community action

Economic Conversion

Pattern ID: 
795
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
41
Lloyd Dumas
University of Texas at Dallas
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Approaching two decades after the disappearance of our only superpower rival, America’s military budget is almost as large as all other countries military budgets combined. We continue to spend at Cold War levels despite the fact that, as we are slowly learning, none of the most pressing 21st century threats to security — terrorism, proliferation, climate change — are effectively addressed by military force. Why? In part because the livelihoods of millions of people in politically powerful military-dependent institutions and communities are tied to the flow of military dollars.

Context: 

This troubled world is very different today than even a few decades ago. We have more to fear from handfuls of determined terrorists and blowback from the environmental damage we have done than from attack by standing armies. Changing times call for changing strategies, yet people with vested economic interests in the status quo always feel threatened by change. Those convinced that our continued wellbeing depends on redirecting national priorities will find it easier to bring about change if they can reassure people tied into the current system that their economic wellbeing is not at risk.

Discussion: 

Economic conversion is the process of efficiently transferring people and facilities from military-oriented to civilian-oriented activity. Changing the consequences of substantial military spending cuts from massive job loss to a change in what people produce on the job removes the politically powerful “jobs” argument. By forcing military programs to be judged on their real contribution to security, conversion is important to more intelligent decision making on national priorities.

Huge military budgets are ineffective in facing down 21st century threats to security. Obviously, military spending offers no advantage in confronting the threat of increasingly severe weather events (hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods) that, with other environmental disasters, appear directly linked to global warming. Less obviously but equally true, military force is of little use in confronting terrorist threats. The world’s most powerful military did nothing to prevent or stop the 9-11 attacks. Virtually every terrorist caught, every terrorist plot foiled has been the result of first-rate intelligence and police work, not the threat or use of military force. Military force has also been useless in preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Not only is high military spending ineffective in addressing the most pressing security threats, it is also a serious drain on economic strength, one of the most important sources of national wellbeing and international influence. This idea is hardly new in economics, going back to Adam Smith, the 18th century founder of capitalism. Smith argued that military spending was economically unproductive. Decades ago, economists commonly used “military burden” almost synonymously with “military budget.”

Today, the problem is the same, but some mechanisms are different. Large numbers of highly skilled engineers and scientists are needed to develop modern technologically sophisticated military weapons and related systems. But engineers and scientists are also critical to modern civilian industry. They develop new technologies that improve products and processes, driving the growth of productivity, which allows producers to pay higher wages and still keep prices low. Rising wages and low prices are the recipe for increasing economic prosperity. Quality products at low prices are also key to keeping industries competitive with rivals abroad, and therefore to keeping unemployment low and profits strong.

By directing the nation’s technological talent away from developing the technologies civilian-oriented producers need, huge military budgets drain a nation’s economic vitality. This is one reason for both the collapse of the Soviet Union and the de-industrialization of the United States. Thus, there are compelling economic and security arguments for re-orienting national priorities. Economic conversion facilitates this process.

When World War II ended, the U.S. transferred 30 percent of its economic output from military-oriented to civilian-oriented activity in one year (1945-46) without unemployment rising above 3 percent. That remarkable feat, which depended on advanced planning by the private sector and government, successfully “reconverted” an economy that had moved into military production during the war back to producing the civilian products it made before the war. Though the scale is smaller today, the problem is more complicated. Unlike the 1940s reconversion, most of those working today in what President Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex” have never done anything but military-oriented work. And the difference between military and civilian-oriented activity has become much greater. The process is no longer one of going back to what is familiar; it is now a move to new work in a very different environment.

For example, military sector engineers today are under enormous pressure to squeeze every ounce of performance out of products they design. With enormous military budgets, cost is not nearly as important an issue. Civilian sector products must perform well, but keeping cost low is absolutely critical. Engineering for maximum performance with little attention to cost is very different from engineering for low cost with reasonable performance. To successfully transfer from military to civilian work, engineers must be retrained (given some different skills) and re-oriented (taught to look at engineering from a different perspective). In general, more specialized and skilled people require more retraining and re-orientation.

Converting facilities and equipment requires assessing their character and condition to find the best match to productive civilian use. From 1961-1981, more than 90 U.S. military bases were closed and converted to industrial parks, research centers, college campuses, and airports --- with a net 20 percent increase in employment. In the 1990s, Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin, Texas was converted to a booming civilian airport. In October 2005, the nuclear weapons complex at Rocky Flats, Colorado was closed, and the land on which it stood is being turned into a National Wildlife Refuge.

The conversion movement in the U.S. began in the 1970s and grew through the early 1990s. In 1977, bi-partisan sponsors introduced the National Economic Conversion Act in the Senate, and soon after in the House of Representatives. Repeatedly reintroduced through the years, it never became law. If it had, the decentralized nationwide private and public sector process of conversion planning and support it would have set up would have prevented the economic shockwave that military dependent workers and communities felt in the late 1980s/early 1990s, and made it politically much easier to forestall the subsequent return to Cold War military spending levels.

Given the urgent need to redirect the nation’s attention and resources to address the economic and security realities of the 21st century, economic conversion has never been more important. Through letters, town hall meetings and personal visits, our representatives in the Congress must learn that reducing the military drain on our economy is critical to rebuilding the American middle class, repairing our decaying national infrastructure, and addressing the real problems of homeland security. Working with existing citizen’s organizations, conversion can help build alliances among the growing number of businesspeople who oppose the unilateralist militarism that has poisoned the nation’s image abroad, workers who see themselves going backwards, and environmentalists who want the nation to free the resources necessary to stop the slow motion disaster of global warming.

Solution: 

Conversion defines economic alternatives for those tied into institutions of militarism and war anywhere, helping build support for redirecting national priorities toward more effective, nonmilitary solutions to real national security needs. It is also critical to removing the economic burden of high military budgets, and thus reinvigorating national economies.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Why is US military spending at cold war levels despite the fact that the most pressing threats to security are not effectively addressed by military force? Economic Conversion is the process of efficiently transferring people and facilities from military-oriented to civilian-oriented activity. Given the urgent need to redirect attention and resources to new economic and security realities, Economic Conversion has never been more important.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Let us Beat Swords into Plowshares, Evgeniy Vuchetich, Wikimedia Commons

Techno-Criticism

Pattern ID: 
879
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
39
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Because technology and technological systems can play out in so many ways, this is one of the longest problem statements in the pattern language. Technological systems are often portrayed as nearly miraculous solutions to problems both real and imagined. For this reason, people put faith in technology that is not always warranted. Moreover, the technologists peddling techno-utopian visions in which technology causes problems to vanish — essentially by magic — are not subjected to the same scrutiny that other societal prognosticators receive. For one reason, technologists by virtue of their special knowledge and unfathomable jargon are often intimidating to non-technologists. An unquestioning reliance on technology can result in a technocratic culture where people come to expect technological solutions. Technology puts major decisions in the hands of the technologists; degrades public discussion; diverts attention, discussion, and funds. Socio-technological systems generally have implicit trajectories. They're often implemented as "total programs" when almost by definition they are partial solutions that don't address or the social aspects either with analysis, co-design, education or funding. This is what is generally lacking when introducing computers into the classroom or in discussions about bringing inexpensive laptops to the children of Africa. The use of technology often introduces new problems including ones that humankind is not prepared for. (And then of course "technology will solve the new problems.") Introducing mandatory laptop computers in a middle school or high school, for example, soon leads to additional issues. Should students be able to use Instant Messenger during class? Download movies? Play fantasy baseball? As was pointed out in the play, Mitzi's Abortion (Hefron, 2005), based on a true story, technology can tell a pregnant woman that the baby she's carrying has no brain, but it can't provide any guidance on what she can do about the situation or how to negotiate with her insurance company to help her with financial burdens that may arise. Technology can be used for dumbing down (and having technology shouldn't be an excuse for ignorance — Why learn anything when I can simply find the knowledge on the Internet whenever I want to!). Moreover, it almost goes without saying that technology is the near perfect candidate for systems of exploitation, control, and surveillance. Machines will never be seized with doubts about ethics or morality as a human pressed into an inhuman situation may be. On the other hand, we must continually remind ourselves that technology breaks down. It is not perfect and never will be. The large number of failed tests of the Strategic Defense Initiatives, the mixed results of laptops in schools, the quiet withdrawal of facial recognition systems for "homeland security," and the potential for economic collapse due to unanticipated results of automated buying and selling all show the imperfection of our technological creations. The irony is, however, that technology might be most dangerous when it works correctly. For example, wouldn't a total failure of nuclear or biological weapons be preferable to "success?" Although Isaac Asimov presumed that humans would never allow robots to make life or death decisions or take the life of a human, the "launch on warning" computerized systems in the US (and presumably Russia) are virtually the same, minus the anthropomorphic features we've come to expect in our robots.

