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A pattern language for commons abundance

A work in progress…

This will most probably form a paper that we will submit at the Workshop of the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University in April for our workshop in June, as building the case and setting the context and first orientations for a pattern language to accelerate the shift towards a commons oriented paradigm, generative of abundance.

Why a Pattern Language?

The idea of a pattern language comes as a natural next step in the inquiry that we have started in this group. Our inquiry revolves around three series of questions, as we see the current paradigm leading our system into the wall. Which paradigm would be 'ubiquitous enough',  'strong enough' and 'generative enough' to 'inform a transition' and become prevalent? How could change agents following their own individual engagement and action logics become 'structured' and empowered by this new paradigm? How could people learn to discover and understand each other and engage in emergent transformative processes in participatory ways that enhance their relational capabilities and their impact as change agents?

In a series of documents and articles, we have elaborated on the fact that the commons take multiple forms and could well be this paradigm and transition informing image. This approach already was leaning towards working on systemic principles and building blocks -components of a pattern language. NORA is a pattern language of sorts without the designation… We can go further with building blocks generative of commons. Sustainability itself could be rethought in terms of commons, providing appropriate elements of inquiry for validation. We suggested, here and there, that the commons would constitute a strong scaffolding vision or underlying logic that could be 'expressed' in multiple languages and help derive the 'narratives' that could at the same time empower change agents at their own 'location' and contribute to the coalescence of their efforts and the acceleration of what is already emerging. We looked at how the commons were actually embodied in parts or whole system in much of the change that was currently taking place and the actions of many of the various movements for change, so as to become the basis for an alternative political philosophy for systemic change where we acknowledge ourselves and each-other as part of the world, exploring what differentiates us and the choices we make to expand the impacts of our collective actions. Our goal is to create practical tools that change agents, activists and movements, or any multi-stakeholder group can use on the ground.


How can disparate efforts coalesce?

We all have a different opinion about the same reality and believe we hold the best one.

The problem is that we each try to convince others that our solutions are the best, or we want to construct and to agree on shared representations of reality, which leads us either to ineffective sameness that satisfies no-one (floppy consensus as we say in French), or to a reduction of variety that can ultimately put us at systemic risk (totalitarianism), or to conflict. Alternatively, when we look for solutions, it is extremely difficult to find, in the noise and mass of possibilities locked in databases or as disseminated experience, those that are in phase with our aspirations and that we would feel empowered enough to follow through with.

What creates the barriers to our understanding, collaboration and agreements are our limiting assumptions, theories and models of the world, our cognitive preferences and the ways we process information and meaning, as well as the language, words and forms of narratives we use, which all influence our understanding and interactions and hinder relational dynamics. These are at the same time barriers or limiting factors to productive collaboration in multi stakeholder environments, and what brings us together in our shared activities and defines the types of responses we are looking for.

We gather as communities of practice, assembling and reassembling in clusters of shared intentions, or groups of collective individuation (re Stiegler), creating frameworks around the objects of our attention, intentions or actions: the social objects relevant to our action or engagement logics. There are several types of variables and processes that come into play in the formation of these logics and frameworks. (to be developed there may be interesting additional things to explore here)(I would also like to develop here the notion of 'power' as the capacity to act as in Adam Kahane, Power & Love: that the love is the underlying force/aspiration that holds us together and power as capacity to act what focuses us to come to conclusions and to be effective on our action oriented social object… also that the 'boundary' Kahane got inspired by Martin Luther King's "Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”)

On the one hand, these frameworks enable people to rally around specific causes and to align on representations of the world, priorities and pathways, and to make decisions in a cohesive manner, and it is important that they keep this effectiveness within their own niche of action, because the impact of a change agent speaking the language of his own community of practice will be greater for drawing adhesion and getting things done than the language deriving from an artificially constructed shared vision of the world. On the other hand, as these frameworks are bounded by the limiting factors listed above, they are 'exclusive' of other engagement logics and frameworks. They therefore exclude 'the other' by construction because they focus, prioritize, etc on their own object of engagement. Stiegler offers some thoughts on what actually occurs within ourselves and between each other in the processes of categorization and co-individuation ( &

If we can describe our reality and the phenomena we observe, and learn to distinguish in the perspectives of others what is different from our own, then we don't need to 'bargain' a middle ground or a synthesis. Just by acknowledging differences and by learning to discover what we don't know, we open up natural channels through which understanding can flow and things (including agreement) can happen. Probably the process is something close to what I describe from slide 4 in this presentation. When applied to group interactions, this is what Bonnitta Roy, Mushin Schilling and Anne Caspari call participatory clarity. (< add info on the experiment). This probably leads to what Stiegler describes as transindividuation, the process through which both the “I” and the “We” are transformed through one another.

Bonnie, Mushin and Anne define 5 types of participatory relations that help reach participatory clarity in a discovery process (to be further developed).

We try and reach clarity while we manage to let go of our limiting assumptions and processes. I see some commonality here with Argyris' Action Science methodology which underlines the need to walk each other through each other's thinking.

The clusters I have distinguished in the federating efforts presentation using action logics as described by Barrett Brown and Suzanne Cook-Greuter are descriptive of perspectives and preferences, and modus operandi and not prescriptive as Spiral Dynamics may be. There is no 'better' action logic than another, or no need to get people to evolve from one to another. All are 'real' and present. And they help inform the diversity of manners in which we construct meaning and make sense of things. There may be other ways of grouping and describing forms of engagement and action, other possible meaning making segmentations, ways of 'sorting' or grouping categories that emerge from various engagement patterns. We will be looking for others.

These clusters can be defined as participatory collectives that each function with their own logic and unity, they form 'nodes in descriptive enactments of participation' – Bonnie, to be 'unpacked' :).

Conceiving a pattern language integrating these dimensions would help create an architecture of participation oriented towards participatory clarity, and help learners and change agents in various communities of practice compose the 'solutions' to theirs 'needs' of in a more effective way. Such pattern language would be conceived around the elements that shape the various engagement logics and clusters of engagement and would help people in various clusters, navigate the space of possibilities in ways that resonates with their own engagement logic, to discover the unknown and expand the boundaries of their understanding and action. Some ideas of tools to enable this are outlined here.

