Organization

Control of Self Representation

Pattern ID: 
483
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
109
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

How people are represented — in speech, story, or image — will influence to some degree how they are perceived — by themselves and others — and, hence, are treated. Africa, for example, is typically presented to the rest of the world — and to Africans as well — by CNN and other western media — not by Africans or African media. This problem, of couse, is not confined to Africa. Poor people everywhere are portrayed — if they're portrayed at all — as nameless and voiceless, rarely as people with ideas, aspirations, creativity, culture or values.

Context: 

This pattern is applicable in any setting where information about one group of people is being developed and distributed by another group of people.

Discussion: 

"More recently, in later modernity the theme of the everyday has been considerably more prominent. But this does not mean that questions about who is representing for whom and why and how have been resolved. Issues about legitimacy of representation remain crucial, and indeed I shall argue that how to articulate and represent the everyday is the main issue in the politics of culture." - David Chaney (2002)

Non-whites, convicts, the poor, sick, starving people, flood victims, uneducated, aged, rural as well as intellectuals, dissidents, gender, ethnic and other marginalized groups are often the victim of mis-representation. Their presentations are often paper-thin, stereotypical at best. (While mention of other people are simply omitted; they don't exist.) The net result is a compelling, free-floating image of "normalcy" that serves as a model to be emulated.

This pattern represents a concept that gets very little notice. After all, there is really no way to fully control your representation or what people do with it. Ultimately it’s an expression of power: Who is creating the representations, under what conditions, and how can they be maintained, changed, or challenged? When somebody else is determining how you will be represented you have been robbed of your right to defend yourself, to make your own case for who you are. On some level, it's a type of identity theft. Who you are has been determined elsewhere and stamped on you.

Why bother with representations? Is there really anything to worry about? Are there any negative implications? Yes. For one thing, there seems to be substantial evidence that people start believeing their own representations — and act according to them. Representations, unfortunately, can have exceedingly long life spans since culture tends to replicate itself. Also people individually see little reason to change the way they view the world unless there is a compelling reason to rethink themselves.

This pattern on the one hand depicts the need for people everywhere to grab hold of their own representation and challenge the mechanisms (generally of media production) that perpetuates the stereotypes. At this level of analysis the pattern recommends a more accurate and bi-directional approach to "representation" — often of entire countries, ethnic and other marginalized populations. At a deeper level this pattern seeks to remedy a problem much more insidious -- that of a steady colonization from "within."

The importance of this pattern is obvious. It's why people may be suspicious when others are talking about them. It's why big corporations and political parties spend enormous sums on public relations and "spinning" news and other information to their advantage. Corporations and government agencies have elaborate and professional strategies for ensuring that their public portrait is painted according to their specifications. Movies stars, writers, etc. have their own publicists whose job it is to bring (or push) certain information to certain people. On the other hand, powerful people and institutions also go to great lengths to keep some information submerged and hidden forever.

There are several tools for addressing these problems. People in the group who may be perpetrating the stereotypes — white males (like me) for example — have the responsibility to acknowledge these transgressions and strive to overcome them. Media literacy and media critique are two skills worth developing and media monitoring is a worthwhile way to develop a fact base that can be used to confront the mis-representers. Much of this work should be done at a community level: the analyses should be shared, for example, with the community because it's often the community that is being mis-represented. Also, as was alluded to earlier, it may even be possible that members of the mis-represented community may be unconsciously living down to the stereotypes of their community.

Media is essentially a one-way street, a mute, wall-to-wall hallucinatory enclosure. (Although people do interpret according to their own rules that the media doesn't necessarily control.) The "message" of this medium is rarely acknowledged — it is truly the fabled 800-pound gorilla. Like a voice in your head, its message is compelling and persistent. It won't go away! It sows indecision while removing individual autonomy and opportunities for authentic social learning. Yet media producers aren't necessarily evil. Often laziness, lack of imagination (cloning the popular movie), and financial decisions factor in.

Solution: 

The first step to addressing this problem is to acknowledge that it exists. Since the media (and cultural representations generally) are so ubiquitous that it's hard to believe that there is a bias, however implicit. The second obstacle is thinking that nothing can be done about this. As you dig deeper in this you may simultaneously be amazed at the extent of the problem and your desire to help overcome it.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Whether through speech, story, or image how people are represented influences how they're perceived and treated. Non-whites, incarcerated, sick or starving people, disaster victims, uneducated, aged, and rural people as well as many others marginalized by gender or ethnicity are misrepresented. One cannot fully control self-representation but it can be addressed. The first step is increasing awareness of the problem; the second is analysis; the third is action.

Pattern status: 
Released

Self-Designed Development

Pattern ID: 
761
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
106
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

All too often development initiatives are designed and implemented by outside professionals, politicians and wealthy elites. Neither community empowerment nor fundamental sustainability plays a central role in many of these interventionist projects. And just as bad, they fail to honor the basic desires and knowledge possessed by these people. Thus displacement, increased unemployment and the overall degeneration of livelihoods becomes the normative result of mis-planned, mis-interpreted and thus, mis-implemented development. Similarly, even among the well-meaning development NGOs a culture of dependence tends to emerge with communities being perpetually tied to the expertise and monetary assets that these organizations bring with them.

Context: 

Before governments, international development agencies and corporate stake holders attempt to define the nature of development for a particular community or region (or for the world for that matter), peoples must proactively assert their own paradigm as a challenge to the problematic realties that have come from vertically planned development schemes, and to break out of dependency.

Discussion: 

Stepping away from the interventionist model of development, self-designed or autonomous development emphasizes at its core development designed and implemented by the people it is intended to affect. While on one hand this pattern presents an orientation towards the practice and approach of development at one level, at another it is meant to be translated into the direct actions of peoples pursuing the right to define the trajectories of their lives, the lives of their families and their overall communities. It tries to avoid the assumption that all peoples want to be developed, rather it does assume that peoples wish to enjoy a certain type of life defined on their own terms and the hope is that they have the opportunity to realize that desire in their life-time.

The words self-designed or autonomous are meant to address the fundamental notions of power, who has it, who uses, and how it’s used and to what end. As a pattern that values autonomy, but also a notion of development towards greater well-being traditional as well as modern knowledge must be acknowledged, understanding that they do not always have to be perpetually competing forces, but when approached carefully they can be utilized to promote viable path towards community transformation that honors the social, cultural and political realities a community exists within. Thus, the overall basis of the self-designed development places both the responsibility and power of change into the hands of those who have been historically disempowered through the processes of traditional ‘developmentalism’.

At the level of orientating this process, its necessary to re-frame development and stress a redefinition of the roles between peoples in communities seeking transformation and the various outside agents who are working for authentic social and economic change. Here we would emphasize facilitation over the management and design on the part of the part of the so-called professional, and community independence and autonomy over dependence.