Context: 

Virtually anybody who is alive today will be confronted with new technology that is likely to change the circumstances of their life.

Discussion: 

The interesting and more useful use of the word criticism is as it is used in art or literary criticism,, namely the analysis, evaluation, interpretation and judging of something. Technology, or, rather, its practice including discourse, development, use, education, funding, regulation, and disposal, in addition to its physical embodiment, deserves this type of attention like all other aspects and creations of humankind.

Although technology, and ICT particularly, has a variety of attributes — or "affordances" — that will allow / encourage new capabilities (while discouraging others) and individual people obviously will play important roles in technology use (in the small?), the extreme "weight" of the social context will always exert considerable impact. The mistake that people most frequently make is forgetting the fundamental fact that technology in all of its guises is applied within specific social contexts. In other words, the phrase Guns don't kill people, people kill people could be more accurate if it read, Guns don't kill people, they just vastly improve the ease and efficiency of doing so. Without the "need" to shoot people only a fraction of the world's arsenal would exist. There is no such thing as "technology by itself" and, therefore, it makes no sense to view it in those terms.

The Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly called "Star Wars" illustrates many of the reasons why techno criticism is so necessary. Basically untestable, demonstrably unreliable, The SDI effort escalates militarism at the expense of non-military solutions while removing large sums of money from other more worthwhile enterprises. Additional militarization of space and the development of the next-generation of nuclear weapons also cry out for very deep technocriticism.

One of the most visible, current manifestations of techno-utopianism is that revolving around the prospects of a new "$100 Laptop" ostensibly for the children of Africa. Although many people believe that computers have intrinsic "subversive" nature that would empower people around the world it's not at all clear to me why African kids would be less attracted to Grand Theft Auto or other violent, time-squandering video games, then, say, their American counterparts if a brand-new laptop computer was suddenly in their possession.

A last example provides a glimpse of what can happen when fast computers and knowledge of human behavior are combined within specific systems of power. In a provocative article entitled, "AI Seduces Stanford Students" (200_) Kevin Poulsen describes a phenomenon called the "chameleon effect" in which "People are perceived as more honest and likeable if they subtly mimic the body language of the person they're speaking with." Now scientists at Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab have demonstrated that computers can exploit the same phenomenon, but with greater success and on a larger scale. Sixty-nine student volunteers interacted with a realistic human face, a computer generated "digital agent" that delivered a three-minute persuasive speech. Unbeknownst and undetected by seven out of eight students, the talking head was mimicking their every expression — eye movements, head tilts, etc.

The ominous result of this experiment was that the students reported that the echoing "agent" was "more friendly, interesting, honest, and persuasive" than the one that didn't blindly ape the facial movements of its mark. One doesn't need excess paranoia to imagine what lay in store for us when ubiquitous mass media systems, perhaps two-way, are joined with the system described above. Poulsen describes one way in which this could be accomplished.

"Bailenson [the Stanford researcher] says the research not only shows that computers can take advantage of our psychological quirks, but that they can do it more effectively than humans can because they can execute precise movements with scientifically optimized timing. The killer app is in virtual worlds, where each inhabitant can be presented with a different image, and the chameleon effect is no longer limited to one-on-one interaction. A single speaker — whether an AI or a human avatar — could mimic a thousand people at once, undetected, transforming a cheap salesman's trick into a tool of mass influence."

Ironically the people who are best equipped to apply this pattern are the people who know the most about how technology is designed, deployed, marketed, etc. Technophiles probably make the best Technocritics. This is an argument for technical education that is integrated with the humanities and the social sciences, marriage that many people in the non-technical disciplines might find as distasteful as those in the technical disciplines do. A society that was technologically literate would not "throw technology at problems" any more than they'd "throw money at problems." That, however, is not at all the same as saying that technology or money never can help solve problems —' as both resources when applied wisely can help immensely.

Organizations like Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility who have worked with issues like SDI and electronic voting and groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists and Electronic Privacy Information Center are working in this area. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists provides thoughtful discussion on matters of weapons and national security. The world is ready for discussions in this area that aren't dominated by the media and the digerati. Many policy options come to mind, but in general, they should be based on informed public discourse. One intriguing example of this is the "co development laws" in Scandinavia in the 1980s in which new technology could not be introduced without the consent of the workers. Another ripe field is that of genetic engineering of seeds and other biological entities.

Luddism is not an answer to the question of "autonomous technology" anymore than it is to uncritically embrace it. The solution is not to totally eschew the use of technology in society. Technology is an integral part of the human condition. At the same time it is important for the reasons discussed above to acknowledge and to consider how technology is presented, designed, discussed, implemented and used, just as other activities, particularly ones with similar potential for large-scale disruption should be subjected to this scrutiny. Unfortunately there is a surprising number of people who interpret any of this discussion as being "anti-technology" (which is barely even thinkable). At any rate, this reaction has a chilling effect on the idea of actual conversations on the technology (as would befit a democratic society) and has the adverse effect of reinforcing the stereotype that technologists are binary thinkers who are simply not capable of more nuanced thought.

Langdon Winner, one of the intellectual founders of technocriticism (along with Lewis Mumford, Norbert Weiner, and, even, Dwight Eisenhower) made these statements in relation to the advent of ubiquitous digital computer networks:

As we ponder horizons of computing and society today, it seems likely that American society will reproduce some of the basic tendencies of modernism.
  • unequal power over key decisions about what is built and why;
  • concerted attempts to enframe and direct people's lives in both work and consumption;
  • the presentation of the future society as something nonnegotiable;
  • the stress on individual gratification rather than collective problems and responsibilities;
  • design strategies that conceal and obfuscate important realms of social complexity.

Although technological systems can be extremely powerful, they are subject to a number of limitations that must be understood and probed thoroughly if these systems are to be deployed effectively in society. A more visible, inclusive and engaging practice of Techno Criticism could go a long way towards educating society on the myriad implications — both creative and destructive — of technology in today's world.