The Commons as Transformative Paradigm

(under construction) Much of what sustainability and social change are about is related in a form or another to protecting the environment, people, resources from over-exploitation and abuse, in other words protecting what we share in common and is generative of life: the commons. Even if they seem engaged in different and sometimes opposed priorities and niche clusters of engagement, forming artificial silos, as we saw above, each social and environmental change agent holds a piece of a solution to the various manifestations of the tragedy of the commons and a piece of a response to making the world a thriving place, each takes care of one form or expression of the commons logic, whether it be an object of care, a process or practice, or an outcome. Show me the action and I will show you the commons is an article that shows how the commons logic spans way beyond what commons activists define as 'state of the art' commons. The commons logic can be seen at the same time as a manifestation of the unicity and diversity of ways of directing our participatory 'generative' attention and care to create or (re)generate 'plural' commons, and as the underlying logic that ties everything together to nurture and (re)generate the Commons as a whole. Recognizing this can help efforts coalesce and wholeness to be grasped without needing to create grand plans of unified vision and action.

On a high note, the abstract of The Participatory Collective and the Commons presentation that Anne Caspari, Bonnitta Roy, Mushin Schilling will be giving during our workshop at the Ostrom Conference reads:

At the end of the anthropocene era, the commons have been carved up into isolated islands. This has put the commons into jeopardy.  As we isolate our selves through categories of inclusion and exclusion, as individual people, nations, corporations — the commons has been subtly reduced to bounded places. We need to reverse this process, and reimagine the commons as a sacred, unbounded participatory place where we come to life, where we create more life, where we live in community with each other and participate in the larger life-affirming field of bio-psycho-cultural-conceptual diversity.
The truth is, we are always already participating — participation  is the fundamental requirement for life itself. The tragedy is that we are not participating fully, with full consciousness and absolute trust in the participatory nature of living-being.
It is possible to overcome the isolation by a process that interweaves individuals into participatory collectives that enhances bio-psycho-social-conceptual diversity without the need to unify them. In this process a new kind of “inner commons” emerges, as an expanded space that includes both the uniqueness and the interconnection between the participants. The sacred space is experienced first hand and can therefore function as solid, trusted foundation for reimagining the commons in the outer world, and gaining insight into the many facets of participatory diversity where all beings truly belong.

How everyone is connected which precisely creates each person's (or being's) uniqueness may also be made clear through the Buddhist metaphor of "Indra's net". Imagine a net extending in all directions, at each node of which is a jewel – which reflects all other jewels in the net. Anything that happens anywhere in the net will be reflected somehow in each jewel; in a sense the totality is contained in each single jewel. However, each jewel reflects the totality in its particular way depending on where it is situated, so each reflection is unique and not reducible to the others.

In practical terms, we will look for and describe the various forms of commons logic that underlie various change and engagement logics, and we will focus on the transformative and generative mechanisms in use to protect, nurture, grow every form of commons and commons logic and to actively out-design and prevent enclosure, over-exploitation and abuse of the commons as conditions for existence. We will also focus on actively spreading and instilling the logic of the commons and the associated generative patterns in social change activity and alternatives that already exists, to accelerate an emergent transformation process. We will add in the mix the provisions that would prevent this logic and the resulting commons to be co-opted, so that agents of change can feel more confident that the practices, models or policies they recommend actually prevent abuse, over exploitation or enclosures.

In other words, we are looking for practical applications for bringing to awareness the common ground elements that would help 'activate' and leverage agency wherever it can be found (and in particular in the mainstream) in ways that nurtures the commons at all levels and in all its dimensions and that could lead on the one hand to the elaboration of learning and multistakeholder dialogue facilitation methodologies, and on the other hand, to systems of 'orientation' within possibilities and solutions, for people and groups to assemble their own sets of solutions that 'fit' their aspirations and engagement logics.


Pattern Language & the Commons

The Peeragogy handbook quotes Christopher Alexander:

"…work in piecemeal ways to decentralize the process of learning and enrich it through contact with many places and people all over the city: workshops, teachers at home or walking through the city, professionals willing to take on the young as helpers, older children teaching younger children, museums, youth groups traveling, scholarly seminars, industrial workshops, old people, and so on. Conceive of all these situations as forming the backbone of the learning process; survey all these situations, describe them, and publish them as the city's "curriculum"; then let students, children, their families and neighborhoods weave together for themselves the situations that comprise their "school" paying as they go with standard vouchers, raised by community tax. Build new educational facilities in a way which extends and enriches this network."

Encounters with and making sense of diversity is key to learning… Learning as a journey of discovery, transforming learners into explorers…

Looking at the actual elements of Alexander's patterns beyond their conceptual description, what comes to mind is that they are not only problem solving principles, but they are also systems-structuring and generative elements with their own 'virtuous' feedback loops that can be applied at various levels and scales 'as we go', as things are unfolding, enabling to go from liquid to solid… the diversity of which creates a resilient 'structure' that is generated both in a constructed and in an emergent way, creating a form of meshwork… It's like the scaffold is being built as we go, and the existing structure becomes the scaffold for more… enabling to add new 'blocks'… Lego… Imagine elements with all the hooks and bridges that would enable connection and reconnection to other generative elements to form a newer always more resilient and 'true to purpose' whole… with ways to visualize the parts and wholes as things unfold and evolve, to navigate the adjacent possibles from our respective localities… learning and identifying needs and opportunities on the way… a mosaic of possibilities  assembled in the logic of each community of practice, cluster of engagement logic.

One can refer to Christopher Alexander's more recent idea of "centres" as the 'why/what for' determinant of the attributes of a design and from there relate to the notion of "pattern".  Centres are, for Alexander, the essence of life. "Patterns" are combined in 'generative sequences' to create/(re)design better "centres."

