Friday, August 31, 2007

Tech Stack for PSP

So, I have been thinking of this online pattern mapping system for sometime. A part of this process, (aside from defining the requirements) has been heavily devoted to researching existing technologies through which to approach this massive project. While there are similar projects taking place and that this system might be able draw from or integrate well with (such as the GreenMaps), it is apparent that this is going to be a home grown PSP sponsored software project. Which means we need to get moving in the direction of understanding our basic recs and identify our technologies.

Considering that the new PSP site is going Joomla 1.5 I have been leaning much more heavily towards a PHP framework like Symfony. I have been a pro Django guy since being a pro-Python coder (yes, I LUV PYTHON, so there!). However, it is clear to me that with all the people working on this project the one thing we seem to have in common, skill-set wise is a fairly deep collective knowledge of PHP. Beyond PHP some of us know Ruby and some know Python, and there are some that are more fluent in Perl. Now, I don't mind learning a new application framework, as long as the framework is in a language I already know, meaning any of the gazillion PHP or Python frameworks are fine. But I really don't have the time to learn an entirely knew programming language along with the framework.

Now, I know that sounds crude to some as one always chooses the best technology for the job, but I have seen similar apps written in all three of these frameworks. Here is a Symfony one for show "MySpaceMaps." So, while I think there is always the argument for best technology for the job, I think after a certain point it becomes about what developers are most comfortable with; where are they going to be most productive and considering the resources and skill-sets of a completely volunteer run non-profit, where is the space that can enable us to all work collaboratively.

Plus, as hard as it is to believe I do have a life!

So, I'm hoping that something like Symfony can be powerful enough for us to achieve our goals but be something that can bring the interested developers together so that we can develop this tool in more collaborative context rather than relying on the expertise and availability of one individual.

One, that isn't fair to that individual, two that is a lot of reliance on one person and three I think those interested in the project like to code, so hopefully it is using tools we all know, and know that work so that we can work together.

A new pattern to ponder...

I'm really burnt out already and it is only the 2nd week of classes. This whole moving from the so-called 'soft-sciences' to the 'hard-sciences' is forcing me to approach things in a way I'm not used to and it is a bit overwhelming.

Anyway, following in line with this new track in my professional and academic career I think the pattern of "Dematerialization" written by Burl Humana is a truly worthwhile piece to consider, and in fact might be something to look at that could spin a whole series of sub-patterns.

In many ways, that is what I see communities of users doing with the patterns. Use these elements both as templates and pointers for directing community research and investigation for expanding and encouraging a contextualized implementation of these patterns by identifying those concrete pieces that need to be employed for these patterns achieve their fullest potential.

This is the image provided by Burl for his pattern.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Daily Pattern

In continuing to present patterns relevant to my interests and overall research goals I came across this pattern today when I was thinking about community memory and peoples capacity to reflect and adapt based upon assessing past decisions and their actual outcomes.

Following in line with "Development as Process,' that asserts the necessity for reflection and adaptation, the pattern "Memory and Responsibility" seemed appropriate for consideration. It also represents a useful introduction into my proposed research here at WSU.

Being in the ES/RP program here much of my interests are on sustainable development that considers a number of factors from the political to the environmental, and the social to the economic, all of which represent dynamic, shifting systems. And it seems that this is perhaps one factor that produces shortcomings in meeting goals.

As someone who sees the potential of patterns as a conceptual model for assisting people to be more affective in describing and design community based solutions, it is my intent to help evolve practices of using patterns in ways that can empower communities to work with this complexity.

However, in considering the vast wealth of information available on these patterns and the shear number of them available for consideration, it is difficult to see how such a huge system could be useable in a truly meaningful way. For instance, where would someone begin, and if time is an issue (like it is for many of us) how could this learning process be minimized to only those patterns relevant to a particular problem? Likewise community stakeholders and development practitioners are often dispersed across geographic boundaries that make regular face-to-face meetings difficult if not impossible. With these concerns in mind it is hoped that we can develop a Community Knowledge System that uses patterns as heuristic models for visually mapping out pattern languages as related to peoples specific needs.

Along with this ability to map out these patterns in ways that support a conceptualization of how various solutions interact and reinforce one another is the goal to support the community memory that Doug mentions and the adaptive capacity that David Mosse talks about in his book. Both of these elements are necessary considerations as people come to perceive the importance of addressing the changes in context that emerge as goals, perceptions and outcomes shift or don't meet expectations.

It seems to me that such a Community Knowledge System could be useful as a tool for reflection that could enable groups to look back upon their pattern maps to help evaluate and perhaps even extend or shift these patterns to form alternative pattern languages as information and realities changes.

Now, this is undoubtedly a complex project but an exciting one for sure and well worth investigating.

