social critique

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

World Citizen Parliament

Pattern ID: 
484
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
40
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Economic inequality is steadily rising worldwide: Nearly everywhere the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Although the world's economy has grown considerably over the past few decades, half of the world's population subsists on less than $2 (US) per day. At the same time, meaningful representation among the world's population is steadily declining. This lack of representation results from — and engenders — increasing power and diminishing accountability of the world's corporate and governmental institutions.

Context: 

The social world as it now exists: vast needs — and intriguing possibilities — for citizen engagement with global affairs. The United Nations is an assembly for the world's nation's. Business, likewise, has an incredible assortment of institutions and events such as the World Economics Forum, the Chamber of Commerce, etc.

Discussion: 

"The tremendous growth in the commitment to, and practice of, democracy in domestic settings juxtaposed against globalization's large-scale transfer of political decision-making to international institutions has made the almost complete lack of democracy at the international level the most glaring anomaly of the global system today." — Andrew Strauss

Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss have explored the possibility of a "Global Parliament" for several years. It is their work which inspires this pattern and many of the ideas advanced in this pattern originated in their writings. Disclaimer: The concept of a "Global Peoples Parliament" comes from Richard Falk and Andrew Strauss. The version advocated here is not "official" (nor authoritative).

Civil society is obligated to create institutions that are strong enough to challenge other organization -- governments, businesses, criminal groups, extremists -- but not on their terms.

This pattern has only partial analogs in the "real world." This is due, generally, to the extremely broad scope of its coverage — it is supposed to address all of the world's inhabitants! The very fact of globalization provides the most solid support (and for the need) of the World Citizen Parliament pattern. Smaller versions that approximate some aspects of this pattern do, of course, exist, and we can learn a lot from these experiments as we attempt to cultivate and grow democratic forms that are more wide-ranging. The European Parliament may be the most prominent example of a large civic society institution whose representatives are democratically elected by people from various countries.

This pattern is related to INDEPENDENT REGIONS, the first pattern in A Pattern Language. Alexander was striving to identify the right level of autonomy based on "natural limits to the size of groups that can govern themselves in a human way." Metropolitan regions will not come to balance until each one is small and autonomous enough to be an independent sphere of culture. That pattern's solution states that, "Wherever possible, work toward the evolution of independent regions in the world; each with a population between 2 and 10 million; each with its own natural and geographic boundaries; each with its own economy; each one autonomous and self-governing; each with a seat in a world government, without the intervening power of larger states or countries."

Alexander's pattern and ours have similarities and differences. Both presuppose an increased voice of the citizen through additional opportunities for participation and new collective bodies that are independent from governments as they now exist. At first glance the two approaches might seem incompatible — Alexander's pattern does not call for an all-citizen's body nor does this pattern mention autonomous regions. The parliament concept, however, does not rule out autonomous, independent regions per se, only that individual people would have a forum for addressing issues was outside of their independent region — or what looks very much like a country but with new boundaries that better reflected cultural and natural boundaries (which does little or nothing about addressing the realities of various cultural or ethnic or religious groups "stranded" behind redrawn boundaries). Moreover, the state conceptualized in Alexander's pattern could actually be attained in a more "natural" evolutionary way through this pattern.

Developing a top-down approach is neither viable nor consonant with the principles of civil society. This leaves us with the option of developing principles and ideas that are we believe are at the core of what a federation should be and allows the parliament grow or evolve, built from the seeds that we envision today. This envisioned global federation would then become a type of ecosystem for collective bodies. [Ideally it would be principled and explicitly cooperative -- but how to ensure? At the same time we would need to ensure that it doesn't become just another arena for people to exploit for their own interests. Use the Commons ideas from Bollier, Ostrom and others, for one thing. The World Social Forum provides many important ideas about how this could be accomplished. What distinguishes this from how things exist already is an explicit declaration and decision to participate in the project, to share information with others and to communicate with other collectives in the federation.

Collective groups are generally composed of people in a geographically delimited area (some of whom have passed certain formal requirements for membership and attained the status of citizen), of people with similar professional interests (e.g. medical associations or labor unions), or social aims or philosophy (American Civil Liberties Union, American Rifle Association, etc. )

The draft statement that I proposed at the Online Deliberation Conference / Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing Symposium, Stanford University, on May 22, 2005, sums up the important aspects of this pattern.