Centres in our specific case would be what people rally around, what I called social objects above towards which people direct their attention/care, intention/purpose and action/practice, driven by their own engagement and action logics. Seeing centres as essence of life, as nodes of embodiment of commons logic, sits quite well with the definition of commons as factors of livelihood and enablement, generative of abundance, to be nurtured or (re)generated or with Marina Garcés' approach of commons or the common world as the conditions for existence (see alternative political philosophy of systemic change doc).

These centres are constitutive of commons health and protection, designed or 'constructed' not as representation of a desired social order, but as generative systems. And the patterns, assembled for each centre/social object according to its own internal drive or engagement logic would be aimed at 'bettering' the commons in whole or in part in all its forms and dimensions.

So in practical terms, the patterns we envision are not prescriptive of solutions, they are prescriptive of generative principles, mechanisms, and inquiry processes and they orient retrieval of information and decision making towards specific systemic effects (re)generative of the commons.


Scope and Milestones

The pattern language we envision is based on the underlying logic of the commons – scarcity/ abundance – non exploitation/ non enclosure, elements that would contain the protective/nurturing and participatory elements of the commons as conditions for existence, mapped on forms of engagements / action logics. It will connect research with relevant data and documented practical solutions, maps of the commons or alternatives, in particular it will connect elements of NORA and other knowledge bases, with observations of commons 'in action' shared at The WOW5 conference in June in Indiana, and with the findings that we will arrive to with our collaborators in the our WOW5 Work Session around various forms of meaning, sense-making and engagement logics, and the latest research on generative processes and participatory methodologies. Peeragogy will intervene as far as learning and diffusion patterns are concerned, and we will seek a partner in media/art, building learning and discovery journeys… Partnership with the GAP and UIA would expand our capabilities as far as learning, action research, and solutions databases are concerned.

This language would serve as a basis for commons friendly sustainable design and provide ways for vetting sustainability initiatives and other declared commons friendly policy as suggested here.

DEEEP and CONCORD are moving the Johannesburg Global Citizens Movement process forward. The process team of which Helene is a part will be holding space for various civil society movements and activist groups to discover and make sense of each other and find ways for their efforts to coalesce without needing to build any common 'program'. Such a pattern language would help achieve this more effectively.

This initiative would be the point of connection between several projects in various disciplines and a way to clarify the complexity of what we have been discussing… This is an attempt at describing what we are up to in a new de-complexified (?) way.


A Pattern Language (re)generative of the Commons

This project is about creating the framework for a pattern language system (ecosystem, ecology?) for a paradigm shift so that change agents in each cluster of engagement logic can create their own stories, and point to their own pathways,  changing paradigm locally around them, with multiple distributed vectors for change orient themselves however toward a shared aspiration or way of being and doing, even if this aspiration cannot be described and structured in an universal way… so that disparate efforts can coalesce.

A 2011 research program shows that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of the society. (The thesis is developed in Gladwell's Tipping Point 2000). This article does not provide a link to the actual research and we would need to investigate further and find other sources.

The idea is to initiate an ongoing process of locally animated change everywhere and on every scale at once, with change occurring in various shapes, tastes and colors…



We see this pattern language founded on the logic of the commons as generative system, understood as what we hold, nurture, care for in common (our shared assets and conditions for existence mindfully managed), how we do it (in a participatory generative sustainable process) in order to find pathways to thrivability (as outcome)…

We are orienting ourselves toward multi-variable multi-layered pattern language, constructed around the notion of 'social objects' as "centers" or nodes of embodiment of commons logic and 'connective tissue' that bring various cohesive elements together. The pattern language, as design ecosystem would comprise:
  • A set of underlying design principles, the underlying logic, or 'grammar' including the mechanisms, participatory and generative processes and feedback loops that will enable the commons to be protected, nurtured, grown 'by design' and preserved against over-exploitation, abuse, or enclosure, as well as the anti-patterns and mechanisms to identify as corrupt, and to stay away from from..
  • The heuristics, inquiry processes that will help combine complementary patterns to build new 'centres'. This would include principles of pharmacology  and self-regulation of pattern application such as described below, as well as provisions to avoid co-optation of a pattern.
  • The derived building blocks, or 'vocabulary', that will help change agents in each cluster of engagement logic compose solutions and pathways and create the narratives, or expressions of these underlying principles in forms and narratives or realities they can relate to, and that will appropriately help operate change 'locally', with all the diversity and meshing generated across clusters.
  • This ways of connecting the elements above to existing practical applications, the connections between these elements, and their relationship with cultural aspects and forms of sense making and engagement which would enable their easy discovery and retrieval, making databases of solutions 'actionable' – an 'orientation system', and which would also enable to navigate between domains.
  • The protocols for 'conversation' within and between 'languages', for mutual understanding in multi-stakeholder groups, discovery of each other's logics and operating modes, and dealing with conflicting interests, trade-offs, etc… in participatory processes.
  • The means of composition and diffusion of narrative within and across action logic clusters via media, art, SOLE and Peer Learning accelerators, enabling self and peer discovery pathways.
  • The tools and technologies that would make visualization, contextualization, matching, navigation, learning easier…
Picture source:
In the ancient fable of the elephant and the blind men. People can describe each part of the elephant from where they stand, but can't make sense of the whole elephant. The pattern language would try to bring the reality (or possibility?) of the elephant into each part, so that it's the elephant materializes as a whole when all piece are described… and not a set of unrelated parts…
The need for collaboration arises because we are different, not because we are the same. If we were all the same, why would one have to supply what the other cannot – we could all do the same things! Thus the different men see different parts of the elephant, and it's only when there is effective communication among them, recognizing that they will necessarily sense different things depending on where they are, that they can begin to realize what that beast really is. Trying to deny, eliminate, or gloss over our differences will prevent us from ever seeing what each of us alone cannot see.
What makes this way of viewing change unique is how it refers to both the information and logics we have and operate on and the information and logics we're individually missing, at the same time… What it takes to find the complementary shapes one thing can use with others to build new things involves exploration and questioning, a playful mind and approach it's often said. A participatory process leading to participatory clarity as described above.

