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A Pattern Language for Living Communication

Preamble / Introduction to Project

Although information and communication systems continue to link people from all over the world into a closer web, at the same time they are failing to meet society's complex needs in significant ways. These needs include the basic needs that all people share -- the right to communicate, the right to seek out information for educational and other needs without hindrance, and other individual needs. Beyond that there are collective needs as well, for people rarely accomplish anything by themselves. We believe that the civic sector has a critical role, that it is now playing to develop systems that substantially aid humankind in addressing the severe problems that in large part are caused or exacerbated by the technological and social systems of the modern world.

Many of society's most important social change movements, including the abolition of slavery, environmentalism, women's liberation and human rights, originated within civil society. For that reason it is critical that civil society be empowered with ICT (information and communication technology) to help eradicate the ills that continue to plague humankind -- war, exploitation, criminality, environmental abuse, intolerance and poverty, and create opportunities. Broadening access and use of ICT can help release the potential vitality of civil society as a creative and flexible leader in social amelioration.

The Pattern Language for Living Communication project is a long-range project to craft a useful, compelling and comprehensive collection of knowledge which reflects the wisdom of people from all over the world who are developing information and communication systems that support humankind's deepest core values. We use the term "living" to describe the complicated, organized yet flexible, organic and active role that communication plays. Living implies connectedness to the world and is intrinsic to everything we do. Our approach is related to the living - nurturing, healing, responsive.

The concept of "pattern language" comes from University of California, Berkeley, architect, Christopher Alexander and his colleagues and was developed for use in architectural and urban planning. Their ideas have been applied in numerous other settings and disciplines including object-oriented programming, ecological design, and human computer interactions. A pattern language can also reveal how to ensure that the Information Society will be a Civil Society as well.

At the May 2002 eighth biannual Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility's Seattle symposium on the social implications of computing "Shaping the Network Society: Patterns for Participation, Action, and Change", hundreds of participants from around the world began to describe a pattern language of civil society for information society. The CPSR project to create "A Pattern Language for Living Communication" is an experimental research project with funding from the (US) National Science Foundation (NSF). The project aims to collect and integrate a diverse collection of "patterns" about the information society into a coherent and compelling "knowledge structure" which reflects the wisdom of a worldwide community. A pattern is a "semi-structured" chunk of information whose primary fields include problem, context, discussion, solution, and links to other patterns. The hypothesis is that the structured nature of the patterns will help us integrate them into a coherent, interlinked pattern language that is more than the sum of its parts.

This long-term project employs a number of open-ended participatory techniques using ICT and face-to-face venues. There are now over 240 patterns submitted via the online pattern management system ( Over one hundred twenty authors from approximately twenty countries have participated. Although we are still collecting patterns in the patterns in progress "pool" (URL above) an increasing amount of work will focus on the language aspect of the project: editing, integrating, organizing, and linking patterns into a coherent whole.