Orientation

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 preceived — 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

Appropriating Technology

Pattern ID: 
500
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
108
Ron Eglash
rpi
Version: 
2
Problem: 

We usually think of technology as that which is designed by elite groups -- mostly male, mostly white, mostly upper class, etc. But the lay public can also be thought of as producers of technology and science. The "smiley face" emoticons we use in email, for example, were not designed by experts; it was ordinary people taking advantage of a flexibility in the system. Technology appropriation can be profound: Latino "street mechanics" for example created the Low Rider car which revolutionized their culture. Black teenagers created the "scratch" sound of rap by appropriating the turntable. Appropriated technology can help the disenfrachised gain social power. But there are three barriers. First, marginalized people often see science and technology as the enemy, a force to be resisted. Second, marginalized people often lack the education and physical resources for technology interventions. And third, designers (or at least the corporations they work for) do not necessarily see flexibility as something they should incorporate in their products. Of course not all cases of appropriated technology are happy stories: neo-nazi groups are also outside the centers of scientific production, and they too adapt and reinvent to gain power.

Context: 

Barrier 1: science and technology as the enemy. Social critics of often cite "technocracy" as the evil which perpetuates disparity in social power. Thus oppositional groups which subscribe to this theory will tend to desire less technology and not more. We see this in the 1960s counter-culture, in the conflation of technology with patriarchy, and in race-based movements that see an original "natural" or "pure" identity that was later defiled by colonialism.
Barrier 2: science and technology as unattainable. Our society tends to mythologize expertise, particularly that of science and technology, making lay interventions less attainable than they actually are. Many researchers suspect this serves to maintain elite priviledge and passive consumption.
Barrier 3: designing for rigidity: Corporations can increase profits by forcing consumers to use their products or engage in limited behaviors: for example Microsoft's operating system created barriers to competing internet browsers.

Discussion: 

In collecting the various case studies for our anthology (Eglash et al 2004), it became apparent that some examples made a stronger case for appropriation than others. Using that distinction, we developed the following three categories. You can think of these as being positioned along a spectrum from consumption to production (see figure above).

The weakest case, "reinterpretation," is defined by a change in semantic association with little or no change in use or structure. That is, the lay person has changed only the meaning of the artifact, not its physical make up. Graffiti tags are a good illustration: the physical and functional aspects of a building are essentially unchanged, but the semantic claim to ownership, as a form of either cultural resistance or criminal turf war,is not trivial. The next stronger case, "adaptation," is defined by a change in both semantic association and use. For example, the Bedouin society of Egypt, a relatively disempowered ethnic minority, found that cassette tape players, which were marketed for listening to music from the Egyptian majority, had an unused recording capability as well. They began to record their own songs, and this eventually led to the rise of a Bedouin pop star and the creation of new economic and cultural opportunities (Abu-Lughod 1989). Adaptation requires two technosocial features. First, an attribute of the technology-user relationship that Hess (1995) refers to as “flexibility.” For example, a calculator is less flexible than a word processor, which is less flexible than a personal computer. Second, it requires a violation of intended purpose. It is a mistake to reduce this to the intentions of designers; we also need to consider marketing intentions and “common-sense” or popular assumptions. In the case of Bedouin cassette players we have a pre-existing flexibility for recording that was intended by the designers, but this was obscured by the marketing focus on play-back only. Adaptation can be described as the discovery of a “latent” function, but that definition needs to be problemitized in the same ways that philosophers have debated whether mathematics is invention or discovery. The creativity required to look beyond the assumed functions of the technology and see new possibilities is a powerful force for social change, yet one that receives insufficient theoretical attention.

