Thursday, November 20, 2008

First Iteration - a system dynamics model of food vs. biomass

I have been doing a lot of research lately and as a result my blog has been relatively sparse on posts. However, this research has enabled me to develop a very crude model of the impact of biomass production for fuel on food yield within a finite space of land.

This model is by no means close to representing the various dimensions needed to make it worthwhile. However, this is my blog and I wanted to post what I'm working on at this moment.

Keep in mind this model does not account for:
  • Demand on food due to growing population
  • Demand on biofuel (biodiesel specifically)
  • Energy requirements for planting and harvesting
  • Greenhouse Gas Emissions
  • Carbon Taxes (as incentives for adopting biofuel)
  • Rate of Land Degradation
  • Price Fluctuations in Petrol Markets

Now, these aren't all of the parameters that will be added to the model, but they are some of the most important ones at this stage. The idea is to provide this general model that can be adapted to fit with various farming systems, ie mainstream industrial farming represented as a mono cropping system and alternative multi-cropping systems where there a number of various crops with differing values competing for resources. Each system present different management practices and therefore different energy consumption patterns.

Over the next few months this will represent a central theme on my blog as this is what I'm working on... imagine that!

Anyway, here is the current model structure (I will post the equations in another post but this is hopefully a useful visual):

Here is the output:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Global Plant Sciences Initiative Website Update

The GPSI website is slated to go live in January of 2009. We at CTLT have just finished developing a new, slightly modified design of the site and wanted to share a screen shot.

I'm still not sure what the final url will be, but the current, password protected address is

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Agro-MAPS: Global Spatial Database of Agricultural Land-use Statistics

For the link to Agro-Maps, click here:

The Question....

What is the question? Well, that is a great question! But, I'm thinking more specifically about the question driving my interest in alternative agricultural systems.

Are alternative agricultural systems truly more sustainable in terms of reducing GHG, promoting economic viability of farms, and producing affordable, safe food, than more industrialized (modern) farming systems?

There is a lot of rhetoric being published from those arguing for a "perfecting" of modern agricultural processes, strategies and technologies, just as there others arguing for the alternative. But, when we move past the rhetoric we are still just as confused as before regarding the sustainable path to present and future food security.

Rather than proponents of each side of the debate continuing to ignore the other, it is perhaps time to engage in some serious comparative analysis that incorporate economic, environment and social dimensions. Understanding the complexity of interdisciplinary research, "most" of these studies are glaringly absent from the dialogue. It appears that one dimension supersedes all the others in current studies. It is usually economics, with environment coming in second and social coming in a distant third.

I think this needs to be changed if we are going to start identifying appropriate policies for a sustainable future, especially one where we can eat!

Interesting Report...

Emerging Challenges for Farming Systems: Lessons from Australian and Dutch agriculture

This report is an interesting little piece of work as it intersects in many ways with what I'm focusing on. Although the specific questions they are addressing are different, the methods and sentiment regarding complex non-linear systems is right on.

I think this will serve as a good foundation for arguing precedence in my area of work and in the application of systems thinking/computer simulation in the assessment of sustainable agricultural systems.

FDR Style Fireside Chats for the Youtube Generation

Your Weekly Address from the President-elect

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Part 1:

Part 2:

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Results Are In


Friday, October 17, 2008

Great Site on Climate Change and Farming

This site provides a whole range of case studies that have been conducted in the Northeastern part of the US. The cases touch on wind-power, biodiesel production and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from farm related processes. Energy, Greenhouse Gases, and Farming

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Revise, Revise, Revise....

Despite the fact that my last research proposal was accepted by my committee it is looking like I may have to change gears in order to secure the necessary funding to conduct the project.

The problem is that there isn't much research funding for work focused on food systems. There is funding available for work looking into health, sustainable ag and labor related to food security, but nothing on the function of food systems in the context of food security.

But the issue is not all that bad. For the past few months I have been involved in a side project with the BIOAg organic farm here at WSU, which is focused on closed-loop farming systems and the role of such production systems in reducing agricultural related greenhouse gases.

It was kind of a simple idea and I really just thought of the research as an exercise for myself and the farm manager here at WSU. However, the interest in the project has just taken off and people are already wanting to use the models for their farm projects outside of WSU. Plus, there appears to be clear funding opportunities for work like this. The strange thing is I never really pictured myself doing this for a PhD, but it seems that the interest and opportunities for research funding have place this research in position to be drafted into an alternate proposal.

It is just strange how far I have come from I first began this journey.

Anyway, I haven't been posting much because my time has been completely consumed with the elections here in the US and this project. But for all of those interested in what is going on I will post a little blurb shortly...

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Conversations on Research

You may have not noticed but I have made some minor edits to the post on my "new research topic" These edits were the result of some feedback I got from a former professor and thesis advisor.

Here is the conversation, a response to my write-up:
My initial reaction is wow! I think the whole food issue is really important given all the underlying situations that affect it as you mention—environment, fuel costs, production, cultural barriers, conflict, etc. The food riots at the height of the oil price hike this year really went under reported masking a real problem…the failure of the Doha round also indicates large pressure on the area…my sense is that however important… in its present form in your paper, the topic is way too large for a dissertation…the choice of case countries also adds to the expanse.

I sense the choice of cases to be problematic as well…while I don’t know the terrain, the agricultural system in the US is patently different from that of India…so much so that perhaps it may render the comparative advantage moot. In looking at India on this issue, I would make sure you would have access to the data required prior to undertaking the research…I am sure you are also aware that Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze have written extensively (1989, 1990) on Food Security through examinations of famine in India…as a matter of fact, Dreze has moved on to a right to work program during fallow and famine times as a means to insure livelihood…the policy is now an India wide program…

Not to discourage you Justin, but to gently push to a narrower focus, with smaller cases J. You have to finish….

Note: I love the last comment! Yes, I have to finish and sooner than later!

Ok, so here was my LONG response:
Thanks for the response!

Your comments point out to me that there is still a need to better articulate the project so that others understand the actual scope of what I'm trying to do. To clarify, the project is not looking to model national food systems but rather the community interface to the food system, represented as a sub-system. So the primary scale of analysis is the community, anything beyond that is really outside the boundaries. Yet, this is not to say that this project is not overly ambitious. The issue as you say though is getting the data. Building a computer model is not really the hard part, it is getting the data to run the simulation experiments. Some of this data can be acquired through the FAO, State and National govs, NGOs and climate labs around the world. The difficulty is in calculating the fractions of community level inputs, through-puts and outputs related to the larger data sets that are out there.

This is where the case studies come in, to help fill in these gaps and provide ground level information on patterns of consumption and access as well as production and distribution, and how communities adapt to time of uncertainty, etc. The cases also are meant to provide a way to trace food habits and types of foods people use to gain their nutritional requirements back through the production chain. Some of those foods come from personal or community scale food production and some can from more "conventional" or industrial types of food production. The goal is to know what is that ratio between the two at the community level. Along with the ratio is the need to identify origin. The origin will help in calculating the carbon footprint related to distribution and processing. However, if the products are made in say the US and shipped to India and to this particular community (say Ranchi and surrounding areas), the US production system exists outside the scope of the case boundaries. The models will only deal with materials moving into the system, materials used and produced within and for the system, and materials leaving the system. Now, the models will reference resources existing outside the model boundaries and be brought in to the system as fractions of these larger resource pools, energy is just one example, capital inputs might be another. Note: it is not my intent to replicate the World3 model used in Limits to Growth, I may be crazy, but not crazy AND stupid....hahaha!