In many places attempts are being made to trivialize citizenship and reconstitute citizens as (everyday) consumers and (sporadic) voters. Real power is in many ways being transferred to large corporations and other unelected organizations such as the World Trade Organization.

Realizing the growing and critical importance of citizens and civic society in addressing humankind's common problems, we the undersigned propose the initiation of a "Grand Challenge" whose ultimate objective is the development of a World Citizen Parliament. We realize that this is an extremely complex project that will require years of complex, nuanced, creative and thoughtful negotiation and collaboration. We are aware that this project will have to address an extremely broad range of social and cross-cultural factors. We, however, believe that beginning this discussion in an explicit and open way is preferable to many other varieties of globalization that lack this transparency.

Moreover, we realize that precisely defining an ideal system in advance is impossible. For that reason, we propose to begin a principled, long-term, incremental, participatory design process that integrates experimental, educational, community mobilization, research and policy work all within a common intellectual orientation: specifically to provide an inclusive intellectual umbrella for a diverse, distributed civil society effort. We realize — of course — that this is an audacious proposal. However, we agree with Richard Falk, that a parliament or forum like this is critical for the future of humankind and our planet. Civil society historically is the birthplace of socially ameliorative visions. This effort is intended to help build a more effective platform for these efforts, to help address humankind's shared problems — such as environmental degradation, human rights abuses, economic injustice and war — that other sectors — notably government and business — are seemingly powerless to stem.

Ultimately we would expect that the recommendations that are issued will play important roles in policy development of the future as well as in our ways of thinking. Each of the experiments that we undertake in the next few years will undoubtedly have drawbacks, some of which will be revealed only as people attempt to address real concerns. Information and communication technology will play an important role in many of these projects and people in these fields will need to work with social scientists, representatives from civil society organizations and many others if a World Citizen Parliament that sensitively, fairly, and wisely explores and addresses the concerns of the under-represented citizens of the world is ever created.

Solution: 

Launch a non-centralized, heterogeneous, loosely-linked network of people, online and offline resources, institutions, deliberative and other collaborative settings. Develop articles, scholarly papers, opinion papers, manifestos, research findings, and anything else that is relevant to this effort. Develop concepts, design principles, and experiments that lay the groundwork for a World Citizen Parliament. The new deliberative bodies that we develop over the next few years will necessarily be advisory only at the onset.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Governments and corporations have forums that further their interests. Civil society must create institutions that are strong enough to assert theirs. The deliberative bodies that we develop are likely to be advisory at the onset but hopefully will lay the groundwork for a more integrated and influential World Citizen Parliament as time goes on.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Feijaocomarroz from pt, Passeada de abertura do Forum Social Mundial de 2003, que reuniu mais de 150 mil pessoas, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

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

Citizen Science

Pattern ID: 
861
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
37
Stewart Dutfield
Marist College
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The role of science in the modern world will become increasingly critical in the years ahead, as health care, energy, resources and the global environment become ever more problematic. Science can appear to serve powerful institutions, such as stock markets and the weapons industry, more that it serves the people most affected by these problems. Meanwhile, the resources of society's professional scientists are overtaxed by the amount of data to be collected and the need to distribute expertise over a wide area. Science needs greater participation from people at large, and people need a greater voice in science.

Context: 

Science is a human activity. Whether studying the physical world or society itself, it has tangible effects on society. Scientific knowledge is provisional, subject to revision. The scientific profession is inseparable from society as a whole; science requires funding and regulation, contributes expertise to official inquiries and investigations, and creates technological and social changes that affect us all. Citizen groups and individuals experience the benefits, hazards and missed opportunities of scientific development in the real world, not in the laboratory.

Discussion: 

Citizen Science has been with us for a long time. Since 1900, the Audubon Society has organized volunteers throughout the US to count birds at Christmastime and used their data to build a huge database of early winter bird populations ("History & Objectives," 2004). This is a clear-cut instance of Citizen Science as "a partnership between the public and professional scientists" (Citizen Science, 2003, para. 3); people benefit from learning about birds, the Society benefits from information it would otherwise lack the resources to obtain, and birds benefit from researchers' knowledge of which species require special attention ("Citizen Science," 2005).