Solution: 

Technology often alters power relations between people, generally amplifying the power for some and not for others. The development of new military technology through history dramatically illustrates this phenomenon. The distribution of computers in society is yet another example. Generally, rich people have them and poor people don't. If computers enable people to be more productive (as computer related companies assert) then economic benefits would obviously accrue to those that have them. People need to understand or at least anticipate to some degree not only the effects of specific technological artifacts (RFID in running shoes, for example) but the socio-technological systems that they support or destabilize.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Unquestioning reliance on technology can create a culture where people expect technological solutions to all problems. This blind faith can help put decisions in the hands of the technologists, degrade public discussion, and divert attention and funds. It often alters power relations by amplifying the power for some. We need to understand and anticipate the effects of specific technological artifacts and the broader implications as well.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Baby Monkeys Playing, photograph by Richard Sclove

Mobile Intelligence

Pattern ID: 
587
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
38
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

While we make our plans the opportunity vanishes. The world changes while you're still trying to figure out what the question is. We can't think or act intelligently in relation to the world if we think statically. The main problem is that we think that things change, one-at-a-time in ways that can be readily foreseen when, in actuality, things are constantly in flux. Misunderstanding of possibilities, mob tendencies, privacy abuses, subject to manipulation and control.

Context: 

This pattern addresses the need for exploring (with the hope of improving) Mobile Intelligence. It's intended for researchers, activists, citizens and for anybody who is trying to make sense of the world.

Discussion: 

John Urry articulated the need to reconceptualize sociology in such a way to better understand and explore the "mobilities" of our era (2000). Mobilities characterize movement from one state to another in the broadest sense. A reconceptualization of social mobilities extends the core notion of people moving from one place to another, whether to fight — or escape from — a war, pursue economic opportunities that aren't available at home, visit family, attend college, make a religious pilgrimages, conduct business or visit resorts or museums as a tourist. Urry reminds us that people are not the only entities in the social universe. These new mobilities include the movement of commodities, raw materials, microbes, mobs and soccer hooligans, AK-47s and fissionable material, ideologies, tactics, criminal networks, social issues, social movements, money (legitimate and otherwise), brands, virtual communities, financial information, smuggled people, radioactivity, movies, pirated DVDs, pollution, oil, electricity, water, surveillance, terrorist cells, drugs, and credit card information. In addition to those mobilities social status of individuals and, even identity itself, can change through movement to a higher or lower economic class, becoming a citizen — or refugee — in another country, or undergoing a sex change or religious conversion.

Urry points out that sociology places social interaction at is core and is therefore the proper intellectual home for these considerations. Yet sociology as it's currently construed was created at a certain point in Western history and it often presupposes notions like structure or function that belie the inherent complexity of social interactions, forces, etc. Its area of focus is like the old "flat earth" perspective where the areas outside the known territory are simply terra incognito.. Urry advocates a new type of sociology that extends the traditional sociological tenets to a new sociology that more accurately reflects today's realities. Specifically Urry adds, networks and fluids to the traditional idea of "region" (upon which "metaphor" the "sociological concept of society is based") as important exemplars to be added to the new mix of phenomena and artifacts that need to be considered when interpreting new social realities. Networks contain structure or what Urry calls "scapes," the "networks of machines, technologies, organizations, texts and actors that constitute various interconnected nodes," and "flows" which pass through the "scapes." Fluids, unlike networks, don't move discretely from node to node along scapes but are "heterogeneous, uneven mobilities of people, information, objects, money, images, and risks, that move chaotically across regions in strikingly faster and unpredictable shapes."

Some of the patterns in this language are ambiguous and hazy and whose recommendations can be summarized with non-committal "more research is needed" statements. One may get the impression that "more research" is always needed — if you ask an academic. Given the fact that all knowledge is incomplete, it may seem impossible to avoid that "last refuge" of a scholar, who is seemingly unable to make recommendation, until, they claim, their new research — once funded — will certainly bring the results that would enable them to make recommendations. The "Mobile Intelligence" pattern is one of those (hopefully few) patterns that generally follow the line above. It will surely morph in future versions of the language, possibly by splitting into several patterns that exploit new opportunities — or confront new threats — that were undreamt of today.

The coverage of this pattern extends from the most abstract and theoretical to the nitty-gritty street level. It relates to how we think and converse in broad strokes, about social change, the environment, etc. when we take the time outside of other work, as well as our thoughts and action when we're thrown-in a situation (Heidegger, 1962). In an example of the latter, Mary Jordan (2006) reports on an emerging new type of Mobile Intelligence:

"Cell phones and text messaging are changing the way political mobilizations are conducted around the world. From Manila to Riyadh and Kathmandu protests once publicized on coffeehouse bulletin boards are now organized entirely through text-messaging networks that can reach vast numbers of people in a matter of minutes.

The technology is also changing the organization and dynamics of protests, allowing leaders to control, virtually minute-by-minute, the movements of demonstrators, like military generals in the field. Using texts that communicate orders instantly, organizers can call for advances or retreats of waves of protesters."

And in 2003, when US President George Bush on a visit to London was keeping as far from the public eye as he could, protesters set up a "Chasing Bush" system that encouraged people to announce their Bush-sightings via the SMS on their cell phones which would then be relayed to protesters who would hasten to the location. The "Flash Mob" concept, in which a "spontaneous" gathering of a large number of people at a rug store or hotel lobby has been orchestrated with the aid of fast and inexpensive access to mobile communications, provides a glimpse into the future as to the absurd and amusing possibilities that the new technology can bring. It's easy to see that mobile communications has its dark sides, a point that Howard Rheingold brings up in his aptly-titled book Smart Mobs. A mob consists of people who are operating wholly at the limbic level. While "rationality" and "cool-headed reason" may be flawed, over-rated, and mostly mythical as operating concepts, consider a world in which they were totally absent.

New technologies (such as GPS, cell phones, cell phones with GPS, RFID, "smart cards", bar codes, laptops, "augmented reality" (where commercial information can be broadcast to your goggles), wireless technologies like 802.11b, etc..) are changing and are likely to continue to change our urban settings in particular (which are already undergoing massive changes due to globalization and new patterns of human settlements). Alex Steffen on his World Changing web site quotes the following from the Breaking the Game conference (2006) both permeate urban spaces (changing their uses) and change the way we look at buildings and place (changing development).

"[A]n emerging group of artists [is] deploying sensors, hand-held electronics, and faster Internet connections are developing projects that actively intervene in the shaping and reshaping of public spaces in contemporary cities. They are integrating digital technology into buildings in order to make them adaptive and responsive to the flows of human activity and environmental forces... They are scanning the unseen electromagnetic spectrum that surrounds specific places, and turning these data into compelling audio/visual experiences that both heighten and change our perception... Using PDAs and portable laptops connected wirelessly to databases, some artists are creating alternative social maps, counter-histories and individually annotated narratives about local populations in specific neighborhoods... Still others are using mobile social software to coordinate large numbers of bodies for political action; or devising playful and imaginary spaces within the city.... We don't have to leave or disconnect from physical space in order to connect to digital spaces. Artists, architects, technologists, urban planners, and others are recombining the two, connecting individuals and groups together at a variety of scales and intensities."

It is an understatement to say that mobile communications represents a major historic shift from historical patterns of communications. The Internet (and other) information and communication technologies have helped usher in tremendous changes already, but these changes may represent just the tip of the iceberg. Mobile communication is fast and increasingly commonplace. It opens up whole new arenas of both thought and action. Like many new technologies, the opportunities for abuse are legion — and critics should not be cowed into submission by new digital salesmen and their cheerleaders in the media. Some of the dimensions by which to consider barriers, boundaries and opportunities include: accessibility (costs of producing/consuming, location, language, etc.); relative size and influence and the relationship configuration between information producer and consumer (one or few or many or mass to one or few or many or mass); privacy, regulation, and control; motivation for use; and user demographics.