The strongest case for appropriated technology is "reinvention," in which semantics, use and structure are all changed. That is, if adaptation can be said to require the discovery of a latent function, reinvention can be defined as the creation of new functions through structural change. Low-rider cars (see figure below) provide a clear demonstration of this combination. Although automobile shock absorbers were originally produced for decreasing disturbance, Latino mechanics developed methods for attaching them to electrically controlled air pumps, turning shock absorbers into shock producers (the cars can move vertically as well as horizontally). Low-rider cars violate both marketing and design intentions, but the new functionality was introduced by altering the original structure, rather than discovering functions lying dormant in the original artifact.

Having studied appropriated technologies, what should we do with them?

First, it is important to understand that in distinguishing strong versus weak cases for appropriated technology, we make no evaluation of ideology or effectiveness. One might, for instance, find more political success with reinterpretation than reinvention in a given case. It is, rather, more a question of how much involment the lay public can have in production versus consumption.

Second, appropriated technologies do not have an *inherent* ethical advantage. Not all forms of resistance are necessarily beneficial in the long run. Aihwa Ong, for example, notes that Malaysian women using spirit possession as resistance to exploitation may be releasing frustrations that could have gone into collective labor organizing. And as we noted, white supremacist groups might well be described as marginalized people who appropriate the internet and other technologies. While free speech must be preserved at all costs, appropriation is not making a better society in the case of neo-nazi web sites.

Third, Insofar as science and technology appropriations do have potential contributions to stronger democracy (cf. Schuler 1996), we need to understand how these positive attributes can succeed. First, there are obstacles to appropriation on the design side; most obviously those created by totalitarian governments, but corporations can also dampen or discourage appropriation. The flexibility required to allow user adaptation, for example, is increasingly threatened in contemporary information technology marketing strategies. Encouraging designers to incorporate appropriation as a positive virtue means reversing this trend towards inflexibility. Second, there are obstacles to appropriation on the lay public side. We need to not only overcome the ideology barrier, but also the barriers of education and access to physical resources.

Solution: 

In terms of the designer barrier, we can train engineers and designers to think about approapriation as a positive goal. In terms of the ideology barrier, we can encourage marginalized groups to strive towards positive conceptions of hybridity rather than relying on notions of purity. And in terms of the resource barrier, we can encourage the creation of community technology centers, among other efforts.

Finally, we should examine each case of lay/professional relationship in terms of the dependence or independence fostered by various appropriated technology strategies. A "consumer ombudsman" offers more independence than a marketing survey, participatory design offers more than the ombudsman, and appropriating technology offers a maximum of independance. But again this is not an ethical spectrum -- there are cases in which groups are better off with an ombudsman than an act of appropriation. Increasing independence can free up new possibilities, but decreasing it can facilitate institutionalization. Rather than romanticize independence, both users and designers should strive towards the lay/professional relationship that will move toward strong democracy in their particular context. In conclusion: we can encourage, inspire, and incite the use of appropriated technologies for opening new possibilities in the relations of culture and technoscience.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

"Ordinary people" can produce science and technology. Latino "street mechanics" created the Low Rider car and Black teenagers created the "scratch" sound of rap. Appropriating technology can help the disenfranchised gain social power. We can encourage marginalized groups to explore positive "hybridity," create community technology centers, and train engineers and designers to think about appropriation by users as a positive goal.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Ron Eglash

Engaged Tourism

Pattern ID: 
766
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
107
Christine Ciancetta
Evergreen State College
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Tourism has largely developed unhindered by environmental and community concerns. Its sole basis is economic growth, with the majority of profits funneled to already rich industrialized nations. At its worst, tourism devastates rich landscapes, displaces long-established and thriving communities, causes pollution, creates a culture of drug and sex-trafficking, abuses access to clean water, and eradicates culturally unique lifestyles and livelihoods.

Context: 

Individuals or organizations seeking to take part in travel and tourism that benefits local communities should investigate the many resources for Engaged or Responsible Tourism. The hallmark of Engaged Tourism is that it is community-determined, sustainable and draws on the existing people and environmentally centered resources of the community.