Our relationship with science is not always so simple. Mistrust exists in public perceptions of science as offering scientific solutions to complex social problems, furthering various forms of social and environmental depredation, and inappropriately claiming certainty in judgments about risks associated with scientific and technological developments (Irwin, 1995). The drug industry's investment in treatments seeking diseases of the rich (Blech, 2006), for example, undermines the view of scientific development as "open-minded, skeptical and independent of institutional constraints" (Irwin, 1995, p. 109). Agents of public policy, too, can contribute to popular mistrust, though supposedly representing the public interest. For example, the 1977 Windscale Inquiry was less democratic decision-making than keeping up appearances of public participation in a decision that had already been made (Irwin, 1995).

At the same time, science has cause to be wary of the public; in the US, for example, the proportion of people overtly accepting the idea of evolution has dropped from 45% to 40% since 1985 (Miller, Scott & Okamoto, 2006). Popular media have a stake in public mistrust of science because they stand to profit from science-related scare stories (Cassidy, 2006).

What scientists learn under controlled conditions differs in important ways from what people experience in real life. For example, British government regulations on the use of the herbicide 2,4,5-T assumed circumstances unrecognizable as those under which farm workers actually used the substance (Irwin, 1995; Corburn, 2005). Local knowledge — public experience and intuition — is a different kind of knowledge, differently gained, from the professional knowledge of scientific research and regulation (Corburn, 2005).

Overcoming the rift between professional and local knowledge lies in "a constructive renegotiation between science and the needs of citizens" (Irwin, 1995, p. 110). In what Corburn (2005) calls Street Science, professional science and the people most affected by it combine to co-produce knowledge that benefits both. In the field of environmental health, this co-production reveals hazards and provides information that professionals may miss, reduces mistrust of science, empowers community members, and creates positive engagement with problems instead of entrenched and polarized positions (2005, p. 218).

Local knowledge can both amplify and stimulate professional knowledge. The Watchperson project in the Greenpoint/Williamsburg section of Brooklyn NY combined government datasets and conducted surveys to map sources of air pollution at greater detail than regulators' models (Corburn, 2005). Recent developments in wireless mobile sensors create possibilities for mapping pollutant levels at much finer detail than previously possible; one example using human volunteers is AIR (2006).

The scientific profession can further the co-production of knowledge by reaching out to individuals, communities and citizen groups. BirdSource (www.birdsource.org) uses an Internet-based tool to help more than 50,000 birdwatchers develop a deeper understanding of science and the environment while they accumulate data that helps to identify priorities for conservation. This extends the reach of science by providing knowledge that scientists would lack the resources to gather by themselves (Fitzpatrick & Gill, 2002).

Science Shops and Cooperative Extensions offer ground-breaking resources for the co-production of knowledge. Science Shops (such as www.scienceshop.org) provide university scientific expertise to the public, at the instigation either of students or citizen groups. The University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension (www.uri.edu/cce) Watershed Watch program works with government, tribal organizations and citizen groups to train volunteer water-quality monitors. Cornell Cooperative Extension (www.cce.cornell.edu) provides scientific expertise and conducts scientific research as part of a mission to extend the democratic process by helping people participate in their communities (Peters, O'Connell, Alter & Jack, 2006).

Citizen groups can further their own aims while extending the reach of science. For example, the Ocean Conservancy (www.oceanconservancy.org) conducts an international cleanup of marine debris on the third Saturday in September each year. While helping to clean the coastline, volunteers collect data that enables the Ocean Conservancy to learn about the causes of marine debris and to use this information in public education and advocacy.

Because mainstream scientific research does not pre-determine its conclusions, its use in advocacy is a double-edged sword. Activists may better spend their time in political lobbying than in scientific research whose results may not support their agenda. Just as the public mistrusts research funded by tobacco companies, for example, research by activist groups may appear suspect to policymakers and professional scientists. Despite this, many avenues are open for activists to initiate research that furthers their aims. Two examples follow.