The reason for the comparison is to better understand how these food system configurations are different. While the differences between say India and the US are obvious to us, there are still efforts to apply uniform frameworks for food production. This scares me and I think that efforts to rationalize production and industrialize these systems as promoted by the World Bank and corporate backers from companies like ADM and Monsanto are potentially problematic, not just on environmental sustainability but on food equity. The rationalization model seems to promote corporate farming and a restructuring of labor. Localists argue that this will actually lead to less security as small-scale farmers will relinquish personal ownership over both their labor and the assets associated with being able to be self-reliant in favor of other forms of work that might put these people in a serious disadvantage considering the potential for further crisis in food prices. So I feel like I need to bludgeon people over the heads and remind them. Of course, maybe such a system could be perfected, but I'm not convinced.

Now, in relation to Dreze's program I would argue that the policy misses the structural problems of the system, it doesn't do anything to really address self-reliant food systems, nor environmental sustainability nor resilience of the system itself in times of hardship. Rather the focus is to offset the problems. I'm not trying to be critical of the work in the sense that I think it is wrong, but from the data that I do have on production systems, environmental decay and the regional climate indicators associated with global warming suggests that such problems will only worsen. This would further suggest that we need to be thinking about additional solutions. Some of the problems might be unavoidable and in those situations mitigation and adaptation is the best we can do, but in other situations the system itself is only exacerbating the problems.

Thanks Bro. Ed! You always have a way of getting me all amped up, thinking more deeply and pointing out the things I miss.

Shanti to Bro. Ed

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Reminder to self...

Here is an interesting link related to a very interesting article by Fred Curtis an Ecological Economist (sounds like an oxymoron, but I assure you it is a real sub-discipline in economics).

The link:

The article: "Eco-localism and Sustainability"

Brainstorming Food-Systems

So as I said in the previous post that there are some basic assumptions regarding agri-food systems. Based on some of these assumptions I have constructed a visual stock and flow diagram of a generic production system. Now, I do not claim that this is correct or that the connections lead to validated behavior among food production systems, but it does help me in thinking about the variables that exist within just one part of the system that includes dimensions of production, processing, distribution and access or consumption.

But this image of the production system is just on part of a larger system. From the highest level view, the overall agri-food system would be generalized by this simple diagram.

The most basic question may be, "why does there appear to be a closed loop between production and consumption?" The reason for this is that in communities where subsistence based food production is central, there is often no distribution and limited processes except in instances where food preservation is central. Yet, this processing is not the same as what one finds in conventional food systems where the emphasis is on processing to create value-added products through raw food materials, i.e. Doritos corn chips processed in Houston, TX from corn grown in Iowa.

Now, consumption feeds back into production because the food people eat is one of the primary means through which they reproduce their productive capacity, which is their labor power. The other primary means would be ingesting water and sex for child bearing (the means of re-producing labor power over a longer time horizon).

Formally Announcing New Research Path - Food Security and Climate Change

It has been a while since I posted a blog entry, but I have a good reason. I have been off the Internet for a bit so that I could focus my attention on re-drafting my dissertation topic. I have hinted at this shift in some previous posts, but it is official. So Monday of next week I get the opportunity to defend the proposal, which I already suspect will get overwhelming approval.

I have decided to post a quasi-lengthy abstract about the proposal. Note: some of the specifics are likely to be amended based upon the feedback I get from this meeting, but the general focus will remain.

Achieving Community Level Food Security:
Constructing Equitable, Sustainable and Resilient Food-Systems in the Face of Global Climate Change
Revised Abstract 9/9/2008
Justin Smith


With continued uncertainty over the impacts of climate change, rising fuel prices and degradation of the natural resource base necessary for agricultural production, there is a remerging Malthusian fear regarding the world's ability to feed itself in the coming decades (Evans, 1998; Meadows, Randers & Meadows, 2004; FAO, 2006; Slater, Peskett, Lundi & Brown, 2006). The concerns are perhaps more relevant than ever before when one considers the continued inability of governments, international institutions, NGOs and private firms to adequately address the persistence of food insecurity in selected populations throughout the world. In fact, depending upon the source it is estimated that between 750 and 900 million are currently undernourished and when factoring the impacts of resource loss, climate change and population increases the numbers are expected to nearly double to 1,300 million by 2080 (Slater, Peskett, Lundi & Brown, 2006).

In response, a number of idealized solutions have emerged, sparking debate on how best to ensure the long-term sustainability of agricultural production systems while simultaneously reducing food insecurity among vulnerable populations. At one end of this debate are those who believe that the answer lies in “perfecting” the prevailing model of agricultural modernization that has been developed over the past 60 years. This conception of a modern agricultural system emphasizes industrialization and mass production of food commodities linked to global trading systems (Lyson, 2004, Pollan, 2006). At the other end is an alternative model of local food systems that emphasizes local production, distribution and consumption of foods produced in more sustainable production systems and that are integrated with an ideal of self-reliance (Curtis, 2003; Lyson, 2004; Morgan, Marsden & Murdoch, 2006; Connell, 2008). Within the context of these two idealized types lies a variety of strategies that represent a complex hybridization of these two competing conceptions. Many of the hybrid strategies have been proposed by international institutions such as the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the United Nations. These strategies aim to support both trade and industrialization policies, yet with a principle focus on communities and self-reliance (FAO, 2006).

However, with the complexity of issues surrounding food security, such as increasing populations and the end of cheap oil, as well as the wide regional variations in climate, resource base and socio-political environments, it is unclear which configuration(s) will produce the kinds of stability and access needed by those most vulnerable to food insecurity. For example, can industrial based agri-food production systems eventually provide the means to achieve food security? What are the impacts of such systems on the environment and how do they feedback to either increase or decrease food production? Similarly, do local agri-food systems provide more sustainable means through which to achieve food security? Again, what are the environmental impacts and do such systems actually enable distribution of food to the most vulnerable? And finally, are hybrid systems better suited than either of the other food-system configurations to address the problems of environmental impact and food access in a world confronted by climate change? In an effort to fill in the gaps missed by past research, this investigation seeks to assess the capacity of different agricultural production strategies in meeting a basic (yet critical) three part criteria: 1.) Social equity by ensuring food-security for "ALL" segments of a population, 2.) Environmental sustainability by successfully reducing (if not eliminating) negative environmental impacts, and 3.) Resilience by successfully mitigating/adapting to environmental shocks associated with global climate change.

Linked to the questions put forth above, the research is guided by a set of assumptions that among all agri-food systems land, labor, water, energy (solar, biofuel, petrol, etc.) and capital are present. It is also assumed that the ways in which these assets are managed and interact other elements within the system (and elements outside the system) will produce varying patterns of dynamic behavior in relation to peoples access to nutritional requirements for healthy livelihoods, environmental sustainability, and resilience, or the time delays in food output associated with environmental shocks. Both the questions and assumptions will be assessed by examining two case studies scaled to focused on two individual communities, one in the US and the other in India (this is open based upon request from funders seeking to address similar questions). The case studies will allow for a comparative analysis into the capacity for shifts in food system configurations commensurate with the three overarching themes of the research. This comparative analysis is also meant to open up windows into the potential for differing policies contingent upon resources, climate, and social context. Differing configurations and impacts on both environment and food security might indicate a further need for locally based analysis regarding policies linked to food security rather than a reliance on broad frameworks meant to be applied uniformly across diverse regions and populations. An additional rationale for this approach is based upon a need to provide an empirically based conceptualization of different food-system configurations and the degree to which they address food security, as well as allowing for the identification of diversified and alternative solutions in achieving environmentally sustainable and resilient food systems specifically relevant to the communities of interest.

The inherent complexity in apprehending the role that agricultural production systems play in impacting the environment and in supporting food access among all sectors of a population suggests the need for a systems based approach, rather than breaking all of the pieces into discrete parts for separate analysis. To accomplish this task the empirical studies will serve as the basis for constructing a portfolio of interconnected system dynamics models that will focus upon the stocks and flows of production, distribution and consumption with a special emphasis upon the system feedbacks that exist between communities, the environment and food stocks.