Take for example, the Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) (See: Action Research) so often thought of as the mainstay of the development practitioner seeking to design projects, becomes instead an awareness tool for community members themselves to guide their own decision making process on what steps are to be taken to better their livelihoods, and offer clear paths to achieving that. In fact this tool can be used by a community without the need for complex levels of understanding into social research and can be used in a relatively low-tech way within a variety of settings. Therefore, the role of the outside agent can be to act as observer and identify ways in which they can help a community realize their mutually defined goals.

At the level of implementation the pattern can guide specific actions to be taken up by communities to include any number of projects defined by a community. For example, projects can be anything from a system of check dams used to provide electricity to power a rural village; another project could be the construction of a primary school or health center for women. They can include the creation of farming cooperatives to ensure the community not only achieves the ability to provide sustenance, but can then also generate income by selling their products outside their geographical community.

Undoubtedly the use of this pattern at this level will be context specific and must be shaped by the various needs and desires, and including the capacities and capabilities of peoples seeking to pursue this pattern of development. This recognizes that not all communities possess the same needs or desires, nor do the posses the same levels of capacity or capabilities. Therefore in one community where the level of civic capacity is high, as well as a great deal of cohesion and participation among community members, then a more autonomous approach to development is going to be more easily realized.

Yet, to a community that lack a certain level of capacity and cohesion it may be necessary for the community to seek the assistance of an outside agent to facilitate in the process. This could include consciousness raising, financial support, transfer of knowledge and so forth, but fundamentally any such assistance must be a result of the wishes of the community and brought forth based upon the terms and desires of those these plans are meant to assist.

There may however, be situations in which such a pattern may not be at all viable, or only very minimally. This is particularly true in situations of displacement, through war, famine or other outside forces that breaks a necessary level of cohesion due to fissure in the very nature of their communal ties, and thereby fragmenting the people’s capacity to coordinate and act collectively. In these situations, the pattern may still be utilized but it will be much more of a goal to be actualized by development agents who are seeking to ameliorate the problems associated with fragmented communities. The pattern thus becomes a guiding force for the interventionist, and care must be taken not to cross the boundary of creating development dependence among peoples.

In these situations it can also be potentially problematic as it can be difficult for agencies to relinquish control over development initiatives as community reconstitute themselves and gain a level of independence and cohesion that would allow for them to participate in a process of autonomous development. And since its difficult to say when the work of an NGO is done in area there remains this tendency maintain a role of interventionism long after a community has acquired the capacity to define their own goals. It therefore begins to become the kind of development the outsiders envision and not that of the community.

Thus, this pattern not only becomes an orientation to community driven development but an orientation and guide by which NGOs themselves can pursue a process to empower communities by emphasizing any number of projects designed to empower peoples to regain control over their lives in the wake of a rapidly modernizing world.

Solution: 

First, those among the professional development community should not always assume that a community wishes to be or needs to be developed. Rather support to communities should be pursed based on invitation. For the communities themselves this is an opportunity to empower themselves and to project the ways in which they wish to interact and be defined in the process of modernization that is going on everywhere. It is an opportunity to exert their own sense of identity and influence their livelihoods as best and most effectively as possible in the face of so many outside forces that are consciously and unconsciously seeking to define their collective futures.

When pursuing a development project peoples must come together, discuss, plan and decide what they want. If the community chooses to maintain a traditional way of life it becomes up to them on how they will protect that. And in the event that a community does seek outside assistance it is up to them to define the nature and terms of that relationship to those working with them from the outside. And for those with a low-capacity for truly implementing such an approach any initiative must incorporate the necessity of capacity building for communities to achieve a level in which they can envision their own development. Ultimately, the realization of a community’s independence rather than dependence in this world should be at the fore in such circumstances.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Development initiatives are often designed and implemented by outside professionals, politicians and wealthy elites. Neither community empowerment nor fundamental sustainability plays a central role in many of these interventionist projects. Communities must take the opportunity to proactively assert their own paradigm and to exert their own sense of identity and influence in the face of outside forces attempting to define their collective futures.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wikimedia Commons

Self-Help Groups

Pattern ID: 
762
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
105
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Individual capacity among poor peoples in the developing world, particularly women to establish credit and develop self-sufficient businesses is problematic. Lack of assets, and stable employment lends a view that these peoples are not credit worthy, thus they are barred from a variety of economic opportunities.

Context: 

Organizing groups to support collective and individual credit acquisition, as well as formal and informal skills training can assist peoples in accessing the capital necessary to initiate small businesses and ultimately help build livelihoods for families and communities.

Discussion: 

A very basic description of the Self-Help Group (SHG) has been summarized by the Rural Finance Learning Center. According to their definition: " Self-help groups are usually informal clubs or associations of people who choose to come together to find ways to improve their life situations. One of the most useful roles for a self-help group is to provide its members with opportunities to save and borrow and it can act as a conduit for formal banking services to reach their members. Such groups can provide a guarantee system for members who borrow or they may develop into small village banks in their own right. In rural areas self-help groups may be the only way for people to access financial services " (2006).

The structure of the SHG is meant to provide mutual support to the participants by assisting one another in saving money, opening up cooperative banking accounts that help women and other peoples to build credit with a lending institution. The SHG also functions to support members through maintaining consistent contact among group members to aid the individual’s savings goals, to help support the creation of these micro-enterprises. Often the SHG helps in the conception of these businesses and even the implementation of these enterprises upon receipt of the micro-loan.

The SHG also supports accountability for ensuring that the loans are paid back and the SHG can continue to include other members and support greater access to credit and capital to those within their community. SHGs also provide a space which facilitates the discussion of many issues pertaining to the community’s socio-economic, educational and health status. Thus, the formation of this group provides a forum to initiate many participatory activities (including training and awareness camps).

This process has also shown to increase confidence among participants, and help support greater levels of decision-making status in their society, particularly within South Asia. This hopefully will encourage members to participate and contribute in general social and political matters in their respective villages.

As peoples are supported in building their credit they in turn are able to apply for micro-loans geared towards a number of self-sufficiency based business ventures. Many of the business commonly financed consist of seamstress shops, beautician parlors, and in the rural areas these business can be as diverse as natural healing clinics, chicken farms and aqua-culture projects, to silk weaving or any number of handcraft based ventures.

While a great number of SHGs have been initiated by communities themselves, many of the SHGs are implemented through the help of an NGO that can provide the initial information and support to establish these groups. Such information and support often consists of training people on how to manage bank accounts to include deposits, withdrawals and balancing of the cooperative and individual accounts. Similarly informal education regarding a number of possible trades can take place in order to build up the capabilities of the participants to function as business owners.

But the SHG has some instances shown problems that must be addressed when considering their use as a pattern of community empowerment. For instance, many of these people are in absolute poverty and the little that they do save can put a family in an already precarious financial situation in a worse of place.

Other issues revolve around the nature of work and the family in developing countries where the women are often the primary householder while the male is involved in work outside the house. The creation of these businesses often adds greater levels of work upon women as they are committed to the SHG and the creation of their business to support their income and yet their household duties are still expected to be met by their husbands. In these situations the pressures can be immense to juggle the business, household chores and the rearing of children.