On structure and order

Structure and order are often points of contention when it comes to problem solving. If the various forms of generative processes, each with specific internal dynamics, would prescribe specific types of structure for the commons as Bonnitta Roy suggests in her paper referenced in the notes below, there are many other variables in play in 'deciding' or settling which structural mechanisms are to be involved and how order can be 'constructed' or understood, that may influence choices and decision making. Some are internal to the decision maker's situation, others are contingent:

Internal variables comprise:

  • The type and degree of homogeneity in action logics / worldviews of a decision group (Graves/Cook-Greuter)
  • The types of cognitive preferences of a decision group and their degree of homogeneity (Jung/MBTI) 

Catalysts or 'retarders' comprise

  • The degree of empowerment of a change maker or a team and its capacity to assess a situation
  • The degree of autonomy of a change maker or a team in self-designing and recomposing structure
  • The resources available
  • The tools and methodologies available for making sense of situations and generating mutual understanding for 'co-constructing' required elements of structure.

External variables comprise:

  • The degree of complexity and predictability of situations (Cynefin)
  • The requirements and effects of time and accumulation on the process and the organizational life cycles
  • The scale of an activity and level of intervention
  • The Interdependencies/trade-offs that may need to be negotiated
  • The relational dynamics and power relations

For example beginnings as open infinite games or conversations within the greater open infinite game can be structureless and then activities structures themselves on their own contingencies as conversations progress and projects crystallize, in more or less 'liquid' ways, with 'shape' being a function of what arises, in relation to what the other variables allow.

In the case of cities for example, patterns are composed and recomposed, generating and regenerating a scaffold as they grow, optimized with models such as Alexander's pattern language, which can explain why organizations die (they don't know how to recompose and recombine), but Cities don't (Geoffrey West)…


Questions answered

The pattern language would orient people toward combining elements of solution and structures generative of commons the most relevant to their context and action logic, and guide them through the process, answering questions such as:
  • Within my own context, how can I assess the ‘generative potential’ and participatory nature of a given activity and my margin of maneuver to propose and implement change?
  • Within a given activity, what generative processes and structures would we need to set up, which of them would we need to change to generate a greater ‘generative’ outcome/impact. How can the message be effectively conveyed?
  • How could I reorient my work towards something meaningful. If I am looking to make a certain type of impact, which activities and processes would be the most suited for me and my group, the context I’m in etc…
  • We are a group of change agents, activists, NGOs, organizations seeking to collaborate. How can we identify the type of generative outcome we each contribute, how can our activities nurture each other, what is missing for our individual and collective action to be more generative?
  • We are a group of stakeholders with conflicting interests, or we are negotiating commons friendly or sustainable policy. How can we assess and compare the participatory and generative potential of various options? How can we design our proposals to minimize risks of co-option?

In particular, as far as language or vocabulary are concerned (and vocabulary twist has been an issue in discussion among commons activists), solutions associated terminology could be submitted to the following heuristics:

  • What type of alternative/solution is this term associated to. What issues is it meant to solve. 
  • What  are the elements/interpretations that go against the commons logic: In  which conditions can the term be detrimental to the commons logic/not  acceptable – How/why would it prevent the issues to be solved – How  could the term serve corrupt goals if its application is not associated  to the right mechanisms (anti-pattern) – What should anyone using these  terms to 'advance' sustainable goals should beware of and check  (privatization, creation of a market, extraction for profit, reduction  of access, etc… elements that go against the commons logic) 
  • What  are the elements/interpretations that work in favor of the commons  logic: In which conditions is the term beneficial to the commons  logic/acceptable – How would it help solve the issues – How could this  particular term serve the commons logic even better (patterns,  mechanisms). What are the things to examine, look at (reduction of  exploitation/extraction/abuse, and or participatory governance etc). 
  • What  associated terms/patterns can help address the issue more effectively in a commons logic. (That's a goal of the pattern language to combine solutions optimal to improve commons health, and what NORA – the knowledge base of the CAN-  currently proposes through approaches for creating greater abundance).


NORA as the premises of a pattern language

NORA, the knowledge base of the Commons Abundance Network, works as a classification system that puts in relation observations of commons experience on the ground with libraries of knowledge and solutions, and shows how things are inter-related, very much in the way Christopher Alexander or Douglas Schuler built their pattern language.

The pattern language such as we are envisioning it would make NORA, and other 'libraries of solutions' much more 'actionable' by adding an exploration, learning and action 'engine' to it. Making the data accessible and assemblable in ways that address cultural/cognitive and inter-subjectivity challenges…

Wolfgang writes on NORA and interoperability between maps of Commons:

The logic underlying NORA may be useful in creating interoperability between maps.
Those maps which primarily address needs would fall under the Needs aspect of NORA. For example, maps of food security issues, access to clean water, etc.

  • Maps that show where different kinds of commons have been established, where there are credit unions, cooperatives of various types, etc., would fall under the Organizational Forms aspect of NORA.
  • Maps showing the quantity and quality of resources, ranging from air quality to biodiversity, and including assets created by people (for example, transport and communications infrastructure) and intangibles (such as knowledge resources) would fall under the Resources aspect of NORA.
  • Finally, maps that attempt to integrate information from all three of the above areas would fall under the Abundance aspect of NORA (for example, maps attempting to show sustainable well-being defined in various ways).

The above classification system could work not just for entire maps, but also for each information category on a map – for example, if a map includes both needs and resources related information, each of these information items could be classified within the NORA system.

On how knowledge bases of observed practices/applications and patterns relate (what Joe call the 'connective tissues'), Wolfgang refers to the four-volume work "The Nature of Order" (Volume 2, Chapter 11: The Sequence of Unfolding), in which Alexander provides a set of instructions on how to go about designing/constructing a Japanese tea house.

Designing/constructing is a single process for Alexander, it is an ordered process of first attending to one aspect of the layout that has to come first, then to another and so on, until you get a tea house with its garden that provides a sense of tranquility and peace even if that place is surrounded by a busy city. That set of instructions Alexander calls a "generative sequence," the perceived similarities among tea houses constructed in this way can be taken as a "pattern," while the tea house that results is a centre that itself consists of many smaller centres, and exists in close interaction with surrounding centres (as for example the garden, the vegetation in it, the garden wall, etc.).

So, in a knowledge base, we can work on providing (and subsequently improving on) patterns and potentially generative sequences as well, that can be used to create better centers. The experience of working with these patterns should of course feed back into our efforts, so that our knowledge base becomes increasingly useful.


Pharmacology and the limits of accumulation

A notion to incorporate in our patterns is the notion of pharmakon developed by Bernard Stiegler.

"Pharmakon is the Greek word meaning both poison and medicine… Stiegler proposed the concept of pharmacology (positive and negative) requiring a general organology that includes all artifices (tools, machines, prosthetics, recording and communication devices) that inform the politics and ethics of care (health vs. disease)." Nootechnics website

As much as a medicine can become a poison when abused, and a poison can become a medicine in small quantities (re arsenic in homeopathy), patterns can become anti-patterns if abused, and small doses of anti-patterns can be beneficial if only to keep the system in 'watch'.

One can refer here to the work of Bernard Lietaer & team on sustainability of nature's complex flow systems applied to monetary structure, describing the “Window of Viability” in which all sustainable natural ecosystems operate, at the point of optimal balance between two polarities such as efficiency and resilience. Similar approaches could be taken with other polarities such as competition and collaboration… etc…

Anything that is over applied reduces the variety and resilience of the system and makes it brittle or ends up by poisoning the system. One of the reasons our system is going into the wall is that we over apply recipes, loosing track of why they were used in the first place. We over-apply models or patterns and concentrate on measuring the rate of application of the models not the outcome and the accumulated effects of the model, or we apply the wrong models to situations.

We will be looking at which 'pairs' of patterns can help optimize each other, and at incorporating in our patterns some heuristics to explore the points at which a patterns can become an anti-pattern.

See Clayton Christensen on scarcity or abundance of capital and circumstance contingent application of models start at 8'20'' the view of a Harvard Business School professor on the capitalist dilemma.


Relating patterns: example 1

It's useful to remember that a "pattern language" isn't just a collection of patterns, but also an indication of how the patterns fit together.  Here's an example image from the Peeragogy Handbook that shows how some of the main peeragogy patterns relate to one another, to the main chapters of the book, and to some "individual problem solving heuristics".
When looking at the organization of this image, it's useful to remember Christopher Alexander's admonishment that a "City is not a Tree".  A language shouldn't be, either.  The tree-like structure indicated above is only a starting point!   A more detailed, interconnected, and possibly recursive structure will be observed in practice.  Nevertheless, this simplification is useful for visualizing the structure and main ideas in the Peeragogy Handbook.

Relating patterns: example 2

If we look at pattern grouping in terms of sense-making or understanding, then we can create navigation for self- or collaborative discovery and learning pathways, where people can explore the unknown from what is familiar, and navigate from one possibility to another, to broaden horizons, such as described by Helene here, giving life to Stuart Kaufman's 'adjacent possible' as described by Stephen Johnson in The Origins of Good Ideas, WSJ Sept 2011.
"The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven't visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn't have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you'll have built a palace."
The example below, showing Lexical distances among languages in Europe is a good illustration. Imagine if possibilities and patterns could be mapped by degree of familiarity/closeness with each other, creating an impressionistic map of the domain of the possible… enabling by successive hops to discover other clusters and worlds…


Further references

1. More recent work by Christopher Alexander is about "connecting centers."  He proposes that there are 15 different "underlying" patterns (to use Helene's term):

(1) Levels of Scale, (2) Strong Centers, (3) Thick Boundaries, (4) Alternating Repetition, (5) Positive Space, (6) Good Shape, (7) Local Symmetries, (8) Deep Interlock and Ambiguity, (9) Contrast, (10) Gradients, (11) Roughness, (12) Echoes, (13) The Void, (14) Simplicity and Inner Calm, (15) Not Separateness.

One simple way of blending the "early Alexander" with the "mature Alexander" would simply be to connect each of the patterns we generate with one or more of these underlying ways of connecting things.  See: (overview) and (excerpt).

2. An article, “Manifesto 1991” by Christopher Alexander, Progressive Architecture, July 1991, pp. 108–112, provides a brief summary of Alexander’s ideas in the form of a critique of mainstream architecture.  Some highlights are excerpted here.  It's important take care when understanding Alexander's stance, i.e. although he proposes a very general system, he himself has a particular cultural orientation.  We can be aware of this without ourselves judging it as right or wrong — but let's proceed with due caution.

3. A book (or paper?) on P2P Urbanism by Nikos Salingaros: takes Alexander's patterns to another dimension: "The definition and ideals of P2PUrbanism are constructed from the bottomup. This process takes scientific results and theories on human biological and social needs and adds them to the ontheground experience of a myriad of actors and agencies (architects, urbanists, small firms, professional studios, NGOs, social workers, etc.) that are confronted daily with urban problems on the microscale."

4. An article "Leading the 21st Century : The Conception-Aware, Object-Oriented Organization" by Bonnitta Roy, decribes a Generative Systems Model : The “G5” – Five Generative Processes that "entail unique internal dynamics, give rise to unique types of structural organization, and operate in fundamentally different ways". It would be interesting to explore how this model can help design patterns to generate and nurture commons, and how process narratives come in the picture in relation to generative processes and action logics.

5. As far as what we know and don't know and therefore in terms of how/when to apply which type of inquiry, what comes to mind is Snowden's Cynefin Model. We could further explore how this can be relevant to the pattern language system.

6. Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution by Douglas Schuler

7. Apprenticeship Patterns: Guidance for the Aspiring Software Craftsman  – looks relevant for learning-related stuff; not quite the same as peeragogy but adjacent.

8. Other resources for pattern languages and sense making are available here.

Discussion (28)

  1. Profile photo of Joe Corneli Joe Corneli says:

    I think this is one place where we can start to contribute to the FLOK project, especially their theme on "Commons Infrastructure for Collective Life" which is a good test-case for applicability of this idea.  Their division into Housing / Health & Social Care / Food & Urban Agriculture / Collaborative Consumption / Sustainability already sounds like a high-level set of patterns, and very Alexander-ish already.

  2. Yes, I was telling Wolfgang that NORA was actually a pattern language à la Alexander –in his 'original' approach to patten language. And Wolfgang will be working with Janice Figueiredo on a Taxonomy for part of the FLOK project based on NORA.

    Actually Joe, I think Alexander in it's 'original' system lego version addresses things coming together in self-organized ways at the paradigmatic level, and what I understand of Alexander's newer version of pattern language addresses the participatory process of learning and planning some things in common and reaching some forms of common understanding and co-creation capability.

    And we are actually doing both here… 🙂

  3. Reformulating here what I said above (as you incorporated the notion of early and later Alexander in the doc itself joe).

    What we would need to find/establish are:

    The essential principles, processes, patterns (the grammar) that make the provisions for the commons to be sanctuarized, protected, nurtured rather than over exploited, abused, or enclosed

    The derived expression (the vocabulary) that will help the change agents in each cluster of action logic create the narrative, manifestation, reality of these underlying principles, that will appropriately help operate the change 'locally', in all the diversity that can be generated from these essential principles.

    > That's where observation of practices on the ground and NORA at the practical level, and the work with Barrett Brown and the action logic workgroups in Indiana at the cluster identifying level comes in the picture

    Then there's another level to work on which is the protocols or methodologies for 'conversation'. Finding ways to map the various languages so that the other clusters and their modes of functioning can become visible and known from the change agents in each cluster… And the protocols, methodologies that would best enable mutual understanding, discovery of each other's logics and operating modes, and conversation / transaction to deal with conflicting interests, trade-offs, etc… in participatory processes.

    > That's where Bonnitta Roy, Mushin Schilling and Anne Caspari enter the picture in the journey towards Indiana.

  4. Adding this paper on complexity rising with elements of processes and structures. For further processing:

  5. It may be good in this piece to emphasize the point that the need for collaboration arises because we are different, not because we are the same. If we were all the same, why would one have to supply what the other cannot – we could all do the same things! Thus the different men see different parts of the elephant, and it's only when there is effective communication among them, recognizing that they will necessarily sense different things depending on where they are, that they can begin to realize what that beast really is. Trying to deny, eliminate, or gloss over our differences will prevent us from ever seeing what each of us alone cannot see.

  6. Let me copy here what @joe-corneli and @wolfgang-hoeschele wrote on "centres" in another thread, so that we can continue the discussion here.

    Joe wrote (joe I deleted your initial reference to the other thread and my subsequent question and request for more info as this replaces it):

    "Just want to cross-link to another discussion, where I'm proposing one way to use Christopher Alexander's notion of "centres" (and ultimately, relate that to "patterns"):

    I think it could be easiest to connect to Christopher Alexander's more recent idea of "centres" and from there to the notion of "pattern".    The "centre" idea came up in today's peeragogy meeting (although maybe it was in disguise).  Here's a lightly-edited quote from the meeting that I hope will illustrate:

    If the individuals "bucket" well, i.e. if people define their footprint, their expertise, value-contribution, and we put that mosaic together, that defines the resource pool & service providers, and people can align and join these buckets.  It’s not ego-centric around the individual person in a declarative way.  Rather, it's about creating centres or memes for various parts of the peeragogy contribution.  Then we can figure out the connective tissues & the mappings to make each of these correlated to applications.

    Centres are, for C.A., the essence of life, so it makes sense to connect them to a notion of need.  We might also avoid getting to tangled with the Illich critique of "need culture" if we look at the idea in a very broad way.  (C.A. is extremely broad!)

    (I'm not sure how to connect back to "patterns" but I suspect there's prior literature on that.)"

    Wolfgang wrote:

    "I think the way one might put it is that "patterns" represent approaches to creating better "centers." So, for example, in his four-volume work "The Nature of Order", Alexander provides a set of instructions how to go about designing/constructing a Japanese tea house. Designing/constructing is a single process for Alexander, which is why I put them together like this. It's an ordered process of first attending to one aspect of the layout that has to come first, then to another and so on, until you get a tea house with its garden that provides a sense of tranquility and peace even if that place is surrounded by a busy city. So, that set of instructions can be taken as a "pattern," while the tea house that results is a center that itself consists of many smaller centers, and exists in close interaction with surrounding centers (as for example the garden, the vegetation in it, the garden wall, etc.).

    So, in a knowledge base, we can work on providing (and subsequently improving on) patterns that can be used to create better centers. The experience of working with these patterns should of course feed back into our efforts, so that our knowledge base becomes increasingly useful."

  7. What I'm seing now in your definition @joe-corneli is that these centers could be what people rally around, what I called social objects (what attracts people together, towards which they direct their attention/care, intention/purpose and action/practice). The objects of attention and care (the asset to take care of with a set of practices to a certain end), and in our case the commons that our pattern language would aim to nurture and (re)generate. You say that for Alexander centres are the essence of life, which 'fits' quite well with the definition of commons as factors of livelihood and enablement generative of abundance, or what I discovered recently the definition of Marina Garcés (see alternative political philosophy doc) of commons or common world as the conditions for existence.

    So the set of patterns as described by @wolfgang-hoeschele would be aimed at 'bettering' the commons in whole or part in all forms and dimensions, as assets/resources, as practices/organizational forms, as outcome or output, partly or wholly.

    The centres are constitutive of the commons. Designed or 'Constructed' not as representation of a social order, but as generative systems.

    Would this resonate with what you had in mind Joe and Wolfgang?

  8. @joe-corneli @wolfgang-hoeschele, I moved to the doc and inserted in relevant places the comments that you made yesterday and today, plus added a table of content. Let me know how it sounds. 🙂

  9. Here's an article with interesting perspectives on agency it takes a historical viewpoint to discuss "to what extent, if any, can humans be purposeful agents of historical change", making interesting relationships on narrative and agency, and how the perspective people have on their own agency and agency in general shapes their choices and actions.

    What is interesting to note is the authors puzzlement and hesitations on which views to chose, and call for a need to look at things in ways that are not foreign to what we are doing here:

    " I don’t know what I should do, nor how I should recommend my friends and family to act and react.  I do, however, believe that we in the post-carbon world need to reassess where the lines between hope and possibility, reality and fantasy might lie.  We need to start thinking more deeply about politics and the discourse of power.  We need to reflect upon the possibilities and limits of human agency, the logic of collective action, the mechanisms of social change.  Moral philosophy and deep spirituality may be our solace and salvation." I will add this bit in the political philosophy document.

    As far as pattern language is concerned, this gets me thinking that agency may be something important to connect generative processes and process narratives to engagement logics. I will develop a section on generative processes such as mapped by Bonnitta Roy and agency.

    It seems the nature of the processes generative of change determine the agent and how human agency applies.


    So G5 Generative processes > Type of human agency leeway > Type/nature of possible engagement/action? to be expressed in the process and engagement narrative relevant to an agent's engagement/action logic? (in relation with other variables in the mix)

  10. An important paper shared by Joe. Anthropology is not ethnography by Tim Ingold – British anthropologist:

    "organic life is social"

    "process, not substance"

    "any particular phenomenon on which we may choose to focus our attention enfolds within its constitution the totality of relations of which, in their unfolding, it is the momentary outcome." > relating this to Alexander's centers

    This reminds of Eugene Gendlin saying something similar… that a moment's unfolding contains the elements of the next moment's unfolding…


  11. Profile photo of Joe Corneli Joe Corneli says:

    Note, Tim Ingold is using in this article the notions of explicate and implicate orders from David Bohm. This has been taken forward in a scientific context (not just in a new-age context, although it's also discussed there).  Here's a little bit of Bohm in his own words: 

  12. Joe, I used to think that Bohm's view might apply generally, but then found readily observable cases where the idea that nature is "just complicated" really can't explain the richly vaired and rapidly developing new forms of organization one so often sees.  They seem to present the "ultimate mismatch in variety" of disorder causing order without trial and error. 

    Then there are also the cases where nature is doing things with no observer at all (!), and so presenting nothing at all to explain, nor any point in debating the role of "the observer", nor any reason to think that theories designed to test observations would have any special role in nature then either.   In those cases you have to wonder if nature is following abstract rules at all, as there is not a bit of evidence of that, or is it only our own thinking that relies on that, and maybe nature is doing something that just quite different from following rules, a process of developing rule-like behavior often enough, but by means that would be beyond the capacity of abstract rules to define.   

    I think there's pleanty of evidence of that, actually, if you just think a bit about what kind of envidence you might look for. 

  13. Digging a little more into Bernard Stieglers notions of categorization and transindividuation. I found this really interesting Videos of Stiegler (short and with English ST): &

    An article on transindividuation in English:

    And an important transcript of several videos in French to unpack:

    Interesting to note is Stiegler's involvement of 'tools' i.e. techno-logies in the process of individuation. I will elaborate on this, because the pattern language is such a tool.

  14. Profile photo of Joe Corneli Joe Corneli says:

    Here's another idea that's useful, and related to Helene's action logic idea:

    Start with Peirce, and his general theory of meaningful processes, turning on relations between signs, objects and interpretants. Such processes may be used to describe human and non-human communication systems, communicative and non-communicative signs, and meaning that is embodied and embedded as it is enminded. Next, note the various ways such meaningful processes can get relatively abstracted, reduced, quantified, objectified, captured—or, more generally, enclosed—by various theorists, in their attempts to theorize informational products (Kockelman, 2007a). We have scholars like Shannon and MacKay who want to understand meaning in terms of mathematical expressions and experimental methods. We have scholars like Peirce (in some of his writings), and linguists like Lambrecht, who want to understand meaning in terms of logical propositions and linguistic utterances. We have scholars like Kittler who want to understand meaning in terms of media technologies and computational processes. And we have scholars like Benkler who want to understand meaning in terms of economic utility or market price—whether it be the storage, transmission, or processing of information; and whatever be the object of information (from patentable science to price differentials). That is, each attempts to render some aspect of meaning, and often a theory of meaning more generally, in terms that are relatively formal, quantitative, objective, and context-independent. If we think about meaning as disclosure—in the sense of bringing something to the attention of another—each of their understandings of information may be understood as an attempt to enclose disclosure.


    From "Information is the enclosure of meaning: Cybernetics, semiotics, and alternative theories of information"

    The reference to Benkler is The Wealth of Networks, 2006.

  15. Interesting, Stiegler says people make sense of what they perceive via categorizations that are related to their group of collective individuation. So yes, there is a form of enclosure of the disclosure, because it makes sense 'in priority' to the 'initiated' group. Though I'm not sure there's necessarily a systematic 'attempt' to enclose. I would see the enclosure more as the consequence of a co-individuation process. The boundaries we are talking about in the first part of the paper, that we would need to 'break through'… via participatory clarity and transindividuation…

    Here's an attempt at describing the pattern language in relation to Stiegler's approach of categorization and transindividuation:

    "The pattern language is based on multiple 'categorisations' of commons logics to make them 'intelligible' to people driven by various engagement logics (which Stiegler may call collective individuation logics?) conceived to both 'reveal' (or disclose) the commons logic already existing in each 'cluster' of co-individuation, and to assist trans-individuation between clusters, to advance the commons as a whole. The participatory process to reach partipatory clarity on which Bonnitta, Mushin and Anne are working on seems to be geared toward this transindividuation.

  16. I'm wondering, why aren't the patterns of natual systems a viable source for a pattern language, for the systems of natureproducing the patterns, for the way they work independent of our thoughts?   That would seem to offer a good way to align our mental pattern languages with nature's operational pattern languages.   Wouldn't it offer some benefits to build a natural systems language based on organizational and development patterns observed in nature, for helping us build a more substantive and meaningful relationship with nature?