System dynamics, as a methodology, is one approach to help in understanding the dynamic character of complex non-linear systems by emphasizing the feedbacks that lead to dynamic behavior (Coyle, 1977; Ford, 1999). The main components that make up these models are described as stocks and flows, where the stocks represent points of accumulation within the system, whereas the flows describe the movement of materials such as food, water, energy, CO2 and capital throughout the system. By breaking down the components of local food systems into these explicit parts it is possible to simulate the movement of resources into the system, track the flow of greenhouse gas emissions associated with agricultural production, as well as other negative environmental inputs. The methodology also enables a way to understand the effects of shocks on food production and consumption that are critical to evaluating the stability and resilience of the system (Ford, 1999). Based upon this conception the use of system dynamics provides several opportunities that are critical to identifying the types of policies and practices leading to more sustainable and equitable food systems.

The identification of appropriate place-based policies through system dynamics is further supported by the ability to experiment with our assumptions by iterating through various simulations that can help track the effects of these policies on the system. For example, by reducing the flow of greenhouse gas emissions in the model in order to reach some environmentally sustainable standard, it is possible to simulate the effects of such a policy on food productivity and distribution. Such a cap on emissions might reduce food availability and increase costs for consumers (as well as producers). Such a consequence might adversely affect all income levels or only those with the least spending (or productive) power. The model could be further adapted to reflect increases in land use for food production to offset emissions caps and maintain similar food outputs. But would this reduce prices? What would the effects be on the environment if such a policy were implemented? Perhaps, a policy is to increase small-scale part time farming among the poorest. We can simulate to see if such a policy helps in offsetting potential external factors that might affect food consumption. This sort of iterative approach enables deeper understanding of the types of impacts that policies can have on the effectiveness of a system, and thereby in identifying the sort of food system configurations that best meet these criteria, as well as which configuration poses the weakest potential for success based upon the community context.

While computer simulation is one piece of the research it is important to note that there are limits to the quantification of certain aspects of social systems. Together, with the case studies and the computer models it is possible to strike a balance between the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of food security in relation to food production systems. By integrating these two approaches into a coherent ‘whole it is hoped that this research will provide a guide to help managers, governments and NGOs to use this research as a stepping off point for conducting similar place-based analysis for understanding the impacts (intended as well as unintended) of following specific policies related to food security in a world facing potentially dramatic environmental shifts.

Connell, D., Smithers, J., & Joseph, A. (2008). ‘Farmers’ markets and the ‘good food’ value chain: a preliminary study, Local Environment, 13:3 169-185.

Curtis, F. (2003). Eco-localism and sustainability. Ecological Economics, Vol. 46, pp. 83-102.

Evans, L.T. (1998). Feeding the Ten Billion: Plants and Population Growth. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.

FAO. (2006). The State of Food Insecurity in the World: Eradicating world hunger – taking stock ten years after the World Food Summit. Accessed on 6/20/2008 at:

Ford, A. (1999). Modeling the Environment: An Introduction to System Dynamics Modeling of Environmental Systems. Island Press; Washington, DC.

Lyson, T. (2004). Civic Agriculture: Reconnecting Farm, Food, and Community. Tufts University Press, Medford, MA.

Meadows, D., Randers, J., & Meadows, D. (2004). Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. Chelsea Green Publishing, White River Junction, VT.

Morgan, K., Marsden, T., & Murdoch, J. (2006). Worlds of Food: Place, Power and Provenance in the Food Chain. Oxford University Press, New York, NY.

Pollan, M. (2006). The Omnivore’s Dilemma: a natural history of four meals. Penguin Press, New York, NY.

Slater, R., Peskett, L., Ludi, E., & Brown, D. (2006). Climate change, agricultural policy and poverty – how much do we know? Overseas Development Institute. Accessed on 6/25/2008 at

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Liberating Voices and MIT - Check IT -The Book is Coming!

Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution
By Douglas Schuler (and a whole bunch of other people!)

(Click for link to MIT Press)

In recent decades we have witnessed the creation of a communication system that promises unparalleled connectedness. And yet the optimistic dreams of Internet-enabled engagement and empowerment have faded in the face of widespread Internet commercialization. In Liberating Voices, Douglas Schuler urges us to unleash our collective creativity--social as well as technological--and develop the communication systems that are truly needed.

Inspired by the vision and framework outlined in Christopher Alexander's classic 1977 book, A Pattern Language, Schuler presents a pattern language containing 136 patterns designed to meet these challenges. Using this approach, Schuler proposes a new model of social change that integrates theory and practice by showing how information and communication (whether face-to-face, broadcast, or Internet-based) can be used to address urgent social and environmental problems collaboratively.

Each of the patterns that form the pattern language (which was developed collaboratively with nearly 100 contributors) is presented consistently; each describes a problem and its context, a discussion, and a solution. The pattern language begins with the most general patterns ("Theory") and proceeds to the most specific ("Tactics"). Each pattern is a template for research as well as action and is linked to other patterns, thus forming a single coherent whole. Readers will find Liberating Voices an intriguing and informative catalog of contemporary intellectual, social, and technological innovations, a practical manual for citizen activism, and a compelling manifesto for creating a more intelligent, sustainable, and equitable world.

About the Author

Douglas Schuler is a member of the faculty at The Evergreen State College, former Chair of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), and a founding member of the Seattle Community Network (SCN). He is coeditor of several books, including Shaping the Network Society: The New Role of Civic Society in Cyberspace (MIT Press, 2004) and the author of New Community Networks: Wired for Change.

"In this wide-ranging analysis of the role of information in society, Doug Schuler proposes a grand theory that weaves together disparate information and communication activities into an organized, synergistic fabric. He taps into the collective wisdom of citizens--both theorists and advocates--to develop a pattern language that can be used as a framework for rethinking how we build community and create a more humane, equitable future."
--Nancy Kranich, Former President, American Library Association, author of Libraries & Democracy

Monday, August 18, 2008

Randomness: Politcs, GPSI and MetisSD

I'm back from vacation and I have had a lot of time to think about a whole host of issues. It has also been a while since I have posted and a lot has gone on. Russia invaded Georgia, Russia threatens Poland with Nukes due to signing the missle defense system with the US, Obama is now a rock star with no real leadership experience, blah blah...

Oh and according to some, Obama and Polosi are going to cause the annihilation of our country. Out right laughable since the single greatest threat does not come from outside the US, but from within and that threat is the economy of mass consumption that persistently tells the country that we must consume in order to be viable, but forget our consumption has raped the Earth and that climate change threatens the very survival of humanity as a whole; that includes any notion of the nation-state we call the United States of America.

But anyway, enough of that! The GPSI site was approved and the site users are beginning to add content. As soon as I get the thumbs up that the site is ready for the public from the perspective that the content is ready I will go ahead and repost the link.

Along side getting this site completed I have been working on a new project directly related to the food systems research. The project has been tentatively named MetisSD which is a web based system dynamics application that provides a causal loop diagram application, an equation builder for stocks and flows as well as an interface to pattern languages that are intended to support the testing of various policy interventions or more specifically, the application of patterns to address the forces that emerge within the systems being modeled.

Right now, the main thing I have been working on is the construction of a database and the equation builder interface. From those two pieces all else follows. As soon as I have some I will post some screen shots of the interface that I'm working on as well.

The other thing I have been working on is the development of a mental model that will serve as the foundation for the numerical or SD model. This part is proving to be much more complex and the range of variables and dimensions tells of the huge undertaking that this project is shaping up to be, but then again it is sorely needed. I will be posting some ideas on this mental model in the next couple of weeks after a few more meetings with some colleagues on the topic but we are making progress.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Another One...

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Too Good To Pass Up!