Sociologists, historians and others are now realizing that social phenomena (like environmental phenomena) are inherently complex. This means that we can't really know with certainty what the effects of our actions will be. Although this has always been the case, the realization is only now getting some traction. Moreover, many people — if not most — still seem to deny its reality and think and act according to older paradigms. Accepting its reality does not mean of course that we don't know anything or that anything can happen, What is different now is the increased speed, reach, and influence of the mobility. Imagine a missile latching on to the frequency of a cell phone or myriad consequences of remote observation, sensing, and surveillance. On a larger scale, consider the vulnerability or volatility of a complex physical, social, or technological environment where critical limits or "tipping points" in many important areas are likely to be breached at the same time.

While much of our time in the future will certainly be spent trying to repulse the efforts of people who will use (and attempt to use) Mobile Intelligence to increase their dominance over others, one of the main points of this pattern is to encourage the exploration of positive possibilities that the new technology opens up. One such area is in the realm of emergency communications. What difference could it make in a situation like the Chernobyl disaster or Hurricane Katrina? We could also gather data about dangerous conditions — speed of cars, air or water quality, radioactivity and other mobile phenomena.

Solution: 

We can think of Mobile Intelligence in at least three ways: (1) intelligence about a variety of mobilities; (2) intelligence that can be used in different situations (where the intelligence itself is mobile or "portable"); and, (3), mobile intelligence that moves us forward; in other words the intelligence mobilizes people. As researchers, activists and citizens, we can consciously ask about the "mobility" of our intelligences — and reconceptualize them as necessary.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

We can't think or act intelligently in relation to the world if we think statically. The problem is that we think that things change, one-at-a-time when things are constantly in flux. The answer changes while you're still trying to understand the question. One of the main points of Mobile Intelligence is encouraging positive possibilities that the new technology opens up, such as emergency communications.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Two Figures in an Interior, Franciszka Themerson, Wikimedia Commons

Participatory Design

Pattern ID: 
411
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
36
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

A large number of artifacts that people use every day are ill designed and they do not appropriately address the needs of the people for whom they are designed and produced. The problems range from the inconvenient (in setting an alarm on an unfamiliar alarm clock, for example) to the dangerous (an inadequately marked pedestrian crosswalk or scalding water from the tap when cold was expected). And in the design of groupware, software systems that facilitate group collaboration, developers can create systems that embed users in a system like cogs in a machine where a more human-centered system that was more humane — and more effective — could be developed.

Context: 

This pattern is intended to be used in any situation in which a service, policy, or other artifact is being designed. Those who will use the artifact and those who will be affected by it should be included in the design process.

Discussion: 

"The very fact of exclusion from participation is a subtle form of suppression. It gives individuals no opportunity to reflect and decide upon what's good for them. Others who are supposed to be wiser and who in any case have more power decide the question for them and also decide the methods and means by which subjects may arrive at the enjoyment of what is good for them. This form of coercion and suppression is more subtle and more effective than are overt intimidation and restraint. When it is habitual and embodied in social institutions, it seems the normal and natural state of affairs." — John Dewey (1939)

This "subtle form of suppression" that Dewey identified in the quotation above shows up in sociotechnological systems and in various arenas including the workplace. Without genuine participation in the design process, class, managerial, or other privileges become designed in. That is, sociotechnological systems often carry forward the perquisites and propensities of the designers, intentionally or unwittingly. Cases abound in both cases. Robert Moses, New York City's "construction coordinator," ensured that the bridges over the highways leading to the beaches from New York City were low enough to prevent buses from traveling under them (Caro 1975). This ensured that African Americans and other minorities who often had to rely on public transportation would, in large measure, be confined to the city while the more financially well-to-do could periodically escape to the seaside. There was no need to pass laws when a permanent physical structure could silently and invisibly enforce the color bar Moses preferred.

Frustrated by what they saw as unresponsiveness of software and the impending institutionalization of management prerogatives into software systems, Scandinavian researchers in the late 1970s conceived a new paradigm for software development called participatory design in which end-users worked as co-designers of the systems that they would ultimately use. They believed that adopting a participatory design approach would result in systems that better served users, initially workers in industrial settings. According to PD researchers Finn Kensing and Jeanette Blomberg (1998), "At the center of the critique was the neglect of workers’ interests – those most affected by the introduction of new technology. PD researchers argued that computers were becoming yet another tool of management to exercise control over the workforce and that these new technologies were not being introduced to improve working conditions (see e.g. Sandberg, 1979; Kyng and Mathiassen, 1982). The Scandinavian researchers and workers also worked on the legislative front to establish "codetermination" laws in Scandinavia that ensured that workers had the right to be involved with technological decisions in the workplace (Sandberg et al 1992). They promoted user empowerment through education and "researchers developed courses, gave lectures, and supervised project work where technology and organizational issues were explored (see e.g. Kyng and Mathiassen, 1982)" (Kensing & Blomberg 1988).

Participatory design is an integration of three interdisciplinary concerns that span research and practice: "the politics of design; the nature of participation; and method, tools and techniques for participation" (Kensing & Blomberg 1998). In their paper, "Participatory Design: Issues and Concerns," Finn Kensing and Jeanette Blomberg discuss two primary aspects to this work.

"Increasingly, ethnographically-inspired fieldwork techniques are being integrated with more traditional PD techniques (Blomberg et al., 1996; Bødker, 1996; Beyer and Holtzblatt, 1997, Kensing et al., forthcoming). The primary techniques of ethnography include open ended (contextual) interviews and (participant) observations, often supported by audio or video recordings. These techniques are employed to gain insights into unarticulated aspects of the work and to develop shared views on the work.

… Complementing these tools and techniques for work analysis are those focusing on system design such as scenarios, mock-ups, simulations of the relation between work and technology, future workshops, design games, case-based prototyping, and cooperative prototyping (Kensing, 1987; Ehn, 1989; Greenbaum and Kyng, 1991; Trigg et al., 1991; Mogensen, 1992, 1994; Blomberg et al., 1996; Grønbæk et al., 1997). These tools and techniques avoid the overly abstract representations of traditional design approaches and allow workers and designers to more easily experiment with various design possibilities in cost effective ways."

The nature of participatory design has changed over time. In the software world, for example, the focus has shifted from the development of site-specific software systems to the design of web applications and, perhaps more importantly, to the entirety of the information and communication infrastructure, including policy development. The idea shows up in many guises and even open source communities could be considered a type of participatory design.

Participatory design has been advocated in a number of areas besides software. Architects Lucien Kroll (1987), John Habraken (1972), Christopher Alexander (1984), Michael Pyatok (2000) and others developed a number of techniques for allowing people to design their own working and living spaces. Artist Suzi Gablick, writing in The Reenchantment of Art (1992_) describes a number of ways that the creation of art could be more participatory, while many others are advocating participatory approaches to media, policy development, citizen participation journalism (Gillmor 2004).

Several books, including The Design of Work Oriented Computer Artifacts (Ehn, 1988), Participatory Design: Principles and Practices (Schuler and Namioka 1993) and Design at Work (Greenbaum and Kyng) helped provide some early guides for the use of participatory design of software and the biannual Participatory Design Conference sponsored by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility helps to foster its continued evolution.

Participatory design is not a panacea. People may not want to participate; in many cases they quite plausibly determine that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Participatory design can certainly be time-consuming and higher quality of the end product cannot be guaranteed. Participatory design projects can go awry in a number of ways (as do traditional and more orthodox software development efforts.) Software users using mental models based on the software are accustomed to using may enter a design session believing that they have already fully designed the system (down to the last key-stroke short-cut). Because of this possibility (and others reasons), many PD approaches focus on fairly general high-level exercises that are fairly far removed both conceptually and physically from computers.