However, in response to some of these problems many NGOs have sought to play a critical role in lessening that burden by offering school to children and thereby giving women members the ability to pursue their career goals by providing a place for their children to go while simultaneously providing education to those children that would otherwise be working at home. Despite some of the draw backs the role of the SHG is still a vital and growing component of bottom-up development, and hopefully eventuating self-designed development in the future

Solution: 

Despite the problems some of the participants have faced due to the changing nature of their socio-economic status; the SHGs offer one approach to create associations of support for some of the most economically marginalized groups within society. Through the desire of women and other members of the community these SHGs can provide an organized structure for providing employability and ownership for peoples otherwise left out.

Overall, communities themselves can act to develop similar groups (or with the aid of NGOs working in the area), as these programs can be realized with relatively little resources from the outside.

It should also be noted that the SHG is not a panacea to social and economic development, and should only be one part of a larger solution to addressing poverty in communities. Other patterns must be called in to address some of the social consequences that can arise from the creation of an SHG.

Careful attention must be paid particularly to women as they are often the primary benefactors of the SHG and yet the amount of work involved is no less stressful and difficult for them. Other steps might also be taken to addresses these issues to pursue and integrated approach to supporting development.

For an in-depth guide to SHGs see: A handbook for trainers on participatory local development: The Panchayati Raj model in India.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Individual capacity among poor peoples in the developing world (particularly women) to establish credit and develop self-sufficient businesses is often unrealized. Organizing groups to secure collective and individual credit, and skills training, can help in accessing the capital needed to build businesses and livelihoods. Self-Help Groups offer one approach to create associations for economically marginalized groups.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Image: Justin Smith

Online Anti-Poverty Community

Pattern ID: 
743
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
103
Penny Goldsmith
PovNet
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Anti-poverty advocates and activists are isolated in their own communities. They often do not have the communications and education and training resources they need to do their work. Poor people do not have the information they need to exercise control over their lives and get the resources to which they are entitled or to advocate effectively for themselves.

Lack of access to communication severely limits opportunities for building communities where poor people can help themselves access the resources they need and for advocates and activists in the anti-poverty community to be involved in organizing for social change locally, nationally and internationally.

Context: 

The players in this online movement include poor people and advocates involved with community advocacy groups, settlement workers, multicultural groups, seniors organizations, disability groups, legal aid, test case interveners, labor organizations, public libraries, women

Discussion: 

Poverty is a debilitating worldwide problem that affects poor people directly as well as society at large. Although access to information and resources is critical to overcoming poverty and alleviating the problems of people living in poverty, poor people and anti-poverty advocates traditionally have less access to the Internet and other communications technologies.

Although poverty and computers do not make for an obvious alliance, it is clear the two worlds must connect unless we want to have a society where access to information and resources is only for those who can afford it.

Public access sites are rarely adequate to satisfy public need; users need people to help them do online research and free printers to print out forms and information. Hosts of public access sites need funding to keep equipment up-to-date and tech support to keep computers and Internet connections running smoothly. Lack of access to communication makes it difficult to connect communities in the anti-poverty world outside their local regions.

PovNet is a non-profit society created in British Columbia, Canada in 1997. It is an online resource for anti-poverty advocates and poor people, created to assist poor people and advocates involved in the communities identified above through an integration of offline and online technology and resources.

PovNet works with advocates and activists across Canada involved in direct case work and social action and justice. Some of these groups include:

* The National Anti-Poverty Organization (http://www.napo-onap.ca/), a national voice for poor people, working to eliminate poverty in Canada

* The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (http://www.policyalternatives.ca/), a left-wing think tank doing research for change in social policy

* Canadian Social Research Links (http://www.canadiansocialresearch.net/), an all-inclusive resource for social policy information about poverty in Canada

* DisAbled Women's Network of Ontario (http://dawn.thot.net/), an online inclusive community fostering virtual activism and individual empowerment locally and globally

* The Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA) (http://www.fafia-afai.org/home.php), a coalition of over 50 Canadian women’s equality-seeking and related organizations organized to further women’s equality in Canada through domestic implementation of its international human rights commitments.

* The Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) (http://www.tdrc.net/), a group of social policy, health care and housing experts, academics, business people, community health workers, social workers, AIDS activists, anti-poverty activists, people with homelessness experience, and members of the faith community who provide advocacy on housing and homelessness issues and lobby the Canadian government to end homelessness by implementing a fully funded National Housing Program.

PovNet has become an online home for advocates in BC and across Canada. Its Web site provides regularly updated information about issues and policy changes.

Using PovNet resources is an interactive process. Advocates learn the tools because they find them useful in order to do the social justice and case work that they care about; poor and otherwise marginalized people find the Web site when they need information that is relevant to their lives.

For example, PovNet email lists have grown over the years into invaluable resources for specific campaigns (for example the Raise the Rates campaigns in both Ontario and British Columbia to raise welfare rates). They also provide an online support network for advocates working in sometimes quite isolated areas in British Columbia or in other parts of Canada.

As one advocate put it: "I love the PovNet list - on the lighter side there's the kibitzing going on amongst the subscribers which often brings me to laughter - always a good thing in this job. On the serious side - the exchange of ideas and generous sharing of experience is a huge boon to those of us who often don't have time to pick up the phone to seek advice from our colleagues."

Another subscriber says: "The lists that I am a subscriber provide me with first-hand current information on what issues are affecting BC residents and/or newcomers. I am able to provide useful information and referrals to some of the requests coming through PovNet lists. They are an invaluable and efficient resource for community advocates, settlement and family workers, especially those issues that are time-sensitive and need an immediate response."

Other PovNet tools include a Web site which is updated once a month with new information, online education and training courses (PovNet U) for poor people (for example the course, "Be Your Own Advocate") and for advocates ("Introduction to Advocacy," "Disability Appeals" and "Tenants' Rights"), as well as an online space for anti-poverty community groups to have their own Web spaces, calendars, and discussion boards.

PovNet is a flexible in that it can adapt to needs as specific campaigns emerge. For example, we set up an email list for a new campaign to raise welfare rates, and created an online hub for papers and press releases when a group of anti-poverty activists traveled to the United Nations in Geneva to speak on behalf of the social and economic rights of poor people in Canada.

Building a successful online movement in anti-poverty communities includes, first and foremost, the people. Start by finding local community workers who want to broaden their connections, getting together key people (without computers) to talk about what is needed and identify the technological limitations, communicate with advocates and activists in diverse anti-poverty communities, both urban and rural, First Nations, aboriginal, different cultural communities, disability groups, women, youth, seniors, workers, human rights and anti-poverty workers, and international anti-poverty workers.

Then identify the barriers, which could include access to the technology (education, money, literacy, language), how to share information, resources and skills between "have" and "have-not" advocacy communities (e.g. community advocates and advocates in funded agencies, etc.), researching how to provide online resources in languages other than English and how to provide an online space for poor people to communicate and access information via public access sites and interactive Web-based resources.

