community action

Participatory Budgeting

Pattern ID: 
471
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
71
Andrew Gordon
University of Washington Evans School
Chris Halaska
Social Design
Problem: 

Developing a budget is a task often left to financial "experts" even though the decisions that result from the budget-making process impact everyone, and the ideas that inform budget decisions often are improved by the experience and insights of a wide range of individuals. Budget development is in fact a "political" act, with "winners" and "losers" most of whom never participate in the process.

Context: 

Properly understood, budgets and the budget development process are tools through which social values are expressed and manifested in useful public activity. This pattern explains the importance of budgeting and encourages participation in all stages of budget development. Public budgeting connects to several other patterns. For example: participating in the creation of budgets is an ideal way to foster Civic Intelligence (1); joint budget development helps create Shared Vision (9); public budgeting via online tools is an example of Using Collaborative Technologies for Civic Accountability (257); and understanding budgets is one aspect of Power Research (128).

Discussion: 

A fundamental step in the life of any organization is the design of a budget. The decisions which are made early in the process (e.g., What is to be budgeted for? What are the sources of income? Who is to be paid? What are the categories of effort which are highly compensated and what effort is to be considered voluntary?) often set core parameters for the future, and impact not only the ways in which time and money are spent, but also the values and reputation of the organization, and even its soul.

But budgeting is often treated as a "technical" process which should be handled by experts rather than as a political activity in which many people should be invited and encouraged to participate. One way in which budgets can be more easily discussed publicly is to use online tools to disseminate budget information, host public discussions, and create sample budget variations -- though from our experience, we believe this should be coupled with face-to-face discussions whenever possible.

The best-known example of participatory budgeting is found in Porto Alegre, Brasil, where community residents (now numbering in the thousands) have cooperated since 1989 in annual deliberations about the allocation of a portion of the municipal budget. Poor citizens are vastly more engaged in this process than is typical in budgeting processes, and increasing proportions of the city's revenue have been directed towards improving the most impoverished parts of Porto Alegre. While there is some disagreement over how much of this outcome to attribute to the participatory budgeting process, there is no doubt about the increased sensitivity of all citizens to the importance of budgeting decisions. In June, 1996, the United Nations declared the "popular administration" of Porto Alegre as one of forth urban innovations at the Second Conference on Human Settlements.

Various related experiments in participatory budgeting have taken place on several continents since Porto Alegre, typically fine-tuned to local circumstances, with an evolving set of principles promoting conditions that enhance the effectiveness of the process.

Several important attempts at involving typically excluded citizens in the budget allocation process have occurred in the U.S. -- often during progressive periods. Two of the most significant were the Affirmative Neighborhood Information Program during Mayor Harold Washington's tenure in Chicago (Kretzmann, 1992), which failed to survive successor administrations; and the Seattle Public Schools multi-year experiment in decentralized, "school-based" budgeting, supported by an online budgeting tool (Halaska, 2000).

In the Seattle experiment, a vastly increased proportion of district resources was redistributed from the central administrative offices to individual schools. School principals were encouraged to engage in a public budgeting process where trade-offs (e.g. reduced class size vs after-school music programs) were actively debated -- both in public meetings and online. The process was messy because "democracy is messy" and was controversial at every stage, in part because it surfaced hidden assumptions about core values in public education. Some participants believed that this process had the potential to provoke a fundamental rethinking of the purposes of the education process itself.

Key findings from the Chicago and Seattle experiments align with the principles of Porto Alegre and elsewhere. For example, it is important that significantly different approaches to budgeting such as these become so embedded that they cannot readily be set aside by later regimes. Equally critical is that traditional budget staff be convinced about the importance of participatory budgeting. While philosophical and political discussions about larger scale budget issues can be done without technical assistance, detailed information about current costs and funding formulas typically reside with budget staff. Without their support, key budget information can be difficult to obtain. Moreover, while the ideology of participatory budgeting has wide appeal, critical studies should be undertaken to determine under what circumstances participatory strategies have lasting effects and whether, in the case of participatory budgeting for example, systemic changes such as in the labor market must occur for poorer citizens to benefit from these new strategies in the long run.

Solution: 

Budgets for organizations in the public sphere should be developed openly and inclusively, in public meetings and using publicly accessible online tools. Budget assumptions should be discussed, and rethinking of assumptions, priorities, and allocations should be encouraged, no matter how far they depart from current practice. At every stage, the results of the process should be made public for feedback and refinement. Attention should be paid to what has been learned from experience (for example, about the wisdom of convincing traditional budget staff of the utility of public budgeting), and studies of the long-range impact of participatory budgeting are essential.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Budget development is often thought of as a dry, technical task, best left to "experts." But budgets are critical tools through which social values are expressed. Developing a budget, with its criteria and categories, is a "political" act. Participatory Budgeting helps to bring in people who generally don't participate in the process. There are now many successful examples in which whole communities play substantial roles in the budgeting process.

Pattern status: 
Released

E-Consultation as Mediation

Pattern ID: 
475
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
70
David Newman
Queen's University Belfast
Version: 
2
Problem: 

How can we improve public consultation between citizens and their public servants? How can we facilitate the participation of groups who currently don't take part, and use their input to find policy consensus?

Context: 
  1. Formal public consultations initiated by government agencies.
  2. Informal communications between representatives (MPs, councillors, ...) and their constituents.
  3. Community and voluntary organisations attempting to consult their members and clients to determine their response to a policy initiative or government consultation.
  4. Media or community sponsored discussions on a local issue.
  5. Mediation between anatogonistic communities who have conflicting interests.

Note that the pattern applies most strictly to the final context, where a government body is mediating between competing interests (e.g. in a planning inquiry). It is one of a number of patterns that can be followed in the other situations.

Discussion: 

Current public consultation is deficient in a number of ways. Few people have the time or language skills to respond in writing to 20-page consultation documents. It is mainly professionals with a financial interest who do so. Rarely are public meetings attended by more than a few local retired people. The language of the documents is often obscure and couched in public sector jargon. The questions asked are the ones the officials feel safe asking, not the ones local communities would ask. The style is not one that engages the interest of anyone who is not a committed activist, let alone young people.

This has become very clear in places, such as devolved regions of the UK, where public consultation has suddenly grown very fast. In Northern Ireland, equality legislation forced 120 public authorities to consult on how they were planning to measure the equality impact (gender, race, religion, age, class) of each of their policies over the next 5 years. This led to 120 long documents being sent to the same 80-120 voluntary organizations, with 8 weeks to reply. Their choice was to ignore them (whereupon the officials could continue to do what they had done before) or to spend every day drafting replies, with very little time to talk to the people who would be directly affected.

Contrast this with experimental use of ICTs in public consultations in the Netherlands, the use of Internet chat to hold discussions between young people in East Belfast (the only neutral venue at the time) on human rights, and research into on-line mediation support systems in Germany (for planning disputes).