Aiming to show a connection between pollution from incinerators, toxic waste storage and other industrial sources in the neighborhood and asthma in Greenpoint/Williamsburg, the El Puente group (www.elpuente.us) trained community members as community health workers and in conducting surveys. Their twofold process, of gathering information on asthma in surveys and then discussing the results in focus groups, uncovered knowledge about: (a) a link between women's occupations and asthma not directly related to environmental pollution, (b) differing levels of asthma amongst Hispanic groups, and (c) underreported asthma rates because people avoided treatment at the local hospital (Corburn, 2005).

The Centre for Science and Environment (www.cseindia.org) uses the results of its own scientific research to publicize problems and solutions. A recent achievement has been the research-based development of rainwater harvesting methods, combined with community outreach and advocacy to policymakers, offering a "politics of hope" to those whose water supplies are declining in quantity and quality (www.rainwaterharvesting.org).

Solution: 

Use and develop means of collaboration between science and communities. People benefit by bringing both scientific knowledge and local knowledge to bear on the problems that they experience. Citizen groups, policymakers and professional scientists all gain from proven ways to do this.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The role of science will become more critical in the years ahead, as health care, energy, resources, and the global environment become more problematic. Science needs greater participation from people, and people need a greater voice in science. Citizens, policymakers, and professional scientists all benefit by integrating scientific knowledge and local knowledge to bear on the problems that they experience.

Pattern status: 
Released

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

Big Tent for Social Change

Pattern ID: 
457
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
32
Mary Reister
The Evergreen State College
Shari McCarthy
The Evergreen State College
Problem: 

When separate groups work on social issues without learning of what similar groups are doing on related issues, opportunities for idea exchange are lost. Historically it has been difficult to bring diverse groups together to discuss and mobilize on social issues of shared concern. Worse, groups that arguably should be working together, have a tendency to argue fiercely over philosophical or other points of disagreement thus making collaboration nearly impossible.

Context: 

There are many groups, in many localities, addressing many issues and themes that are related to global social issues. This pattern helps to promote coordination among these not-so-disparate groups. Often, people at the grassroots level have a better understanding of issues, especially those that have an immediate effect on their local areas. At the same time, many issues that play out at the local level also have a global context.

Discussion: 

The World Social Forum is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and interlinking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neoliberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a planetary society directed towards fruitful relationships among Humankind and between it and the Earth. &mdash Principle 1, World Social Forum Charter of Principles

By offering a "big tent" setting such as the World Social Forum (WSF) where these groups can come together, synergy can happen and solutions to social programs can be developed. The basic idea is that the Social Forums, like parties or conferences or other gatherings, provide an occasion for people of similar interests to get together. What people choose to do with the information is ultimately a decision that they will make. But, by the same token, the forums do what they can to make the events successful in the sense of spawning collaborative and collective actions and projects without heavy-handed "social engineering." The “Big Tent” pattern encourages other “smaller tents” (with, for example, regional or thematic focus) to form within the event and these "smaller tents" can ultimately provide issue and geographical "space" to support the work of additional groups with other forums.

The “big tent” scale of the World Social Forum and the growth (starting with 20,000 in 2001 and up to 100,000 in 2005) has helped foster respect from mainstream media and other entities that may be seen as oppositional to the Forum principles, as it demonstrates that this is real, and there are large numbers of people and organizations that are committed to working on these issues. Another positive attribute of this pattern of a large gathering of many social issue groups for mobilization is that the scale is big enough that individuals can participate and be somewhat anonymous, which can reduce the pressure to represent a certain group ideology and allow more freedom to express alternatives, to listen and to learn.

Conceived as an counterforce to the elite World Economic Forum held annually in Davos, Switzerland, the World Social Forum picks up where the 1999 demonstrations against the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle left off by providing the setting for activists to create alternatives to corporate dominance. The economic agenda was not the only issue discussed at the World Social Forum when it was held in Mumbai, India in 2004. Government repression (in Burma, for example) was examined in workshops and demonstrations as was discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation or caste. The presence of Dalits, the "untouchables" at the bottom of India's elaborate (and technically illegal) caste system, was a reminder that basic human rights are far from universal. Regional issues like so-called "honor killings" and dowry practices were also discussed as were the rights of children. Jabala, a group that works with children in red light districts led a rally with the chant: "Aloo becho, machchi becho, par bachchon ko mat becho" ("sell potatoes, sell fish but don't sell children"). Thousands of children are inducted into the sex industry every year.