Discussion: 

The challenges to participating in responsible tourism are many. A westerner's perception of travel and vacationing are already formed to expect a certain kind of product. Swimming pools, air-conditioning, lavish meals, subservient staff, "staged" traditional activities and the like leave little room for discovering the many wonders of foreign cultures or experiencing the complexities of a different lifestyle. Foreign governments share in the global race to classify tourism as a national export, paving the way for multinational corporations to build a tourist infrastructure at the expense of whatever may be in its way.

Tourism Concern, an NGO based in the United Kingdom is a primary source of information about the social, environmental, and economic impacts of tourism at the same time that it advocates and provides information about alternatives. According to Tourism Concern's Web site, some of the main negative effects of tourism include displacement of people (particularly native peoples living on their traditional lands), environmental damage from uncontrolled development, and water abuse. In examining water abuse it's easy to find that "the presence of tourists naturally means a much higher demand for water. Local communities normally do not benefit, and in most cases, are not allowed access to infrastructure built to ensure safe drinking water. The development of golf courses and hotel swimming pools are responsible for depleting and contaminating water sources for surrounding communities; this is especially true in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. An average 18-hole golf course soaks up at least 525,000 gallons of water a day - enough to supply the irrigation needs of 100 Malaysian farmers."

Equations, an East Indian NGO promoting responsible tourism, documents several tourism projects that are moving ahead without local support. The mega Bekal Tourism Project plans to convert Bekal, a northern rural coastal fishing district, into Asia's largest beach tourism resort of 6500 units by 2011. As a consequence, four entire fishing communities would be destroyed, communities that are among the most sustainable in all of India. In addition, unique cultural practices are at risk: "The indigenous fishing community of Kasaragod is the last remaining community along the Keralam coast with traditional fishing techniques. They abhor over-fishing and adhere to sustainable harvesting practices. The community still practices the traditional 'sea courts' where the community heads assemble at the place of worship every day to hear and decide on issues within the community."

The Bekal project illustrates more. The government of Keralam has already begun acquiring land as cheaply as possible under "public purpose" and intends to sell the land to private and multi-national tourist organizations for this same price. To date, there is no Environmental Impact Assessment despite the fact that as planned it would violate national Coastal Regulation Zone rules. Local community members are being denied due process through hearings that are a sham.

Fortunately, there are organizations that are becoming involved in the process of re-vitalizing community efforts to direct tourism. An extensive list of responsible travel organizations can be found on Tourism Concern's Web site, (http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/). Reference books also published by Tourism Concern include "Good Alternative Travel Guide: Exciting Holidays for Responsible Travelers" by Mark Mann, and the new, "Ethical Travel Guide" by Polly Pattullo, lists ethical and sustainable tourism in over 60 countries.

Global Exchanges is a model organization in creating opportunities for Engaged Tourism. Their Reality Tours operate give people "the chance to learn about unfamiliar cultures, meet with people from various walks of life, and establish meaningful relationships with people from other countries."

Solution: 

Engaged tourism represents a shift in both attitudes and activity. Tourists traveling to developing nations shift their attitudes from participating in inexpensive fun abroad to participating in meaningful experiences in international communities. Interestingly, it is exactly the presence of western engaged tourists that assists in re-establishing the values, culture, status of local people and communities adversely affected by commercial tourism.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

At its worst, tourism devastates ecosystems, displaces communities, causes pollution, promotes drug and sex-trafficking, restricts access to clean water, and degrades culture. A westerner's perception of travel often is oblivious to foreign cultures or different lifestyles. Engaged Tourism shifts from fun abroad to meaningful experiences. In fact, engaged tourists can help re-establish values, culture, and status of people adversely affected by commercial tourism.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b3/Puerto_Princesa_Underground_River.jpg

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

Sense of Struggle

Pattern ID: 
436
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
104
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

There are myriad forces in the world. Some of them are working to change it, to create an alternative future while some of them are working to preserve the status quo and to perpetuate injustice and privilege. Many of the forces that are the strongest are the ones that must be challenged: A casual response is inadequate: a sense of struggle is necessary to meet those challenges.

