Sunday, September 30, 2007

Becoming more specific

Now, it is obvious that the proposed dissertation topic is somewhat abstract. After all, it could mean many things to different people; so let me attempt to clarify.

Short Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to show how topsy-turvy my brain is or that I can't commit to one project. Rather this blog is a way for me to voice interests, research ideas and document the process of refining my research objectives.

Ok, now that is out of the way (BTW, I'm certifiable! LOL!).

While the last post was abstract it pertains specifically to the original proposal I submitted to my dissertation chair and to the ES/RP program. The focus of this proposal was to emphasize the development and evaluation of effective community information systems for sustainable development, not just in the use of patterns to support NRM. So perhaps it is time to re-focus and as the topic of this post suggests, be more specific.

Anyway, going back to the topic community information systems (CIS), as the ideas of community memory and process-oriented development become increasingly important topics, the ability of groups to effectively enable these elements in their work becomes central.

Unfortunately, the capacity of groups to retain the emergent information glut coming out of these differing research agendas, projects and interests is undermined. Community Information Systems represent an interesting opportunity to address this problem. Likewise, with the growth of web enable services and tools it is becoming easier to integrate services such as GIS, conceptual mapping tools, complex simulation software and a number of other relevant applications into the mix of these CIS apps. This of course is in addition to the traditional tools such as blogs, message boards and chat services that have already been integrated into sites renamed as "social networking sites."

While CIS has been implemented for NRM before, it appears that many of the tools and case studies showing the use or problems associated with these tools is often confined to experts using the applications. There seems little use for actual community members (not to say it isn’t happening). Likewise, there is little information related to the participatory design process of these applications.

But CIS are much more interesting in that beyond their potential application for NRM, they can be useful in more integrated approaches to development. This means, as we have seen already in the field of informatics is that these tools can be used in literacy campaigns, provide locally relevant health information, disaster preparedness information, links to buyers and sellers of good within the local districts of a developing community and provide access to governance related information.

From my perspective CIS for NRM is just one function.

Anyway, the opportunities and problems I have seen have prompted an interest in CIS for supporting effective NRM and poverty alleviation that is at its very core interested in participation, memory and process.

Now, the patterns developed for L.V. are directly related to this issue in many ways and represent a core component to the effective design and implementation of systems that at their core support values of participation, social leveling, community and sustainability.

But do we know this for sure? We assume, and what do researchers like to do with assumptions? We like to test them!

With this in mind it is possible to begin thinking of how to test this. We can begin by describing the patterns we think link directly with enabling the types of information systems we want to develop. These patterns can then guide our development process. Of course, the research is again confronted with the issue of how to use these patterns in a coherent manner. This brings up the need for useful methods for understanding user requirements, not just of the system, but of the fundamental work they seek to accomplish. Through these methodologies as well as enabling systems to support the construction of a context specific pattern language we can then hope to develop something useful.

To evaluate, this can then be broken into three distinct levels; one the development of a context specific pattern language derived from the L.V. system (or larger system of patterns where the L.V. represents a part), two the evaluation of the system as it relates to the patterns that guided the design, and three, the actual use and effect in the community. What if any patterns did we miss, what patterns if any might help improve the system or its usefulness and so on.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Proposed Dissertation Topic

Participation, Community Memory and Process-Oriented Planning: Patterns for Sustainable Resource Management and Poverty Alleviation in Rural South Asia.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

NRM and Poverty Alleviation, and a rant into Meta-Languages:

In doing a short lit review of some interesting case examples dealing with NRM activities aimed at poverty reduction and mitigating desertification, I came across a number of documents addressing the role of participatory communication, indigenous knowledge, and adaptive process which address the negotiation and re-negotiation of community interests over time to construct effective NRM based development programs.

It is interesting that in reviewing the papers I noticed connections between a few of the patterns that have been listed by Liberating Voices and what has been described in these reports. I also noticed that some of the pieces discussed in the case studies touch upon patterns that represent placeholders in the L.V. project.