Barriers for advocates and activists using PovNet tools have changed over the years. Initially, fear of technology was a big factor. But as advocates observed its use as a communications tool, they taught and continue to teach each other. Money for computers and printers is an ongoing problem; as the technology demands higher-end equipment. For example, advocates in rural communities with dialup access get frustrated with attachments that take up all their dialup time. The anti-poverty work becomes harder as governments slash social services; the advocates have fewer resources to do their work. Technology cannot address such needs.

Despite the difficulties, the network continues to grow, establish links with other organizations both in Canada and internationally, and exchange ideas and strategies for advancing social change.

Solution: 

The most effective online anti-poverty communities are constructed from the bottom up rather than the top down. Their resources are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address the need for online anti-poverty activism as it arises. Electronic resources can provide additional tools, but they are activated and made useful by the underlying human and locally based networks where the work of advocacy is actually being done.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Because anti-poverty advocates and activists often don't have the education and training resources or communications they need, their opportunities for building communities are limited. At the same time, poor and marginalized people don't have the information they need to exercise control over their lives or get the resources they need. The most effective online anti-poverty communities are defined and created by advocates and poor people to address needs as they arise.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
PovNet

Community Animators

Pattern ID: 
752
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
102
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces, as well as grasp and utilize the various assets the community has to work with. The lack of grassroots knowledge has proven problematic in that development schemes are often mismatched in scale and relevance to the community’s needs, abilities and liabilities. Thus the conceived solutions for encouraging community capacities and livelihoods fall short of their objectives.

Context: 

Through their lived experience, community members trained in assessment techniques and information gathering can provide contextual understandings of the assets and liabilities a community possesses that would otherwise go unnoticed to the outside professional. Similarly they can act as agent for the process of conscientization and subsequent mobilization for peoples to pursue change and empowerment.

Discussion: 

In response to the failures of 'top-down' approaches to development, a shift towards emphasizing participation and empowerment have begun to make their way into the mainstream of development practice. This move toward "bottom-up," "farmer-to-farmer," and "grassroots" communication has been a fundamental reorientation. Following, the 70s and 80s, years often associated with the dark ages of development a new light has come about through alternative practices that seek to employ the community’s themselves in defining their needs, mapping out there assets and coming to terms with their own liabilities.

Through a variety of participatory processes both community members and development professionals have had the opportunity to jointly design community improvement schemes that are both appropriate to the community's needs and wants, as well sustainable and empowering.

As a result of relative success, the role of the community animator has become an increasingly important component for enabling this process of cooperation and participation between the development practitioner and the community members themselves. In some ways the animator acts as both initiator and on-going advocate for his or her community's development through regular open communication with both community members and the representative staff working in the area.

In the past highly educated teams of researchers and development field workers would enter a community and employ any number of assessment tools to identify community needs. Some of which were participatory in nature (see Power Research pattern). Upon return to their offices these assessments would be used to design various projects ranging from indoor lavatories, to treadle pumps, to community telecenters. In many cases it was shown that these projects failed to support the kind of long-term growth in people’s livelihoods they were thought to bring. Rather than looking at what the community wanted or needed from their cultural and social point of reference; these professionals designed projects relative to their point of reference.

Instead of persisting with this paradigm, NGOs such as the Institute for Integrated Rural Development (IIRD) have pursued vigorous development campaigns in Bangladesh. In this example the community animator has become a central agent for helping to identifiy and express the needs and desires of a community, as well as initiating and supporting change to include, informal education, ideas for micro-enterprise, and even supporting the creation of women’s self-help groups that have enable a number of women in rural areas to gain access to credit and thus empower them to pursue economic generating activities.

Here organizations such as IIRD would send exploratory panels out to the communities, as a "get to know you" campaign. Over a period of time they would identify predominately young men and women that they would sponsor for further education. The pool of students would often serve as the primary group that would go on to perhaps become powerful community animators.

Not only were they given a valuable education they still retain those familial bonds to their community that often gives them an immediate advantage in having the lived experience of their particular area, as well the rapport of being a community member.

However, problems of jealousy and apprehension can be potentially problematic and it is important that groups and agencies that do seek to draw advocates from the field they seek to assist find ways to mitigate the potential social conflict that might arise. Unfortunately, it may not be possible to completely eliminate it. But it is perhaps a far better approach than previous alternatives

Solution: 

The community animator can act as a critical link between the community and any NGO Collaborator. It should be noted that by those in the field for social change that local citizens and activists can often better activate a community’s sentiments and bring about awareness for the possibility to realize change than an outsider who may be perceived to have little understanding of the real issues at stake.

Beyond the processes of concientization that a community animator can bring to the process; NGOs can also assist these community members in training for information gathering and needs assessments to help refine the basic kinds of projects and programs that might be of benefit to a community.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Development professionals often find it difficult to adequately assess the broad spectrum of problems a community faces — or the various assets the community has to work with. This often means that development schemes are mismatched with the community's needs, abilities and liabilities. Community Animators can act as critical links and local citizens can often better activate a community to realize change than an outsider.

Pattern status: 
Released

Sustainability Appraisal

Pattern ID: 
748
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
100
Nick Plant
University of the West of England, Bristol
Version: 
2
Problem: 

There are many limitations to the take-up and use of information and communications technologies (ICT) in non-profit organisations. Technical, social and management issues are frequently involved, but the complex, inter-connected mix of factors at work is often confusing. There isn’t a common language for understanding and modelling a particular organisation’s situation. Furthermore, until understanding is achieved, action-planning and change is even more problematic. However, ideas of sustainability drawn from the worlds of sustainable development, sustainable communities and environmentalism are familiar to many civil society activists and non-profits. Can these ideas be imported to form a holistic sense-making framework for understanding non-profit ICT use? More important, can the use of sustainability indicators also help inform action-planning and change, on the basis that diagnosis is half way towards a cure?

Context: 

This pattern has emerged from extensive research, development and consulting on ICT in non-profit organisations (Plant, 2003). Non-profit organisations are key to organised social action and increasingly reliant on ICT in pursuing their missions, especially as they move from internal, efficiency-oriented, applications to those that support service delivery externally. But small non-profits are frequently vulnerable to, yet dependent upon, external expertise due to limited internal knowledge. Outside support is, furthermore, often technically-biased and solutions-focused. There is a need to facilitate internal capacity development and learning, especially on the organisational and political, not just technical, factors associated with ICT. The notion of sustainability as imported into this field embraces a holistic range of organisational, social and technical factors. These affect success and autonomy in the use of ICT, as well as technological longevity. The application of sustainability indicators to appraise ICT use in non-profits should interest both non-profit staff and outside helpers committed to a facilitative approach. Those needing a holistic understanding of a particular organisational situation, and those looking to move towards action-planning for change and improvement in ICT use, should benefit.

Discussion: 

A sustainability model was originally constructed, as an analytic abstraction for research purposes, to model the suggestion that three main factors, each with sub-factors, might explain sustainability or its absence in non-profit ICT.
The top-level factors were inspired by the triple bottom line in sustainable development (Henriques & Richardson, 2004) combined with information systems theory. They are associated with longevity (technical factors which affect IT quality and life expectancy), success (management factors which affect the overall impact of ICT use on the organisation) and autonomy (empowerment factors which affect the extent of appropriate relationships with outside expertise). A three-segment graphical representation was created to summarise and integrate these factors visually.