To make this happen, I think it would also be interesting to use the current patterns in Liberating Voices! (and perhaps other pattern systems) as a way to design the system in order to help orient the project to address issues of accessibility, open source coding standards so others can build upon the system, and so forth. These are extremely important to me as I have a very hard time with current planning technologies that are centered upon expert usage. Now that is not to say that experts don’t have a part to play in this process, but I think more work could be done if communities had the resources needed to approach some of the problems in intelligent and intuitive ways (which is contrary to many technologies)

Anyway, enough ranting! Along with this system as a piece of software and something I think Doug wanted me to talk about is the use of the xml data. In this way the system could query the pattern database based upon a set of community defined criteria and could in theory provide a related pattern dump. After this, planners could then have a smaller set of patterns from which to draw from and evaluate but perhaps easier to comprehend in their design endeavor.

So there is the idea and a fairly abstract sense. However, over the next few months I hope to have a very refined set of requirements developed and I will be sure to post here. And I would like very much for pattern participants to help me identify useful patterns that could direct something on the design process.
Take look at the patterns on our current DB at “Liberating Voices” and if something strikes you, post a response with the URL.

Anyway, I haven’t been feeling so well the last few days so I’m calling it an evening, but when I start feeling better and have a chance to review this post I might be making some clarifications.

I’m sure this will be revised another 10 times before the project plan is finalized and I will try to post all iterations on here for review and comment. So yes, please tell me your thoughts!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Journal for ES/RP 535

So along with presenting my thinking on patterns this blog is also going to serve as a journal for my classes. I have been asked to keep a journal for at least one of my classes which means that I will have to make at least 2 "lengthy" posts a week regarding the readings and experiences of the in class simulations. Which, I don't think will be to hard.

Anyway, the class is Environmental Conflict Resolution, which appears to be a very hands-on class that attempts to bridge course readings with in class simulations where students take on the characters of various parties within a particular environmental conflict. While so far we have only to set the stage for our first simulation I have had an opportunity to begin digging into the readings for the course.

Immediately, I was struck by the parallels between some of the literature and the work already present within the Liberating Voices! project. For instance, one of the initial readings assigned was by Lee Bolman and Terrance Deal titled “Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice and Leadership,” that addressed the various frames used in Conflict Negotiation. The basic frames they highlight are the Structural Frame, the Human Resource Frame, the Political Frame and the Symbolic Frame. All of these have their own purpose at a given time that help accentuate the others, in a sense empower the others when crossroads in negotiation out live the usefulness of a particular frame. That is not to say that frames don’t come in and out of the picture over time, but their basic illustration seemed to mimic a pattern based approach that recognizes the inherent dynamic complexity of conflict negotiation.

After contemplating the reading I could see how these various elements could be used to serve as elemental patterns to enable the functioning of an already existing pattern, Multi-party Negotiation for Conflict Resolution recorded by Helena Meyer-Knapp and Stewart Dutfield.

Just as interesting though is the examples used in the pattern description which parallel one of the other readings provided in class that was essentially an excerpt from "Getting to Yes." In a way it shows how the various people associated with the pattern project have come together in ways to identifying missing links in the system to help continually refine and adapt the repository. It also shows how useful ideas make their way into the minds of people and represent an impact that equates into their adoption into a system that is meant to be a record of social heuristics, in this case the heuristic is for conflict resolution.

Likewise, delving into these readings also highlights areas where pattern participants could either begin to further refine these conflict centric patterns or even use this Multi-party negotiation pattern to aide in defining a set of sub-patterns directly related to the practice of negotiation and conflict resolution.


So I'm trying to record my own memory based from a perspective of places that have had an impact on me. It's not complete yet, but I almost have the places down. Now, I need to add the text and images.

Check out the Full Map Here

Thinking of a Community Knowledge System

Another note:

By using something like Green Maps or another similar community application it is possible to record past and on-going projects that could enable future groups to draw from and develop community memory. This could also provide information to future groups that might potentially interface with past projects in order to create a continually expanding web of sustainable design projects.

Similarly, if using patterns as a way to link solutions with community data to design community solutions, it is possible to record the decisions made by these communities for ongoing assessment and possible adaptation.

This is perhaps my primary justification for supporting an information or community knowledge system (CKS) approach to designing pattern-centric community development. This way communities can be better able to monitor and adapt.

I think this became most obvious when reading the book, "Development as Process: Concepts and Methods for Working with Complexity,"which describes an on-going adaptive approach, that seeks to use 'process documentation' as a way to produce feed-back whereby planners and community stakeholders can tweak and address short-comings in their original assumptions.

By integrating this practice with presence of community information systems it seems that people might be better equipped to produce the necessary feedback about their projects in a much more timely manner. It seems to me that one of the primary critiques of Development as Process is the difficulty of obtaining 'real-time' information.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Pattern Mapping and GIS

All weekend I have been obsessed with this topic of mapping and visual language. Perhaps this is because I have been reading a lot about GIS technologies and the role they play in development and planning practice these days.

