social movement

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritually Grounded Activism

Pattern ID: 
786
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
24
Helena Meyer-Knapp
The Evergreen State College
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Some social change agendas and strategies are derived from sacred texts, religious doctrines and traditional spiritual practices. Grounding ones public engagement in this way can lead to productive and insightful action but such efforts are often highly charged. Contemporary societies and communities vary widely in how well they receive such initiatives -- a martyr to one group will seem like a dangerous radical to the opposition. Intermingling politics and religion can taint both, leading to false pieties in politics and making mundane the prayers and rituals which were originally spiritual in purpose.

Context: 

Groups and individuals seeking to structure social agendas have to create a sense of their purpose, and spiritual convictions often offer constructive guidance. Activists can find allies in the public debate by framing their position in religious terms. Personal resilience can be sustained by strong religious belief.

Constitutional separations between Church and State in North America and Europe are decidedly ambiguous about whether and how particular congregations should participate in public affairs. Other societies, notably those Muslim ones which base their law and the state itself on religious dogma, can find secular ethical criteria offensive. Furthermore, activism motivated by religion is often denounced as extremist by those whose motivations are strongly secular.

Discussion: 

This pattern is illustrated by a series of historical examples intended to suggest its scope. The possibilities are many and varied. Read these stories while remembering that secular organizing can be just as powerful, legitimate and insightful.

Gandhi practiced and advocated "Ahimsa," the non-violent struggle for truth, inspiring an his part of the anti-colonist movement to center on that strategy. Derived from Hindu tradition, Ahimsa applied to all features of their lives, from confrontations with the British to the ways they lived and ate and worked together. Martin Luther King, working within the Christian tradition, was able to find the religious inspiration for a similar approach to non-violence in the US Civil Rights movement. Thich Nhat Hanh andhis fellow Buddhist monks used self-suffering in the Ghandian tradition to oppose the war in Vietnam. All three movements followed a religious injunction against doing violence, although in each it was recognized that they themselves might die. The strategy continues in use at the state level in the struggle between Tibetans under the leadership of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government.

For centuries Catholic nuns, monks and brothers have been engaged in providing health care, hospitality and basic succor to the poor and needy. In recent years that work gained world wide recognition as a result of Mother Theresa’s order in India. Their practice, like the non-violence movement is both a strategic imperative and an injunction for the activists to live a certain way, in this case sharing poverty and privation with those whom they help.

For the last 50 years, women’s reproductive systems and rights have been at the center of a wide range of conflicts. Papal Encyclicals and local health center policies are alike in their ability to stimulate confrontations about contraception and abortion. In parts of Africa, religious traditions have been the basis for both challenges to and support for female "genital mutilation" or "circumcision" as it is called, depending on ones perspective. Religion, life and birth have always been linked. The relationships between medicine and religion have become quite uneasy, as much at the end of life as at the beginning.

Debt and monetary interest payments mark another area where religions have guided and inspired action on the global scale. The Christian notion of Jubilee provided the doctrinal basis for groups around the globe to press the largest banks and richest nations to support debt relief for poorer nations in the Jubilee 2000 campaign. Meanwhile, working from the Buddhist perspective, writers and activists have begun to reconfigure the definition of wealth and materialism.

Sacred environmentalism is well rooted as well, both in the United States and around the world. Connected in the US to the Transcendentalists of the nineteenth century, this movement has found a responsive reaction in many areas since place and sacred experience are so often linked.

At their best, religious practices serve not only to shape the mission, but also to guide organizational behavior. Silent retreat or a prayer meeting -- either can offer respite from the mundane. Singing together, marching together, sitting quietly in Quaker meeting together -- all of these can strengthen the sense of community. Charitable giving, cooking for the poor, visiting prisoners -- all of these can feel like religious practices when inspired by a spiritually grounded activism. Priests, Imams and other religious leaders offering blessings over an action, can ease the qualms and concerns of their followers. In all these ways, organizational resilience gains support from adherence to a religious or spiritual path. Marshall Ganz reminds us to see religion "not only as a source of “understanding” about what was right - but also as a source of the solidarity, willingness to sacrifice, anger at injustice, and courage, and leadership to take action - in other words, not only of moral “understanding” but the capacity to act on that understanding. Or, as St. Augustine said, not only of "knowing the good", but also of "loving it" enough to act on it. "

The stories in this pattern were chosen to illustrate constructive work undertaken by adherents in a variety of traditions. These same traditions have of course often been the basis for cruel, intolerant and self-righteous oppression, government and justice.

Solution: 

Remember the hymns and prayers of the American Civil Rights Movement, which exemplify ways that a healing religious practice can build solidarity among activists while holding them to laudable ethical standards. The injunctions embedded in this pattern are: by all means ground your own work in the values, the mysteries and the heritage of a religious community. At the same time, hesitate to judge others whose motives and practices are different. If secular values justify and guide your actions assume the best of those driven to act by religious convictions and likewise, if you are religious, give credence to the secular. In either case remember that ritual, whether sacred or secular, can strengthen bonds among organizers and provide them with the respite necessary to keeping on with the work of change.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Some social change agendas and strategies are derived from sacred texts, religious doctrines and traditional spiritual practices. Grounding one's public engagement in this way can lead to productive and insightful action. Remember that ritual, sacred or secular, can strengthen bonds among organizers and provide the respite necessary to keeping on with the work of change.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Friends Journal

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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