A method of appraising sustainability operationally in any given non-profit was derived from the theoretical model. A questionnaire asks respondents to agree or disagree with assertions associated with sustainability in each of the three main areas, using a five-point Likert scale. Drawing on Bell and Morse's (1999; 2003) approach to sustainability indicators, these qualitative responses are plotted on a three-segment diagram similar to the theoretical model. This results in a visual impression of sustainability, as subjectively interpreted by the organisational stakeholder(s) taking part.

A full "Information Systems Healthcheck" service was then designed (Plant, 2001). The consultant first gathers and preliminarily analyses sustainability appraisal data from completed questionnaires. A face-to-face meeting then takes place, at which feedback is offered, and the situational diagnosis is discussed with client representative(s). The consultation then moves towards initial action planning and change. Possible areas for improvement are drawn directly from the graphical sustainability appraisal "plot" and respondents’ annotations.

Specific action-plans that might bring about change and improvement are identified, focusing on segments where sustainability appears to be weakest. The follow-up to this part of the process involves a wider cross-section of the client organisation's staff being canvassed if possible in order to confirm, enrich or challenge the situational diagnosis and the action-planning steps emerging.

Evaluation of the healthcheck service suggests that it leads to new insight for client organisations. Key phrases appearing on evaluation questionnaires emphasise the strengths of a “completely outside perspective” that “forces the issue” to give participants an “understanding of context” and “make recommendations” from an “unbiased viewpoint” following “critical review”.

Insight appeared to be based largely on bringing to the surface ideas that were already latent within the organisation, newly articulated and legitimised as a result of the engagement. It was therefore argued that internal capacity can be unlocked by employing the external facilitator in the role of a ‘sounding board’. Drawing out multiple perspectives through this participative approach appeared particularly important.

The crucial requirement for the client to take ownership of the process cannot yet be taken for granted. For this reason and others, further action research is needed to confirm or challenge the findings. Follow-up work is time-consuming and demanding for clients, particularly if, as suggested during the healthcheck, the consultant’s definitions of ‘health’ and ‘sustainability’ are to be challenged, reviewed and appropriated to suit local conditions and culture.

The qualitative basis of this work also leads to its own challenges. The most effective sustainability appraisals have been those involving questionnaire responses from multiple stakeholders that express divergent views. Productive outcomes have resulted from the debate and discussion over the multiple subjective interpretations of sustainability that have emerged. Focusing on disagreement as well as agreement can of course generate conflict instead of consensus, so requires sensitive facilitation and careful management.

Furthermore, given that as follow-up clients are encouraged to engage organisational stakeholders at all levels (a move that could generally be considered ‘healthy’), such conflict can be problematic for those in less powerful positions. More generally, the process may influence the existing power balance; this could either be positive or negative in any given organisation. As a minimum, this possibility must be taken into account.

Solution: 

Sustainability ideas were originally imported into the non-profit ICT field in order to construct an explanatory model for research purposes, but their utility goes beyond this. The use of sustainability indicators has led to a practical grounded tool for understanding real-world non-profit ICT situations.

A common language for making sense of and modelling the organisational, social and technical factors involved in ICT sustainability in individual non-profits is now available.

But it has not only been used successfully to achieve situation diagnosis and understanding, it has also led non-profits towards practical action for change and improvement in ICT use. Although there is more work to be done, the core method, an "information systems healthcheck", involves a visual representation of sustainability that promotes accessibility, and a facilitative approach that can lead to empowerment and organisational learning. Furthermore, researchers concerned with industrial or other sectors have observed similarities with ideas such as capability maturity modelling, and this work may well have application beyond the non-profit sector.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The adoption and use of information and communications technologies (ICT) present critical challenges to small non-profit organizations. The complex, interconnected mix of factors is often confusing. The idea of sustainability can be used to orient a holistic sense-making framework. Sustainability Appraisals promote inclusion and collaboration, and the facilitative approach can lead to empowerment and organizational learning.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Nick Plant

Appreciative Collaboration

Pattern ID: 
741
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
99
Stewart Dutfield
Marist College
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Collaboration toward a shared goal is not always an uplifting experience; sometimes the problem is that there always seem to be problems. People can become discouraged in their work toward some common good. They suffer a dissonance between, on one hand, their enthusiasm for an uplifting cause and, on the other, the gritty reality of bringing it about. What seems at the outset to be a life-enhancing enterprise can produce frustration, burnout and turnover of group members.

Context: 

To pursue a shared goal is to seek a positive impact on the world: what David Cooperrider (1990) describes as a heliotropic movement, toward the light of a positive image of the future. As long as the group visualizes the positive contribution that its work will make, it will approach its work with optimism and hope. If pursuing the goal appears as the remediation of a deficit rather than movement toward a positive image, over time a focus on the negative will emerge.

Discussion: 

Conflict can affect a group of people positively or negatively; it can be functional or dysfunctional. Some level of conflict can lead to creativity, responsiveness to change, and learning from experience. Conflict becomes dysfunctional when it produces feelings of hostility, interferes with honest communication, and distracts from the shared goal. People become frustrated when conflict prevents them from achieving what they want to achieve. They may react through aggression, compromise or avoidance; each of these makes the situation worse than it was. The result is a diversion of the group’s attention to perceived problems with the collective enterprise: a language of deficit in which not merely the shared goal, but the group itself becomes a problem to be solved.

Geoffrey Bellman writes of the commitment, passion, and “aspiration for a larger life” (2000, p. 68) which energize people who seek to change the world for the better. If we can see the beauty in our collaborations, we can release the creativity that comes from a compelling vision of a future worth working for.

Human beings, the groups and organizations we work in, and the world we inhabit all contain the potential for this larger life. Through consistent attention to what is alive, and to what can be alive in the future, we can become more alive. The belief that that people are good and that they respond positively to being treated accordingly is well-grounded in research on the Pygmalion effect (Cooperrider, 1990). We respond to positive images of ourselves by regarding others more positively: by noticing their successes, remembering their strengths, and seeing challenges from a positive aspect.

An appreciative approach adopts a fourfold cycle of discovery, dreaming, design and destiny (Cooperrider & Whitney, 1999). It starts not by identifying a need or deficit, but by discovering the best of the current situation. It dreams or envisions what a better future might be, rather than analyzing what caused the deficit. In place of planning how to redress a deficit, it collectively constructs a design for a better future. Instead of acting to resolve a problem, this approach enacts a better future as its destiny.

To enact a better future suggests that a life-affirming end is a natural outcome of life-affirming means; we aspire to larger life in the world through larger life in ourselves and in our collaborations. If we learn to be drawn together by a positive image of each other, our collective effort “enhances the potential for creative, fresh human action toward a life-enhancing purpose” (Srivastva & Barrett, in Srivastva & Cooperrider, 1990, p. 386).