See more funny videos at Funny or Die

Related to the previous post…

In some ways, I have recognized that rather than taking a cookie-cutter (or biscuit-cutter: for my English friends) conception of the research and in configuring potential solutions to serious problems, what I see is the application of highly contextualized patterns formulated to fit the specific issues of health, environment, labor, political economy, culture and technology.

So even as I have put my work on patterns at rest, I’m confronted with the usability of these little gems of knowledge as well as the range of configurations that patterns enable for constructing complex systems. This would mean in one situation we might implement a biogas farm to help recycle waste, whereas in other situations continued use of fossil fuels might be both economically ideal and the level of usage negligible on climate. It is going to depend on the context and the patterns available.

Anyway, just an interesting insight!

Ignoring the Debate to Generate Real Solutions!

For the context of this post see: Metamorphosis!

In doing an evaluation of the literature on food security and food systems I’m wondering if the actual focus of the questions being asked should be local vs. global, or alternative vs. mainstream. It would appear to me that such reification could seriously constrain the research. And while I’m not going to fault those who have taken this stance in the past, but there is so much overlap that by creating such a dichotomy between these paradigms one runs the risk of presenting an oversimplification. Now, I do agree that there are clear differences, but is this research really about the debate between the mainstream industrial system versus local eco based food system(s) or is it about optimal solutions to support food access, sustainability and stability? I mean, what are we after here?

The real goal is to address food insecurity, and simultaneously identify patterns of sustainable and resilient food systems in the wake of climate change. This means our food systems need to be environmentally sustainable in the sense that they lessen the negative environmental impacts of agricultural production, processing, distribution and consumption. This includes reducing the carbon waste that is generated and pumped into the atmosphere, this means addressing the usage of and over-dependence upon inorganic fertilizers and pesticides that contaminate water ways and strip soils of essential nutrients. This also means addressing the global reach of food distribution and fossil fuels used to ship these products world-wide as well as the energy consumption and creation of waste products associated with the processing and subsequent consumption of these food goods. With these issues in mind it is hoped that we as a society can drastically cut these impacts and thereby minimize the potential for catastrophic climate change.

However, most scientists are in agreement that climate change is upon us and that the damage has been done. Right now, our job is to avert an all out biotic collapse. So if we are constructing food systems to minimize the effects of food production (etc) on our climate, then we will also need to understand how these methods fair when confronted with the types of climatic shifts that most are warning us of. With the types of shifts expected our way in the next 50 to 100 years, it is necessary for us to assess whether the types of solutions we decide to implement within the food systems of the world will be able to withstand the shock of regional adverse weather, soil degradation, rising sea levels and subsequent massive population migrations away from coastal cities. According to most scientists the effects of climate change will be more severe depending upon the region, which would suggest that regional variations in the configuration of food systems would be most appropriate. This means certain regions will be more dependent upon global imports of food and it might be necessary for these regions to begin identifying alternative means for generating the type of capital needed to feed themselves in a volatile world.

Yet, coupled with these issues is the persistent need to maintain our work to eradicate food insecurity and chronic hunger. Forget climate change for a second, we still have nearly 2 billion people who are food insecure at any given time throughout the year and according to the Food and Agricultural Organization we have roughly 10 million people dying annually from hunger. That kind of death toll is more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined! So we have a tripartite problem to address. One, we need to minimize the carbon leak (and other greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere, our practice of food production need to become more ecologically aware, meaning we need a global adoption of agro-ecological principles for food production. Second, we need to construct systems that include practices, trade and networks that support adaptive and flexible systems that can withstand shocks and disturbances brought on by climate shifts (which are already happening). And third, we need a system that is configured in such a way that it provides a level of food equity that ensures that ALL people have their nutritional needs met, in a healthy and just way. This doesn’t mean tons of canned vegetable that processed with massive amounts of sodium and calcium chloride for preservatives, or access to a McDonalds on every street corner, but rather healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate foods.

Now the hypothesis is that a mixture of global and local food system configurations is going to be needed to address these issues in the future, but with an emphasis upon the local eco based system. But what is that ratio for say the Sahel or the Negev, meaning what percentage of food consumption could take place within the region of origin compared to the percentage of food imported from around the world and still minimize the greenhouse gases, ensure food access for all and provide a stable and resilient food system?

To accomplish this task and fully engage this question I still think it will be appropriate to include the discussion on mainstream versus alternative, but this discussion is more of a means to provide a basis for understanding the impacts of climate change on food security, or the environmental impacts of food production (eg the climate) and each opposing side could be assessed in relation to either one’s ability to provide healthy access to food. This would suggest the need to generate two generic models indicative of each of these two paradigms followed by place-based models that allow for mix-up of these different paradigms in order to identify the optimal configuration for each region in the study.

Monday, August 4, 2008

GPSI Update

I had someone comment on another blog entry (Global Plant Sciences Initiative - Paying the Bills) and ask whether the GPSI site is up. The answer to that is yes and no. The site is near completion, but it will not go public for sometime, at least that is the impression I get. Nevertheless the site design is near complete and since it is still locked down from public view I decided to present a screen shot to show what has been accomplished so far.

The next few steps for the project are to get additional feedback from the stakeholders involved, make any needed changes, conduct a workshop on using the site, begin uploading content and and then permission the site for public view and participation.

From what I gather this seems to be scheduled for Spring of 09, but it could be sooner. Yet, that is not up to me. Anyway, it has been a fun project and continues to be!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Defining Food Security

I have been tasked to formulate a working definition of food security in order to orient a study on the role that climate change and political conflict could have on peoples ability to meet nutritional requirements. The focus is aimed at achieving long-term food security among developing nations, but it could be extended to address potential threats posed to the so-called developed countries as well.

The definition that seems most useful for this analysis is the one developed at the World Food Summit of 1996 and accessed in a policy brief by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN. In this definition four central dimensions have been identified as being critical to understanding food security.

These dimensions follow from here:
Food availability: The availability of sufficient quantities of food of appropriate quality, supplied through domestic production or imports (including food aid).

Food access: Access by individuals to adequate resources (entitlements) for acquiring appropriate foods for a nutritious diet. Entitlements are defined as the set of all commodity bundles over which a person can establish command given the legal, political, economic and social arrangements of the community in which they live (including traditional rights such as access to common resources).

Utilization: Utilization of food through adequate diet, clean water, sanitation and health care to reach a state of nutritional well-being where all physiological needs are met. This brings out the importance of non-food inputs in food security.

Stability: To be food secure, a population, household or individual must have access to adequate food at all times. They should not risk losing access to food as a consequence of sudden shocks (e.g. an economic or climatic crisis) or cyclical events (e.g. seasonal food insecurity). The concept of stability can therefore refer to both the availability and access dimensions of food security.
(Source: FAO, 2006 Policy Brief - Food Security)

Beyond the set list offered by the FAO on the topic of food security, there are number of elements that must be considered within each of these dimensions.

Elements to emphasize:
Labor - this is critical since labor is the means by which agricultural production takes place and in turn the fruits of one's labor feedback to enable future labor for continued agricultural production. This would suggest that health also plays a central factor as a person's health influences the productive capacity of one's labor.

Health - this enables efficient and optimal levels of labor output. Problems with health due to diseases and malnutrition severely constrain productive capacity. In turn, food insecurity negatively effects health.

Environment - Climate change, poor soil fertility, water scarcity, landscape, pests and temperature all mitigate (or potentially mitigate) food production.

Political Economy - this includes elements of trade, power relationships related to food production, distribution, processing and access. Problems of conflict might also fall under this heading as conflict poses serious threats to food supply stability.

Culture - Determines appropriate food types to be produced and how that food is handled and in some cases where that food originates.