Throughout the four day gathering, labor groups, human rights advocates, antiwar campaigners and many others conducted boisterous processions accompanied by dancing, sign-brandishing, and drumming. Along with rallies, films, and photography exhibits, delegates had organized scores of workshops, seminars, information sharing sessions and debates. Delegates from over 130 countries discussed strategies, areas of mutual concerns and opportunities for collaborations based on newly discovered linkages between issues.

We have used the World Social Forum as the main example of this pattern because it is the most prominent meeting of this type in the world. It has shown itself to be replicable — at least so far — in its totality as a World Social Forum, but, also, in a variety of constituent regional and thematic fora. Although not all "big tents" are required to adopt the tenets of the World Social Forum, two of its principles may be useful if you are considering the idea of convening Big Tent events.

The first principle is that the Forum is an "open meeting place" or agora where issues are raised, not necessarily deliberated or used to directly plan actions. The second principle is that power is not intended to reside within the organizational structure of the WSF. The governing body of the WSF, for example, is prohibited from making statements in the name of the WSF. Also, the original "Charter of Principles states that the WSF "does not constitute a locus of power to be disputed by participants in its meetings." While both of these ideas are designed to forestall certain problems, they ironically raise other types of challenges or tensions within the WSF community. One of these is related to action vs. talk orientation, with the action-oriented people saying that after seven years it is now time for an action agenda. Another objection is related to participation vs. elitism. Although most events are organized by participants, some plenary events are generally convened and these are likely to populated by "star" activists.

One certainly has a better understanding of the enormity of the world's problems after attending a "big tent" event like the World Social Forum. On the other hand, one cannot help but feel some cautious optimism as well. Airing the problems of the world with dedicated people who are working to create "another world" is a necessary step in the solution of these problems.

Solution: 

Bringing groups together in a “big tent” where a multiplicity of perspectives is encouraged allows more opportunities for discussion of solutions to social problems and sharing of ideas that help other groups working on the same or similar issues.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

When groups work on social issues without learning what other groups are doing, opportunities for cooperation are lost. Worse, groups that should be working together sometimes argue over fine points. Bringing groups together in a Big Tent event like the World Social Forum fosters better understanding of the enormity of the world’s problems. It can also encourage collaboration and cautious optimism.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Image: Shelly Farnham, Seattle January 29, 2017. Rally for Immigrant Rights
Information about summary graphic: 

Image: Reed Schuler

Public Agenda

Pattern ID: 
462
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
30
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

At any given time, there are a few issues that are receiving "public attention." These issues change dramatically from day to day offering the public very little time to actually think about one issue, before another one takes its place. In addition to the manic novelty, the stories offer little real information, especially about alternatives or opportunities for public involvement. Even the "news" is entertainment. In the US (and other places) the "market" is credited / blamed for "giving the people what they want." Thus while television and other commercial media stupefies people, the owners merely shrug their shoulders and say that they're just giving people what they want. This turns out often to be grisly murders, cheesy voyeurism, celebrity romance (or, better, divorce), and advertisements, advertisements, advertisements. In less "free" societies, the governing elites make all decisions about what is news — and guess what — governmental misdeeds aren't news. Who decides what issues are important, what issues are on the public agenda?

Context: 

If the public agenda is simply the set of issues that people happen to have in their heads at any given time then we can say that a "public agenda" exists. If the public agenda consists of issues that ought to be considered in a public way, particularly how does society use our limited resources and what is truly important, then the public agenda is a far cry from it could be.

Discussion: 

During a 1999 interview on the local Seattle public radio affiliate, a woman who was involved in the demonstrations against the World Trade Organization in Seattle was asked "why it was necessary to break glass" to get the issues on the public agenda. She first mentioned that she and her colleagues had been trying unsuccessfully to get these issues on the public agenda for a decade and that she was opposed to using violence against people or property. She went on to say, however, that one couldn't help but notice that after windows were smashed in Seattle the media, pundits and others seemed to acknowledge the issues more readily — at least for a week or so. Hence we make the argument here that "It shouldn't be necessary to break glass" for citizens and citizen groups to get a public airing for the issues that they feel are important.