In some cases, a participation trap may be said to exist. This could happen when people are being brought into an effort that will ultimately make matters worse for them. In cases like this a less cooperative, more confrontational approach may be more likely to bring satisfactory results. Participation gives rise to several issues that probably must be resolved on a case-by-case basis in practice. Potential participants understand this instinctively. If, for example, the participative arena is for show only, and no idea that originates with a participant has any chance of being adopted, people can't be faulted for being dubious of the process. Genuine participation should be voluntary and honest; the relevant information, rules, constraints, and roles of all stakeholders should be well-understood by all. (A person may still decide to participate even if any and all benefits would accrue to the organizers.) Ideally, the participants would be part of any decision-making, including when to meet, how to conduct the meetings, and other processes. Kensing (1983) and Clement and Van den Besselaar (1993) describe several requirements for effective PD.

PD principles, techniques, and methodologies will continue to improve and be better known over time. PD will likely continue to involve bricolage, the ability of the participants and the people organizing the process to improvise. Unfortunately, as Kensing and Blomberg (1998) point out, building on the work of Clement and Van den Besselaar (1993), "the experimental nature of most PD projects often leads to small-scale projects which are isolated from other parts of the organization." (See Eevi Beck's "P is for Political" for more insight on this important observation.) The best way for the process to continue to improve is to build on successes and create incrementally a culture of participation on the job and in society, that is both equitable and effective at designing systems, services, tools, and technologies whose design better meets the real demands and needs of the people.

Solution: 

There should be a strong effort to include the users of any designed system (software, information and communication systems, administrative services and processes, art, city plans, architecture, education, governance, and others) into its design process in an open, authentic, and uncoerced fashion. Participatory Design, according to Finn and Blomberg, “has made no attempt to demarcate a category of work called cooperative, but instead has focused on developing cooperative strategies for system design… PD is not defined by the type of work supported, nor by the technologies developed, but instead by a commitment to worker participation in design and an effort to rebalance the power relations between users and technical experts and between workers and managers. As such PD research has an explicit organizational and political change agenda.” (See Eevi Beck's "P is for Political" for more insight on this important observation.)

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Many artifacts and systems do not appropriately address the needs of the people for whom they are designed. This can be avoided if the users of the systems (such as information and communication systems, buildings, and city plans) and those who will be affected by the systems are integrated into a Participatory Design process in an open and authentic way.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishing, Inc.

Strategic Capacity

Pattern ID: 
517
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
34
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Occasionally in the course of human history, a small group with meager resources fighting a powerful foe, actually wins. One of the most famous of those struggles is that of the biblical shepherd David vanquishing the seemingly invincible Goliath. A thousand other struggles, against poverty, against oppression, against environmental degradation, retell the David and Goliath story with equally improbable outcomes. What's the secret to these unlikely successes? Resources (including financial, organizational, cultural or many others) alone, though useful, don't tell the whole story: the group with the biggest war chest sometimes fails where the seemingly more impoverished group succeeds. Neither does the idea of "political opportunity." And individual characteristics such as dedication, drive, emotional commitment – although also quite important – don't necessarily portend success or failure of activist struggles or social movements. There must be more to understanding why some efforts fail while others succeed beyond all expectations. Is "you win a few, you lose a few" the most useful conclusion we can draw?

Context: 

Groups of people, whether formally organized or not, strive to make their positive impact on the world. Any group devoted to social change must sustain their organization – largely through marshalling and replenishing resources – over the course of its existence. To achieve its goals, the members of a group must work effectively together to make decisions. This pattern is intended to help groups increase the probability that they'll make good decisions at each stage of the group's development and in its engagement with the rest of the world. According to Marshall Ganz, the person who developed the concept of this pattern, it is most useful in " turbulent environments where rules, resources, and interests are emergent and links between ends and means are uncertain."

Discussion: 

Discerning the macro tides of history is a risky business. Fortunately for those who undertake this avocation, those attempting the readings of the tea leaves writ large, have generally been quite dead years before the evidence emerges that demonstrates the unforeseen flaws in their reasoning. (Or, in rare cases, vindicates their astonishingly spot-on observations.) Perhaps riskier is the business of responding purposefully, punctually, piercingly and resoundingly to the micro tides of the here and now; the unexpected opportunities that arise from nowhere and vanish as rapidly. The best responses often demonstrate a shocking disregard for conventional wisdom. They will often demonstrate a preternatural anticipation of the next event and the next even after that and so on – while everyone else is seemingly caught unaware.

In the early 60's Marshall Ganz set aside his undergraduate studies at Harvard to work within the Civil Rights Movement in the US South. Twenty-eight years later, Ganz returned to Harvard, finished his Ba. and PhD., and developed the concept that this pattern is based on. "Strategic Capacity" specifically focuses on the question of why and how some people and organizations happen to adapt so wisely and, often, "guilefully", to new circumstances. (Indeed, some appear to thrive on them!) Strategic Capacity is too elusive to yield to mechanical analytical probes. For one thing, as Ganz points out, we can observe, "choices about targeting, timing, and tactics" (2004) but "the strategy that frames these choices – and provides them with their coherence – must often be inferred, using data drawn from interviews with participants, oral histories, correspondence, memoirs, charters, constitutions, organizational journals, activity reports, minutes of meetings, and participant observation."

While it is true that a specific strategy can probably be understood after the fact, the general strategic capacity of an organization's or movement's resistance to analysis is undoubtedly part of its power. Thus Ganz focuses more on the conditions that engender successful strategizing within an individual or group (i.e. its "strategic capacity") than on the strategies themselves. (Of course how a strategy is put into action is not trivial!) Ideally a group will use its strategic capacity to simultaneously build its strength while accomplishing its objectives.

Ganz explains that decisions are expressions of strategy and that strategy is a type of group creative thinking or distributed cognition that is sometimes akin to the "performance of a jazz ensemble." His theory of Strategic Capacity uses motivation, access to salient knowledge, and the heuristic processes that organizational leaders use as the key factors behind effective strategic capacity. Motivation is important because it describes how willing the group is to work towards its goals and what types of goals are established in the first place. Ganz further states that motivation based on "intrinsic rewards" and on the moral meaning of the enterprise is very important. Access to salient knowledge is important because, without this knowledge – particularly knowledge about "resources and opportunities," the group would be using inadequate and misleading information that the group asses and interprets to make its decisions in the heuristic processes, the third constituent of strategic capacity.

Ganz then steps back to consider the two driving forces, leadership and organization, that will be employing the strategic capacity that the model describes. According to Ganz, "Leaders devise strategy in interaction with their environments." He stresses that leadership teams are more likely to have effective strategic capacity when they include "insiders" and "outsiders", have strong and weak "ties" (connections) to a variety of sociocultural networks, and have "knowledge of diverse collective action repertoires." On the organization side, Ganz points out that, "Leaders interact with their environment from within organizational structures." Leadership teams that are regularly involved in open deliberations with actionable outcomes have more strategic capacity, and leadership teams that rely more on people than money are cultivating sustainable strategic capacity by encouraging leaders who can effectively strategize.

Solution: 

A group or organization that makes good decisions will be more effective than one that doesn't. Marshall Ganz's concept of "Strategic Capacity" identifies the underlying attributes behind a group's ability to make these decisions. By improving these attributes, a group can likely improve its ability to make good – and, sometimes, suprisingly good – decisions. Based on Ganz's reading (2004) of Bruner (1990), "Strategic thinking is reflexive and imaginative, based on ways leaders learn to reflect on the past, attend to the present, and anticipate the future."

Categories: 
orientation
Categories: 
organization
Categories: 
engagement
Categories: 
social
Categories: 
resources
Themes: 
Research for Action
Themes: 
Community Action
Themes: 
Social Movement
Themes: 
Theory
Themes: 
Case Studies
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Occasionally, a person or group with meager resources fighting a powerful foe wins. One famous example is David vanquishing Goliath. Thousands of other struggles — against poverty, against oppression, against environmental degradation — have seen equally improbable outcomes. Groups with Strategic Capacity are often imaginative and reflexive, have diverse membership, ties to many networks, and knowledge of various tactics and strategies.

