• group;
  • society;
  • decision making;
  • communications thermometer;
  • system health


A scheme for describing and analyzing communications systems is presented and demonstrated. The purpose of this scheme is to measure the communications health of a medium, a technology, a community, or a society in such a way that the findings are easily translatable into policy. A notion of communications health is developed in the spirit of systems science, which studies the features, relationships, abilities, and behaviors that complex systems, both living and nonliving, have in common. Only tangential attention is paid to communications content and technology. The “communications thermometer” is a five-by-five data collection matrix where the rows are the types of communications (interpersonal, information, education, culture, and entertainment); the columns are system components (receivers, senders, flow, feedback, and control); and data collection guides for the columns are characteristics that communications have in common with economies and societies (justice, pluralism, egalitarianism, responsiveness, and participation). Hypotheses are proposed connecting parameters of the thermometer to the survival, growth, adaptation, and innovation of communications systems, and of the communities and societies they serve. Applications of the thermometer are presented whose data come from a satellite television demonstration in Alaska and a Costa Rican radio station.