural-based information design allows decision makers to consider many different viewpoints, interrelationships and context in one consistent visual composition.
It facilitates seeing the Big Picture as well as needed detail, allowing us to communicate Big Ideas about complex issues like sustainability, health care, foreign policy, nuclear waste, defence etc..
By showing all the elements involved in an organized and visual fashion, even those outside of the loop have a fair chance to grasp the complexity of big issues.
It encourages a truly public debate – not only interaction between experts. It makes complex topics available to an interested public so that they too can partake in the public discourse.
In 1999, prisons in Multnomah County, Oregon were surprised to be the main deliverers of public mental health care.
One of the unexpected reasons for this was the millennium bug.
This wasn’t discovered by the prison directors, by the county policy makers, nor even by the mental health care institutions. A mess mapping process by Bob Horn help a county task force uncover it.
The mess maping uncovered the mental health services dynamics and dilemmas as a whole. It made it possible for the relevant actors to formulate a course of action.
In 2004, the Nuclear Industry Radioactive Waste Executive (Nirex) in the United Kingdom wanted to consider the safe long-term management of radioactive waste.
To do that they asked the following question: How shall we (our society) think together about the responsibility for radioactive material that will deteriorate over a 300,000 year period, when human beings have only existed for less than 75,000 years, have had language and the ability to reason in an advanced way for less than 50,000 years, and when the oldest continuous human organizations are less than 3,000 years old?
And in order to answer this super question, they were aided by an information mural by Bob Horn.
The mural depicted the breadth of the timescales and the complex interconnections between ethical issues, governance, social climate and many other factors, all of which were in play in the Nirex strategy.
The information mural made it possible for relevant actors to formulate a course of action.
In 2010, the World Business Council for Sustainable Development wanted a strategy to reach a sustainable world by 2050.
Aided by Bob Horn, 29 member companies, created a pathways mural answering the question: In each of the decades preceding 2050, what would have to be in place for us to plausibly arrive at a sustainable 2050?
The resulting information mural served as a tool for strategic planning, prioritizing, and monitoring progress to help countries, businesses, NGOs, international organizations and individuals assess the degree to which we are on track to accomplishing the vision.
In short, it made it possible for relevant actors to formulate a course of action.
More examples of Bob Horn’s work can be found on his website:
And on ours: Examples
More about Bob Horn
Information Murals Lab
Bob Horn is in his mid 80s. So, my good friend Ferdinand Steur and I set up the Information Murals Lab in 2014. It is a foundation to preserve his work and develop it where we can. Because in the past twenty years, the world has not become simpler.
More than ever John Muir’s words are true.
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it is tied to everything else in the universe.”John Muir (1838-1914) U. S. naturalist, explorer
People think both visually and in language.
When words and visual elements are intertwined, we create something new and augment our communal intelligence – Visual Thinking. It enables forms and efficiencies of communication that have not been possible before.
For more than a thousand years humanity has used all sorts of maps to make sense of the world: navigational maps, maps of the stars, road maps, political maps, organizational charts. Today’s Big Issues affect us all and we need new maps to help us find real and effective courses of action.
And Bob Horn’s information murals are meant to do just that.
If you are interested in cooperating on making an information mural, please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
More on information murals: