Here’s a take on introducing multiple perspectives into a situation. It comes from a very interesting 12-year project exploring how to revolutionize communication systems that’s based on Christopher Alexander’s groundbreaking work on pattern languages in architecture.
I’ll start with the background to the project, and a little bit about pattern languages, and head towards pattern 83, which is where ‘Who speaks for wolf’ is explored.
Liberating Voices, a pattern language for communication revolution is a 12 year project, in its 7th year, whose goal is to help
understand, motivate and inform the worldwide movement to establish full access to information and communication — including the design and management of information and communication systems
The idea of a pattern language was originally conceived by Christopher Alexander, professor emeritus of the Architectural and Urban Studies Department at the University of California at Berkeley. From the late 1960s through to the first publication of ‘A pattern language’ in 1977, Alexander and his team worked towards a set of principles, translated into 253 interrelated planning, architectural and construction patterns, that could be applied together at any scale in building from minute details in a room to the design of whole buildings, complexes and cities. They also work at the metaphorical and narrative level, so, for example (quote in Liberating Voices) you might consider Necklace of Community Projects (16), Windows Overlooking Life (18) and Pools of Light (63) as narrative as well as practical patterns.
Both Sparknow and Cognitive Edge, through Dave Snowden’s constantly invigorating research enquiries, have been very interested in pattern languages, and during 2010, as I started to develop the consolidated Sparknow story system methodology, I spent quite a bit of time, working with Alim Khan at WHO thinking about how we might build Sparknow’s own method as a pattern language. In fact it’s through Alim, another ceaseless enquirer, that I discovered this attempt at a pattern language through a work learning project we’re doing with him at WHO on collaborative meetings and products.
This leads me to the flawed but fascinating project that is Liberating Voices, which I haven’t fully grasped, but seems to be a kind of open source, public project, an attempt to consolidate patterns that will give us clues about communication and participation in a fluid world where social, political and technological shifts are feeling and looking like irreversible paradigm shifts. What does that mean for information and communication. In terms of process, the construction of Liberating Voices has echoes of the voluntary submission of definitions which fuelled the development of the Oxford English Dictionary in a corrugated shed in his garden in Banbury Road, Oxford, by James Murray, which I’ve written about before with Clive Holtham.
Douglas Schuler, and his volunteers have consolidated 136 patterns which range through theory, organizing principles, enabling systems, collaboration, community building, self representation, projects and tactics - categories that don’t quite work for me. The patterns themselves are all written, as Alexander’s patterns are, in a structured way. The headings are:
- Linked patterns
I’ve flicked through the whole book and need to go back through it. The quality of the work varies quite wildly, and on the whole the patterns stay infuriatingly abstract, by contrast with Alexander’s lucid cogency, indeed his poetry. There’s also a kind of wild and slightly woolly citizenship and sweeping greater good feeling to it which makes it hard to think about in a more pragmatic business context. The idealists and theorists are in the ascendency here for now, although of course there are still 5 years of the project to go. I can imagine, for example, that Occupy could quite suddenly turn into a pattern (154) just because it’s current, although there’s been a great deal of studious triage here to boil it down to a book of only 153 patterns.
All the same, I’ve turned under the bottom corner of a lot of pages (bottom corner bookmarking is research and referencing, top corners are bookmarks for where I’ve got to). The patterns that have got me thinking include:
- Political Settings (7)
- Memory and Responsibility (11)
- Demystification and Reenchantment (14)
- Dematerialization (18)
- Teaching to Transgress (20)
- Participatory Design (36)
- Open Action and Research Network (45)
- Future Design (88)
- Document Centred Discussion (92)
- Mirror Institutions (94)
- The Power of Story (114)
The pattern that I thought it would be interesting to share, while I’m figuring this out is Voices of the unheard (83), or, in the spirit of Alexander, Voices of the Unheard. Here’s a synopsis.
Decision making and design is the poorer for missing the perspectives of those with a stake in the outcome.
- Gaps need to be repaired early on
- It’s tricky getting the right stakeholders in the room early on
- New solutions are more likely to be embraced if all those concerned have input
photo | Bruce McKay~YSP
One way to think of tackling this has its roots in an Native American story transcribed by Paula Underwood (1993) entitled ‘Who speaks for Wolf’. In brief, the story tells of a tribe in whom one man decided to learn everything he could about wolves. When he was away hunting, the tribe decided to move, and mistakenly moved into the middle of a wolf breeding ground. Eventually they had to move again, and, learning from their mistakes decided that at any future council meetings they would always ask themselves ‘who speaks for Wolf?’ to remind themselves of the perspectives of missing stakeholders (although I doubt that the Native Americans called them stakeholders exactly).
One challenge here, says the pattern, is to make sure that the authentic voice of the stakeholder can be present through an intermediary. Is someone really qualified to speak for Wolf? Should the meeting wait until Wolf can be present?
A variation that the pattern suggests is the imaginary board of directors: what would Gandhi/Einstein/Steve Jobs do?
Provide ways to remind people of missing stakeholders. These can be procedural, visual or auditory.
Include Memory and Responsibility (11) Demystification and Reenchantment (14), The Power of Story (114)
Back to Victoria speaking and away from the pattern to end with…
I liked this, because it seemed like quite a neat and common problem and a nice, rather poetic, way of tackling it which could link nicely with some of the more felt ways of tackling missing voices that we’ve worked on through tools like Try To See It My Way and Walking In Their Shoes (see, we do the upper case thing too, even though we are clearly, largely a lower case organization…)
I’d urge anyone to get themselves the two main volumes of A Pattern Language. I’ve just given mine away to David Gunn as a birthday present when he came to spend time designing our last pair of WHO working sessions. It was a struggle, because I absolutely love them and they have been in my very small canon of core texts that govern my practice. But hey, gifts and gifting (I can feel another pattern coming on): what’s the point if it isn’t something you treasure?
- sparknowblog posted this