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!