Here is the list of placeholders that might prove to be of special significance to this work (I don’t provide links because there is nothing in there):

Social Insurance
Networks of Learning
Civic Mobilization
Community Barter and Exchange Systems
Long View
Ecological Economics
Green Labor
Meaningful Evaluation
Linking Modern and Traditional Knowledge
Feminist Economics
Inter-Community Networks
Knowledge System Diversity
Social Learning

Perhaps, it is time to revisit a number of these patterns to ensure the growth and applicability of Liberating Voices to this work. Unfortunately, this will need to wait a week or two as the L.V. project is currently in the process of moving to new server with a new a web address: To get to the patterns just go to

Anyway, once the move is complete (next two weeks), we can start the process of updating and perhaps filling in some of these blanks.

However, in thinking more deeply about these topics and the application of patterns it seems that we are beginning to need this meta-language that, Doug, Yishay and others have been considering. Perhaps the idea of this meta-language represents the focus of Alexander's Nature of Order.

Without going down each of these tracks in too much detail, perhaps this meta-language would be a language of values and goals. The idea is that these meta-patterns could serve as a compass for the types of actions that development practitioners take as well as how communities negotiate their own development in the absence of so-called experts. Such a meta-language would include principles of "Do-no-harm," "Supportive of Spiritual Wellness," "Commitment to Beauty," "Inclusion of Multiple Voices," and so forth.

But some might ask how would these meta-patterns inform development practice. Well, the idea of development is to support livelihoods in the generic sense. How people go about achieving this has been problematic and has included a dirty history of displacement, colonial style exploitation, famine induced through structural adjustment and so on. It was known that these policies of development would harm many, but the idea was that these approaches were acceptable for whatever reasons seemed to be good at the moment.

However, these exploitations have meant destruction of the environment and rape of people’s spiritual sensibilities, specifically within communities fundamentally rooted to their land and place. The lack of voice, the loss of beauty the forgetfulness of spiritual values and the utilitarian ethic so prevalent in Western Society has been an incredible source of pain for so many, and perhaps the end has not justified the means. Perhaps, the journey is just as important as the destination?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Initial Pattern List: Setting the Stage for a Pattern Language approach to NRM

So in further discussions with Ray Jussaume (my Chair) it has come to my attention that he has been trying to conceptualize in a concrete way the relevance of patterns and pattern languages in the context of Natural Resource Management. Of course I see the relevance, but for him and others associated with my PhD pursuit find themselves grappling with my in-adequate explanations.

Considering this I have thought it necessary to do two things for him and others. First, I will be constructing a list of patterns I feel are relevant to the work, and second, I will construct over the next couple of weeks a visual representation (using a concept map approach) of this list along with other patterns specifically related to Indigenous Forestry Management in the Chota-Nagpur plateau of India.

NRM Pattern Language (one possible list):
1. The Commons
2. The Good Life

3. Collective Decision Making
4. Sustainable Design
5. Earth's Vital Signs
6. Matrifocal Orientation

7. Meaningful Maps
8. Citizen Access to Simulations
9. Conversational Support Across Boundaries
10. Durable Assets

11. Voices of the Unheard
12. Civic Capabilities
13. Sustainability Appraisal - (to be applied in NRM as opposed to ICT)
14. Appreciative Collaboration

15. Self-Designed Development
16. Community Inquiry
17. Power Research

Now, obviously this is just a start, but in drawing from other places such as Alexander's own patterns as well as perhaps those developed by Eco-Trust it is possible to begin ebbing closer to a vision of a NRM centered pattern language. And despite the incompleteness here I think the list begins to serve as an introduction into the notion that these patterns which exist separated within various domains possess useful relationships which can be applied as templates for seemingly unrelated uses.

But perhaps, more importantly for the purpose of this exercise others might be able to navigate the list and begin making connections between NRM, planning, sustainability and the utilization of patterns.

Global Pattern Language and Resource Management for Sustainability

It has been a few days since I have written anything and my head is on overload. Many of the topics swirling around have been surrounding the development or extension of Liberating Voices along with the numerous other pattern languages into a truly global-pattern language.

Though it is my contention as previously stated that pattern languages are going to largely be the work of the communities constructing these languages, the usefulness of higher-order patterns as pointers or templates to help initiate and set the stage for eliciting new or context specific types of knowledge can be extremely useful. In the case of my work this would be in sustainable development, but I could see this heuristic knowledge serving many fields which brings us back to the notion of developing a global-pattern language, a composite of sorts that encompasses a range of fields.