This can succeed if we continually revise our expectations of what we can achieve: to open new possibilities for ourselves, for those we collaborate with, and for the world we hope to improve. This requires that we continually learn by developing and revising “the norms, strategies and assumptions which specify what work gets done and what work is important to do” (Dixon, 1999, p. 48). We need to maintain a dialogue, with ourselves and others, about our individual and shared assumptions.

To better understand the value of others, we must suspend our own assumptions. People are seldom malicious or idiotic, but they often work from different assumptions; once we can understand these assumptions we can appreciate their value. For this reason, appreciating differences is critical to collaboration. Once we appreciate others’ concerns (Spinosa et al., 1997), we can embark on a dialogue about how to work together.

Appreciative collaboration assumes that differences are valuable, and focuses attention on what is positive in any situation; in place of a vocabulary of deficit, it offers a forward-looking language of hope. Combined with a clear shared vision, appreciative collaboration allows us to achieve life-affirming goals through life-affirming means.

Solution: 

Positive images of the future lead to positive actions. Consistently build positive expectations for the future on the basis of positive attributions to what has been achieved in the past. Constantly learn the value of others, and be prepared to change cherished assumptions if they undermine the larger life of the group.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People working toward some common good can become discouraged when they experience the gritty reality of bringing it about. When the group visualizes the positive contribution that its work will make, it will approach its work with optimism and hope. Appreciative Collaboration encourages us to see the beauty in our collaborations, so we can release the creativity that comes from a compelling vision of a future worth working for.

Pattern status: 
Released

Informal Learning Groups

Pattern ID: 
757
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
98
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Overemphasis upon formal education can lead to an oversight of alternative learning methods that could be more appropriate within certain contexts. Particularly, for adult populations looking to increase their understanding on relevant subjects, the option of pursuing formal training is not conducive due to the investment in time and extra resources it takes. As a result, people find it difficult to acquire the skills necessary for them to address a radically changing global economy, and thus many capable people continue to remain behind.

Context: 

In cities, in villages, in the work place, or an internet cafe, even in a coffee shop amongst friends, learning can and does take place. Individuals and groups of people can come together to share their knowledge in structured or non structured ways to actively engage one another to mutually build each others understandings. When other methods of learning are not available, and yet the skills necessary to gain better employment, or the building of awareness on specific issues facing a community are needed for achieving greater livelihoods; informal learning processes can serve as an effective alternate route to meet the needs of communites and individuals.

Discussion: 

In a variety of settings from the workplace to village level development initiatives, informal learning through group interactions and individual self-teaching can be an effective tool for developing new skill sets, alternative ideas and even new approaches to advancing livelihoods.

What is informal learning? There is a hot debate among many educators as to what it really is, especially since its practice has become more common place within developed countries as businesses and employees attempt to stay abreast with the latest developments in technologies, and management practices so that they can collectively and individually remain competitive in a market driven environment.

Definition:

  • Informal work-related adult education activities that take place without an instructor. Examples of such activities include on-the-job demonstrations by a supervisor or coworker; on-the-job mentoring or supervised training; self-paced study using books, videos, or computer-based software; attendance at brown-bag or informal presentations; and attendance at conferences, trade shows, or conventions related to one’s work or career (nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/glossary/i.asp).
  • Occurs in everyday life and may not even be recognized as learning by the individual. For example, using a television guide may not be equated by an individual as having learned how to use a table. Related concepts/terms include: incidental learning (www.nald.ca/adultlearningcourse/glossary.htm).

To better illustrate, here is a visual aid used to describe informal learning processes based upon information need.


It has been cited that, "Many times we can find the answer in the world around us, through either people, or formal courses, or bits of information. When it's not found (whether it doesn't exist or a search is incomplete), we go into a problem-solving mode. Then we need data, and analytical frameworks. If we do it in conjunction with others, we need collaboration and/or communication tools. Finally, if we solve it, we (should) close the loop by either adapting the materials to account for this problem in the future, or to create new material (Quinn, 2002)".

In the developing country, informal learning has gained a reputation as a tool for meeting a number of goals that not only include skills training, but also civic and health related education that can be acquired through individual inquiry, as well as through group interactions. Similarly, adult literacy projects that utilize an informal education approach (predominately among women populations) have gained increasing prevalence. In fact, women participants of local self-help groups often support one another through imparting knowledge to one another, they can help to tutor each other in their homes for building up literacy and educating each other on personal finance.

When done in a group context an informal learning project can consist of a number of group led demonstrations that relate to managing one’s personal finances, to starting a business, as well as how to use a computer for e-mail and even how to access your political representatives. The learning spaces are as dynamic and varied as the topics and the people often involved in them. Sometimes these groups are started through simple conversations among neighbors, or the group is seeded with support by an outside agency that brings some structure to the initial group development but after time allows the groups to be autonomous and define its own interests and pursuits.

Similarly, online learning groups can assist its members in learning new software, or computer programming. Take for instance the number of user forums dedicated to asking and answer technology related questions. This exchange among participants constitutes an informal learning group in which information is shared that ultimately builds upon the skills of the participants. In this online dialogue, individuals bring to the group their own experiences and expertise to share with other members of the group to help support a mutual sharing of knowledge. Even those not openly communicating with the group can benefit from finding answers to their own questions. As new doors are opened through this process new levels of curiosity emerge that can aid in the further participation in the group.

While these types of learning communities are contingent upon access to information technology; in other contexts these groups can meet within their geographical proximity. Community animator can act as a facilitator by asking participants questions that help them ask new questions or find answers to question that they may have not known how to answer before.

Regardless of how a group is organized the informal learning group serves two basic functions to provide access to information and knowledge creation as well as evoking a deeper level of individual curiosity among participants and to prompt them towards greater levels of self-enrichment, whether that be for financial gains or merely inner personal gains.

Though informal learning has gained greater focus over the years within development related education and beyond, technologies and access to information resources can make this pattern difficult to effectively utilize. While usage of these groups in development initiatives is high its difficult to ascertain whether or not they have had the level of benefit being represented through the increased effectiveness among employees with the corporations of more highly developed countries. While, this does not mean that informal learning groups are inadequate but it perhaps highlights the acceleration of learning possessed by those who have greater access to information on a larger scale. For this reason this pattern could be made more effective within a development related context through the linking with other patterns that emphasize technology infrastructure an alternative access to information for groups.

Solution: 

As an approach to improving the capacities of peoples involved in any number of development schemes designed to address local livelihoods, informal learning groups can provide an alternative avenue for supporting life-long learning spurring individual curiosities and the acquisition of new skills.

Community leaders, self-help groups, development agencies and local employers can all act as initiators in the upstart of informal learning groups and encourage and overall culture of participatory learning geared to meet the interests and needs of the community. All of these can be done through communities meetings, general or directed interactions during tea/coffee breaks, these opportunities can be pursued and developed at the local internet cafe or even time can be set aside by employers who realize the benefits of supporting a more educated and curious workforce.