Can we design an appropriate use of software to support electronic public consultation that improves both its effectiveness in reaching different people, and its efficiency in controlling information overload and consultation fatique?

Consider consultation as an inter-organizational learning process. Knowledge is transfered between citizens and government, as they learn from each other. In particular, the policy makers need to better understand the needs, life experiences, and preferences of different actors in civil society (sometimes called stakeholders). In doing that, they act as both apprentices, learning from citizens, and mediators, managing disputes between different groups of citizens.

When there are strong disagreements between different groups, a mediation or negotiation model is appropriate, based on what we understand about dispute resolution in communities that have been affected by conflict. This can be used to build a pattern of the process, and identify technologies to support different stages in that process.

Solution: 

Considering public consultation as a series of mediation and negotiation processes, it should be possible to participatively design software that supports these human processes, in the stages identified in the table below.The technologies that can be used at different stages are described in more detail in a guide to e-consultation.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

In good public consultations knowledge is transferred between citizens and government as they learn from each other. E-Consultation can be seen as a Mediation process which is run in stages. At the beginning issues and needs can be collected from stories in forums and social media. Policymakers need to better understand people's needs, life experiences, and preferences in order to participatively design solutions to social problems.

Pattern status: 
Released

Equal Access to Justice

Pattern ID: 
806
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
69
Donald J Horowitz
Wash State Access to Justice Tech Principles Comm
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The fundamental principle of full and equal access to the justice system, particularly for those who suffer disparate barriers or are otherwise vulnerable, faces new opportunities and challenges from the advances in information and communication technologies, which can provide increased pathways for quality access but can also perpetuate or exacerbate existing barriers or even create new ones.

Context: 

This pattern is based upon a trailblazing effort by the Washington State Access to Justice Board, an agency of the Supreme Court, to define principles and develop implementation strategies, means and methods, for ensuring that technological capabilities and advances are effectively incorporated throughout the state justice system in ways consistent with the fundamental principle that all persons should have equal access to justice. A recent legal needs survey had revealed that 87% of all low income people in the state who had civil legal problems were unable to secure legal help, and that residents of rural counties had substantially less access to technology-based resources than their urban counterparts. Therefore the overriding intent of the effort was to develop, implement and institutionalize principles within all justice system agencies to increase access to justice system information, resources and services for all, and especially those who most need it.

Discussion: 

Currently, technology is creating opportunities for people to use their home or nearby library branch or community center to find out about, initiate or respond to court or other law related needs, obligations or requirements, communicate and exchange documents with their legal service provider or others in or associated with the legal system less expensively, using less time and effort, without having to travel to a central city, and with less time away from work or other necessary resources. This can be especially important for the elderly, persons with disabilities, persons with limited financial means, and those who can’t afford to miss time from work for reasons of financial need or jeopardizing their employment. Similarly, a person with limited mobility or hearing may be able to get information electronically about his or her rights as a tenant; a victim of domestic violence can learn on the Internet what she can do and in fact be able to start the legal process of protecting herself. The courts and other parts of the justice system can operate more productively and less expensively, making court and legal records and information more readily available, and receive filings, fees, documents and information, all electronically.

However, the means of using these very possibilities also create the risk of worsening old barriers or erecting new barriers to access, causing greater disparities. While the opportunities described above seem positive, these innovations assume access to a computer, reasonable proficiency at using them and their necessary software programs, reading capability, fluency in English and sufficient phone or cable and electricity availability and capacity at affordable cost to support sufficient connections and streams of information and interactivity. Without all of that, those who have the tools and means, the proficiency and the necessary infrastructure available get further ahead, and those without fall further behind in having the justice system work for them. The lack of equality gets greater, not less.

On December 4, 2004, the Washington State Supreme Court became the first court in the United States, perhaps the world, to formally adopt by Court Order, a set of authoritative principles to guide the use of technology in its justice system. The stated purpose was to ensure that the planning, design, development, implementation and use of new technologies and the management of existing technologies by the justice system and associated organizations protects and advances the fundamental right of equal access to justice. Over a three-and-a-half year period, the Washington State Access to Justice Board drew on the input and involvement of a diverse group of approximately 200 people and organizations from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds to develop formal Access to Justice Technology Principles to serve as the practical operating norm for justice system organizations and entities throughout the state.

The Access to Justice Technology Principles broadly define access to justice as the meaningful opportunity to: (1) assert a claim or defense and to create, enforce, modify, or discharge a legal obligation in any forum; (2) acquire the procedural or other information necessary to improve the likelihood of a just result; (3) participate in the conduct of proceedings as a witness or juror; and (4) acquire information about the activities of courts or other dispute resolution bodies. Access to justice, moreover, must include timeliness, affordability and transparency.

Briefly paraphrased, the six Access to Justice Technology Principles are:

1. Requirement of access to justice: Introduction of technology or changes in the use of technology must not reduce access or participation and, whenever possible, shall advance such access and participation;

2. Technology and just results: The justice system shall use and advance technology to achieve the objective of a just process by impartial and well-informed decision makers and reject, minimize, or modify any use that reduces the likelihood of achieving that objective;

3. Openness and privacy: Technology should be designed to meet the dual responsibilities of the justice system of being open to the public and protecting personal privacy;

4. Assuring a neutral forum: All appropriate means shall be used to ensure the existence of neutral, accessible, and transparent forums which are compatible with new technologies

5. Maximizing public awareness and use: The justice system should promote ongoing public knowledge and understanding of the tools afforded by technology to access justice

6. Best practices: Those governed by these principles shall utilize “best practices” procedures or standards to guide the use of technology so as to protect and enhance access to justice and promote equality of access and fairness.

A broad-based interdisciplinary implementation strategy group then developed a set of practical strategies and initiatives to transform the principles from the words of a court-ordered statement of vision into a pervasive operational reality through the state justice system. Once the principles are truly institutionalized in justice organizations, then, as a matter of ordinary routine, the design for every new technology project would incorporate accessibility and usability and increase transparency of and information about the justice system for all users, especially those who are or may be excluded or underserved as well as those experiencing any barrier to accessing justice system services. Essential actions include: (1) Development and maintenance of a Web-based Resource Bank; (2) Initial and ongoing communication to and training for justice system and associated agencies about the ATJ Technology Principles and available resources for implementation; (3) Demonstration projects; (4) Public awareness and usable information. Additional requirements address policy-level governance and guidance as well as ensuring the continuing relevance, effectiveness and use of the Principles over time.