It does seem necessary that in order to effectively address a problem within a community one must recognize the dynamics at work, such as the distribution of resources, environmentally degraded zones, sources of pollution, centers of industry and so-forth, but to me this represents only a part of the issue; its predominate intent is to illuminate problems or potential problems. Which leads me to think that these shortcomings represent a space for improvement or for accentuating these technologies.

For instance, these tools are used to conceptualize the problem, not the solution to planning and development. So once the problem has been successfully mapped out how do people conceptualize complex solutions to the problems (or opportunities) identified?

This is where I think the art of pattern mapping comes into play, both as a face-to-face process, but potentially as a computer mediated processes, or preferably both. This brings to mind my uncompleted pattern of Participatory Pattern Mapping. I haven’t completed it yet because I don’t really know the best approach yet. But the approach that Joanne Tippett, uses seems the most promising as it appears that she is the only one that I can find that has successfully presented a valid methodology that has worked. However, I'm not totally convinced that the mind-mapping approach is necessarily the most appropriate mapping method either.

Anyway, I created a shell for the pattern because it became an obvious area that needed to be addressed when working on my thesis. Though I focused on advocacy networks and tribal land rights, not explicitly linked with sustainability, I did have to develop a way of first understanding the problems the network was attempting to address, as well as the various solutions that were identified. Then I had to figure out how these patterns were linked within the case study. As a result it seems I was able to identify a hypothetical approach to this problem, albeit by myself and not within a community or collaborative context.

Yet the process began with identifying a “problem-space” as a series of interconnected issues. Then, the identified problems were linked up with patterns that spoke in some degree or another to the actual issue being described through the case. Out of these patterns I was able to generate a pattern-map.

Now, I don’t think my map is so pretty, but taking all these pieces together I can see the useful role of GIS software as one tool for defining a problem space.

In fact, it is conceivable that if an appropriate methodology were constructed, some sort of pattern mapping application could be built into existing GIS software. But of course this wouldn’t address the issue of access to these tools, nor the expertise needed to draw and understand these complicated images. Perhaps this could be minimized by using something like Green Maps which attempts to present something of this nature.

Anyway, if I follow this thinking further I find a number of patterns that could be useful in this context, especially when discussing the issue of planning that uses information systems and community knowledge in an interconnected process.

First, there is Andy Dearden and Scot Fletcher’s pattern Meaningful Maps. Second, I was struck by Document Centered Discussion (or some variation) presented by Todd Davies et. al. Then, Alan Borning’s Citizen Access to Simulation.

All of these represent what I think is a start to thinking about issues of pattern mapping in a planning context, especially if pursuing a computer-mediated system for mapping patterns.

I’ll add some more as I do my survey, but here is a start.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

New Commitment....

So I am going to try and showcase a pattern a day from the Liberating Voices! project. While the idea is to promote the visibility of the project it is also to help me remember patterns that I find to be relevant to the work of participatory planning and sustainable development practice.

The first of these may be an obvious high-level pattern, and yet I think that obviousness speaks to the beauty of these patterns; yes they are obvious and yet we tend to forget the fundamental lessons these patterns attempt to teach. So I would think it necessary to continually review these pieces of collective knowledge in order for us as individuals to remain cognizant of the possibilities that could help us design a sustainable world.

This pattern was written by Jennifer Frankel-Reed titled: "Earth's Vital Signs"

Friday, August 24, 2007

Visual Languages

Extending this idea of developing a common language brings me to this notion of visual languages that seems to be such a hot-topic among HCI scholars and practitioners these days. As I was refining my main mission in regards to the PhD I recognized that what I'm after is the development of truly viable visual language for planning and design.

Though the totality of the project is more than that, as it is really meant to be a holistic methodological approach to adaptive development. However, the component of planning with the usage of archetypal patterns is directly related to these ongoing studies that are addressing Visual Languages for learning, planning and organizational development among businesses.

There even seems to be some discussion taking place that is parallel to these observations. While these people are not using patterns, they are nonetheless concerned with simplifying what is already an overly complex task.

However, some are talking about patterns. Just for reference this guy is thinking in similar vein: Qualitative Geomatics for Sustainable Development.

However, it is unclear whether these ideas really got the traction needed to push this project forward.

Which brings me to huge critique. First, the large overhead of these software systems like GIS, and similar geo-spatial design software. It is absolutely ridiculous. It is relegated to the professional and essentially cuts out the interested civic minded person from taking an active role in thinking about and conceptualizing alternatives to their lived spaces.

I understand software developers have to eat, I'm one of them, but the open-source model seems most appropriate when we are talking about the public good. The sustainability for developers is in servicing this software and facilitating in effective use not in the code itself.

