Major Concepts of Karl Deutsch Communication Theory

Major Concepts of Karl Deutsch Communication Theory:

The major concepts of communication theory have been borrowed from the sphere of power engineering. Karl Deutsch works out, in his book “The Nerves of Government”, a very close analogy between communications engineering and power engineering, the latter deals with the transmission of power and the former information. Both power and information while going from one corner to the other produce changes at the receiving end; changes that power produces; are proportionate to the amount of energy released from the sending end. In the same way, information also produces changes, which are not proportionate as in the case of power. For example- if you issue a command to a person, he would at once react either favourably or unfavourably. But his behaviour would not be in proportion to the amount of information he has received. His behaviour would not fully depend upon that particular information. He, on the receipt of this particular information, would recollect all past situations and information thereof and would try to correlate all of them with this latest information. He would then take a decision that would determine the pattern of his behaviour. That pattern of behaviour would depend upon both the latest information and the past information he has received. “The important thing about information”, writes Karl Deutsch, “is thus, not the amount of energy needed to carry the signal, but the pattern carried by the signal and its relationship to the set of patterns stored in the receiver”. We explain the whole process with the help of the diagram given below-

Communication Theory

According to Karl Deutsch, information is, thus, “patterned distribution, or a patterned relationship between events”. According to him, the effectiveness of information depends upon two conditions. First, the equilibrium state of the receiver and secondly the selectivity of the receiver. The concept of equilibrium means a state of stability. Generally, human beings and the political systems experience both the states of the stable as well as unstable equilibrium. In the communication theory, information produces a great effect on the receiver if that is in a state of highly unstable equilibrium. The concept of selectivity means that the receiver is sometimes choosy, that he may accept and assimilate the whole information he receives or may reject a part or whole of it. Thus, the impact of information would depend upon the selectivity of the receiver also. Karl Deutsch is of the opinion that “information could conceivably be measured in an extremely crude way in terms of the percentage of image points transmitted or lost in a line screen of a given fineness or in terms of a number of outstanding details transmitted”. In his view we can measure the speed and accuracy with which political information or commands are transmitted. To quote him, “The information approach offers an independent way of measuring basic cohesion, however crudely and that it can do so independently from the current political sympathies of the participants. Such sympathies or conflicts might show up sharply in the execution of controversial commands”. Thus, there would be an impact of information on the political system and upon the environment thereof. Here comes the concept of Feedback.

Concept of Feedback:

The concept of Feedback occupies a very significant place in Karl Deutsch’s communication model. He defines feedback as “a communication network that produces action in response to an input of information, and includes the results of its own action in the new information by which it modifies its subsequent behaviour”. According to Snyder, Bruck and Sapin, it “refers to the messages about the sections or state of the system which are returned to the system. By means of a continuous flow of such messages, it is possible for the decision-makers to have a more or less current picture of the success or failure of their actions and the relative adequacy of the system”. In simple words, feedback is a process by which the decision-makers come to know how their decisions have been reacted by the people and in the light of that information, the decision-makers modify their decisions and actions. Feedback is also referred to as “a serve mechanism”. According to Deutsch, all organizations are characterized by a feedback mechanism. Thus, the introduction of the concept of “feedback”, therefore, introduces the element of dynamism into what could otherwise be a static analysis.

According to Karl Deutsch, the feedback process is of two kinds, namely negative and amplifying. A negative feedback system is one that “transmit back to itself information which is the result of decisions and actions taken by the system, and which leads the system to change its behaviour in pursuit of the goals which it has set itself”. In this system, the incoming information helps ‘to negate, oppose, or reverse its current action, if that action had been leading the system away from its goal’. The second kind of feedback is amplifying in nature; in which information coming through the feedback process leads the system to increase its efforts, instead of decreasing. In this process, information leads to the amplification of the effect rather than of negating or opposing or reversing it. In the opinion of Deutsch, the feedback process is very important, whether in the case of a machine or an individual or a political system because it helps the system or machine to achieve its goal. In the words of Karl Deutsch, “in order for the system to approach the goal effectively, the feedback condition must be given. The system must receive information concerning the position of the goal and concerning its own distance from it, and it must receive information concerning the changes in its messages from the goal brought about by its own performance”. Thus, the feedback process is the automatic process of steering, drive and of knowing and realizing the goal. Now we will study the sub-concepts of the feedback process. They are channels, load, lag, lead and gain.