Solution: 

A great deal has been said and written about what has come to be called “The Digital Divide,” both domestically and internationally. Respect for and use of the rule of law is an essential way to move to a less divided, more equitable society and world. Accessible quality justice for all individuals and groups is a recognized worldwide value that crosses cultural as well as geographic lines. Meaningful access to justice can and does empower people to be part of creating their own just societies. This effort is the first such undertaking, and can provide a useful example that can be adapted and used not only in other places, but in other sectors of basic public need, such as access to health care, access to food, access to safety, and other essentials.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The principle of full and equal access to the justice system faces opportunities and challenges from new technologies. While technology can provide new pathways it can also exacerbate existing barriers or create new ones. Technology can allow people to use their home, library, or community center to find out about, initiate or respond to law related requirements, and communicate and exchange documents less expensively, using less time and effort.

Pattern status: 
Released

Free and Fair Elections

Pattern ID: 
588
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
68
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Erik Nilsson
CPSR Voting Technology Working Group
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The process by which the votes of the people are gathered and counted is critical to the government's claims of legitimacy, and to the continued faith of the people in their government. While vote counting sounds straightforward, ensuring the accurate counting of votes in an entire country is quite difficult. Many obstacles can obstruct the democratic process including inadequate access to the voting process, inaccurate counting, late results, and results that are not convincing to the electorate. Some of these obstacles are structural, others are due to human error while others result from intentional manipulation and intimidation. Computers, which seem to offer the promise of increased speed and accuracy of collecting and counting votes accompanied by the possibility of decreased costs, offer new challenges to the legitimacy of the voting process, including high-tech election fraud.

Context: 

Democratic states offer their inhabitants the important potential for self-governance. Their legitimacy and their effectiveness suffer when the actuality falls too short of the ideal. The responsibility for Free and Fair Elections falls on all citizens although some are in better positions for promoting and maintaining authentic democracy.

Discussion: 

In national democracy, essentially the entire population of a nation above a certain age is entitled to vote on one or more questions put to the electorate, usually including what party or individuals will govern the nation. National democracy is the means of generating government for almost all industrialized nations. Furthermore, it is the stated objective of the world's great economic powers to eventually instigate national democracy for all the world's nations. For this and many other reasons, democracy is the most effective approach to producing legitimate government.

Democracies by definition face three major tasks: This pattern is concerned with the second task, determining the "will of the people" while others concern themselves with informing the "will of the people" and implementing the "will of the people." Any deviation in any phase of the process calls into question the entire process. A nomination process that unfairly denies the nomination of certain people poisons the entire process; how can the voting itself then be meaningful when the candidates on the ballot are the product of a corrupt systems?

While the forms that democracies assume vary widely, voting is a key component of each. Thus, the process by which the votes of the people are gathered and counted is critical to the government's claims of legitimacy, and to the continued faith of the people in their government.

Voting is nearly always a critical milestone in the process of determining the people's will. Voting is the critical culmination of an ongoing deliberative process where decisions are actually made: between, for example, candidates vying for a position or for a new proposal to support or limit something. Because voting often determines significant issues it is often subject to immense attention and pressure. While some of this pressure is normal politicking (which varies from place to place), other is unethical, illegal and unfair. The voting process presents an irresistible opportunity for people who want things to go their way regardless of issues of fairness or legality. At the same time the voting process seems to offer innumerable opportunities for unfair interventions at nearly every stage.

Elections vary from place to place, in jurisdiction, in primary or final (general) elections, in selecting officials from candidates or approving or disapproving legislative changes, and most kinds of elections have a whole range of complex activities associated with them. The best recommendation depends on the goals. Beyond that, one can talk about things to avoid. So an "antipattern" is easier than a pattern, if a pattern is a kind of recommendation. In every case we still want "fair elections" however.

The expression "Free and Fair Elections" originated in the first post-apartheid elections in South Africa in 1994. The idea is that the outcome should be generated by a process that gives people free access to their franchise, then fairly calculates the result.

How can Fair Elections be guaranteed? What technology and administration are required to support national democracy? How can elections be trusted? What danger signs of unfair elections can we detect? What recommendations can we make? While vote counting sounds straightforward, ensuring the accurate counting of votes in an entire country is quite difficult. The requirements and constraints associated with Fair Elections introduce numerous challenges. Voters must have adequate access to the voting process, and this access must not be politically biased. The vote counting must be accurate. The results must be produced promptly.

Elections present a special problem, in that it must be ensured that voter person voted at most once, and each voter's votes were accurately counted. However, the votes of any particular voter must remain forever secret. This combination of assured accuracy and secrecy is very unusual outside of voting.

Elections produce results which are just vote totals (plus undervotes if they are permitted and overvotes if they are possible). Results imply outcomes: who (or what) won. Results have two metrics of quality: (1) accuracy (which obviously can't be measured directly) measures how closely reported results match true results; and (2) confidence (which is closely related to "transparency") measures the feeling in the electorate that the reported results are correct.

Total accuracy and no confidence is about as good (or as bad) as the reverse, but they lead to very different kinds of bad. What one wants is an elections process that, for an affordable cost, produces outcomes that are very rarely wrong, even though everybody recognizes that results are seldom perfectly correct.

Also, the results must be worthy of confidence. It's useless to produce a perfectly accurate result, if people are not persuaded that it is accurate. So there must be good reason to believe the election results. The election process must be conducted in public view, and each step of the process, as well as the process as a whole, must be comprehensible to most ordinary voters. Non-partisan officials should monitor the entire process and voting equipment should be based on open specifications and untarnished by partisan and commercial interests. The chain of custody must be carefully maintained and documented for a wide variety of materials including ballots, unvoted ballot stock, poll books, and so on.

Furthermore, this must be accomplished on a limited budget. Elections administration is never a particularly high spending priority.

Solution: 

In democratic societies everybody has the responsibility to help ensure Free and Fair elections. Voters in democratic socities deserve a process that is easy, safe, and private. Voting — and running for office — in democratic socities should be universal and encouraged. All aspects, in other words, should be Free and Fair.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The process by which the votes are gathered and counted is critical to claims of legitimacy and to the faith of the people in their government. While vote counting sounds easy, ensuring accuracy is not. Some of the obstacles are due to human error, while others result from intentional manipulation and intimidation. In democratic societies everybody has the responsibility to help ensure Free and Fair Elections.

Pattern status: 
Released

Ethics of Community Informatics Research and Practice

Pattern ID: 
865
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
67
Randy Stoecker
University of Wisconsin
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Community informatics, which focuses on deploying information technology in support of community objectives, often imposes technology on communities without building the leadership and knowledge of community members to control the technology. Whether researchers or practitioners, community informaticians too often enter communities having already decided what the issues and solutions should be, reducing rather than enhancing community empowerment.

Context: 

Any time that a professional is working with place-based, virtual or identity community attempting to improve its ability to gather, use, and communicate information, there is a risk that the professional

Discussion: 

The developing field of community informatics occupies an intersection between information and communication technologies, community development, and community-based research. All three fields are attempting to improve community life, especially in communities excluded from normal access to power and wealth, and can inform a code of ethics for community informatics.