Pattern status: 
Released

Opportunity Spaces

Pattern ID: 
458
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
33
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Inequality can be understood to a large degree as unfair access to opportunities. In the U.S. opportunities for education, employment and health are often tied to economic status. Current social and technological systems are often not being used to create or support opportunity spaces that are equitable even though these are the hallmark of a just society. Without adequate opportunity spaces, marginalized people will almost necessarily prevented from meaningful participation in the society at large.

Context: 

This pattern can be used in any community. After all, every community depends on opportunities. Some communities have ample opportunities that are open for all while some have all but the most demeaning opportunities denied to them. Although applying this pattern is intended to lead to concrete action, it can also be useful as a focus for thinking about equity and social progress.

Discussion: 

How can society develop more -- and better -- opportunities for its citizens? An "opportunity space" presents a possible step that a person might take as he or she plans for, and moves into, the future. It describes a potential "contract" between an offering entity and a person looking for future possibilities. Opportunities, of course, take many forms. These can include classes and seminars, volunteer positions, jobs, contests, access to the media, timely announcements, mentoring, scholarships, grants and many others. Opportunities dictate the possible paths to the future that are available to people. Hence the opportunities that society ofers is of critical importance. What opportunities exist? Do they exist for all citizens or just privileged ones? How are these opportunities developed? Do people know about them? In many cases, spending a little more effort making the existing opportunities more widely known will help considerably. There are often mismatches in a society between the opportunities that exist for individuals and opportunities that individuals believe exist for them. It is very important to understand that there is a great distinction between an "realizable" opportunity space and ones that are perceived to exist but don't and ones that exist but aren't known. Someimes the actual space is larger than the perceived one while sometimes the reverse is true. Notes: This pattern needs to discuss several innovative approaches that communities and instituions are offering. It should also discuss ways to think tactically and strategically about implementing new or improving existing opportunity spaces. 

Solution: 

People and communities need help realizing their potential. They also need support as they work to repair social and environmental problems. It is important to devote attention and resources (including policy, services, media and technological systems) to help create new (and improve existing) "opportunity spaces" for people -- and communities -- who need them.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Opportunities are critical as they help determine possible paths to the future. Opportunities can include classes and seminars, volunteer positions, jobs, timely announcements, contests, access to the media, mentoring, scholarships, grants and others. It is imperative to devote attention and resources to help create new (and improve existing) Opportunity Spaces for people and communities who need them.

Pattern status: 
Released

Democratic Political Settings

Pattern ID: 
491
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
31
Jonathan Barker
University of Toronto
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Democratic political action is difficult where social inequality is great. People low on the social scale are often barred, formally or informally, from political meetings. And in meetings women, poor people, and members of low status groups often fail to voice their views because they feel vulnerable to reprisals inside and outside the meeting. How can democratic political action be initiated under conditions of marked social inequality?

Context: 

Many governments that give some respect to the rules of electoral democracy silence the voices of people of low economic and social standing. Many meetings where people raise and debate matters of public importance are structured to block their effective participation and reinforce existing hierarchies of class and social standing.

Discussion: 

Even where most political settings are biased against certain people (the poor, women, youth, stigmatized groups, recent immigrants, disabled people) there are some some institutions and cultural values that support wider participation. It takes great energy, persistance, and strategic action to expand democatic practice. For example in fishing villages in southern India, the long-established Catholic church, newer fish-worker unions, and women’s associations contained values and practices that innovators could use to increase participation by disfavored groups, often by starting new political settings such as neighborhood assemblies. Trying to change formal and informal rules of participation in existing political settings usually runs up against entrenched elite power. New and reformed settings can establish a base of democratic experience for pressing change in older, powerful settings.

Solution: 

Strengthening already democratic settings and starting new democratic settings and organization are ways to sidestep the customs and practices that reinforce the existing social hierarchy. A new setting open to all offers people with little experience of expressing and advocating their ideas and interests an opportunity to gain experience and confidence.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People low on the social scale are often barred from political meetings. And for many reasons women, poor people, and others may not voice their views in meetings. New and reformed settings can establish a base of democratic experience for change in older, powerful settings. New settings that are open and democratic can give people who have never been invited to express their ideas an opportunity to gain experience and confidence.

Pattern status: 
Released

Indicators

Pattern ID: 
412
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
29
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Citizens are often bystanders in their own lives. Research, even that which is putatively conducted in their behalf, is often irrelevant or even damaging to the livelihoods of "ordinary" people and marginalized groups alike. Since it is intended to promote academic aims, such as publication in an academic journal, rather than community goals the idea of actual benefit based on the results of the research often takes a back seat. This lack of genuine community involvement or connection helps lead to the self-perpetuating cycle of citizen disempowerment.

Context: 

This pattern could be used in any situation in which citizens need to come together to better understand complex dynamic situations and develop meaningful responses. This pattern can be used in focused or more distributed way; it can be used as the basis for a long-term project or for a project of short duration.

Discussion: 

"We view the process and product as interwoven and equally valuable. Part of our task is to practice and develop the skills of civic democracy and volunteer participation." - Richard Conlin, Sustainable Seattle co-founder

Doctors take a patient's temperature to get some understanding of the person's general health. Although this is only one measure among hundreds or thousands of other possible measurements it is judged to be important enough — and acquired easily enough — to be warrant its acquisition. An indicator is typically a single measure that can be acquired over time to help ascertain the general health or condition of a larger, more complex entity, like a lake, city, or society. It helps serve by being a stand-in or proxy for that whole.

Indicators are often devised and used by scientists, economists and other professionals to help inform them on the status of what's important to them. And just as the medical community has selected temperature as one indicator among many possibilities, these professionals have selected theirs. And, like other measurements, these can have far-reaching consequences which basically depend on they're interpreted, what meaning is ascribed to them, and what's done with them. Needless to say, communities — especially those that are struggling to stay alive — generally play no direct role in the development of these indicators, nor do they design their own.

In 1991, a group of social activists in Seattle launched an ambitious multiyear project around the idea of sustainability. Though many people today view sustainability as largely an environmental paradigm, it is one that can capture the long-term cultural, economic, civic, and educational health and vitality of a region as well. Because sustainability is a complex term and difficult to define and comprehend, the first goal was the development of a set of "critical indicators of sustainability" that would assist in defining the term and defining Seattle’s current status.

Since that time the project has matured into a community-wide program divided evenly into research and community action. One commendable aspect of their effort has been the patient, evolving, consensus-driven manner in which the project has taken shape and unfolded over time without being driven by set agendas.

When the project was launched, the "indicators of sustainability" were designed to form its intellectual as well as motivational foundation. Indicators are measurable values that accurately reflect and coalesce several factors that are deemed to be important. The selection of indicators as core constructs of the endeavor demonstrates the founders’ commitment to a long-term rather than a quick-fix effort, for it is only by examining how the values of the indicators change over time that an understanding of trends can arise. Examining changes over time may also bring to light relationships between indicators. Two indicators, for example, may actually bear inverse relationships to each other.

When people in the community identify indicators that are important to them, the indicators are more liable to carry personal and operational meaning than when social scientists in an ivory tower identify theoretical constructs that are significant only to an academic community. The indicators are carefully chosen to reflect activity within a community that is desired or not desired by that community. Furthermore, because the community identified the indicators, there is a feeling of ownership and confidence in them.

