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Shaping the Network Society -- About Patterns
Public Sphere Project
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A Pattern Language for Living Communication

Why focus on PATTERNS?

The challenges facing humankind in the next millennium are staggering. We believe that information and communication technology could be used in meeting that challenge but much of today's media environment is inadequate for that task. In many cases, current systems are barriers to progress!

We are dedicated to building bridges that connect practitioners and researchers, community organizers and policy-makers and to all of the other people throughout the world now engaged in shaping information and communication systems to meet human needs.

In order to promote this bridge-building we are focusing on the idea of "patterns" and a "pattern language." These patterns will provide the core ingredients of a useful and compelling "knowledge structure" that represent the collective wisdom and aspirations of our community. Ideally this "knowledge structure" will help articulate -- and promote interest in -- research and activism for information and communication systems that advance society's "civic intelligence."

What is a PATTERN? A pattern LANGUAGE?

Patterns were originally conceived by Christopher Alxander and presented in his book "A Pattern Language" to provide structure for a theory of living architecture. Some of the patterns they developed include House cluster, House for a small family, Natural doors and windows and Light on two sides of every room.

While Alexander and his colleagues were dealing with architecture, our effort will employ patterns in a different domain: The patterns we advance will not focus on physical structures but on information and communication technology that is democratic and inclusive. In other words, we are attempting to do for communication systems what Alexander and his colleagues were doing for architecture.

The following definitions are paraphrased from "A Pattern Language", a landmark book about architecture and dwelling written by Christopher Alexander and his associates at the Center for Environmental Structure in Berkeley.

PATTERN A pattern is a careful description of a perennial solution to a recurring problem within a building context, describing one of the configurations which brings life to a building. (Please note that we don't require that the submitted patterns represent "perennial solutions.")

Each pattern describes a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use the solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice."

A PATTERN LANGUAGE A pattern language is a network of patterns that call upon one another. Patterns help us remember insights and knowledge about design and can be used in combination to create solutions.

A central idea behind the common structure is that, while individual patterns are exciting and useful, the structure of the language will also make it easier to integrate the patterns (where each is, in essence, a small theory about some part of the communication and information universe) into a collective body. Since they will be stored in an online database many interesting possibilities for computer mediation are raised. In addition, we also believe that this strategy will inspire scholars to think about their research in terms of social implications and actual social engagement and will help build networks that include research, practice, and advocacy.

For convenience and clarity, each pattern has the same format. First, there is a picture, which shows an archetypal example of that pattern. Second, after the picture, each pattern has an introductory paragraph, which sets the context for the pattern, by explaining how it helps to complete certain larger patterns. Then, there are three diamonds, to mark the beginning of the problem. After the diamonds there is a headline, in bold type. This headline gives the essence of the problem in one or two sentances.

After the headline comes the body of the problem. This is the longest section. It describes the empyrical background of the pattern, the evidence for its validity, the range of different ways the pattern can be manifested in a building, and so on. Then, again in bold type, like the headline, is the solution - the heart of the pattern - which describes the field of physical and social relationships which are required to solve the stated problem, in the stated context. This solution is always stated in the form of an instruction - so you know exactly what you need to do, to build the pattern. Then, after the solution, there is a diagram, which shows the solution in the form of a diagram, with labels to indicate its main components. After the diagram, another three diamonds, to show that the main body of the pattern is finished. (Christopher Alexander et al)

Pattern Orientation

We are seeking "patterns" that people can use to help them develop and use communication and information technology in ways that affirms human values. At the same time we are refining those patterns and building A Pattern Language based on these patterns. We believe that this orientation will be useful and ultimately exciting to a large audience worldwide.

If you're tempted to submit a pattern we encourage you to do so. Although this approach may require slightly different thinking we believe that it will be worth the extra effort.

  • Patterns are SOLUTIONS to PROBLEMS in a given CONTEXT
  • Patterns can be observable actions, empirical findings, hypotheses, theories, or "best practices"
  • Patterns exist at all levels; they can be "global" as well as "local;", theoretical as well as practical
  • Patterns are the springboard for discussion, research, and activism

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(Viewable in the online pattern system )

Some Pattern Ideas

The following example pattern names were suggested by papers in the 2000 Shaping the Network Society Symposium. They are provided to help potential pattern authors think about new and similar patterns. Please note that these names are not "taken" -- they can be used.

The Maintenance of Democracy

Conceptual Space for Consideration of Media and Democracy

Using the Internet to Fight Repression

Information and Communication for Reducing Poverty

Funding at the National Level for Model Projects

Open Source Learning Materials

Telecenters in the Second World

Global Policy Discussions

Accountability for Public Officials

Migrant Networks

Street-Level Community Strengthening

An Internet Treasure Hunt

Roll Your Own Television

Community Media Collectives

Asset-Based Community Development

Countering a Commercial Internet

Habitat for Citizenship

Deliberation in the Digital Age

Educational Partnerships

First Mile Broadband

Socio-Technical Development of Platforms and Tools

Technology Indicators

Youth Perspectives

Online Maps

Soil of Cyberspace

Citizenship and the Library

Counterculture and Cyberculture

Video Activism

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Where to Submit a Pattern

To view or enter and edit patterns, visit the pattern resource system .

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Updated: September 10, 2003
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