In the information and communication technology field corporate-driven design has been ethically bankrupt, but participants in the open-source software movement and related organizations such as Computer Professionals for social Responsibility and the Free Software Foundation have highly developed ethical principles. The focus of those ethics is that people have the right to not just information itself, but also to the means of producing information. Thus, people have the right to use software and to access the software source code to understand how the software works with information: This right carries the obligation to improve the software and to make your improvements public (Free Software Foundation, 2006).

Community development focuses more on the relationship between the practitioner and the community. The Community Development Society (2006) emphasizes that the practitioner should promote participation of all community members, work to enhance their understanding of the complex dynamics affecting their community and how those factors may impact options for community development, and build their leadership capacity to take charge of its own community development process.

The field of community-based research lacks a singular code of ethics, but past problems with the practice, particularly in First Nations contexts, have led the Canadian government (2006) to develop an ethical code that can apply to all research with communities. This code emphasizes that any research should be a partnership between the community and the researcher, with a research design that fits the community culture, where control over the research is shared by the community, and benefits from the research flow to the community.

The following principles for community informaticians flow from these sources:

• Build the community’s information power—this requires that the researcher/practitioner assists the community in knowing how to decide what information they need, how to make informed choices about how to get that information, and how to access and adapt the tools they need to achieve their information objectives.
• Build the community’s relational power—this requires that the researcher/practitioner assists the community in building its own democratic practices and develops leaders who can shepherd those practices, and in organizing interventions in ways that build relationships among community members.
• Build the community’s public power—this requires that the researcher/practitioner assists the community in knowing how to focus their information power and their relational power on impacting the broader external conditions imposed by corporations and governments that oppress and exploit communities, thus democratizing the broader society.

Under these principles, traditional research that extracts information from communities, processes it elsewhere, and only builds the careers of academics, or traditional practice that practices the same information extraction and then returns to sell the community on an externally-designed intervention, are no more acceptable than the multinational corporation that extracts raw materials and then tries to sell back finished products. Such purposeful underdevelopment is the antithesis of these ethical principles.

These principles can have uncomfortable implications particularly for researchers. Building a community’s information power and relational power means, minimally, that at the end of the project the community knows enough that it can do the next project on its own if it wishes. That requires a researcher who can help community members develop their research and program design skills. Researchers must also give up culturally rigid standards of what constitutes good research, and understand that the community may have its own research processes and its own standards of what constitutes good information, such as oral traditions and folk art, that require the same status as positivist science. Researchers or community members, then, must have special skills in community organizing that can direct the research process (Stoecker, 1999).

For practitioners, who may be used to applying a common toolkit to problems in communities flung far and wide, these principles can also require important changes. Following these ethics require that the practitioner work with community members to not just apply a tool, but to understand it, how it is created, and how it can be adapted to their unique circumstances.

As an example of these ethics, consider a project to help a group of nongovernmental organizations, where one organization has incompatible databases, and another wants to communicate more efficiently with its membership. You convert the first organization’s data to a common format, and set up an e-mail list for the second. But these interventions would violate the principles outlined above. Instead, the first thing step is bring all the organizations together to talk about their issues and trade ideas with each other, both to build relationships between the organizations and to empower the knowledge that people already bring to the table. This can also help identify knowledge gaps that the group can then collectively work to fill. Perhaps no one there really knows about databases and so they start a process to educate themselves in their options, perhaps to the point of developing enough expertise among the organizations that they can design and manage their own databases. As the other organization talks about its need to communicate with its members, they may discover that the more “efficient” mechanism of e-mail will actually be less efficient as fewer members pay any attention to the mass e-mails. Old fashioned phone calls may be, in the end, much more efficient because more people actually get the information even though they take more time.

The processes illustrated above require a much longer time frame to complete, and require much more time of community members and organizations. Importantly, however, they produce much greater and more sustained capacity in the community.

Solution: 

Within the field of community informatics, achieving lasting community empowerment requires that community informaticians practice the principles of building the community’s information power, and their relational power, to build their public power. Doing so means making sure that community members can find, use, and control information tools and build relationships among themselves in the process. The result will be stronger, more information self-sufficient communities that can build a stronger and better informed democratic society.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Community informatics combines information and communication technologies, community development, and community-based research to help improve community life, especially in excluded communities. A Community Informatics Ethics that ensures that community members can find, use, and control information tools while building relationships among themselves can result in stronger, more self-sufficient, and engaged communities.

Pattern status: 
Released

Community Currencies

Pattern ID: 
789
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
63
Burl Humana
Gilson Schwartz
Version: 
2
Problem: 

People have always traded or bartered with each other, using different tools and materials to represent and store value in various kinds of transactions; trade, investment, consumption, production, marriage, kinship, sacrifice. In complex, urban and global capitalist societies, money expands the potential for growth and accumulation, while also creating new forms of wealth and power concentration, regulated by central banks and other supervisory authorities at national and international levels. Community Currencies or “complementary currencies” offer a solution for local markets deprived or unserved by global or national currencies.

Context: 

Thomas Greco states three basic ways in which conventional money malfunctions: there is never enough of it, it is misallocated at its source so that it goes to those who already have lots of it, and it systematically pumps wealth from the poor to the rich. The symptoms of a "polluted" money supply are too familiar: inflation, unemployment, bankruptcies, foreclosures, increasing indebtedness, homelessness, and a widening gap between the rich and the poor. However, the ultimate resource of the community, the productivity, skills, and creativity of its members, is not limited by lack of money. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

Discussion: 

According to Michael Linton, "Money is really just an immaterial measure, like an inch, or a gallon, a pound, or degree. While there is certainly a limit on real resources -- only so many tons of wheat, only so many feet of material, only so many hours in the day -- there need never be a shortage of measure. (No, you can’t use any inches today, there aren’t any around, they are all being used somewhere else.) Yet this is precisely the situation in which we persist regarding money. Money is, for the most part, merely a symbol, accepted to be valuable generally throughout the society that uses it. Why should we ever be short of symbols to keep account of how we serve one another?" (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

"The proper kind of money used in the right circumstances is a liberating tool that can allow the fuller expression of human creativity. Money has not lived up to its potential as a liberator because it has been perverted by the monopolization of its creation and by politically manipulating its distribution -- available to the favored few and scarce for everyone else."2 Creating community currencies may foster exchanges among people that need it most.