Context: 

This pattern is applicable to any person or group that is working towards the solution of a seemingly intractable social or environmental problem.

Discussion: 

Social change is not easy. Effecting change is long term and not trivial. The change that is needed may not occur until long after the deaths of the people who first seek it. A sense of struggle can bind together a group dedicated towards positive social change.

A sense of struggle emerges from the realization that the problem is very deep and the appreciation that there will be setbacks over the long-term. A sense of struggle lies midway between unwarranted optimism and helpless despair and cynicism.

A sense of struggle which is often necessary in social activism can change over time into something less desirable. Sometimes, a too grim sense of struggle can result in not acknowledging a genuine opportunity when it comes along. A sense of struggle unrelieved by humor, cameraderie, etc. can even give way to dogmaticism, paranoia or messianic thinking. Being flexible and open to new approaches and to new people who share your concerns is the best way to avoid these problems.

"If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without ploughing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the awful roar of its mighty waters. Power concedes nothing without a demand!"
    —Frederick Douglass

Solution: 

We need to cultivate a sense of struggle and, at the same time, make it easier for those who do struggle.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Many of the strongest forces in the world must be challenged. A Sense of Struggle can unite a group striving for positive social change. A Sense of Struggle lies between optimism and despair. We need to cultivate a Sense of Struggle and, at the same time, make it easier for those who are involved in the struggle. According to Frederick Douglass, "If there is no struggle, there is no progress."

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Gandhi, Salt March; Wikimedia Commons

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

Shared Vision

Pattern ID: 
438
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
101
Stewart Dutfield
Marist College
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In any collective enterprise, the participants have diverse goals and points of view. Not everyone will agree that a given course of action is the best available, and the results of collective action may not meet all expectations. Not knowing that they are pursuing dissimilar goals, people may work at cross purposes. Over time, especially where involvement is voluntary, commitment to the enterprise may erode or the group may become less diverse.

Context: 

Organizations dedicated to a social or environmental issue attract people from diverse backgrounds, with strong feelings and differing levels of experience and interest. Such a group is bound together by the common concerns of a diverse membership, and those who feel underserved within the group may dissipate the efforts of the group or take their energies elsewhere. Building upon and integrating shared concerns into a shared vision helps members to focus their involvement in the group, so as to better orient their energies toward the collective enterprise.

Discussion: 

A McKinsey report on nonprofits states that not-for-profit organizations have a special need for a vision as a means to guide their actions and evaluate outcomes. A “compelling, easy-to-understand description of how the nonprofit would like the world to change in the next three-to-five years, what role the organization will play in that change, and how the nonprofit will measure the success of its role” (Kilpatrick & Silverman, 2004, p. 3), the vision should pervade the organization’s activities: an ultimate guide for making decisions and setting goals in alignment with collective values and aspirations.

A vision should express values, purpose, and progress toward a better future. It should be neither too specific nor too general. Detailed goals, though necessary, do not belong in the vision itself; they easily become outdated, either once they are attained or when unforeseen opportunities and unexpected consequences occur. On the other hand, noble sentiments and statements of principle do not always easily translate into action under complex circumstances.

A shared vision should be clear and compelling, aspirational for a better world in the future, and describable in simple terms. It should be capable of being understood as a common purpose, and of acting as a guideline for evaluating decisions and outcomes on a continuing basis. Nanus (1992) recommends that a vision be challenging but realistic, and developed by people throughout the organization.

The content of a shared vision is less important than the life it brings to the organization. Peter Senge quotes Robert Fritz that "It's not what the vision is, it's what the vision does." (Scharmer, 1996, para. 30). A shared vision comes from the individual visions of group members; it becomes a force for action through the process of becoming shared. The difference between the shared vision and current reality should generate energy for change. Through its use, a shared vision should ensure that strategic decisions and specific goals are aligned with the organization’s values.