Where do the "pictures in our heads" (Lippman, 1921) and the issues that we're contemplating at the moment come from? Certainly we are all "free" to come up with something that's all our own but this is not likely to be commonplace. When we see something, something else in our mind is triggered. We may interpret the information in our particular way but the new information is the driver — not something else. At any rate, it's not the idiosyncratic and disconnected thought that's important, it's the focused, diverse, engaged and thoughtful collective mind that democracy requires. The sounds and the images that the big electronic billboard, always there and always on, holds aloft for the world to view will obviously garner more attention ("mind share") than something with less visibility — which, of course, is everything else. The press as Bernard Cohen points out, "may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but it is stunningly successful in telling it's readers what to think about"

Maxwell McCombs' and Donald Shaw's paper on "The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media" (1972) brought the notion that the mass media is instrumental to agenda-setting to prominence. This paper demonstrated that the public's answers to the perennial Gallup Poll question "What is the most important problem facing this country today?" could be predicted quite clearly by looking at the news as presented by the newspapers, network television news, and news magazines that were available at that time in the month prior to the poll. In a more recent paper, McCombs reported that since the original article, "more than 300 published studies worldwide have documented this influence of the news media."

Now, some 35 years after the original publication, the media landscape has changed considerably. People (at least in the U.S.) have more choices and many apparently "choose" to be ill-informed. The mass media with its collage of seemingly random information about movie start divorces, dog food, genocide, game shows, laugh tracks, mass starvation, cell phones, climate change, "shock jocks", trailer fires, bus plunges, talking heads, celebrity chit-chat, invasions may be actually doing more to muddle than to inform.

The Internet, however, is currently providing an interesting challenge to the hegemony of the mass media. Community networks and Indymedia showed glimpses that other ways of producing and consuming news were possible. The explosion of blogs of every type is the latest salvo along these lines. In fact, as of the end of the 2003, 2/3 of the blogs were political (Delwiche, 2005). The blogging phenomenon suggests many things including the blurring of the division between producers and consumers of journalism and the continuing fragmentation of journalism roles and venues. Some of the more interesting questions, recently explored by Aaron Delwiche (2005), are whether the blogs are — or can be — agenda-setters in their own right and whether they can serve as a tonic and an alternative to their mass-produced forbearers.

It would be naive to think the mass media will provide citizens with the information that they need without pressure from the citizenry. They'll say first that their first responsibility is their stockholders. We must remember that just because something is mentioned in the mass media doesn't mean that it's irrelevant and vapid. Although the previous statement was made with tongue in cheek, there is certainly a danger (as well as a temptation) to disregard all mass media. The realization that traditional (mass) media is ready and willing (and generally capable) of diverting attention from the important to the superfluous is a significant first step but it's just a start. Monitoring the media systems, constructing a broad and compelling alternative agenda must be an ongoing enterprise.

Solution: 

We need to think about what belongs on the public agenda and what we can do to put it there and keep it there. This may mean working in opposition to — and in cooperation with — existing media systems. It must certainly involve developing diverse and specialized "public agendas" including ones related to research as Carolyn Raffensperger and her colleagues advise (1999).

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The issues receiving "public attention" change dramatically from day to day giving us little time to actually think about one issue, before another takes its place. Who decides what issues are important, what issues are on the public agenda? The public agenda ought to be more than the set of issues that people have in their heads at any given time. We need to think about what issues belong on the Public Agenda and what we can do to put those issues there and keep them there.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wikimedia Commons

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

Cyberpower

Pattern ID: 
829
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
25
Kate Williams
Dominican University
Abdul Alkalimat
University of Toledo
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In the age of the Internet, if someone can’t send an email or browse the web, they are much like the person in the age of print who had to sign their name with an X. Many people and communities are still catching up to the information age and what digital tools offer. One word for what they offer is Cyberpower—power in cyberspace.