Conventional money is strictly regulated by central authorities at a federal level. Its regulated scarcity is a major source of powerful economic policy (i.e..raising interest rates to curb inflation) that plays on the rules of capitalist competition. Community currencies, on the other hand, are designed to counterweight scarcity by promoting exchanges founded on cooperation or collaboration. The emergence of new information and communication technologies has promoted numerous local projects that use “open source money” or “collaborative money”. Both “conventional” money and “community” currencies, however, rest on the same foundation, that is, confidence in the agreed on rules of production and supply of monetary and financial instruments (credits, loans, time sharing, etc.). Both are “conventions” designed and operated by living human communities.

Community currencies may also be qualitative rather than quantitative, so that the “purchasing power” of the currency takes advantage of specific ranges of skills and resources (child and social health care, environmental campaigns or edutainment projects), unlike the conventional economy which values certain skills and devalues or ignores others as effects of blind market forces. The move toward “community” currency is motivated by the desire to bridge the gap between what we earn and what we need to survive financially.

Local currencies are seen as a community-building tool. Communities may range from solidarity economies in slums and vulnerable social areas, to game players, to collectors or charity donors; spread throughout the entire world as digital networks promote new forms of community life. Community currencies not only prove a commitment to community building and to supporting what’s local but also may function as a path towards a greater experiential understanding of the role of economics and money in our daily lives. Any community can, in principle, design currencies backed by something, tangible or intangible, that the community agrees has collective value.

Hundreds of community currency models are at work these days. These are a few of the community currency reference sites - Bernard Lietaer,
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Lietaer; Resources for Community Currency Activists, http://www.communitycurrency.org/resources.html; Luca Fantacci, "Complementary Currencies: a Prospect on Money from a Retrospect on Premodern Practices", http://akira.arts.kuleuven.be/meijifin/node/52; Social Trade Organisation, http://www.strohalm.net/en/site.php; Open Money, http://www.thetransitioner.org/wiki/tiki-index.phppage=Open+Money+home+page.

ITHACA HOURS, where everyone’s honest hour of labor has the same dignity and LETS, Local Exchange Trading Systems are examples of such models. These two community currency models illustrate new forms of social and communicative practices that have a real impact on living structures at a local level.

The ITHACA HOURS system was created in 1991 by Paul Glover, a community economist and ecological designer. With ITHACA HOURS, each HOUR is equivalent to $10.00 because that’s the approximate average hourly wage in Tompkins County, Ithaca, New York. Participants are able to use HOURS for rent, plumbing, carpentry, car repair, chiropractic, food (two large locally-owned grocery stores as well as farmer’s market vendors accept them), firewood, childcare, and numerous other goods and services. Some movie theaters accept HOURS as well as bowling alleys and the local Ben & Jerry’s. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

The LETS model was created on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada, as a self contained network in which members buy and sell services to other members and are paid in the LETS currency. Every member has an individual account which records their debit or credit. Members do not "owe" the person or business providing the service, instead their debt is to the LETS system, and their debt is thus socialized.( James DeFilippus, 2004)

"Currencies are powerful carriers of feedback information, and potent triggers of adjustments, but on their own terms. (Jacobs, 1984) “A national currency registers, above all, consolidated information on a nation’s international trade." (Jacobs, 1984) National dollars tend to flow out of local communities where they are needed the most to those who already control large pools of wealth like banks and corporations. Community currency is also a tool that can help revitalize local economies by encouraging wealth to stay within a community rather than flowing out. It provides valuable information about the community’s balance of trade and collective values. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

People who are time-rich and cash poor can be socially and economically productive without necessarily using only national or international, centrally regulated money. If community currencies can also be used in conjunctions with national currency their use does not have to become an all or nothing proposition, thus leading to the notion of “complementary” currencies.

Local currencies empower their members to improve their circumstances and environment while protecting the general community from the negative influences of other capital flows. This gives the community more control over investments and allows the poor to become emancipated beings in the economic choices and conditions that affect their daily lives. Local currency systems offer the opportunity of transforming labor power or working time into local purchasing power. (Meeker-Lowry, 1995)

Solution: 

There are unique challenges in implementing a community currency system, both technical and political. Shared values and multiplayer commitment by community members are needed to build a sustainable currency. Adequate management at the local level may involve monetary policy issues similar to those experienced at national or international spheres. The community may be local, but also involve participants from distant places acting towards a common goal that can be social, educational and cultural. If successful, a community currency system can leverage local projects in economically depressed areas of the map and put them on the road to a hopeful and fruitful future.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People have always traded with each other, using various ways to represent and store value. In complex capitalist societies, money encourages growth, accumulation, and new forms of wealth and power concentration. Community Currencies can offer a solution for local markets deprived of or unserved by national financial policy. If successful, it can promote local projects and put them on the road to a hopeful and fruitful future.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
http://www.samarasproject.net/images/hours.jpg -- permission sought

Online Community Service Engine

Pattern ID: 
498
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
62
Fiorella De Cindio
University of Milano
Leonardo Sonnante
RCM - Milan Community Network - Italy
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Researchers and practitioners often trivialize the relevance of the software in determining the sustainability and success of online communities. Opinions differ widely between two extremes: some implicitly assumes that any software for managing online forums is sufficient (cf. Kim A. J., "Community Building on the Web", Addison-Wesley Longman Publishing Co., Inc., 2000); others, including E. Wenger (Wenger, 2001), suggest a large set of features (up to 73) must be included in software for managing online communities—encompassing several different applications, from access to expertise and synchronous interactions, from e-learning spaces to project spaces—resulting in complex and expensive proprietary solutions. Between these two extremes, we believe it is necessary to identify a set of basic macro-functionalities that an Online Community Service Engine should provide as well as a framework for extending these functionalities as required. In the course of this effort, support for communicating across community boundaries is as vital as focusing on individual communities.

Context: 

Communities are more and more seen as powerful means for addressing significant problems in many fields of human activities. Virtual and/or online communities extend these possibilities as they remove the time and space constraints of physical communities while preserving the advantages of sharing knowledge and experience, developing mutual trust, and ultimately cooperation.

Local communities in developed as well as developing countries, communities of practice within and across enterprises, and learning communities each represent very different situations that can be extended and enriched by an online counterpart. More recently, communities arose directly online, as in the case of blogs and blogger communities.

Regardless of these different contexts, online communities are complex socio-technical systems. However, while significant efforts have been made

Discussion: 

While the socio-technical nature of online communities is manifest and a massive volume of literature on online communities now deals with topics such as their sociological aspects and organizational impacts as well as the role they can play is a variety of contexts (within organizations as well as in the society), much less attention has been paid to technological issues. Actually, otherwise satisfactory sociological analysis and identification of general requirements technologies already available - for instance, usability studies (cf. Preece, 2000) -- do not provide clear hints for software developers.

Etienne Wenger has probably advanced the most relevant attempt to identify an appropriate technological platform for the features online communities should provide. In his extensive survey (Wenger, 2001), now revised and updated (http://www.technologyforcommunities.com), Wenger identifies a set of critical factors for the success of a community of practice (CoP) and the technological implications for supportive tools in terms of a list of features (73 items) that an online community environment should have if it wants to satisfy its members’ needs.

