Friday, February 1, 2008

Ideas for yet another direction with my research

Today I was sitting in my little office and thinking about the whole biofuels phenomena and the potential impacts upon local communities. I began thinking about how communities could and are currently defining the trajectory of energy independence and the potential problems that might be coming as global power and corporate interests begin to extend their reach in an attempt to control the flows of exchange and production of biofuels.

Again, I was brought back to my thinking on patterns and the role patterns can play in supporting community planning, but I also began thinking about how pattern thinking can help us evaluate and analyze current practices and potentially support alternative configurations of socio-environmental, socio-political and socio-economic interactions among communities and how they might help communities effectively respond to global and state level corporate pressures.

Strangely, I was reminded of my masters thesis which used pattern thinking as an analytical framework for evaluating effective public participation and networked advocacy. In many ways the issue of community defined development within the context of an emergent biofuel based global economy is not that much different than what I presented in my thesis. In fact in many ways this question is a very interesting opportunity to extend the idea of patterns and pattern languages as not just a design paradigm, but as analytical and evaluative framework that can help us understand effective and ineffective sustainable development projects at the community level.

For instance, in understanding the problems and issues that communities face as interacting patterns that help reinforce entrenched problems, we can also begin to rethink of ways in which alternative patterns and their corresponding configurations could potentially support alternative models of community defined development.

I know I have focused very heavily on the technological apparatus that could support community planning as that was one of the primary issues I asserted in my thesis, yet in the midst of identifying problems with the usage of patterns and pattern thinking I completely missed the genius of my original thesis which was the use of patterns as a systems-thinking approach to problem definition and solution description within a complex social environment of competing interests and thick informational interactions among disparate actors.

Funny thing, my thesis committee had immediately recognized this when reading my work, and yet I was off and running to solve the problems I had ran into when working with patterns. I completely abandoned the fact that I had successfully developed, presented and defended an entirely new paradigm for analyzing social and political phenomena that had originate from Alexander’s work.

I hate to say this, but I feel that if I ignore this I’m missing something very interesting and perhaps useful. I know there is a lot of work to be done in the usability of patterns for design and planning, but in many ways there are a whole lot of people working on this problem. This is not to say I have nothing to offer here, but I think there is a lot of work to do in this other area and work that has potential for high value.

I guess this goes back to my the whole reason I’m so infatuated with the notion of patterns and that is pattern thinking presents a fairly comprehendible model for working with complex systems. Yet, understanding these systems along with the problems and various interactions is just as important as learning how to work with the various elements we use to define and design these systems.

Recognizing this puts me in a strange position that has me thinking about abandoning a large component of my research that has been central to my thinking for the past year and a half or so and that is the technological component of my work. Yet, I think this shift backwards is perhaps necessary otherwise some of these insights will be lost and left in the dark.

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