Overall, the pattern tends to be mutually reinforcing as knowledge is created curiosity tends to be ignited furthering greater levels of self and group directed investigations. It's up to individuals, groups, communities and businesses to promote these endeavors, and thereby increase the intellectual capabilities of its local residents.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Overemphasis on formal education can overshadow more appropriate learning methods. This is especially true for adults with time and money constraints. Informal Learning Groups can support life-long learning, skill-building, and curiosity. Community leaders, self-help groups, development agencies, and local employers can help launch educational projects that encourage a culture of participatory learning to meet community needs.

Pattern status: 
Released

Citizenship Schools

Pattern ID: 
788
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
96
Lewis A. Friedland
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Carmen J. Sirianni
Brandeis University, Dept. of Sociology
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Some of the the skills of citizenship, like basic communication and cooperation, grow from skills we learn in daily life. Others, like deliberating with others, defining problems, collaboration on common projects, and organizing are not so basic: they, often, need to be learned. Not long ago, associations and intermediary institutions–social and professional clubs, religious congregations, neighborhood schools–rooted in local communities were the main places where these skills were learned. Today, there are fewer contexts in everyday life to learn them. People are less connected in and to local communities and often learn about what's important in the media. Increasingly, general discussion about political and civic issues is occuring on and through the Internet. But it is easier to find information on the Net than to learn reflexively with others. The Net only partly lends itself to learning collaborative citizenship skills. Further, many lower-income people, in the U.S. and around the world, still lack access to the Net. Therefore citizenship schools are needed to build civic skills in both local communities and on the Net.

Context: 

In order to act effectively, people need to learn and apply the skills of citizenship. Everyone who wants to find a democratic and lasting solution to deep and complex problems needs these skills and they are open to anyone to learn and teach. But there are also experts-civic practitioners, government officials and civil servants, teachers and scholars, civic and community organizers

Discussion: 

Citizenship Schools originated in South Carolina in 1959, and quickly spread throughout the South through the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee. In the late 1950s many Southern states had literacy tests, that required people to be able to read and write, and sometimes answer "citizenship" questions (generally designed to exclude blacks from voting). Teaching large numbers of African-Americans in the South to read, write, and learn about citizenship was critical in the larger struggle for civil rights, including the right to vote. According to Andrew Young and Ella Baker, movement leaders, the Citizenship education program was the "foundation on which the entire movement was built." (1) But communities with Citizenship Schools had few ways to make connections with other communities that lasted over time. Eventually, as the early fights for civil rights were won, the schools faded.

The spirit of the schools lived on through the decades that followed in hundreds of civic training programs conducted by organizations and local communities. Faith-based community organizations like the Industrial Areas Foundation train local clergy and lay organizers who learn to conduct campaigns and forums to build consensus on issue agendas like housing, school reform or job training. Environmental watershed, forestry, eco-system restoration and justice movements and others, teach citizens and youth to collect data and monitor environmental quality while building skills of civic trust and cooperation. And new civic movements to build a new model of the public and civic university are growing, like the Council on Public Engagement at the University of Minnesota .

Citizenship Schools have also beeen tried online. In 1994, the American Civic Forum met to try to address a widely perceived crisis in political life and civic culture in the U.S. The Citizenship Schools were an imoprtant model and a Civic Practices Network (CPN) was built, to use the newly emerging technology of the Internet to build skills of citizenship. CPN, launched that year, sought to facilitate broad and multimedia sharing of best cases, civic stories, mutual evaluations, and mentoring opportunities. Other independent civic networks also emerged around this time, including LibertyNet in Philadelphia, and Civic Net. Despite the growth of the Internet, however, no broad network connected and nurtured these activities.

As the web matured beginning around 2000 finding information on many topics of civic interest-public deliberation, the environment, youth, education, health care, communication-became relatively easier for individuals. But the new problem was how to link these groups together to not only provide information in their own specialized subfields, but to create an active environment for teaching, learning, and collaboration while also building a larger sense of solidarity in citizenship. National civic portals to aggregate the growing number of civic sites and discussions on the Net were one proposed answer. But by 2003 or so with the emergence of the blogosphere, the topology of the web itself suggested that distributed links among widely dispersed civic sites might lead to new kinds of collaboration in which a great deal of the work of gathering and connecting is done by sites in the mid-range. This is the level most appropriate for new citizenship schools on the web.

Therefore to build Citizenship Schools in local communities and institutions it is necessary to build a framework that can support many local organizing efforts with curricula and training routines that are distributed, shared, inexpensive, flexible, and sustainable. These can be done in local communities, through institutions like schools and universities, and on the web.

Local citizenship schools would necessarily be the result of pooled efforts among many active local civic organizations across different areas. Many could benefit from local government support. In Seattle, for example, the Department of Neighborhoods provides leadership and skills training to many neighborhood, environmental, and other civic groups.

Citizenship Schools through university extension and outreach could train new expert practitioners rooted in local communities. For example at the University of Minnesota, the Council on Public Engagement reaches out to both scholars and academic staff to redefine the teaching and research mission of the publci university. Potentially, certificates and university credit through university extension services and community colleges could provide individuals valuable learning resources that also support and reinforce the extended investment of time, attention, and civic commitment.

New Citizenship Schools on the web could allow collective learning in a distributed, asynchronous environment; help frame a broad civic agenda collaboratively through distributed discussion; and form a mid-range network of portals to focus attention without the intial high costs of building national space. Schools on the web could support and integrate both local and statewide efforts. The CPN is one online model indicating that there is significant demand online for serious learning material about civic practice. Deliberative-Democracy.net demonstrates how key blogger-editors can be recruited for a civic site and distribute the labor of a serious, ongoing conversation. The Liberating Voices Project [check best name] is also a key example of a distributed learning collaborative.

For the pattern to be realized online, moderate-sized hubs with committed editors will need to be seeded and a few models created. Possibly, Citizenship Schools on the web could ally with university partners, particularly in civically oriented extension programs, to provide credentials and a modest flow of support. Their life-cycle is potentially renewable. If a network of citizenship schools succeeds, it could become self sustaining, using commons models with relatively little ongoing external support.

The biggest challenge in building Citizenship Schools on a commons model is sustaining energy and collaboration, and maintaining a high quality of information. As noted, a commons model requires moderate levels of commitment from a wide core. Many of the contributers will be citizens, academics, policy makers and administrators with other jobs and commitments. Rewards will be instrinsic. A second challenge is to get citizens to commit time to learning, not to just "graze" for information.

The main critics of the concept might say that Citizenship Schools are an anachronism and depend on communities of face-to-face solidarity that are less relevant by the year. Learning doesn't take place this way anymore, despite the fact that the Citizenship Schools would be on the web. Further, getting individuals to make long-term commitments at adequate levels will be nearly impossible.