However, with this in mind I’m coming to see how in some cases it might be difficult to capture all, particularly as knowledge shifts in this age of hyper-creativity and information transfer. But on a walk the other night I was considering what a more specific pattern language would look like for community development where economies are largely dependent on natural resources. I began to think of indigenous communities such as the adivasi in Jharkhand and their experience as traditional land-stewards, but not just as conservationists but as people who draw primary sources of livelihoods from the forests.

Following further I was drawn to the political and social conflicts that have emerged over the past 50 years to contest this traditional stewardship and how the adivasi are navigating effects of outside political forces both on their livelihoods and the sustainability of their resources. This brought me to conceptualize further the role of patterns and pattern languages as holistic design or planning concept that can extend in numerous directions as needed. For instance, if we are thinking of developing a pattern-language for natural resource management it is certain there are going to be a predominate number of patterns dealing with the environment, but this is not the only aspect of resource management; we have to be willing and able to conceptualize the socio-political and socio-economic forces at play that can in large part determine the nature of planning and in the case of a pattern language approach determine the types of patterns we use to counter-balance some of these forces.

So what does this mean? To me it begins to highlight the notion that social patterns at a high-level that deal with ideas such as civic intelligence, social dominance attenuation or grass-roots public policy development all potentially have a place within a holistic and sustainable approach to resource management.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Pattern Re-Visited

While I know I said I was going to show case a pattern a day and a different pattern at that I have felt the need to re-visit a pattern as I have come to see it's deeper and more fundamental relationship to my research objective.

The pattern is Alan Borning's "Citizen Access to Simulation" and when I wrote my first response to this pattern I was thinking of community simulation where actors are involved in a sort of mock experiment similar to the one we are conducting in my environmental conflict course. However, in reading some of the material behind this pattern I have come to see this as dynamic simulations as a way to support decision making in community context.

Now, this is exactly what I'm doing in my other class "Systems Dynamic Modeling," and the more I get into this course the more I recognize how this can play a central element in collaborative planning. For instance, in following along with my interest in a planning approach that promotes pattern mapping to develop a cognitive map of sustainable development design, the use of systems modeling could play a central role in helping groups become more informed about their proposed policies or designs for development.

And as a result of this centrality, it represents what I think to be a first order pattern in any planning process that deals with the interaction between natural and built systems. Now, being a pattern person I see that sustainable development is more more complex than what can be modeled, however, there are certain elements that modeling can tell us about our environment that might not be obvious. Things that if overlooked could spell disaster for our proposals. To me this makes sense as we can bring in a quantitative model and apply it in a qualitative way to help people learn about their environment.

The problem is that many seem to confuse these models as predictors or forecasters of dynamic change, but when really they are educational tools that are meant to do just that, educate us. So great care must be taken to ensure that people recognize modeling for what it is. Alexander, talks about this in the 'Nature of Order.'

With that in mind, I wonder how a simulation of this sort might influence a pattern based approach to planning a development program. In fact, this might make a very useful pattern as part of a pattern based planning methodology that seeks to inform the ways patterns are contextualized by communities.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Concept Maps or Topic Maps

Need Some Help...

So in furthering this idea of enabling a collaborative space for users to visually map patterns to construct relevant pattern languages, I have been considering the various approaches afforded through Concept Maps and Mind Maps. Now, each mapping approach has a list of associated software products to aid in this visual process. Some of these products such as Cmap provide a server tool to allow for collaborative mapping among multiple people, basically providing exactly what I have been looking to implement for the patterns we have.

This seems like a very possible avenue to take. Plus, it is free to educational institutions and they provide donations to non-profits, like PSP. For those unfamiliar with idea of concept maps, see this definition:

"Concept mapping is a technique for visualizing the relationships among different concepts. A concept map is a diagram showing the relationships among concepts. Concepts are connected with labeled arrows, in a downward-branching hierarchical structure. The relationship between concepts is articulated in linking phrases, e.g., "gives rise to", "results in", "is required by," or "contributes to" - Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Basically, these concepts are linked together in a semantic relationship defined by the person or persons designing the map. So, for us pattern language designers we could in focus on encouraging the development of a single pattern and define semantic connections to other patterns below it and above it in the pattern language heirachy.