While Sustainable Seattle’s report on Seattle’s critical indicators presents a useful snapshot of several important aspects on the community’s agenda, it does not by itself create a sustainable society. According to their newsletter (Sustainable Seattle, 1994), ". . . understanding trends in our community is only the first step in the journey towards sustainability. The next step is to change the community." To that end, Sustainable Seattle initiated a Communities Outreach Project "to create measurable improvements in the behaviors and practices that drive the indicators, both on large and small scales, as a result of homes and organizations changing their behavior in response to this project." Their ambitious goal "is to enable and inspire people in the many different communities in greater Seattle to transform the values of sustainability into actions that will move Seattle, the region, and the planet towards long-term cultural, economic, and environmental health and vitality."

The Worldwatch Institute identified and assessed 50 social, economic, and environmental trends which they labeled the Earth's "vital signs" to help show the important role consumers can play in demanding environmentally friendly products. .Indicators can also be used in international or other large-scale collaborative projects. A new international effort between the US and Canada that monitors the health of Puget Sound Georgia Basin where salmon and orcas are endangered in Washington state and in the province of British Columbia shows another use of indicators (Stiffler, 2006). Of the nine indicators that the project has established five of them are declining (Urbanization and Forest Change; River, Stream and Lake Quality; Marine Species at Risk; Toxics in Harbor Seals; and Marine Water Quality) while the remaining four have not shown progress (Population Health; Solid Waste and Recycling, Shellfish; and Air Quality). Scott Redman from the US team stated that the indicator project "puts press then for us to catch up, or the other way around." There is a web site that includes data as well as a large number of suggestions for people and groups who want to help improve the situation.

The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists through its "Doomsday Clock" offers a variant on this concept. The clock measures the state of worldwide nuclear danger (not just from a US perspective) and graphically reports its findings in a clock whose hands are approaching midnight — nuclear apocalypse. Moving the hands is not taken lightly, "Because the Doomsday Clock is the world’s most visible symbol of nuclear danger, any decision to reset it is taken with great care and only after significant deliberation by the Bulletin’s board of directors, in consultation with the board of sponsors." It is interesting to note the infrequency within which the clock has been reset: 17 times in 56 years. The two boards reset the hands infrequently to demonstrate significant developments; the clock does not respond, "to every change in the global security environment. If it did, it would be in almost constant motion and would lose much if not all of its symbolic resonance. "

Many of the patterns in this pattern language — including this one — could be used as indicator generators. What indicators, for example, could be used to show whether humankind's Civic Intelligence is increasing or decreasing? Virtually any area, conceptual or actual, could be a source of indicators. And in any area, it will be important to think of what possible actions could comes after the indicators are developed before they're identified. What to do with information? Who could use the information? What resonance could the information have with various people and groups? 

Solution: 

Citizens need to construct community and civic indicators, publish them, discuss them, measure them, publicize them and develop policy and projects that address them. Indicator projects seems to be best coordinated through organizations and groups.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

When people in the community identify Indicators that are important to them, they are more likely to carry personal and operational meaning than when social scientists identify constructs that are significant only to an academic community. The real work begins after the Indicators have been identified. The Indicators must be measured, discussed, and publicized. Ultimately they can be used to develop policy and projects that address them.

Pattern status: 
Released

Whole Cost

Pattern ID: 
456
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
28
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Through the clothes we buy, the food we eat, the cars we drive, the way we dispose of our trash or sewage, where and how we live, and how we make a living or recreate, people everyday and everywhere make impacts — large and small, good and bad — on the world. Many of the problems in the world are compounded by people who are unaware of the damage they are inadvertently perpetuating through their daily lives. Costs are determined in overly simplistic ways such as monetary costs or immediate convenience — throwing trash out the window or into a river, for example.

Not only are these problems debilitating to people in less developed countries (thus presenting moral and ethical challenges to their more fortunate brethren), they also have a peculiar way of ultimately affecting developed countries as well (over 20% of the air pollution in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. has blown in from China). If people had a better idea what the entire "cost" of their actions were — not just their own personal costs at that moment — there is a higher likelihood that they'd change their behavior to encourage positive changes and discourage negative ones.

Context: 

People in developed countries are always buying — things — often from developing countries — and are generally unaware of the legacy of the product. People may be morally opposed, for example, to the child labor that went into, say, a pair of athletic shoes, yet they implicitly condone the practice with their purchase. The one economic point of view holds is that the whole cost should be reflected in the price tag, but this is rarely possible. Many of the costs are impossible to put a number on, and they may even differ from the point of view of different people. (What is the "true" cost of taking away a wetland used by geese on their migration?) So the pattern includes in some sense the common economic understanding but goes beyond it. All people need to live consciously in this world.

Discussion: 

In an increasingly globalized world people are connected to each other in ways that are often unknown to each other. One of the main ways that people in developed countries and less developed countries are linked is through products. When a person in a developed country buys clothing, consumer electronics, or other items all the buyer sees is a purchase price. Missing, of course, is the entire chain of lineage that was effectuated in order to place that product within purchasing range and its enduring effects on the environment has been dispatched of. Often the price on the product obscures a sordid legacy that could include child labor, environmental abuse such as pesticides in ground water, air pollution or soil depletion, or aspects that are harder to quantify like migration of youth to the urban areas or loss of cultural heritage.

One of the basic uses of this pattern is understanding the "whole cost" of an object or a service that one is purchasing. Ultimately the intent of this pattern is identifying the whole cost of something and using the information (that a single price obscures) to promote broader public consciousness and ultimately improved social good. There are a great number of ways that the information can be used — and a great number of ways left to be discovered. Ideally the information behind the price tag will take on greater significance while the price tag itself can also be made to reflect the previously hidden information more accurately including, for example, labeling that tag to include additional information about contents or relevant environmental effects or labor practices.

Understanding the "whole cost is primarily a process of education that can be done individually (by people of virtually any age) or in more public ways through any number of ways. This "understanding" can be via a narrative or story or it can be more quantified, including, for example, information about who got paid how much for what at every step in the chain. One approach is using the origin of the product as an indicator; not buying a product, for example, if it were made by non-union, child, or slave labor or because it was produced by a repressive regime.

A more nuanced process with a distinctively quantitative feel is illustrated by the work done by the International Center for Technology Assessment in their "The Real Price of Oil" report (1998). In that report based on gasoline prices from a U.S. perspective, the authors reveal how ultimately deceptive the idea of the "price at the pump" actually is to the actual monetary cost expressed in a specific currency, dollars, for example. And while their approach, like other economically based approaches, ignores (or, at least, re-interprets) the human story, it goes a long way towards developing (and ultimately using) a unitary "price" as a meaningful attachment to a commodity or service that’s available for purchase. In the case of gasoline, the authors show how multiple government subsidies (huge tax breaks, direct support for research development and other business costs, and "protection subsidies" often of a military nature) and a multitude of "externalities" (problems as diverse as air pollution, automobile crashes, suburban sprawl and climate change that are "costs" which the oil industry is not going to address and are not reflected in any way by the price one pays "at the pump") result in a public price-tag for gasoline that distorts the real price by 5 to 15 times. The "free" television programming that occupy so much of the time of the U.S. citizenry shows another perversion of the ideas of price and costs. The shows of course are not "free" at all — at least not to the viewers (and non-viewers) who pay for the ads every time they purchase something that’s advertised on television.