Solution: 

There are five basic steps to promoting this pattern: (1) Build Citizenship Schools in local communities, institutions and online that can aid collaborative learning; (2) Develop a sites (local and virtual) that include active learning and civic curricula that can be widely shared. (3) Find citizens (lay leaders and experts both) who can serve as teachers and editors who can make minimal but real commitments; (4) Build templates to aid the spread of learning; and (5) Create new forms of civic credentials that provide value to both individuals and communities.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Finding lasting, democratic solutions to deep and complex problems requires citizenship skills. Some are learned in daily life. Others, like deliberating, defining problems, collaborating on projects, organizing, and understanding public institutions and processes are not basic. We need Citizenship Schools in local communities and on the Internet in which citizens can come together with each other and with skilled practitioners and learn from each other.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Septima Clark Public Charter School

Mirror Institutions

Pattern ID: 
583
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
94
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

There are millions of organizations and other institutions that are responsible for important decisions and policy development on behalf of the public trust. There are also organizations and other institutions that violate the public trust or who otherwise wield illegitimate power. Unfortunately these two types often overlap. Some wield enormous power while some are impotent and irrelevant. At any rate, both types must be monitored closely — persistently and non-superficially — to encourage them to exert their powers appropriately. Moreover, both of these groups (and, indeed, all of us) are faced with millions (basically uncountable) of problems (and problems in the making) within the environment that are not well understood within a useful framework. The institutions that civil society establishes are often too diffuse or too narrow to face these problems effectively, while many seem to be "reinventing the wheel." Institutions of government and business can be too powerful or politically beholden to perform their duties responsibly; they can also be conceptually or administratively misaligned with their mission for many reasons.

Context: 

There are many sets of problems / situations / contexts that can be addressed with the same pattern. "Institutions" in the sense of people who are organized around certain goals in a persistent way are ubiquitous.

Discussion: 

The world of mirrors — and, hence, any discussion of them in a metaphorical way — leads to reflections and reflections of reflections and reflections of reflections of reflections and so on. So be it.

Mirrors reflect, but not perfectly. At the very least they reverse the image that they're reflecting. We're only using mirrors, however, as a metaphor for reflection or replication.

Due to the size and complexity of most of these mirroring endeavors, formal or informal organizations are established to tackle the job. For many reasons organizations that mirror to some degree the area within the overall environment that they are focused on are likely to have more success than those who don't. An institution is society's attempt to make a "machine" whose output is of a desired type. It reflects (however imperfectly) the desires of its creators and maintainers and its "products" are "mirror images" of each other (or at least have the same "family resemblance.") "Mirror Institutions" are those institutions that reflect or reflect upon other institutions or other realities. As such this pattern covers a very wide range. To cover this wide range we've identified four important facets: the reflective mirror institution, the critical mirror institution, the alternative / generative mirror institution, and the flattering mirror institution. The boundaries between these different institutional mirror types aren't clear. It's hard in other words, to know where one ends and another begins. And the "mirror" itself (at least the metaphorical mirror we're talking about) is a constructed object whose object is implicitly or explicitly what it's set up to be and what it has come to be (while realizing, of course, that the characteristics are not completely knowable either but are subject to interpretation themselves — via another mirror. And, like all mirrors, the reflections can be seen from many angles.

The reflective mirror institution is used to help us understand without bias some aspects of the "real world." This institution needs to reflect the most salient aspects of its object back to the people who need to understand the object. Scientists ideally employ this type of mirror institution when they endeavor to understand the complex and intricate relationships within the physical environment.

James A. Wilson in his essay "Matching Social and Ecological Systems in Complex Ocean Fisheries" states that the "mismatch of ecological and management scale makes it difficult to address the fine-scale aspects of ocean ecosystems, and leads to fishing rights and strategies that tend to erode the underlying structure of populations and the system itself." He goes on to state that "This is likely to be achieved by multiscale institutions whose organization mirrors the spatial organization of the ecosystem and whose communications occur through a polycentric network."

Problems can result arise if people believe that they're using a reflection that has perfect fidelity or if they're work is overly influenced by ideology.

The critical mirror institution is used to uncover, analyze and expose the failings of another institution. Using the explicit philosophy, goals, and practices of the institution itself to show the stark contrast between their often noble rhetoric and what they're actually doing is a common approach. In the U.S., for example, the OMB Watch organization performs a "watchdog" function on the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) within the U.S. government. The Bretton Woods project uses the decisions made by global economic powers at the 19__ Bretton Woods meeting as the basis for its critique of international capital and its institutional handmaidens.

The alternative / generative mirror institution is used to develop — and propagate — alternatives to existing institutions. Governments in exile are one use of this pattern, as are community banks, whether they're in Venezuela or other countries. Sometimes the alternative is then mirrored into multiple versions of itself. Federated institutions that are loosely connected to each other and more-or-less the same type of species represent a good way to develop strength globally while maintaining local control. This was used in the realm of independent, non-commercial communication, including community access television, community networks and the Independent Media Centers movements.

The World Social Forum is a blend of two mirror institution facets: the critical and the alternative / generative; it established itself as a counter-forum to the World Economic Forum which promotes alternative ideas and visions. The World Social Forum is also being mirrored in the form of regional and thematic forums.

The flattering mirror institution is an existing mirror, sometimes called an infinite mirror that is self-referential, often self-indulgent, self-deceiving, self-reinforcing, and sycophantic. That is, to a large degree, the state of the media today, endlessly reflecting upon itself like an echo chamber.

[Note that media reflects society — however incompletely — back to itself. As Israeli journalist Gideon Levy of the Haaretz newspaper pointed out "The Palestinians know what the Israelis are doing."]

There are several ways by which to look at any mirror institutions — especially when setting one up.
   The object or environment — What is standing in front of the mirror?
   The reflection — What is being reflected?
   Reflecting on the reflection — What are you seeing in the reflection? Should you be looking for other things?
   The audience — Who is (or should be) peering into the mirror institution?

Does relying exclusively on "reflections" mean that wholly new institutions can't be devised? Although brand new institutions can be created through a series of partial changes, this argues for more of an intelligent (or pragmatic, efficient or opportunistic) design, rather than creation. Decentralized Intelligence Agency?!

Challenges: Adopting and realigning when necessary. Maintaining a network with like-minded organizations — mirror or not. The "mirror" approach is ecological — but who's doing the "higher level" work?? Governments exists to (or should exist to) sort out (or at least assist with the sorting out process) issues related to rights and responsibilities — who (and what) can do something and who (and what) should do something. Associated with this is the task of developing (and exercising) incentives to encourage people to do the right thing and penalties for those who don't.

This is a pattern for conscious adaptation. A pattern transformation, since culture is propagated by its institutions. This is very much an analogy to basic evolutionary theory. Mirroring implies copying -- but generally copying with changes made to one or more aspects of the original in the process. Liberating Voices is a mirror of A Pattern Language.

Solution: 

Although this pattern is may be a bit heavy on abstractions, we believe that the institution-as-mirror metaphor can be very useful primarily due to the questions it brings to the surface. The German playwright, Bertolt Brecht told us that "art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it." The mirror institutions that we create must also to a large degree be put to the same purpose.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Organizations and other institutions that are responsible for important decisions and policy development can violate the public trust or otherwise wield illegitimate power. Mirror Institutions are those institutions that reflect or reflect upon other institutions or other realities. Mirroring implies copying — but generally copying with changes made to one or more aspects of the original in the process.

Pattern status: 
Released
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