Education - It is important that food producers have access to information related to alternative processes of cultivation, marketing skills as well as food preservation skills. Consumers also must have a level of education that can support healthy eating lifestyles, as well as environmentally friendly ways of interacting with food.

Technology - the use of pesticides, fertilizers, GMOs, transport systems, computer forecasting systems, GIS, etc. can have both positive and negative consequences, which must be weighed regarding not just food availability, but also food quality and long-term sustainability.
Now, this is not complete and each element will be further refined but it presents a good start for developing a holistic view of food security and will support further development of appropriate models in order to map the potential impacts of climate change and political conflict on food security in specific communities.

Overseas Development Institute, 2006. Policy Brief - Future of Food Production and Climate Change.
Food and Agricultural Organization, 2006. Policy Brief - Food Security
Mtika, Mike. 1998. Social and Cultural Relations in Economic Action: Peasant Food Secuirty in the Context of AIDS. Washington State University.

Food crisis looms in East Africa (Article from the BBC)

More than 14 million people in the Horn of Africa need food aid because of drought and rocketing food and fuel prices, the United Nations has warned.

The UN World Food Programme says it urgently needs $400m (£200m) to prevent starvation in the east African region.

Continue on to source...

Saturday, July 19, 2008


The past month has been a flurry of activity, revaluation of my research interests in light of stumbling across some new insights, and well honestly I have been undergoing a dramatic cognitive shift for the past year.

While most of my preliminary ideas have focused on issues such as biofuels adoption or water resource allocation linked with participatory practices using patterns and pattern langauges, things have shifted. In some ways DIAC-08 was the final straw pushing me over the edge. This shift in thinking resulted in a rapid redrafting of my PhD topic, a meeting with my committee chair, further refinement and now a newly approved research program.

The new (current) title of the research is:

Reconfiguring the World’s Agri-Food Systems – Food Security and Poverty Reduction in an Era of Climate Change?

The overarching research question(s) driving this work is:

Can a reconfiguration away from the mainstream agri-food system, towards alternative localized food-system(s) increase food security while also promoting poverty reduction and environmental restoration in the face of global climate change? Similarly, by promoting such a shift can an alternative food-system provide insulation from price volatility associated with shifts in production due to climate and conversion of food crops to biofuels?

To answer this question I'm tentatively planning on three case-studies that include a system dynamics approach to material flows modeling and policy analysis. Linked with the analysis phase is the construction of systems based policies to increase the resilience of local alternative food-systems. These policies will be fashioned in structure after patterns (see previous post: Patterns as Policies, and Pattern Languages as Policy Frameworks? ).

Together with quantitative dimensions provided by the system dynamics models and the elements within specific "patterns as policies" it is suggested that a deeper understanding and thereby opportunity for successful interventions for reconfiguring our food systems will be more likely to achieve the benefits cited with local small-scale agriculture with regards to community economic development, reduction of environmental impact from agricultural production, poverty reduction and thereby support food security.

For those interested here is a link to the evolving research overview. However as you might notice this title is different than the one provided in this blog entry. This just means that I'm revising and clarifying the specifics of the research. Once this is complete I will restart the process of identifying case study locations.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Vertical Farming?

What is Vertical Farming (check it out)?

A recent article that was sent by a friend: "Country, the City Version: Farms in the Sky Gain New Interest"

Ok, so I have been reading about Dr. Despommier for a while. I guess my primary concern with this type of project is that only those with the greatest resources will control the means of production since they are going to be the ones principally equipped to fund and market such large scale projects. Currently, the industrial ag system has had an adverse effect here in the US and such a system could potentially serve as the final blow for massive consolidation and the dissolution of small-scale family owned farms.

However, it is a pretty cool idea and if there was a way to create some equity within this type of production model then it could be a very viable alternative on a number of fronts. It just seems so often that lofty idealistic professors and inventors come up with simple solutions only for those solutions to be appropriated and corrupted by not so idealistically oriented peoples.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Thoughts on DIAC-08

Well, it has been a week since DIAC convened in Berkeley, CA and I have had some time to process a bit of the incredible things I saw. The presentations I attended and almost every paper within the proceedings contained some gem of knowledge and inspiration for me.

Yet, what was perhaps the biggest inspiration was the opportunity to talk with a few of the presenters outside of the conference. Of note Peter Day and Andy Dearden were extremely supportive, gave great feedback, showcased the cool things they are up to, and well, just plain fun to hang out with.

It was also a great opportunity for me to showcase some of my completed research and present what I'm working on presently. While I got a pretty warm reception for my research paper presentation, I think it was my exploratory paper and new research interests related to food systems, system dynamics and patterns (as policies) that got the most questions and excited responses.

Though I have been working heavily with patterns and pattern languages for the past few years now, it was interesting to hear people suggest that I leave patterns to pursue this system dynamics/food-system analysis stuff. Granted I have been thinking about this for a while, but to have several different people mention essentially the same thing causes one to pause and think for a minute.

Now, I'm not going to abandon what I have been working on or the projects I already have in the works, but the feedback I got basically reaffirmed the new direction I have been taking.

The issue I have is the committee that I have put together are perhaps better geared towards enabling me to pursue a research program focused on patterns, and now to change in mid-stream when I have already submitted a proposal of study could rock a boat I don't want to rock.

And yet, I have broached the topic with my chair and he seems pretty interested. So we'll see.

The point is I feel like shifting gears.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Patterns - a Structured Link to the Conept of "Policy"

Reference Previous Post for Context: Patterns as Policies, and Pattern Languages as Policy Frameworks?

So I am seriously beside myself. Yes, I should be preparing for DIAC right now, but I was taking a break and reading over this book again, The Policy Process. The more I delve into it, the more I feel like I'm reading a book about a pattern language dedicated to the policy development process. It is actually frightening. Again, this is only furthering my own assumptions that patterns themselves can be conceptualized as policies themselves.

In fact if one were to "patternize" Clark's framework it is very possible one could decode a pattern language devoted to the process of community problem solving, perhaps even similar to the process designed by the London Knowledge Lab to uncover patterns in practice related to Learning and Teaching.

If this is true then the question then becomes, "what do patterns and pattern languages provide that might be missing from Clark's thesis?" Also, "what might Clark's insights tell us about ways to advance the concepts and theories associated with patterns and pattern languages?"

Now, just from this initial reading I can identify a few possible areas where patterns and pattern thinking might be able to accentuate Clark's description of the Policy Process Framework:

  • 1.) Patterns possess a structure that explicitly requires one to codify a general context in which it is applied.

  • 2.) Patterns are meant to be linked as a system, so they are holistic by design. In this way it’s not only the process that represents a dynamic system as stated by Clark, the system of policies or patterns themselves are dynamic and morphological.

  • 3.) Patterns and Pattern Languages can be transferred across multiple domains, which might also be the case with Clark’s process.

  • 4.) The structure of patterns lend themselves codification in a variety of environments, particularly within online environments where users can search/traverse lists of solutions associated with specific problems within specific contexts.
Now, there may be more ways in which patterns might accentuate Clark's vision, but these are the most obvious. So what things might Clark's discussion provide to the community of pattern adopters? Well, the most obvious is the need to understand the political and social dimensions of the process itself. So if one were to use patterns to construct a set of policies then Clark's assertion to recognize these troubling dimensions becomes critical to the development of any sort of holistic design solution.

Yet, even here patterns seem to address this. Civic Intelligence in particular comes to mind when looking at Clark's socio-political dimensions of complex problem solving. However, Clark's nuanced discussion about context, systemization, guides for conceptualizing issues, and so on speaks volumes to the possibility to merge patterns with current work related to policy development, codification and possible reuse.

In reiterating #2, Clark also emphasizes the dynamic nature of the policy development process. Now as I would assert even the policies themselves are dynamic and subject to feedback as insights emerge. While he hasn't explicitly stated this I would suggest that his overarching principles would be very much in line with such thinking and thereby intrinsically linked.