  17. I've just checked out the passage by Christopher Alexander regarding the tea house (what I had written about that in a previous post was simply from memory), and he calls that set of instructions a "generative sequence." It may be an example of what you mention Bonnitta Roy referring to as a generative process. Anyway, I changed the document above somewhat so that it reflects more accurately what Alexander actually writes about in that segment.

    The Alexander quote you mention, Helene, on "totality of relations," reminds me of an imagery that is used by some Buddhists, of "Indra's net." This net consists of myriad jewels at its nodes, and each jewel reflects all the others – but from its particular vantage point, so the set of reflections in each jewel is different. Indra's net serves as an image of how each of us, and each object in the universe, is connected with the rest of the universe, but each in its own particular way, creating its uniqueness. I'd say this can also be used as a way of expressing "meaning." It is the context which makes the meaning, and so a "context-independent" meaning is an oxymoron.

    As we create the knowledge base, showing how each item we talk about is linked to others serves as a piece of meaning-making in this sense. And every user who follows certain links but not others creates her own meaning according to the path followed – just like a user of a map can decide for himself which paths or roads to follow (and also where to strike off across territory where there is no path as of yet).

    • @wolfgang-hoeschele I like the generative sequences indeed. Because that's what we would be up to. Providing for generative sequence making to build 'centers' generative of commons…
      I also like your Indra's net image! Funny that when I look for an image on google, the first one that comes is one of the first I have in my pres! Maybe you could add this with an image in the doc? As a third example of how it works with knowledge basis?

      • I've added a few lines on Indra's net in the first section, where you bring up Bonnitta Roy and Muschin Schilling. If you'd rather have that reference somewhere else, as for example in the section on pattern language, feel free to move it (and adapt it to its different context)!

  18. I think it might help to use the common English words that have been used for centuries for referring to "generative sequences", those are "development" and "growth", "change processes" or "developmental systems", and various others.  Those are the words I've been using all along, anyway, so in reading what I've written should be considered as referring to the same patterns of continuity in change in nature as "generative sequences".  I think they're all referring to the same general marvel in the natural order brought out by the phrase "generative sequence", their combination of creativity and continuity.   What my research focuses on as particularly revealing in natural processes of change is how they seem to invariably begin by progressing faster and then by progressing slower as they come to completion, as a way to identify the "pattern languages" of causation in growth and development that I study.

    Where I've recently heard "generative sequence" used in a quite different way, that may overlap with your use perhaps, is in reading about and discussing the "strange science" of Goethe, the 18th century phenomena who wrote Faust and was the first modern European to notice that  all  plants  develop by the same highly versatile succession of growth stages.  My similar observation was of the simplest of all possible successions of change, symbolized by my little glyph ¸¸.·´ ¯ `·.¸¸ .   Goethe’s said that the way to recognize these organic forms of nature required something like “allowing nature to move the spirit”, or  "generative observation" as a mind’s experience, a frame of mind allowing new forms of thought to emerge by natural suggestion, during close observation of natural orders.       

    That’s fairly close to what I would mean by saying  "close observation" too, a choice to let nature’s forms imprint directly on one's mind (rather than be "deduced" or “reconstructed”), as you learn to depart from conceptual reasoning and begin to let your thoughts follow how nature works organically.   His approach seemed favor perfecting the generative observation experience, whereas mine has been to create deep and rich layers of what I call “compost”, composed of mental relics of past generative observation to use in building thought experiments.    So there would be a range of ways and purposes for letting your mind be moved by what you observe in a "generative" way, prompted by the phenomena you're observing, learning to "see a flow" and release your senses to "go with the flow".   I’m quite open letting one’s experience of observing cool things go wild, but then tend to describe it in the most familiar way I can think of, like as how an artist “learns to see” in order to draw, or the way pedestrians in a busy city shift from walking to avoid other people to moving with the flow of the whole crowd.

    Goethe‘s writing might be interesting to someone interested in the philosophical issues, as he seems to me to be, as they say, "all over the map" on some things we now think of as fairly settled.   He also seems to have working largely by himself except for a couple inspiring personal friendships, and writing in an unusually modern style some 240 years ago!    He didn't seem to have a good way to draw the line between subjective and objective it seems to me, for example, though he did struggle with it.  He might include elements of his own enthralling experience of color, for example, in listing the features of color in nature.  What I do with that is acknowledge it’s both unavoidable to a degree and that knowledge also needs to be constantly refreshed anyway, and so choose to be open to questioning any interpretation as new situations arise.   His writing on the subject is easy to get on Amazon, and quite interesting.      The handy collection of his writings on science I have is called "Goethe on science", collected by Jeremy Naydler.   

  19. Jessie, form Bonnitta's work on generative processes, one may acknowledge there are various forms of generative processes. They are reproduced in the table below. The document above links to her whole article. It seems to me you are referring to just one of them. I find it interesting to distinguish them, because people usually 'lump' them together, or use the narrative of one to describe the other…

    Your referring to Goethe is interesting. Goethe seems to have observed phenomena and linked perceprtion, use of the senses and intuition to 'make sense' of things which occur and are observed which may seem trivial when seeing it written or writing it, but is not as trivial because making sense is usually linked to a rational / intellectual endeavor… And I understand this may be the point you are trying to make.

    Again, I encourage you to develop these ideas in the document A natural systems language. Maybe you could distil what you have been repeating on natural patterns and how they can be observed in a few crisp principles? 

    It seems to me you are conflating the patterns observable in nature with the pattern language we will be 'constructing' to put our human agency to good work for the commons. When we use the term pattern language here, we speak about something we will be contructing: sets of generative 'instructions', or ways to deal with patterns observed or problématiaues, or to say it differently sets of freely combinable 'instructions' or ways to deal with 'problematiques' that will be (re)generative of commons, not the language of patterns that is 'naturally' found in nature.

    This does not exclude the pattern language to be constructed from sets of patterns observed in nature.

  20. This comment and the following two by Jessie have been moved by Helene to the body of the Natural systems language document. Awaiting construction.

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