A simple use of the information (at least in the gasoline case above) would be eliminate or otherwise lower the government subsidies — especially the ones that actually hurt the environment and lead to wars and other problems and let the price creep (leap?) up to the actual price (or at least closer to it). This at the least would test the citizenry’s commitment to the automobile in a fair comparison with competing approaches to transportation. A related approach is of course un-externalizing the externalities by bringing the costs back home to the companies that are making them possible. This can be done by imposing a "green tax" on the companies, which would be used to help try to reverse the damage caused by the company’s business practices. Unfortunately, as Peter Dorman explains “There is a general distrust of the effectiveness of government, a fear that green taxes will be more regressive than some of our current ones. The alternative is the creation of environmental trusts, which would collect the money on behalf of the beneficiaries, which could include current people, future people and natural entities. The trust would pay back some of the money directly (per capita rebates) and also finance ecological conversion. Vermont and Massachusetts are in the process of setting up a trust of this sort for carbon and New York and California are possibly going this route too.

The city of San Francisco recently showed another innovative use of the Whole Cost concept. In the spring of 2005, San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to enact legislation requiring the city to consider the environmental and health implications when making purchases for the city. Since the city spends about $600 million every year on a multitude of purchases (including, for example, 87,000 fluorescent light tubes) this type of legislation could conceivably have some effect, especially since city officials are hoping that the "Environmentally Preferable Purchasing for Commodities Ordinance" will serve as model for other cities. The city is working with community groups, technical experts and other city staff to establish criteria. Debbie Raphael, the city's toxics reduction program manager, stated that "Traditionally, we have a list of specifications we use to decide which computer to buy," she said. "Those specifications do not include things like how much lead is in them? Can you recycle them? What is their energy use? What it does not mean is that cost and performance is ignored. We're expanding the universe of criteria" (Gordon, 2005).

A final use of the Whole Cost pattern is to consider the Whole Cost in more of a global "whole" way. Looking just in this the area of health reveals the importance of this approach. In a short article called "The Price of Life" by Glennerster, Kremer, and Williams (2005) point out that Africa "generates less than one half of one percent of sales by global pharmaceutical firms but accounts for nearly 25 percent of the world's disease burden." The lion's share of pharmaceutical research and development is for the health problems of rich countries. Sadly the economic equations of the world's corporations exclude the vast majority of world's population. Lacking money, the "whole costs" that are borne by them don't show up on anybody's balance sheet or business plan.

Solution: 

The first thing to realize is that the price one sees on a price tag is rarely the "Whole Cost." The second thing to realize is that the Whole Cost of a good or service is educational as well as inspirational. People have been very innovative in this area but there is room for much more. It's important to publicize the "whole cost" of a product as well as the monetary price. This could include what percentage of the monetary price goes to worker and other costs to the environment, quality of life, and other important factors.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

We leave our mark on the world through the clothes we buy, the food we eat, the cars we drive, the way we dispose of our waste, or how we work or play. The price tag on a product can hide environmental abuse, or aspects that are harder to quantify such as the loss of cultural heritage. The amount on a price tag doesn't represent all the present or future costs. Knowing the Whole Cost of a good or service can be educational and it can inspire action.

Pattern status: 
Released

Big-Picture Health Information

Pattern ID: 
742
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
27
Jenny Epstein
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Health information cannot focus solely on individual change. Many detriments to health cannot be eradicated without changes to the physical and social world that people inhabit. If environmental and social changes are necessary to get well, individual patients cannot do so solely by seeking health care and avoiding health risks. Expert medical information and advice is inadequate to create a healthy environment that in turn creates healthy people.

Context: 

Poor people bear a disproportionate burden of global ill-health, such as diabetes, malaria, HIV/AIDS and TB. Health discrepancies between rich and poor will not be solved through better access to information alone. Good food, less stress, clean air and water, and a life with a purpose will increase health and healthy behaviors. Real change to improve health comes from a shift away from acknowledging only expert clinical opinion and toward a real-world awareness of the effect of environment on health: a shift from passive diagnosis and treatment to active engagement with the causes of and solutions to health problems.

Discussion: 

We are not, for the most part, born unhealthy. We become unhealthy. And even for those born unhealthy, a great deal of ill health may have been preventable. The campaign to find the cure for breast cancer is a good example of health information that neglects any causal connection between ill-health and the environment (in this instance, an environment which includes the use of estrogen in prescription medication), and ignores political or social change that might address environmental causes of the disease. This pattern of information, in which action comes only after the individual becomes ill but nothing has been done to prevent illness in first place, focuses on individual responsibility with no questioning of the established social order. The unspoken message is that breast cancer just happens. It is up to the individual to get involved with a screening program for early detection and treatment. Information on research that investigates environmental effects to the development of breast cancer is not part of mainstream health information.

Public health information about diabetes further illustrates the lack of emphasis on the connection between environment and health. Among Native Americans, diabetes (like most other non-infectious chronic diseases) was virtually unknown before World War II. Now, in some tribes, over 60% of adults have diabetes and the age of onset is decreasing with each generation. Much of the research on diabetes among Native Americans focuses on genetic causes or on molecular level differentiations of diabetic types. It gives short shrift to how the disruption in traditional diet and life style and the devaluation of traditional medicine correspond with the dramatic increase in the disease. The connection of indigenous people to the environment that they come from, the types of foods they eat, and activities they perform to prepare those foods are not considered an active component in their health. Diabetic health information focuses on what the individual can do to access mainstream diets and medicine. It does not validate traditional knowledge that prevented diabetes in the past, and ignores how the community as a whole can work together to recreate that knowledge. This does not mean trying to reestablish life as it was 60 years ago, but it does mean putting the current problem in a holistic context that includes history, indigenous knowledge, the interaction between diet and environment, and reasons for lack of access even to non-traditional healthy food.

In 1854, John Snow removed the handle from a London neighborhood water pump that was located a few feet from a sewer ("John Snow Pub," 2006). He believed that this sewage was causing the epidemic of cholera deaths in the neighborhood. Epidemiology textbooks emphasize Snow's connection of cause and effect as the first public health intervention of the modern era. They ignore an analysis of cause: industrialization and dislocation, poverty, over-crowding etc. What options for water did people in the neighborhood have without the pump? Seldom mentioned is that, due to the demand of a thirsty public, the handle was replaced six weeks after its removal.

Public health programs must include methods to share power with communities they hope to help. What are the contributors to ill health in their communities? What are the barriers to good health that the communities identify? Information needs to realistically address what is within the control of the individual and what will take groups of people working together to solve. Methods to improve health in disadvantaged communities must reflect the larger social change and shift in power needed.

Health information such as Fast Food Nation (Schlosser, 2002) needs to be the norm, not the exception. This book chronicles the entire environment that produces fast food, including social norms and values. Similarly, the documentary film “Life and Debt” (www.lifeanddebt.org) shows the destruction of healthy, local food production in Jamaica by the combination of multinational food businesses and international government policy.

Health information needs to do more than simply inform. What does not question the present state of affairs will not, for example, bring affordable nutritious food to poor neighborhoods. Nor will it create safe neighborhoods in areas where children cannot exercise. Better access to information may improve health care decisions to some extent; unless it also generates momentum and optimism for social change then it simply perpetuates a focus on individual behavior and treatment of symptoms that have already occurred. Health information needs to look honestly at the conditions that cause ill health, and engage not only those who suffer illness but the entire social and regulatory apparatus that can play a role in improving the conditions that people live in.

Solution: 

Demand and produce health information that identifies environmental and social causes of ill-health. Analyze the interconnection between these causes and their solutions, and bring individuals, communities and governments together in putting the solutions into effect. If the struggle with disease becomes a struggle with established power, you may be on the right track.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Real change in improving health means shifting away from expert clinical opinion only and towards awareness of the effect of environment. Demand and produce health information that identifies environmental and social causes of ill-health. Analyze the links between causes and solutions, and bring individuals, communities and governments together in putting the solutions into effect.

Pattern status: 
Released
Syndicate content