Inspired by Wenger’s work, and through an analysis of software used for managing virtual community (PhpBB, PhpNuke) and community networks (such as FreePort and CSuite) as well as our direct experience of managing several online communities (first of all community networks which constitute our basic competence, De Cindio et al, 2004) with different software, we have worked out a higher-level classification of the macro-functionalities a Online Community Services Engine should provide, which is:

  • homogeneous, since each macro-functionality is at the same level of abstraction as the others;
  • complete, since the seven macro-functionalities capture the essentials elements of a fully featured online community service engine;
  • general enough to be applied to any kind of online community, that is, communities of practice, community networks, communities of interests, learning communities, etc.

The result is the following list of macro-functionalities an online community service engine should provide:

  1. Users Management characterizes community members and provides differing and personalized views. Allows discriminating levels of access to community resources. This group of functions includes member directories, access rights, profiles, etc.
  2. Communication and dialog include all the typical synchronous and asynchronous communication tools such as email, discussion boards, blogs, private messages, chats, etc.
  3. Information and publishing allow community members to manage content for publishing as with a standard content management system (CMS), but - which we believe essential in an Online Community Services Engine - an effective integration with the communication and dialog dimension (Benini et al, 2005).
  4. Community awareness gives members the sense of belonging to a community that is characterized by rules, roles, history, customs, etc. Examples of these features are: presence awareness (knowing who is online), reputation and ranking, personal history, subscriptions, distinctive look and feel.
  5. Calendaring includes features for storing personal or community events or appointments by date, together with reminders features and the possibility of sharing calendars among members based on access rights.
  6. Workgroup support features. These features are based on the ability to restrict member access to community resources like forums, upload file areas, calendars, etc.
  7. Monitoring and statistics, i.e., features for keeping track of access, the number of posts, liveliness of forums, moderators reliability, etc.; to trace the “health” indicators of the community.

Beside these general-purpose macro-functionalities, an Online Community Services Engine should be able to be integrated with modules that offer features relevant for any specific type of community. For example teaching modules for learning communities, or deliberation facilities for civic and community networks.

To facilitate the integration of basic functionalities with dedicated features necessary to support specific types of communities, the Online Community Services Engine:

  • must have an overall modular architecture for integrating functionalities that were not built-in;
  • must include a User Management component capable of supplying authentication and authorization services to external add-on components or tools (while most of the user management components of the software used to implement online communities - e.g. PHPNuke - do not accept authentication requests from external modules);

Both these requirements have the effect of opening the Online Community Services Engine through standard protocols, thereby facilitating cross-community communication. For the same reason, the Online Community Services Engine should include features such as RSS feeds which enhance information exchange.

All these functionalities are possible if the Online Community Services Engine is implemented on standard “base-technologies,” such as the Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP) to handle authentication and authorization and Web services for providing standard interoperability among modules.

Solution: 

This classification of the macro-functionalities an Online Community Services Engine should provide, together with the associated architectural requirements, challenge researchers and practitioners to implement and deploy an Online Community Services Engine that can be tailored by the community that uses it; i.e., each deployment of the engine should be created as an instance of the engine, including the set of functionalities necessary for each specific online community. The opening requirement naturally calls for developing software using open-source tools.

Alternatively, the resulting classification can also be viewed as a check list for selecting from available software (proprietary or not), rather than for development purposes.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

An Online Community Service Engine contains generic services that communities need to sustain themselves. These include user management; communication and dialogue; information and publishing; community awareness; calendaring; work group support features; and monitoring and statistics. An Online Community Service Engine should be able to connect with modules that support for specific groups such as educational or deliberative facilities.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Ambrogio Lorenzetti. Wikimedia Commons

Community Networks

Pattern ID: 
858
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
61
Peter Day
CNA Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Communities often lack the information and communication infrastructure needed to: a) support and sustain the social networks of clubs, organisations, associations, groups, agencies, families and individual citizens that constitute the structures, organisation and activities of community life; and b) enable effective organisation, planning and enactment of local campaigns when threatened by external agency.

Whilst network technologies present interesting opportunities to support community networking activities they are not, in themselves, community networks. Furthermore, the dominant ICT agenda of both public and commercial sectors is often hostile to the mutuality, collaboration and communicative processes required for utilising ICT in support of community networking (Day & Schuler, 2004).

Context: 

Building, organising and sustaining active relationships within the social, cultural and economic networks of the community requires appropriate and effective strategies. Building and sustaining community networks requires strategies that facilitate the community appropriation of communication technologies in support of community networking.

This pattern is intended as a contribution to, and perhaps even as a catalyst for, a dialogue about community (ICT) networks. Dialogue participants should include: 1) community members; 2) local activists; 3) practitioners (community developers and community technologists); 4) community researchers; 5) policy makers; 6) local businesses and community economic developers. Whilst not exhaustive, the list illustrates the diversity and levels of knowledge and expertise needed to plan and develop community (ICT) networks that empower and strengthen community relationships and processes through democratic communications.

Discussion: 

It is interesting that community networks are frequently referred to as technological artefacts (Wikipedia, 2006) and appear to be understood in terms of the connectivity they give to ICT rather than the links they facilitate within communities. Yet in his seminal text on the emergence of ‘new’, i.e. ICT based, community networks, Schuler explains how the term ‘community networks’ was a sociological concept – that referred to community communication patterns and relationships (1996) – long before the emergence of the community bulletin boards of the late 1970s (Morino, 1994), i.e. the forerunners for the web-based community networks of the 1990s onwards (Kubicek & Wagner, 1998).

Establishing what lies at the heart of community networking, i.e. the purpose and nature of the relationships within communities and the processes of communication, is central to understanding community. Generating knowledge of what shapes and energizes community life by making connections and interacting with people of diverse values and belief systems is pivotal to developing effective community networks. In this respect the effectiveness of community networks is understood in terms of how they support and sustain community communications, relationships and activities.

An example of how knowledge of community networking in its broadest sense can be generated and how this knowledge might inform the development of community networks is illustrated by the Community Network Analysis (CNA) project in the Poets Corner community of Brighton and Hove, UK. Early in the project a community profile (Hawtin, Hughes & Percy-Smith, 1994) was conducted to develop a picture of community assets, community needs and community relationships. Interestingly, the 104 groups, clubs, associations, centres, organisations, etc often interpret their shared social environment in different ways. Acknowledging the existence of such diversity is a central part of beginning to understand and work with it as a source of community strength rather than community threat.

Analysis of the community infrastructure reveals 8 main clusters of groups, clubs, etc and 4 smaller clusters. These clusters, or affiliation networks, are organised by a parent organisation, e.g. community associations and places of worship. Affiliation appears to be based around organisational support mechanisms and the availability of physical space. A number of isolated nodes or didactic networks were also identified, e.g. the two schools are exemplars of a didactic network, although both are keen to develop stronger ties within the community.