To give a better representation of Clark’s work I have added some rather long, but revealing excerpt from his book.
The policy process is abstracted in a framework consisting of a logically complete set of mapping categories that can help us understand and resolve any policy problem. It is a practical means of organizing our thinking, our knowledge, and our problem-solving efforts, thus allowing us to define a problem and understand its context.
Hmmm, sounds very familiar… Again, he says,
The framework is primarily an effort to systemize the major variables with which social scientists grapple in all political and policy inquiry. The founders of the policy sciences wanted to devise a theory whose interrelated concepts and categories would be “dependable, appropriately selective, creative and economic,” (Lasswell and McDougal 1992, 4; Brunner 1996a).

The framework does just that, serving as both a theory and a procedure for decision-making, for inquiry into the policy process, for orientating ourselves to problems in context, and for understanding our own roles and standpoints in all of these situations (Moore 1968).
This little block of text again reveals direct similarities in thinking with Alexander’s pattern language and perhaps more directly with Liberating Voices and the Conservation Economy pattern languages. Yet, one thing that is revealed that is somewhat lacking in these pattern languages is the necessity to understand our own roles and standpoints. Yet, this is not completely true, again, the Civic Intelligence model being developed by Doug Schuler attempts to address this shortcoming in the pattern language as it represents the central pattern in the pattern language itself. However, I would suggest that Clark’s synthesis of past work could prove both beneficial to socially oriented pattern languages and vice versa, particularly Schuler’s

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nice Video on CSAs (What is a CSA?)

Revision to Previous Post - Write-Up

So Yishay made a great observation in the write-up that I previously posted. I responded to his comment, but it so apt that I think it warrants a posting unto itself.

Here is the comment and my response below:

Yishay -
all good, EXCEPT - I would start with f. First, get a system up and running with the minimal set of features you need to do a. Then add the features you need to do b, etc.

If you want to get people to buy into your plan, you need to show them something that moves. Then they'll tell you what's missing, and you can add it. People don't do well in abstract (unless they're mathematicians, computer scientists or theoretical physicists). They need an object to talk with.

Justin -
Thanks Yishay for this reminder as you are exactly correct in my opinion. Unfrotunately, I didn't articulate this point in the write up . But I did initiate the project in this manner.

After our discussion about ning as a platform for this project I went ahead and started site: MyCSA Network.

This served as the showcase piece that I sent to the decision maker on this project. After reviewing the site along with a few ideas driving the site, he told me to go ahead and produce a quick project proposal that addresses the rationale, the approach for building and maintaining the site.

So, going back to your comment, this just shows the need to be more methodical in recognizing the process of practice!

This is certainly important and underscores the need to effectively "enroll" potential users by showcasing something that can serve as a guide or reference for helping people conceptualize the types of things one hopes to accomplish. We all need to see or have something tangible to provide concrete evidence to our abstract ideas.

So here is the revision on Methodology Portion of the write-up to reflect this VERY important insight, informed by a pattern nonetheless!:

Methods for Design and Development:

  • After defining an initial problem (see: rationale), build a base site with general functionality as a showcase.

  • Extend Problem Definition (Interviews, Literature Review, Survey of Potential Stakeholders).

  • Identify Specific Patterns linked to the Problem Definition (use: Liberating Voices, Learning Patterns, Conservation Economy.

  • Adapt identified pattern to address specific program goals.

  • Merge with Web 2.0 principles to guide decisions on final platform choice and subsequent implementation.

  • Identify useful patterns for promoting and building user interactions on the final site, i.e viral marketing, mass mailers/e-mails, print media, word of mouth, blogging, etc...

  • Iterate based upon user feedback to address potential emergent issues.
I would like to annotate my comment regarding the need to provide objects to talk with. Yes, it is critical, but simultaneously, it is just as critical to first understand what problems you are attempting to solve. So in looking at my own process it was the identification of a specific issue that initiated the idea to create a CSA focused social network. However, in the context of building any sort of participatory program the use of the pattern cited by Yishay becomes central as it can be used as a talking point to frame the rationale, purpose and eventuate an enrollment of potential users.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Quick Write-Up for a Pet Project...

Using Community-Change Patterns to Develop a CSA focused Social Network
Project Proposal #1:
Justin Smith
Introduction and Rationale:
No longer is the web solely comprised of basic web pages made up of text based HTML, nowadays we have streaming video, audio and desktop application you can use through your favorite web browser. Along with the proliferation of these uses and software, a second wave has come along labeled Web 2.0. This marks an era defined by an explosion of social interactions and user generated content. People no longer have to be tech wizards to navigate and harness the power of this technology. These days all it takes is a few mouse click and one can have a full featured web site and be connected to old high school friends or publish an academic journal. These days a certain level of articifical intelligence is embedded within this massive brain we call the Internet. This makes it easy to aggregate content from various places that match and link individuals together based upon shared preferences, interests and activities. As a result of all of this, we can see that new ways of thinking and acting within this virtual environment are changing thinking and acting in the "world-of-the-real."
However, despite the opportunities afforded by Web 2.0 and social networking technologies, many are still left out and have not yet harnessed the possibilities. Of particular interest are the range of groups spread out across the US focused on building community through a reorientation of the production and consumption practices associated with the modern agri-food system. Though these groups have been able to foment a movement based upon ideals of sustainability and community interconnectedness, there is little evidence to suggest that their efforts are anywhere close to replacing the current system. And though these communities have begun to recognize the utility of the web, it seems they have not yet grasped the underlying opportunities for building greater connectivity among food producers, consumers and retailers on not only a local scale, but national, and even international scales. All one has to do to recognize the opportunities is to see how far the "Fair Trade Movement" has come by using information technologies that links producers, sellers, retailers and consumers in a global market place. This suggests opportunities for similar actions among locally focused groups that can both link people together to meet food needs, but also link people through the free-flow exhange of ideas, practices, problems and successes.

According to Thomas Lyson in his book Civic Agriculture, "CSAs are an important part of civic agriculture. They strengthen the local food economy and preserve farm land. A web of connected and cooperatively organized CSAs could represent a real and viable alternative to the mass-produced, homogeneous, imported produce found in most supermarkets today." Unfortunately, when one does a simple search on CSAs or CSA networks one finds a relatively small number of connected and cooperatively operated ventures that not only provide alternatives but that work to promote a full fledged food movement. That is not to say that locally-focused global networks do not exist, but rather they appear to be few and far between. Thus it seems that there needs to be a concerted effort on building up the necessary connections between one another to help foment a "true movement."

The question then becomes: How do we build vibrant networks that connect to both local relations, while supporting a global movement towards integrated efforts that enhance the role of local food producers and access to these production systems among local community members? Following developments in the use of systems thinking and the codification of knowledge related to the design, development and strategic use of these social technologies it can be argued that we have potential answers to these questions through the adoption of patterns and pattern languages. Essentially a pattern represents a general solution to a persistent problem and these pattern langauges represent a network of patterns that interact and reinforce one another to construct an effective and sustainable system. Based upon this work it is argued that "Liberating Voices" serve as the model for supporting the advance of the local food movement online.
Overall, "Liberating Voices" represents a pattern language for democratic communication, which proposes a set of social, communicative and design principles specifically geared towards confronting these challenges from both local and global perspectives. Using these sets of patterns it is thought that we as a movement of concerned citizens can effectively define the problems we seek to solve and then map out the technological solutions to address these problems. That is not to say that we will eliminate all problems, but rather it is possible that these efforts can provide a greater support network so that communities can eventually come together to tackle the range of other issues confronting the complex relationships between people and their food.
Using the principles behind Web 2.0 thinking and patterns for communicative engagement articulated by "Liberating Voices" this project will work to develop technologies and practices tools that can be easily used by people with varying degrees of technical competence. Along with creating usable systems these technologies will fill in a gap in capacity and action among locally distributed and previously unconnected groups across the country and beyond. Together with these tools and the orientation towards supporting greater levels of interaction, there will be a special emphasis on Community-Supported Agriculture and the presentation of one soltuion to a range of issues that need to be confronted from within and outside the movement for a "civic agriculture."

