Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Patterns (Ideal Types), Systems Archetypes (The Anti-Patterns) and Causal Loop Diagrams

In looking at operationalizing my thesis work, and in order to further develop pattern thinking as an evaluative framework for community empowerment, I have been doing some reading on System Dynamics again. In my readings I came across the notion of System Archetypes. These archetypes are interesting as they correlate in a way to the idea of forces or context that are reoccurring or that effect a broad range of systems. This is useful as I find that many patterns that describe potential forces or context are often dense and problematically vague (or at least they can be). System Archetypes attempt to describe these forces in a more pattern like way, by labeling them with simple names and providing a description. In some ways I guess we could equate these to anti-patterns.

Yet despite the perceptiveness of the use of archetypes to help describe a specific “problem space” it seems to me that there are important pieces missing within some of the more mainstream systems literature I have come across (BTW, I have by no means exhausted the scope of systems lit) when compared to the level of explicitness presented within the pattern language paradigm. For example, in systems literature I find little that deals with both forces as influencing factors that can undermine a systems, as well as those elements such as patterns that are meant to breathe life into a system. Most of the work seems directed towards being able to effectively identify problematic forces and fail to fully address the possibility archetypal solutions. Instead, systems thinking looks at the problem and describes solutions as an outgrowth of dynamic modeling processes.

Not to discount the modeling process, but this is where pattern thinking seems important as the paradigm seeks to incorporate a range of elements and perspectives in order to support proper configuration and problem solving within complex environments. Yet again, that is not to say that systems dynamics as a field doesn’t posses some very useful insights for supporting the development of the pattern model. For instance, the work done with Causal Loop Diagrams represent a very useful method for describing the types of relationships between patterns. This means we can use these diagrams to help represent the directional interaction between patterns, as well as show the nature of that flow, ie; do these patterns reinforce one another or do they support a dynamic equilibrium within the system.

Overall, I think there are great potential for an integration between these fields and both are essentially seeking to produce the same results, which is effective problem, solving in response to overwhelming levels of complexity. For my work though, I will stick with patterns as there is a solid body of literature emerging that is focused upon community development, communication and civic empowerment that is seriously needed. I think by incorporating some fundamental components from the systems dynamics field we can only make the pattern model more effective in producing what it is intended to produce.


yish said...

Hey Justin,

have you had a chance to look at ?


justingriffis said...

Yes, Yishay. I have had a chance to look at the site and I'm trying to process/digest some of what you guys are doing as they seem to be very complimentary.

I still see so much opportunity for collaboration assuming I can get out from under all this other work and finalize that project.