Take a look at the image below and envision, say "Grassroots Public Policy Development" as taking the place of what is currently there. Similar to the map below we could make connections and assert that Grassroots Public Policy Development is enabled through greater levels of "Civic Capabilities," which is dependent upon a certain level of "Civic Intelligence." Civic Intelligence might also be supported through patterns such as "Informal Learning Groups" and continued access to "Political Settings."

However, some might say that this approach is limiting and some ways it might be. I have been reading a bit on Topic Maps and came across this response on infoloom to the question surrounding the difference between concept maps and topic maps:

"First, concept maps and topic maps are born out of the same desire: to
represent what we think or what we know in a graph. Here, the term graph
can be taken both in its visual sense, and in its mathematical
sense. Concept maps emphasize the visual and, in the paper and pencil
instance, ignore the mathematical sense. Topic maps emphasize the graph
structure, the mathematical sense, and leave the visual or presentation
entirely up to implementors of topic map engines.

The second response is to delve into the structures of concept and topic
maps. They are both the same and they are different. Concept maps, as I
think Joseph Novak formalized them, consist of named nodes and labeled
arcs. Topic maps, as I think Steve Newcomb and others formalized them,
consist of a few more objects than that, objects that deal with
occurrences, scopes, roles, association membership, and so forth.
- Jack Park

I have been reading other responses in other areas and much of what is see appears to be similar. Now, there seems to be something interesting here in that it is possible that we don't want to build concept maps at all but rather topic maps, that could possess the visual structure of a concept map. Perhaps this is what we are after in designing these pattern languages through the web. Perhaps, the extension of these maps to include the scope, associations and so forth.

I would really like to here some thoughts on this...

Patterns and an Intelligent Web

In contemplating the usage of patterns for sustainable development and planning as tools to be accessed collaboratively through the web, I began to contemplate the usage of patterns with their structure of title, problem, context and so on as a way to enable intelligent computing.

There has been so much talk about the semantic web as a step in this direction and from the very little I understand I see RDF, or resource description framework as being an idea that could enable this vision. However, patterns themselves possess an inherent structure that could lend them to being extremely useful to furthering this vision.

For instance, the notion of defining a generic problem within a specific pattern provides an interesting set of options. These problem descriptions possess key words that could be searched. Also, the problems could be broken up to possess their own URI along with a subject and predicate that could also make use of the RDF technology.

Why is this important? Well, in thinking of using patterns to support through the web planning and design, it is conceivable to think that many different patterns that span across domains of knowledge could be queried to support a more holistic design solution.

The Liberating Voices! project has so many great "nuggets of knowledge" yet there are elements that are missing with regards to the lower-level patterns. Most of what is in the current project are fairly high-level. This is not to say that they are so high-level that their usefulness is abstracted away from the casual observer, but my point is there is a lot of information left out. The other issue with the project is that the lower-level patterns that address more specific elements for designing communicative solutions to entrenched problems don’t pertain to ever

Now on the other hand, there are many other projects taking place that could be useful to help fill in the gaps. So, the question is how can we harness the possibilities offered through these different projects. Perhaps we can begin thinking of these projects as being meta-patterns themselves representing the highest level in our design. But again, how do we make these connections through the web where these various projects are not all structured the same way, nor connected together?

Currently, Liberating Voices! has this way of getting at these patterns through an xml dump. In this way we can query the patterns in the database based upon a set of parameters and retrieve patterns relevant to the parameters we provide. Now, this provides an important level of flexibility for those interested in using the Liberating Voices! patterns, but what if someone part of planning committee has need of a pattern that isn’t there?

It is possible that the planning group is clever enough to construct a solution, but it is possible that another solution has been provided by another pattern language project. Also, the pattern may provide a solution, but similar to the Liberating Voices! project, this pattern may also highlight some potential pitfalls and situations that could make the solution problematic. As a result, the planning group could miss out on this warning as well as the opportunity to identify other patterns that might be critical to mitigating these potential shortcomings.

I think it would be incredible to have these various groups get together to discuss greater levels of collaboration. I understand there are possibly conflicting interests, but if people could begin supporting open structures it is possible that the adoption of patterns as heuristic tools for design, planning and so forth could not just increase in popularity, but be more effective in fulfilling the basic premise of holism.