‘Informal’ network structures in the community are altogether more open and dynamic than their ‘formal’ counterparts but are also transient in nature. Familial or friendship ties usually predominate and networking often occurs in public spaces, e.g. Stoneham Park, local pubs and coffee shops, or serendipitous street meetings. This agora ‘effect’ provides opportunity for knowledge exchange, comfort and mutually supportive transactions.

Informal social network exchanges tend to be self-organising and mutually reinforcing, falling into one of two categories. 1) Spontaneous, e.g. someone’s cat has gone missing and the neighbours organise a search of the locality; neighbours leave bags of good quality but unwanted clothes/toys on the door steps of families new to the area as a welcoming gesture; groups of people pop in to each other’s houses for coffee and a chat – reinforcing and developing social bonds. 2) Organised but with no formal membership, e.g. networks of baby-sitters and parents requiring ‘sitters’ evolve through the local grapevine; a curry club – where participants try new curry recipes is organised at irregular intervals by email; a book club – run along much the same lines as the curry club is organised by mobile phone; or key holder networks among neighbours in the same street – in which spare keys are cut and distributed among trusted neighbours.

Our study reveals that both network types play a significant role in developing relationships of trust and social cohesion in the community. The communication technologies that people feel comfortable with are increasingly being used to support both network links and exchanges. If community networks are to support the diversity of social realities in community then they must provide safe and welcoming spaces that encourage and facilitate participation and engagement. Enabling people to tell their stories and interact with one another in ways meaningful to them and in comfortable environments is central to effective community networking.

A prototype community communication space (CCS) being developed as part of the CNA project attempts to create such spaces. By working with the community to build both the context and the content for the CCS we have been asked to support video and audio podcasting, digital story-telling, digital art, poetry and music. Local communication forums are being established to support the face-to-face forums of community development/building activities. Blogs, wikis and other social software such as social networking applications are also being explored for potential community benefits.

The graphic , draws on Rogers’ diffusion of innovation theory (1995) to illustrate current stages of the CCS diffusion in Poets Corner.

Working from the centre outwards the first ring represents the Poets Corner Residents Society’s (PCRS) invitation to CNA, and the subsequent invitation from their executive committee to work in partnership with them to map and improve community communications. Much of this period was spent getting to know people in the community, building trust, raising awareness and supporting the activities of PCRS and other community groups. A group of enthusiastic project advocates emerged as CCS innovators. With their assistance the project became grounded in and supportive of community activities and needs.

Slowly but surely trust and respect developed between the partners. A number of community groups displayed interest in the project and began collaborating. The second ring shows early adopters within the community infrastructure. By this time, the project was participating in and supporting the planning and organisation of a second summer festival and family fun day. The third ring illustrates the resultant increased involvement from the community infrastructure and the beginning of some involvement from local residents. We describe this as second stage early adoption activity.

During the project the CNA partnership has been raising awareness of the potential of the CCS and interest within the community is on the increase. We are now in what Rogers’ would describe as the trial and evaluation phases of community assessment. Whether or not the CCS will be adopted, and can be sustained beyond the funding of the project will depend largely on the community themselves. The CNA team will continue to collaborate with the community, but our long term objective has always been to design and build a prototype CCS in participation with the community and to explore how the community will take ownership of and sustain that space.

Solution: 

The potential scope for ICT to support, enhance and sustain community communications is immense but effective community networks can only be built through meaningful and mutual partnerships of knowledge exchange. Communities are contested spaces rich in diversity. They embrace or reject technologies at their own pace and in their own way. These processes cannot be rushed and must be respected. Accepting that they might have to step out of their community ‘comfort zone' in order to embrace 'new' technologies can be threatening . Achieving ‘willingness to participate’ requires patience and dialogue. Community engagement will only be sustained if the community understands the benefits to community life. If community networks are to emerge as significant components of modern community life, external partners must understand this in context and content. Only then can they contribute in a meaningful way.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Community Networks must help support two capabilities. The first is supporting and sustaining the social networks of clubs, organizations, associations, groups, agencies, families and individual citizens. The second is enabling effective organization, planning and enactment of local campaigns when threatened from outside.

Pattern status: 
Released

Digital Emancipation

Pattern ID: 
801
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
60
Gilson Schwartz
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The opposition between local and global as well as the relative de-emphasizing of space and region in the face of the ubiquity, mobility, portability and interconnection provided by numerous digital networks have become major aspects of globalization and the virtualization of life. Yet there is a well-known saying concerning universality: describe your backyard and you will reach humanity. So, on the other hand, these same features of our increasingly digital and connected world also support decentralization, telecommuting and the intangible re-valuation of each local space, of actually "being there" or at least making a connection to a specific spot (a "hot spot") for the sake of material and immaterial interaction. Thus a new space-time dimension, on a "glocal" level (global in reach but ultimately local in its value-producing competencies), creates new human development challenges. This new space-time requires new skills and generates its own styles of employment and ownership, control and freedom.

Context: 

According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glocal: Glocalisation (or glocalization), a portmanteau of globalization and localization, entails one or both of the following:

  • The creation or distribution of products or services intended for a global or transregional market, but customized to suit local laws or culture
  • The use of electronic communications technologies, such as the Internet, to provide local services on a global or transregional basis; Craigslist and Meetup are examples of wW applications that have a glocalized approach.

The global and the local may be regarded as two sides of the same coin. A place may be better understood by recognizing the dual nature of glocalization. Very often localization is neglected in the shadow of the omnipresent veneer presented by globalization. Yet, in many cases, local forces constantly strive to attenuate the impact of global processes. These forces can be seen in efforts to prevent or modify plans for the local construction of buildings for global corporate enterprises, such as for Wal-Mart.

Glocalisation as a term, though originating in the 1980s from within Japanese business practices, was first popularized in the English-speaking world by the British sociologist Roland Robertson in the 1990s.

Discussion: 

The "glocal" dimension relates to specific areas of economic development models, such as local productive arrangements (LPAs), industrial and sectoral clusters (from the electronics district in Tokyo to software and IT-related hubs in Bangalore).

It is clear that the combination of local and global, concrete and universal, remote and present, material and immaterial, tangible and intangible are not clearly demarcated in the glocal development model. Other classic distinctions also become blurred, such as private, public, the "third sector" (or philanthropic) and academic or techno-scientific. Telecenters, public spaces in Third World countries that offer free access to the Web as well as other social and educational services are examples of new glocal development tools.

These ICT-enabled hubs of social and economic engineering also tend to create and design new social artifacts, thus opening opportunities for self-knowing, lifelong learning and employability.