Quantitative Factors of Analysis in Communication Theory:

Karl Deutsch has induced some quantitative factors or sub-concepts in his analysis of the communication theory. They are channels, load, lag, lead and gain.

Information reaches a system through a number of channels. A large number of methods, streams and media through which information reaches the system, are referred to as the channels.

Load refers to the extensiveness of the system activities in relation to available feedback facilities, and to the quantity of information involved in feedback processes in relation to the capacity of the channels of communication. Load-capacity can be sometimes great sometimes less. Load-capacity is closely related to various factors such as responsiveness of the system, its fidelity, distortion and noise.

Lag points out slowness in reporting and acting on information about the consequences of decisions and actions. In the words of Deutsch, “That is the amount of time between the reception of information concerning the target and the execution of the responding step in the goal-seeking behaviour of the system”.

Lead on the other hand indicates promptness. According to Karl Deutsch, “It is the distance of accurately predicted position of the moving target from the actual position from which the most recent signals were received……….. The greater this lead is in terms of time, so long as prediction remains accurate, the greater is the probability of hitting the target or reaching the goal. The amount of lead, in turn, depends on the efficiency of predictive processes available to the goal-seeking system, and on account of inaccuracy that can be tolerated”. Thus, Lead indicates the degrees of farsightedness and promptness with which a system takes steps in advance to meet the consequences of tomorrow.

Gain indicates the benefit that has accrued to the system by acting in advance or by taking the lead. It means extensiveness and the effectiveness of the responses that the system gives to the information received by it.

All these quantitative factors of analysis in the communication theory are significant in the sense that they impinge upon the working and efficiency of the system. In the opinion of Karl Deutsch, a good and efficient political system should try to enhance the combinatorial capacity of the receptors ‘avoid lag, increase the lead, consolidate the gain’. To quote him, “The chances of success in goalkeeping are always related to the amount of “load” and “lag” up to a point they may be positively related to the amount of the gain, although at high rates of gain, this relationship may be reversed and they are always positively related to the amounts of lead. At high rates of gain, a system may over-respond to information received and it is likely that above a certain rate of gain any increase will be dysfunction to the realization of system’s goals”. Deutsch after discussing the process came to the conclusion that, “Governments or political organizations, whose rates of lag gain and lead were sufficiently adjusted to each other for dealing with moderate rates of change in their environments, may find themselves unable to control their behaviour effectively in times of rapid changes that may put an excessive load lain upon their decision-making system.

Deutsch has also laid much emphasis on the attainment of goals. He refers to the similarity of the processes of steering and goal-seeking in living things and political systems. Deutsch says that perhaps it is possible to set goals with respect to foreign affairs and they may also try to maintain some state of affairs they deem desirable, such as prosperity in economics or tranquillity in politics.

Along with the concept of goal-changing feedback, Deutsch in his communication theory also introduces concepts of “learning, innovation, growth and self-transformation”. Learning is the “ability of a political system to adapt themselves of action in response to the information it receives through bringing about necessary changes and readjustment in the elements of its internal structure and process”. A political system goes through the process of innovation, growth and self-transformation when “it moves beyond mere adaptation to drastic change. It may lead not only to changes in its goals, structure or process- which may be described as adaptive changes- but to changes of a fundamental nature, growth is a completely new direction and even a complete self-transformation… Self-transformation, thus, is the ability to generate, sustaining process of change, internally and in so doing ultimately to produce qualitative changes”.

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