This way we could be in effect querying all of these different pattern repositories in order to construct our more context specific pattern languages. This is also important because if these repositories are distributed and that way the knowledge represented in these differing repositories can be managed by those already heavily involved with these specific domains.

This brings us to the idea of pattern adaptation based upon further real-world experience. So, how might actual users be able to help refine and illuminate the possibilities and pitfalls of various patterns? How might users take their experiences and help strengthen current patterns? Likewise, how might these cases help inform future pattern implementations?

But these are questions for the next post.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Today's Pattern...

In looking over the patterns as related to my interests towards developing this system for pattern language design, I was drawn to "Wholesome Design for Wicked Problems" written by Rob Knapp at Evergreen State College, as a pattern that lies at the applied focus of what this system is meant to do. In many ways this pattern represents exactly what I hope this system will support and represents the central pattern from which all other patterns will connect to.

Also, beyond the system itself this pattern really represent what I'm emphasizing in my entire program how do we address design in a way that deals with "wicked problems?"

Anyway, when I get to a certain point I'm going to construct a pattern map that will show the various patterns I have focused on as holistic design for my overall research.

Django and Sqlite

Well, a few more minutes and I have everything synced with Django including my database using Sqlite.

Pesky Frameworks...

Well, after downloading Symfony and trying to get it working on my mac with MAMP I found much difficulty. I truly hate technologies that I have mess around with before I can even begin to work with them.

So on a whim and going against my original post on using Symfony over Django or Rails because of the centrality of PHP among those working with PSP, I decided to load Django. Seriously, it took 15 minutes or less to get everything working. This includes downloading Python2.5 for my mac, downloading the Django package, running the install command and running the command to create a Django project. I tested the Django dev server and it worked fine.

So far tonight I have spent several hours just getting orientated on Symfony, the server config, Pear with MAMP and so forth. Unfortunately, I could dump MAMP and just install the newest version of PHP and Apache for Mac, but getting those set up are not a fun adventure either.

So, I guess I'm going to go against the grain of my views and play with Django for a bit. After all, Python as a programming language is by far my first choice.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Another Journal Entry

As I may have said in the last journal entry I'm tending to fall behind in this writing. I guess it is because like so many of us these days I'm attempting to juggle many different hats all at once. Plus, I feel as if the journal entries take away a bit from my ability to keep up with my patterns.

Anyway, in considering what to write about for this journal entry I began to think about how the local emphasis in this class over the more global or international context of environmental conflict has been an interesting element. I have been so focused upon the international element of sustainable development that it can be easy to forget or ignore the richness of the actually place in which you live. In many ways, I think this whole shift from political science to environmental science has facilitated this more localized perception on my part.

In many ways I think this is related to the ability to walk out my door and see nature, the environment and the built structures of society co-mingling together and it gives me a concrete vision, something that I can comprehend in the here and now. Ultimately, I think there is something spiritually invigorating about that. The shift in focus is grounding me.

Plus, I have been asked to choose a topic of study for the Conflict class that addresses a specific environmental issue and it is my job to highlight the conflict and process of mitigating the conflict along with the environmental issue at the core of the conflict.

So the easiest thing and yet something very important to me is the need to address the process of conflict negotiation surrounding the Duwamish River clean up in the south Seattle area. In fact, one of the first classes that motivated me towards this environmental path was a course in Puget Sound Ecology and we even spent a lot of time focusing on the issue of the Duwamish. In fact, I think this was the same year it was designated as a Superfund site.

Anyway, most of the focus I took was on the science of course and address those scientific concerns, where as this class wants me to address the human dynamic surrounding the science, so it is presenting a differing perspective worth analysis.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

ESRP Journal Entry...

So I'm a little behind on my journal as I missed the first simulation and felt like I had little to go on in regards to formulating a worthwhile discussion on my experience in class.

However, yesterday I had the opportunity to actually show up for the conflict resolution simulation where are engaged in a process of addressing the issue regarding degraded clam beds in hypothetical county here in Washington state. Anyway, my position is to represent the Pacific Northwest Salmon Coalition in this mock-up negotiation process.