Emergent Meta-Language

I had an opportunity to talk with Nils from CTLT (Center for Teaching, Learning and Technology) today about this overlap between various pattern languages. I was looking at the Pattern Language website the other day and found the link listing a few of the various projects using the pattern language model. I was struck by all these different projects, but after reviewing them I began to see the inherent overlap of these projects. It was apparent from the outset that while each group was addressing a specific domain of knowledge and practice, almost all of them possessed relevance or interfaced in some way with one another. In a sense representing a conceptual model of how knowledge can be interconnected in a truly interdisciplinary context.

Here is a list:
Conservation Economy

Along with identifying this overlap I also saw a number of deficiencies that each pattern language possessed, not that they are incomplete, but rather each only addresses what is thought to be directly relevant to these specific domains. However, despite these minor deficiencies it appeared to me that these pieces were resolved in at least one of the other ongoing projects. This to me represents an important observation.

As someone focused upon sustainable development it is necessary to address a number of important elements that touch upon policy, environment, economic, education and communication as critical components to designing for sustainable community development.

With this macro conception of assessment, planning and implementation it seems apparent that each of the pattern languages possess relevant material for constructing and designing this so-called sustainable world. In this sense, what we are looking at are these meta-patterns. Meta-Patterns that can help people initiate a conversation and act as a starting point for refining the solutions to their defined problem space.

In a way it is as if each domain or project represents a particular pattern, which is itself necessary for engaging in meaningful development practice. In a way this highlights the emergence or presences of a meta-language that could be useful to others seeking to address similar problems.

Creating a Common Language?

When thinking about the notion of patterns and pattern languages I’m struck by the idea of constructing some sort of common language by which various peoples can communicate ideas regarding systems based design and problem solving.

However, I’m not completely convinced that the pattern languages in any of the current instances truly enable a convergence of sorts that would really allow for a common language to emerge.

The reason for this concern derives from my interest in community sustainability and participatory processes of planning, particularly within developing countries. Often these areas are culturally complex, which can translate into differing conceptions of what a pattern, might be, or even how a re-occurring problem might be framed. Along with problems of illiteracy, and just basic linguistic barriers it seems obvious that it would be extremely difficult to operationalize these patterns for use in a global multi-lingual context. However, visual linguistics does present a possible opportunity to address this short-coming

Therefore it seems to me that the visual processes of mapping these patterns to represent their useful relationships to one another in context specific ways is needed before we can begin to make the claims of usability that so many want to make. That is not to say that various patterns and pattern languages are not being used in real life, but it is my feeling that this theory would be much more usable if the information, models and resources were more readily available and conceptually accessible.

Likewise, based upon what I have seen developed by the community, the number of, and usefulness of the tools available are lacking. And like many models, the complexity that emerges from the visual language makes communication across knowledge disciplines and cultures overtly difficult.

However, I would hope that a more effective approach that incorporates a face-to-face as well as technologically mediated process could be developed to address this critical deficiency.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Patterns for Communicative Change

So here is an introductory rant inaugurating this blog:

Liberating Voices! is only a short way off from being published, and once published will represent yet another wave of pattern thinking as a conceptual approach to the design and organization of knowledge for useful and "life-affirming" social empowerment.

Pattern thinking in this sense is derived directly from Christopher Alexander's theory that defined a pattern as, "a careful description of a perennial solution to a recurring problem--” and “A pattern language is a network of patterns that call upon one another. Patterns help us remember insights and knowledge about design and can be used in combination to create solutions" (Alexander, Ishikawa, Silverstein, Jacobson, Fiksdahl-King & Angel, 1977).

This is not so new of an idea but over the past 40 years or so Alexander's thinking has served to influence software engineers, environmental designers, community planners, and social activists. Yet, this appears to have only become increasingly relevant as people have begun to recognize the complex interactions between the social, built and natural systems of the world.

Yet, even as Alexander recognizes himself there is still much work to be done whether it is in the development of architectural patterns, ecological patterns or communicative patterns. In fact, I would assert that despite the various domains or disciplines that encapsulate these differing pattern languages there is a growing need to understand how these various pattern languages can, and do interact. This is particularly relevant in light of the increased awareness of systems thinking and the inherent interconnectedness being brought to bear through the diffusion of information, knowledge and environmental degradation (as just a few examples).

I would propose that the various groups working on these different domains get together in order to conceive of ways in which these different domains overlap and how they may be used to influence one another and thereby enable more effective use from integrated view point.

For instance, the communicative patterns developed by the Public Sphere Project (Liberating Voices! Research Community) could be useful to the enabling of ecological patterns developed by the Conservation Economy, whereas those working on environmental design in an urban context could be informed by those developing the Conservation Economy.