Methods for Design and Development:
a.) Outline Problem Definition (Interviews, Literature Review, Survey of Potential Stakeholders)
b.) Identify Specific Patterns linked to the Problem Definition
c.) Adapt identified pattern to address specific program goals
d.) Merge with Web 2.0 princinples to guide deciisions on final platform choice and subsequent implmentation
e.) Identify useful patterns for promoting and building user interactions on the final site, i.e viral marketing, mass mailers/e-mails, print media, word of mouth, blogging, etc...
f.) Support an iterative design process that embraces user feedback and continual revision for an up-to-date system
Despite the methods presented above, it is clear that certain peices will fundamentally need to be in place. Such as a system to generate interest or location based groups, individual user pages, whether consumers, producers or unaffilitated supporters of a general movement. There will also need to be a way for users to locate geographically CSAs, as well as tools to help current CSAs who already have website generate more traffic through integrating these systems without complex programming skills. Likewise, there is a need for tools that can interface with current social networking platforms such as Facebook or MySpace as this will support future marketing, visibility and make navigation to and from a user's most popular websites easy and seemless.

Project Deliverables:

One social networking website and an associated research paper of journal quality that presents rationale, methodology, evaluation and conclusions for continual refinement of the technologies and practices of interactions used both on site and in face-to-face interactions. Provide on-going support to the development and maintance of additional services as suggested by users or emegent tools created out the community of Web 2.0 developers.

For more information on the methods, technologies and thinking behind the project please look at these resources:

What is Web 2.0? Web 2.0 as described on wikipedia (This is actually a great and easy to understand conversation)

What is Liberating Voices? A Pattern Language for Social Change

Patterns as Policies, and Pattern Languages as Policy Frameworks?

I was having a discussion the other day with Ray (the Chair for my PhD committee) about what "patterns" are in the context of Alexander's vision and conception for his pattern language. Now, we have had numerous conversations on this topic as he is still attempting to grasp what it is we are talking about, but he has heard enough to engage with me on this topic.

Anyway, I proposed that in the context of pattern languages that address issues within some sort of social domain, the patterns themselves could be best understood as policies. Now, based upon our previous conversation Ray dismissed this analogy, and yet, as I have pondered this for a while I've begun to wonder if this is not so far from the truth. Adding some validity to this particular conception of what a pattern represents I was hit with a set of definitions that attempts to define a range of meanings associated with the word, policy.

In reading the book, The Policy Process: A Practical Guide for Natural Resource Professionals by Tim W. Clark, I came a across a definition that breaks the term up into 10 distinct units for understanding. According the Hogwood and Gunn (1986, 13-19) the term policy is commonly used to describe:
"(1) a field of study, such as wildlife policy, (2) an expression of general purpose or desired state of affairs, (3) a specific proposal, (4) a decision of government, (5) formal authorization, such as the Endangered Species Act, (6) a program, (7) output of what government delivers, (8) outcome of what is actually achieved, (9) a theory or model, such as "assumptions about cause and effect relationships" about a problem and how it should be solved, and (10) a process, as of complexities unfolding over time."
Following this set of meanings for the term I immediately recognize where the concept of patterns intersects with the term policy, the most obvious of which is #9. Certainly patterns represent a particular model, and as Alexander himself describes, "a patter is a perennial solution to a reoccurring problem." This sounds to me like both a model with a set of assumptions of how best to solve a specific problem. Likewise, #2 as more broad conception of the term policy relates to the overall nature of a pattern language itself, which is essentially a normative vision for solving a system of problems in ways that address underlying structures. And since we are talking about social systems and not architectural design we would think of these underlying structures as persistent problems of social inequity, environmental degradation, economic insecurity and marginalization. One could also assert that #10 represents an inherent principle within a pattern language itself, especially within dynamic social situations. In this way one could perceive patterns and the pattern language itself as an evolving and dynamic model, a process.

Now, I'm not going to sit here and argue that this is the right way to think about patterns, but it does show that my own conception is unclear. And I would invite a conversation into this, because if we can envision patterns as policies and pattern languages as a the framework in which these policies are embedded, then it is possible to perceive Alexander's construct as a highly transferable model to a range of social domains that seek to address policy problems.

This is also important when considering the inherent difficulty in attempting to explain what a pattern or pattern language is. All to often it seems that people have a difficult time in making the leap from past concept of patterns to the one defined by Alexander.

So the question goes can we think of patterns as policies, and if so, can we co-construct useful frameworks (pattern languages) to address systemic problems often encountered within complex social situations?

I would argue yes, and if one looks into the current practice of environmental conflict resolution one would find that the sets of solutions developed among some of these extremely contested processes, it is possible to see them as representative of specific patterns. Now, I know some would immediately jump on this and argue back citing the thinking that these patterns are meant to be perennial solutions, not failures, and so many of these resource management decisions generated out of local level negotiations are anything but solutions.

In response to such a hypothetical argument I would have to counter that the patterns defined in these process are not necessarily the right one for the situation, yet they are models that possess particular assumptions and that intend to solve specific problems. Unfortunately, these patterns are generated out of situations where competing visions and interests collide, and thus potentially more effective policies get pushed aside due to political constraints involved within the process.

Also, according to Tim W. Clark, many of these miscalculations are the result of misunderstandings or complete oversight of the contexts in which these policies are being developed. This is interesting as this shows how patterns depart from traditional notions of policy. For one, patterns have a specific structure that includes: problem statement, description, solution, examples of implementation, and of course, a context in which it can be applied. So right off the bat, patterns assert the need to understand the context or set of forces that are at work when constructing a system of solutions. To me this would suggest that patterns can not only be seen in terms of policy, but the structure that patterns represent fill in gaps left out in traditional problem solving ventures.

Anyway, these are some thoughts and I would really enjoy comments, clarifications based upon other people's conception of what a pattern really is and what a pattern language really is once the model is removed from its original domain.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Final DIAC-2008 Announcement - Berkeley, CA June 26-29

Tools for Participation: Collaboration, Deliberation, and Decision Support

Featuring . . .
Community Networks ~~ Collaboratorium ~~ Deliberative Polling ~~
"Europe in One Room" ~~ America Speaks ~~ Deliberative Polling
~~ Argumentation ~~ Issue Metamaps ~~ Social Change ~~
Democracy ~~ Wicked Problems ~~ e-Government
~~ Web 2.0 // Pattern Languages ~~ and much more !

Sponsored by Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility and UC Berkeley School of Information

University of California Berkeley, California, US
June 26 - 29, 2008

It has been twenty-one years since the DIAC Symposium for exploring
the Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing was first
convened in Seattle.

Now, in the early days of the 21st century humankind faces
challenges of even greater proportions than those perceived in 1987.
The ability of people around the world to discuss, make decisions,
and take action collaboratively is critical to addressing these
challenges. Unfortunately, this fact is rarely acknowledged by

Researchers, scholars, activists, advocates, artists, educators,
technologists, designers, students, policy-makers, entrepreneurs,
journalists and citizens are rising to these challenges in many
ways, including the development of new communication technologies
that build on the opportunities afforded by the Internet and other
new (as well as old) media.

DIAC-2008 combines CPSR's 11th DIAC symposium with the third
Conference on Online Deliberation. The joint conference provides a
platform and a forum for highlighting socio-technological
opportunities, challenges, and pitfalls in the area of community and
civic action.