To provide both accountability and allegiance to collective values and goals, a vision must be successfully put into practice. According to Etienne Wenger, "One can design visions, but one cannot design the allegiance necessary to align energies behind those visions." (1998, p. 229); members’ allegiance can, however, be encouraged in the way a group or organization enacts a shared vision—how its members live out their accountability to collective values and goals. One way to promote allegiance to a vision is to use and communicate it constantly; another is to promote behavior, both inside and outside the organization, which is consistent with the vision.

A shared vision lives constantly in tension with fast-changing and unpredictable circumstances. To pursue a vision while ignoring what is practical and relevant cannot sustain an organization, yet the vision is an essential guide to action through a succession of new circumstances and possibilities. Brinckerhoff (2003) believes that not-for-profit organizations should respond flexibly to external demands, while remaining in alignment with the collective purpose. By maintaining the shared vision, an organization learns not only how to do better, but also what better to do; “The world changes, and so must the vision.” (Nanus, 1992, p. 20).

A shared vision helps to guide an individual project with specific tasks and finite lifespan (Christenson & Walker, 2004). Developed in conjunction with stakeholders both within and outside the project members (for example, developers, funders, and the community at large), it helps people make sense of the project plan and their contributions to it. An easily understood, inspiring, credible and challenging vision can create and sustain the alignment of members’ energies, their enthusiasm and allegiance to the group, and their accountability to shared values and specific goals.

When a community or civic project first begins, participants may be highly enthusiastic, each with a strong conception of what the project should be. It is tempting to jump right in and assume that everybody shares the same vision. Proceeding from this ambiguous and contradictory beginning may lead to division and hard feelings within the group, and to unsound early decisions that become "built-in" to the system.

Developing a shared vision may be the single most important task for the group to accomplish at the outset. Developing shared perspectives on both the vision and the process for enacting it are indispensable for success. Good communication is essential; face-to-face group meetings, brainstorming and other methods of envisioning a collective future provide a forum for dialogue which e-mail, for example, can not address adequately.

Steve Cisler suggests the use of a spoked circle as a graphical decision aid to fine-tuning the vision. The circle represents the "space" of decisions and goals, and the endpoints of the spokes represent the two possible extremes of each decision. Cisler (1994) shows an example of the spoked-circle used by the Silicon Valley Public Access Link (SV-PAL) Project. The upright spoke, for example, might be labeled "architecture" and the location of the small circle on the spoke near the "distributed" endpoint depicts the decision to use a distributed architecture instead of a centralized one. A point on the middle of a spoke would indicate an intermediate position between the views represented by the endpoints.

There are no stringent requirements as to how to use the tool. Simply identifying the spokes can be an important first step, as the spokes clearly show which decisions are to be made. It may not be critical to determine the exact location of the spot indicating a decision. In some cases, a group may decide to postpone a decision, but it is a group decision, nevertheless, that ultimately must be made with others in the group. If it hadn't been resolved, for example, whether the network should be free to use or whether there should be fees, the organizers could say, "We're still trying to resolve this. Which approach do you think is best?" The tool can be used as a way to explain compromises or transitional circumstances by showing the current point in relation to the direction along which the developers plan to proceed. For example, when the system is launched it might be deemed necessary to charge users a small fee, but ultimately the system would be expected to be free to use.

Solution: 

Create, communicate, enact and maintain a shared vision. Create the vision early in the life of any collective enterprise; it will guide the actions of the group or organization as a whole, and for individual projects that the group undertakes. Clearly communicate the vision, and use it to guide strategy, decision-making and goal-setting. As circumstances change, be prepared to modify the vision to keep it alive and capable of energizing group members.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

A vision should express values, purpose, and aspirations for a better future in simple terms that everyone can understand as the basis for participation in the group. Developing a Shared Vision may be the single most important task for the group to accomplish at the outset. It will guide strategy development, decision-making and goal-setting of the group or organization and for individual projects that the group undertakes.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
William Blake

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
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