The usefulness of this word can be understood in comparison to another useful word: e-commerce. E-commerce is a word that summed up what businesses, coders and consumers were doing. On the basis of that summation, many more people were guided in that direction, and e-commerce became more advanced as a result. Millions are now buying and selling online, with the goods delivered in the real world. Our experience with the word cyberpower is the much same: the word came into use based on practice; then it mobilized more people to exercise their cyberpower. As with e-commerce, when you wield cyberpower, the “goods”—power—are delivered in the real world, in a cycle from actual to virtual to actual.

Context: 

Digital inequality often impacts the same people as older inequalities such as poverty, oppression, discrimination, exclusion. But the new tools are so powerful that not using them sets individuals, groups and communities even further back. The hardware and software are still changing, and only the users are able to shape them and shape the future. And a global conversation is taking place every day online. They

Discussion: 

Even as technology changes, diffuses, and becomes cheaper, digital inequalities persist. For certain populations, access is impossible or is controlled, skills are lower, support isn’t there, or the tools and resources themselves are relatively irelevant. If the core conversations and the rich information sources are all online, yet not everyone is participating or even able to observe, how do we maintain democracy? Recent calls for a dialogue of civilizations, starting with the United Nations (1998), rather than a clash of civilizations (Huntington 1998) could be taking part online, but only if everyone can see, hear, and speak in cyberspace.

It is not yet well understood, but communities in crisis—be it from poverty, disaster, war or some other adversity—are known to turn to technology for response and recovery. Cellphones, impromptu cybercafés, the Internet, all helped in the Gulf hurricane recovery. Farmers on quarantined farms quickly mastered home Internet use during England’s foot-and-mouth-disease outbreak. The US armed forces now strategize in terms of land, sea, air, and cyberspace. Immigrants all over the world have created digital diasporas. (Miller and Slater 2000) Whatever language people use to describe it, cyberpower is the driver in all these cases.

Hiphop can be seen as a technology-based response to crisis and a cyberpower project. In a community-based seminar, we proposed to create a CD of original raps about IT. Students and community members were skeptical—one said, “We don’t know anything about computers”—but all the music making was digital, the tools were put together in bedrooms and basements, and the result was a compilation of 15 tracks. Sample these lyrics by S. Supreme:

Information technology
Skipping the Black community with no apology
Flipping the power off
On an already alarming deficit,
So please, please, PLEASE, PASS THE MESSAGE KID!
Ohh Umm Diddy Dum Dum
If he don’t turn his Ice off
And turn his head past the gas of Microsoft
He’ll really be lost like the tribe, ‘cause the time is now and that’s a bet
How you throwing up a set and you ain’t on the Net,
Yet you say you’re a G?
I said I’m not Chuck D, but welcome to the terror
If you ain’t ready to build in this information era
Survival of the fittest, our rights get diminished, cats be on their Crickets
But don’t know about Linux

In this track cyberpower is talking about cyberpower.

Another example of cyberpower is our experience with an auction of Malcolm X’s papers. The sale, planned for March 2002, was discovered online, then thousands protested online and the sale was stopped. The process began when monitoring eBay for items related to Malcolm X, we discovered that eBay’s auction house, Butterfields, was about to sell thousands of pages of Malcolm’s diaries and notes, recovered from a storage locker, for an expected price of $500,000. Using the listserv H-Afro-Am, this news was spread across multiple communities of scholars, librarians, activists, and others. The American Library Association then created a story on their online news site which is fed to more sites and individuals. The next day The New York Times did a story. On the third day The Guardian newspaper ran a story about the impending sale and the online groundswell against it. The listservs and the news articles alerted the family and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, who wre able to negotiate the postponing of the sale, then its cancellation. An agreement was negotiated with the seller whereby the materials are now in the possession of the family, housed at the Schomburg’s archives. In sum, the important historical papers (actual) were being auctioned (virtual); thousands of people were mobilized (virtual); traditional media carried the story (virtual and actual); and ultimately the materials were withdrawn from sale and placed intact in a public library archive for scholars and the public (actual).

