Sunday, December 16, 2007

Extending, Clarifying and Redirecting the Previous Post

After reading over my long, yet free thought exercise on expanding my research questions, I have had some time to think and reflect.

What do I think about this?
While I generated a lot of interesting ideas, but I think I really lost sight of the original research questions that drove me to investigate patterns.

Actually, much of my emphasis on patterns is based upon specific questions. Although these questions are not specifically centered upon particular environmental or sustainability issues, rather these questions are centered upon the use and application of patterns in relation to the work they are intended to support.

While patterns have become a central piece to a number of approaches to ecological design, the ways in which patterns are used seems ambiguous, similarly, how do outsiders who want to integrate pattern thinking into their work utilize past knowledge, or append their own insights into existing languages.

While environmental managers and eco-consultants make greater use of communication technologies to support their work, many of the systems that these people use seem inadequate. For instance, knowledge management systems that are geared towards the development of an evolving knowledge bank resemble nothing more than document repositories listing cases of past work (Take a look at or FRAME). Now this isn’t necessarily the case among major business entities, but for the most part content even here retrieving knowledge seems difficult.

When reviewing these cases it seems difficult for outsiders to glean the central principles that make these projects successful. It would also seem difficult for even a long-time user to know where to look when attempting to integrate patterns that may have not been used by the designer, or when ongoing projects require a designer or community collaborates to identify alternative solutions to emergent forces.

For pattern users, the way they have sought to solve this problem has been to produce a number of pattern repositories that serve as a collection of acquired knowledge, either from other pattern repositories, research or personal design experience. Yet, even these systems feel lacking. For instance, take a look at the Liberating Voices project or, with hundreds of patterns it seems difficult to know where to start.

Furthermore, once patterns are identified and applied, how do we monitor their usage? If forces dictate that a pattern be adapted, then how do we capture that knowledge? Perhaps, these adaptations imply the need for other patterns to be added to a design language, yet how do we capture this process? This would seem important to any future work, as these are elements of a language that must be acknowledged.

Based upon this emphasis it would seem that my research questions might ought to reflect shortcomings in the usage of patterns, the systems we use to preserve, adapt and share patterns; as well as how communities and eco-managers collect and record patterns in order to generate their own pattern languages.

In a very generic way the list below represents a set of useful question to help orient this work, with patterns and pattern languages representing just one part of a series of possible solutions.

  1. How do we support the development and retention of environmental literacy among communities?

  2. How do we retain community knowledge that spans across multiple domains to include the environment, politics, culture, communications and economy?

  3. How do we communicate this community knowledge to resource managers and development practitioners in coherent ways?

  4. How do we adapt this knowledge over time, based upon feedback?

  5. How do we connect this knowledge in ways that make it useful for complex, holistic decision-making?

Now, as one could see these questions are very broad, yet by contextualizing the questions in relation to current efforts to employ KM and other ICT based tools in the work of ecological design and natural resource management, these questions do seem to take on a more specific character.

If we are taking a KM approach then new question emerge as additional considerations must be taken into account:

  1. How do patterns help in structuring KM solutions?

  2. How do we support the viewing and searching of knowledge that exists across multiple dimensions?

  3. Which approaches to pattern co-construction serve to build the greatest level of community centered environmental literacy?

  4. With an emphasis on patterns and KM, what role might community ontologies play in usability?

  5. What might be the best way to visually represent patterns as interconnected pieces of knowledge? Mind-maps? Concept Maps? Casual-loop diagrams (perhaps with explicit semantic relationships)?

These questions can go on and on. Yet, they all seem relevant to the work. However, along with the questions what are the assumptions underlying the orientation of these questions? Though a discerning reader might get this I need to make at least five of these clearly explicit for my own reference

  1. Why KM systems? To support the growth and development of civic and networked intelligence for collaborative problem solving.

  2. The task of supporting sustainability is a global issue requiring not only global action, but networks of individuals and community actors collaborating and working together.

  3. The internet provides an effective medium to supplement face-to-face interactions for planning, monitoring and knowledge transfer.

  4. Patterns coupled with the use of community ontologies within KM systems represents a possible approach to knowledge creation, knowledge transfer and knowledge retention.

  5. Patterns represent an effective design paradigm for community based ecological design and resource management.

Of course these are just some of the assumptions, but these correspond to the larger more general assumptions driving the research in the direction of KM, patterns and community collaboration for ecological design and natural resource management. Out of this understanding it is possible to assess these assumptions and ask the questions listed above within a more specific context as connected to a specific problem area among resource mangers and community actors.

For this I will refer back to one of the primary questions put forth in the previous post:

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?

While the question addresses an environmental issue the implications touch upon both human and environmental systems. It spans a number of problem domains, such as economic livelihoods, potential political forces, cultural connections to land, the communication, planning and maintenance of natural resource based economies under threat from a multitude of human and environmental forces.

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