In addition to the wide range of planned events there will be
extensive opportunities for collegial discussion at the conference.
Register now for an innovative and compelling exploration of the
future of meaningful social participation. We have kept registration
fees low to encourage wide attendance.

Research Papers
Supporting Collaborative Deliberation Using a Large-Scale
Argumentation System: The MIT Collaboratorium

Mark Klein and Luca Iandoli

What Makes a Search Engine Good for Democracy? Public Opinion
Polling and the Evaluation of Software

Jo Ann Sison and Warren Sack

"Liberating Voices" in South Asia: Case Study of Networked
Resistance in Jharkhand

Justin Smith

CoLPE: Communities of Learning Practice Environment

Santi Caballe and Jerome Feldman

A Two-Room E-Deliberation Environment

Fiorella De Cindio, Cristian Peraboni, and Leonardo Sonnante

The KerbabelTM On-Line Deliberation Support Tool

Aurlie Chamaret

On Social Function: New Language for Discussing Technology for
Social Action

Andy Dearden and Ann Light

Privacy Awareness for the Design of Pervasive Home-Based Technology
for Elders

Tonya Thompson

Community Network Analysis: Understanding the Contexts and Content
of Community Communications

Peter Day

Designing a General Architecture to Support eGovernment
Carlos Grima-Izquierdo and David Ros Insua

Networked Publics: Publicity and Privacy on the Internet

Colin Koopman

Exploratory Papers
ACRAW Alliance for Collaborative Research Work in Arab Countries
Lilia Kakaradova

B-Involved -- Extending Electronic Public Participation
Paulo Rosa, Angela Guimares Pereira, and Gonalo Lobo

Exploring the Potential for Open-Source Self-Governance

Mike Mussman

Computer, Neural, and Social Networks
Jerome Feldman, Daniel Lee, and David Thaw

Community, Disability And Response to Disaster Mitigation in

Salma Rahman and Shahid Mallick

Trust for Online Deliberation on Wicked Problems: Implications for
the Design of Internet-based Large Scale Collaborative Platforms

Ali Gurkan and Luca Iandoli

Aspirational Goals and Incremental Tools: Does Forecasting Exclude
Other Frameworks for Strategic Planning?

Gregory Hill, Michael Monticino, Eric T. Jones, Steven Kolmes,
and Rebecca McLain

Integrating Online Deliberation into Transportation Investment
Decision-making: Preliminary Reflections on a Field Experiment

Matthew W. Wilson and Kevin S. Ramsey

Colloki: Rethinking Local Conversations on the Web
Sameer Ahuja, Manuel A. Perez-Quinones, Andrea Kavanaugh,
Candida Tauro, B. Joon Kim

Growing a Global Issue Metamap: An Issue-based Approach to Policy

Jeff Conklin

Representing Community Concerns in Agent-Based Models: A Web 2.0

Catriona Kennedy

Online shopping relationship as collaborative decision process: A
focus on buyer-seller interactions

Thomas Stenger

Tools for Participation as a Citizen-Led Grand Challenge

Douglas Schuler

Patterns, Process and Systems-Thinking: Putting Social Pattern
Languages to Work

Justin Smith

Social Change and Social Justice: Is There a Role for Technology?

Blanca Gordo

Community Media and Community Development: a Disruptive Innovation?
Peter Day

Community networking Strategies
Peter Day

Role Challenges in Technology and Social Action Projects: Bridging
the Gap between Social Software and Social Contexts
Nick Plant

Exploring a Large Scale Online Citizen Engagement Strategy
Susanna Haas Lyons

Social Software's Social Side-Effects
Sean Munson and Paul Resnick

Designing Social Psychological Incentives for Online Collective
Judd Antin

Panel Discussions
Social Change and Social Justice: Is there a Role for Technology?
Organized by Blanca Gordo

What's New In the Bay Area? Deliberative Systems and their Brethren
Organized by Todd Davies

Other presentations and panel discussions are being discussed.
Possibilities include "What type of software does the world need?"
and other topics.

Technology Demonstrations
Brian Sullivan

Knowledge Media Tools for Capturing Deliberation in Participatory
Spatial Planning
Anna De Liddo, and Simon Buckingham-Shum

VizBlog: A Visualization Tool for Blog Discovery
Candida Tauro, Sameer Ahuja, Manuel A. Prez-Quiones, Andrea
Kavanaugh, and Philip Isenhour

Dialogue Mapping Demonstration
Jeff Conklin

Kim Cranston and Jeff Manning

e-Liberate web-based system for online Roberts Rules of Order
Douglas Schuler

Europe in One Room
We have the opportunity to preview the rough cut of "Europe in One
Room." This new documentary tells the story of the first European
Wide Deliberative Poll in which a scientific sample of all of Europe
gathered in the Parliament Building in Brussels in October 2007 to
deliberate for three days about the future of Europe. Each of the 27
countries were represented and the issues were discussed in 22
languages. Told through the eyes of the participants and organizers,
this unprecedented experiment in transnational democracy shows that
dialogue across differences of language and nationality is possible.
This project is based on the work of Stanford professor Jim Fishkin
who will be present at the showing.

Open Space Session
We're planning an Open Space Technology session on "The Future of
Tools for Participation: Visions, Resources and Needs" as a capstone
event on the last day of the conference, June 29. This event will be
free to the public (although donations are strongly encouraged). The
open space approach may be the best way to spend less structured
time as a collective group to formulate research and action plans.

Berkeley, California

It's generally warm (but not hot) in Berkeley in late June.
Berkeley, California, is known for its higher education and
cosmopolitan culture and is the home of social movements, such as
the Free Speech Movement, as well as innovative technology such as
BSD (Berkeley Unix). The conference hotel is located on the water
with a view of the San Francisco skyline.

NOTE: We are still looking for a few dedicated volunteers. If you
are available for volunteer work now (and you live in the Bay Area)
or if you plan to be in the Bay Area in time for the event, let me
know. Douglas ]at[ publicsphereproject ]dot[ org.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Preparing for DIAC - 08

DIAC -08 is coming up quick and I'm working to get all of my things in order for the trip and the two presentations I'm putting together for the conference. Currently I have two papers accepted, one research paper and one exploratory paper. So I'm scrambling to get everything set.

I have uploaded my papers for public view and hopefully we can increase the visibility of the conference. With that in mind, if you are in Berkeley June 26-29 check out the Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing.

Ok, without further ado, here are the papers:
Research Paper - “Liberating Voices” in South Asia: Case Study of Networked Resistance in Jharkhand

In 2006, a study was conducted to analyze the relevance of Liberating Voices, a project emphasizing the use of pattern languages as a method of supporting ‘civic communication.’ The study sought to evaluate whether effective networks exhibit the elements defined within the Liberating Voices database, which claims to have amassed a number of archetypical patterns for effective communication and political transformation. The results of this study revealed that while the Liberating Voices project is not yet complete, various pattern configurations can be observed among effective instances of networked advocacy. This points to both legitimacy of the pattern language while opening up opportunities to further study these patterns as approaches to capacity building for ineffective networks struggling to influence political discourse at local and global spheres of policy making.

Exploratory Paper - Patterns, Process and Systems-Thinking: Putting Social Pattern Languages to Work

Following a 2006 study aimed at evaluating the validity of pattern languages within the context of civic communication and social change, a number of insights emerged connected to the field of system dynamics and the practice of process monitoring. The study revealed that both system dynamics and process monitoring provide a number of opportunities for further grounding pattern thinking, as well as in supporting adaptive approaches to pattern based capacity building among community networks. Based upon these initial findings it would appear that further investigation is necessary to better understand how patterns, systems and process can be integrated for ever more effective planning and capacity building among civil society, community networks and social change advocates.