The experience was extremely interesting and brought home a lot of the readings we have been doing up to this point in a way I did not expect. I got a sense that despite the focus upon human resources based framing that Emmett takes, I find myself possessing a very politically oriented frame where I was constantly trying to identify ways to gain leverage through the initial phases of the negotiation process. The strange thing is we are only in the phase of formulating ground rules. We haven't even begun to address the issues on the table.

I guess through the process I became very aware how critical the ground-rules are in any negation procedure and especially the ground-rules that dictate decision-making among the group. Now, I have been doing a lot of reading regarding the processes associated with conflict negotiation or engagement if that is the preferred lexicon, but until you actually engage in it many of these concepts are just that, concepts. It seems that with out rising out of the book in some concrete way they would ultimately remain some abstract thing.

So overall I would say that the simulation process is an extremely useful mechanism for driving many of these central concepts home, even if it appears hokey at first. For instance, I could recognize the frames I was working out of; I recognized the value of clarity in all aspects that govern procedures and rules. As an example referring back to frames, I notices that at first my basic inclination was to work from a human resources frame as it seems that is the frame most commonly spoken about. However, despite my initial leaning towards that approach I found a political frame coming in when my initial conception or frame was not being accepted by others within the simulation, so I began conceiving of ways through political means to achieve a more human resources based set of ground-rules. Ha!

I’m a schemer….

Monday, September 3, 2007

Today's Pattern...

Today's, pattern is an extension of what I have been thinking about quite extensively over the past few days. In fact, it represents the crux of what I'm envisioning with regards to this web-based pattern language design framework. It really comes down to the facilitation of this "Collective Decision Making: Harmony of Five Voices" pattern written by Valerie Brown. Based upon the varying locations of potential participants particularly among groups working to address regional, national or international issues the usage of a system that represents one more way to facilitate this process is a potential step in a direction towards fully allowing for this pattern and other patterns to be fully realized and applied within the real world.

In the sense of aiding in this collaborative process of sustainable design that includes many voices and opens up space for reflection, assessment and adaptation (as feedback emerges from the decisions we as communities and societies as a whole make), I see this pattern as being a fundamental component and driving aim of this project

So in thinking up requirements for this pattern mapping application and knowledge system I recognize not only the need to be able to visually map these patterns in ways that form coherent wholes as related to the identified design problems (at hand and that interface with the larger process of sustainable transformation taking place at larger and smaller scales), but there is a greater need to enable people to use this system as a way to track decisions. With this in mind this system will need to be able to document and retain the information used in defining the design problem, but also the maps that are generated from these mapping exercises.

Also in considering the number of voices involved in design and all the interests involved it is obvious to me that there must be a mechanism for asynchronous activity to take place that will allow multiple users to aide in the design process, rather than be dependent upon the expertise or dominant voice of one person. This is often the case in GIS based applications.

The use of multiple voices also means that the system will need to have a UI simple enough for people with varying degrees of technical knowledge to be able to effectively use the system.

Perhaps, this means heavy documentation and strict adherence to clarity in the preparation of materials relevant to the use of the system. Trainings, workshops and so forth may also be principle parts of the design and implementation of the system.

The other idea is the ability of this application to be standalone in the sense that communities and organizations should be able to easily download and install on their servers, or of course they can use the community space application that PSP would in theory provide to the public.

This brings up the idea of using the xml dump that Doug has been talking about. This way an application downloaded and served off of a PSP server could in theory query the pattern repository and hopefully generate a list of patterns relevant to the requirements defined by the design participants.

Extending these ideas further there is the perceived need of maintaining community memory among system users. It is potentially relevant that everyone have a chance to learn from mistakes and successes of those using the patterns. This means being able to see the various approaches communities have taken to contextualize individual patterns, what if any changes were made as well as suggestions these communities might make for revision based upon their experience.

With this capability in mind, it is my hope to enable an adaptive and organic system cognizant of the changing nature of community experience and needs and reflects the adaptation of the social, economic and environmental systems that groups are working in.

However, with all these ideas towards adaptive capacity and community memory the fundamental drive of this system is for people to effectively engage in a collaborative and collective process for good decision-making.