Another example of cyberpower is told by Mele (1999). Faced with a teardown of their housing project, tenants in Wilmington, Nouth Carolina wrangled the key to a long-locked community room, internet access for the lone computer (actual), and via email and listservs (virtual) recruited architects and planners to help them obtain, digest and answer developer and city plans. They won an actual seat at the negotiating table and, more important, key changes to the teardown plan that included interim and long-term housing for residents.

All sorts of new tools for exercising cyberpower are in wide usage at this writing, for example, MySpace, blogs, wikis, and the online video festival known as YouTube. Use of any of these tools locates you in a lively community. The idea from Putnam (2000) that we’re “bowling alone,” not connecting with other people in an atomized world, is, as Lin (2001) asserted, trumped by the fact that we are not computing alone.

Solution: 

Cyberpower means two related activities related to empowerment: 1) individuals, groups and organizations using digital tools for their own goals, or 2) using digital tools as part of community organizing. The general idea is that people can use cyberpower in virtual space to get power in the actual space. Cyberorganizers help get people cyberpower just as community organizers help get communities empowered.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Digital inequality often affects the same people as traditional inequalities such as poverty, oppression, discrimination, and exclusion. With Cyberpower individuals, groups and organizations use digital tools for their own goals. Cyberpower also means using digital tools as part of community organizing and development, when Cyberorganizers help people gain Cyberpower.

Pattern status: 
Released

Teaching to Transgress

Pattern ID: 
763
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
20
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Obviously, good teachers try their best to teach what they believe to be correct. Yet, the world changes so that what was true is no longer true and what was once irrelevant becomes important, even vital. Further, even with respect to things that do not objectively change, new knowledge is continually created. It is natural for students to identify with good teachers and to value their knowledge highly. A possible side-effect of this basically good process, however, is that the student may become reluctant to “go against” the teaching of their mentor/hero/professor. This reluctance occurs, not just with respect to individual teachers, but also with respect to the society as a whole.

Context: 

The world is changing rapidly and critically. For example, the human population has exploded in the last few hundred years. The consumption of fossil fuels continues basically unabated despite the signs of global warming and the finite nature of these fuels. The incredibly destructive nature of modern weaponry means that fights for limited economic resources or over restrictive and doctrinaire religions can produce unprecedented levels of human misery. Yet, many individuals, groups, and societies seem just as conservative and rigid as ever.

Discussion: 

Living organisms have existed on earth for at least 10**9 years while modern human institutions like government have only been around for about 10**4 years. Living organisms all have the capacity to change with each new generation both through mutation and re-combination. We would do well to emulate what has worked.

The United States Consititution, although a best efforts work at the time it was created, also carries within it, provision for change through Amendment and many of these have been critical to the broadening of American democracy to a wider range of citizens.

The Walking People (Underwood, 1997) describes the journey of one branch of the Iroquois Tribe over several millenia. In the process, they were forced to learn to accomodate to different physical and cultural situations. They developed numerous mechanisms both for retaining learned wisdom and for challenging and changing when new situations arose.

The need for challenge and change has probably never been greater. Nonetheless, there are many mechanisms that tend to prevent change. At the individual level, change can be uncomfortable. Typically, a targeted change in one area or domain also has unintended consequences not only in that same area or domain but in others as well. If an individual changes, this may require compensatory changes in those close to the individual. Thus, there is often resistance to change at the level of family and friends as well. Furthermore, there is often institutional resistance to change. Institutions, including corporations, work to keep any and all advantages that they already enjoy. Governments and religions also often work to keep the status quo.

Given the numerous levels at which resistance to change occurs, it is necessary to have active mechanisms that work toward change. The impacts of change need to be carefully evaluated however because not all changes, even well-intentioned ones work well.

Solution: 

In order to help prevent stagnation of knowledge, one useful strategy is for the teacher, as an integral part of their teaching, to teach “transgression”; that is, to go against the “received wisdom” — to test and rebel against it. The scope of such transgression should be wide and include all of a society's rules, prejudices, and attitudes.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Students identify with good teachers and value their knowledge highly. This might mean, however, that students might be reluctant to “go against” the teaching of their mentor/hero/professor. Teaching to Transgress actively questions and tests society's “received wisdom.” Teaching to Transgress helps instill the idea that societies must change and that we all have responsibility for promoting that change.

Pattern status: 
Released
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