Saturday, December 15, 2007

Expanding horizons and forumulating new questions

While I have been heavily involved in the usage of patterns and pattern languages I have attempted a different approach to the formulation of my research goals by emphasizing specific questions, rather than specific theories. While I'm interested to see how patterns and pattern principles could be applied in more unique and useful ways, I think it is first appropriate to ask some specific question before making the theoretical leap, as it is possible that other alternatives might be better suited to answer my basic questions.

The questions address topics from issues of how to support more effective sustainable development practices, to how knowledge management systems could be structured for more effective use among forest managers and community development practitioners.

One question that emerged out of my masters thesis, and has driven much of my subsequent interest derives from the usage from process documentation as an approach to support adaptive planning in development projects. The idea of process documentation emphasizes the need for adaptive planning that utilizes these process-oriented products as tools to provide feedback on development decision-making. Among the central problems identified was the ability to capture knowledge and provide timely feedback on this knowledge and thereby apply adaptations to this knowledge in the field. From this basic idea came the thought of using knowledge management systems to support community decision making as these systems could provide a way for groups to capture and retain past design decision and ultimately enable them to refer back to these decisions on a reoccurring basis to assess and evaluate actual outcomes.

Patterns seem a useful model for these systems as they represent structured knowledge that could be linked to specific case studies or documents describing the usage of patterns for particular decisions. Likewise the adaptive approach could support pattern refinement as feedback generated in the field could further inform our application of patterns and thereby uncover forces at work thereby requiring the utilization of new or alternative patterns.

While this wasn’t a question per se but a hypothetical solution to a stated problem in the literature on process-oriented development, the idea of finding a specific problem to solve is the theme that should be directing the work, rather than theory itself (at least for now).

Other questions have centered upon whether systems modeling could be an effective learning and assessment tool for permaculture designs or for pattern based ecological designs. This is based on te question whether certain patterns utilized in permaculture design are actually the most effective in promoting sustainability. System Dynamics modeling provides yet another mechanism for uncovering possible unforeseen forces at work within environmental systems and could therefore be useful in supporting more effective permaculture projects or projects utilizing principles derived from permaculture practices.

The point of all these questions is to move away from solving problems with pattern methodology per se and to begin addressing specific problems faced by communities and natural resource managers working in the field.

For instance, How do (can) we sustain and support communities dependent upon non-timber forest products in the wake of degraded forests caused by commercial logging, invasive plant diseases, loss of biodiversity, alternating weather patterns and the intensified harvesting of non-timber products due to growing demand for such resources?

Some answers to this question have been pursued using a variety of mechanisms and ecological design practices such as principles from permaculture design, practices of collaborative community forestry, intensive environmental literacy programs and so on

Yet, do these approaches recognize the political and cultural dimensions often at odds with one another? And do these approaches need to be mutually exclusive paradigms?

From my interpretation patterns and pattern languages represents an approach to incorporating these elements by capturing the knowledge successes possessed by all of these paradigms. In a sense, patterns can help inform us as to the types approaches most suitable for particular contexts.

Other elements come into play here as well, such as the notion of soft-systems modeling and the application of pattern knowledge for social and ecological problem solving. Overall, the point of this post is to capture some of the very intense thinking that has been going on throughout the past few weeks.

Interestingly, this is only a fraction and I will be posting various musings, assumptions and hypothetical solutions that could perhaps serve as useful research projects, academic articles and so forth.

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