Introductory thoughts on the "Nature of Order"

Ooops, well I missed the daily pattern as I was out of town till just a little while ago. However, during this little Internet break I had a chance to start reading Christopher Alexander’s book the "Nature of Order" in which he lays out his theory of order. Only a few pages into it and I have already been moved several times to reflect on the words. But this reflection is not so much in that he is asserting something new, but rather it is something I have seen or felt for a long time. It is also something that I have seen in a number of texts discussing Eastern philosophy such as the teachings of Vedanta; just read Sri Nisargadatta or Ramana Maharishi and you will get the sense that Alexander is not asserting something new. However, it is unique in a number of ways, primarily his discussion that is directed towards a Western audience.

The other important element that is unique to Alexander’s work is his attempt to apply this vision into all things we do in order to bring out these varying degrees of life and harmony. This conceptualization of wholeness and harmony is meant to represent a coherent picture relevant to those of us trying to make sense out of the 21st century predicament.

Though Eastern thought has made its way into Western culture not many of us know enough to recognize the obvious parallels, and it remains something more faddish than assumed relevant. Likewise the ideas of wholeness, cosmic harmony, emergence and so forth are still so foreign to Western thought it seems almost necessary for us to approach these ideas from within our current mechanistic construct along with all the legacy and history that this view brings with it before we can actually begin to understand or contemplate notions that have been present for centuries. This is not say that similar ideas haven’t been considered in Western context, but they don’t venture as far as Alexander seems to.

So, it appears that Alexander attempts to bridge this chasm by framing his argument in a language, and against a world-view that we Westerns’ are all too familiar with. Beyond this parallel something else struck me. I was contemplating Alexander's words and began to think of his conception of life and his assertion that there is a certain degree of life that can be measured within both the things we traditionally consider to be living and those that we consider non-living or inanimate. So I began to consider the scientific definition of life, which I remember from my high-school biology class. The definition given ascribes life to growth, reproduction, and adaptation to environment. However, when looking the word up in a dictionary the ambiguity of the word emerges with nearly 25 definitions representing differing meanings of the word life.

The other 24 definitions reveal a list of possibilities that extend beyond the "mechanistic" biological one from my high school class. Considering these options, I was undoubtedly led to the question what is it that represents life within a system or object? While organisms may grow and adapt so to do the living structures that society and individual humans create. While the processes may be different, there is nonetheless a growing, emergent and adaptive outcome from the dynamic relationships between both living and non-living systems. So what is this specific life that Alexander is talking about? Now, I haven't read the whole book yet, but I began to think about the spark or intuitive connection that is present when two systems come into contact in recognition of their innate aliveness.

This reminded me of this book I once read, titled the "Spell of the Sensuous" where Dave Abrams describes the fundamental awe and beauty that can be experienced in all things and he too spoke of this aliveness, but in terms of a dynamic relationship between the experiencer and the experienced. He also referred to the ideas of cosmic-dance.

All of this began to coagulate in my mind to conjure a vision of the aliveness in all things as a grand dance that is talked about in the Upanishads, it reminded me of the wholes that includes ALL things as being parts of this cosmic reality.

In getting to this point I began to wonder about how this translates into the world we create, how we interact and care for the environment, how our social systems play a part of this wholeness and aliveness. Perhaps Alexander will make all this clear later on, but I have some of my own ideas and thinking in relation to the use of patterns in the creation of these wholes that engender greater degrees of harmony and life.

This of course brings me to the Liberating Voices! pattern language and how these elements could be used in conjunction with these deeper conceptualizations. In a sense, these ideas of life and harmony are important for gauging the usefulness of the patterns that have been currently defined. These ideas are also potentially relevant to the work of building systems that could aide in the process of sustainable design. In a sense, with this work it is possible that we are moving closer to a level of understanding necessary for operationalizing pattern usage from a vantage point that prioritizes the notion of wholeness and harmony.

Now, I know this has mostly been a rant with little substance for many to grab onto, but as I move along I hope to conceive of ways that will promote a process whereby we can develop communications and knowledge systems capable of assisting this grand and complex ideal of harmony. A system that supports the living/non-living process of reproduction, growth, and adaptation and yet contains the elements that produces harmony in the way we design, live and work within this dynamic environment. A system that draws upon the collaborative efforts and collective wisdom of those who are doing this work already in their daily lives.