Mediatic capitalism is a new regime of capital accumulation regulated by the value aggregation of knowledge-creating activities and the development of intangible assets (brands, consumer habits, technological standards and service-based value chains). This new form of capital accumulation has also led, for policy purposes, to the increasingly relevant clustering of creative industries. Telecenters can also play a role in the production of images (and self-representations) in peripheral regions of the world, given appropriate regulatory and techno-economic incentives and subsidies.

The term “mediatic” stresses not only the growing role of media (ICTs or information and communication technologies) but also the key function of intermediaries in the organization of production and distribution networks.

Infomediaries, regulators and knowledge-based business consortia and local informational clusters are examples of economic agents and institutions defined by their skills in the production and management of information, communication, knowledge and cultural networks in value chains, power dynamics and organizational structures.

This perspective requires new approaches to governance in the context of rapid globalization and emerging organizational semiotics and new forms of finance that value social, cultural and intellectual capital.

For the peripheral nation-states of the world system, a new threat emerges: there is a growing concern not only with gaps in technology and knowledge, but also with the emergence of a digital divide within developing societies. On the other hand, neo-illuminists preach about the creation of development opportunities led by new technologies (such as the infamous US$100 computer proposed by MIT´s Nicholas Negroponte).

Digital emancipation was proposed as a conceptual horizon for policy-making related to glocal development in December 2005 at the first international conference on digital emancipation, held in Brazil by the City of Knowledge at the University of São Paulo. Human development as emancipation definitely places the burden of action in the local dimension - stressing traditional and informal knowledge whenever possible, so that human development under mediatic capitalism can lead to sustainability, identity and civic intelligence. These characteristics have often been highlighted by development funding agencies, which are increasingly conscious of the rising importance of glocal economics for the appropriate design and implementation of development policies. Micro and nanoeconomics may in this context be more relevant than classic macro and microeconomics.

Solution: 

New forms of exchange, gifts, collaboration and collective action involve not only technical choices but a fundamental consideration for the emancipatory potential of every policy and technological option. Empowerment in the creation of representations may be as important as job creation for youth and actually may be a precondition for jobs to emerge. The critique of local, regional and global as well as other (gender, faith, language) representations of the world in the media becomes as crucial as access to software codes and network engineering. Emancipation is also defined as an antidote to the "digital divide" mindmap, so that a philosophical and political turn moves technological advances into human development tools at both local and global dimensions.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Digital Emancipation, as opposed to digital inclusion, aims at income generation and identity development rather than "bridging the digital divide." While access to digital networks is increasing, there is less confidence and verified outcomes related to job opportunities, entrepreneurship, solidarity, and organization of civil society. Digital Emancipation refers to the liberating potential of policy and technological options.

Pattern status: 
Released

Durable Assets

Pattern ID: 
754
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
58
Justin Smith
The Public Sphere Project & St. Mary's University
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Poor peoples dependent upon day labor and other forms of hourly employment can find it difficult to ensure livability for themselves and their families. They have little to support themselves in the event that employment becomes scarce or food prices skyrocket undermining their capacity to feed their families. Similarly, the assetless peoples often find it impossible to acquire credit for the creation of small businesses becuase they are dependent upon fluctuating levels of income.

Context: 

Development that purses an emphasis towards building the durable assets people have such as land, machinery, or livestock can empower peoples to be self-sufficient even in times of hardship, as they posses the materials necessary for ensuring their livelihood regardless of the larger economic climate.

Discussion: 

Durable assets in sustainable development can be summarized within four sections: natural capital (natural resource assets), reproducible capital (durable structures or equipment produced by human beings), human capital (the productive potential of human beings), and social capital (norms and institutions that influence the interactions among humans). The idea of durable assets is that they are capable of generating flows of goods and services (Rust, 1985).

Here is a simple list of some concrete examples of Durable Assets in which peoples can acquire to support their overall economic security:

  • Automobiles
  • Land for cultivation
  • Computers
  • Sewing Machines
  • Tools
  • Livestock

This list is by no means meant to be exhaustive but rather meant to illuminate the types of durable assets that can be acquired to provide peoples and families greater means of supporting their livelihoods, both in times of relative prosperity, as well as in those times that prove to be not so prosperous.

Overall, this pattern emphasizes both a focus (and approach) and concrete goal of engendering livelihood development for peoples left without the means to ensure their own survival. The foundation of a durable assets approach follows from the understandings that fully relying upon one's own labor can be problematic in regions in which the economy is vulnerable to dramatic transitions. By giving peoples the power of ownership over their own lives in the good times as well as the bad yet another layer of protection can be added to avoid situations of furthered "hardcore poverty".

For example, throughout South Asia there is a movement of development driven by the creation of women's Self-Help Groups. In these groups people collectively save in order to acquire loans or assets to acquire the tools to initiate income generating activities. Many start-up shops as seamstresses, or begin poultry farming, some go on to open small stores and others as in the case of the Graemeen Bank's cell phone program, provide cell service to local people. In each of these examples, a common thread is the tools used. The seamstress must posses a sewing machine to pursue her business, just as the poultry farmer needs the livestock and the land. The cell phone ladies in Bangladesh would not be if it weren't for their ownership of the cell phones they use to run their businesses; just as the fisher would go hungry without his tools, so too would farmer without his land, and taxi driver without her taxi.

This isn't meant to negate the role of creativity of individual or group creativity to generate income, but it the pattern highlights a useful view on how to facilitate the inherent creativity of people for pursuing livelihoods for themselves and their families.

However, as long as there exists any durable asset, it is capable of possessing monetary attributes and, therefore, of giving rise to the characteristic problems of a monetary economy (Keynes, 1936). Therefore this pattern could be perceived to reinforce oppressive or unfair economic systems. Yet, despite this issue the reality remains that over a billion people live in extreme poverty without the means to feed or protect their families in times of greater economic hardship; to ignore this fact based upon arguments against the current economic system is perhaps to make a bad situation worse, and only perpetuate socio-economic inequalities.

Solution: 

Development practitioners, community members and individuals can participate in ways to consciously pursue the acquisition and sustainability of durable assets to promote income generation activities and support a greater level of economic security to the most vulnerable populations. Such approaches could conceivable be achieved through the linkage of other patterns such as self-help groups, co-operatives and collectives or a variety of other relevant patterns. Ultimately as a policy, officials in government could, through pressure from social change advocates, develop initiatives to enable individuals and communities to both acquire durable goods, and assist in protecting those assets that they do possess, such as land from external threats.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Durable Assets can empower people and communities to be self-sufficient even in times of hardship. Development practitioners, community members, and individuals can consciously pursue the acquisition and sustainability of Durable Assets. Government should develop initiatives to enable individuals and communities to acquire Durable Assets and to protect those they already own.

Pattern status: 
Released
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