collaboration

Circumvention

Bryan
Version: 
1
Problem: 

Censorship and deliberate misinformation plague the modern media, the internet access of many countries, and traditional news sources. The ultimate challenge to a power structure comes from the ability of people under it to understand it. Without understanding and knowledge of a power, one cannot mount the offense needed to dismantle or change it.

Context: 

Any system of power, society, or decision-making apparatus that aims to maintain power or govern and anybody who is affected by it.

Discussion: 

Those in power have become quite adept at hiding information from public view that could threaten their ability to retain it. Governments and corporations worldwide engage in efforts to censor the flow of this information and the ability of people to discuss and act on it. Because circumvention is an inevitable by-product of censorship, they also work to plant misinformation to satisfy the inherent human need to know.

Misinformation, on its own, is not dangerous. To take an example, a conspiracy theorist's views or slanted media coverage are not particularly dangerous as the marketplace of ideas should be able to neutralize them and give people better options. Unfortunately, the marketplace of ideas among traditional media sources is severely weakened. According to FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), "Almost all media that reach a large audience in the United States are owned by for-profit corporations--institutions that by law are obligated to put the profits of their investors ahead of all other considerations. The goal of maximizing profits is often in conflict with the practice of responsible journalism." According to Ben Bagdikian who published "The Media Monopoly" which analyzes increasing consolidation of media ownership in the United States, less than six companies own over 90% of media in the country. Misinformation is easily discredited and neutralized by having access to alternative viewpoints but with less than 10% of media outlets being independent, how can people really have access to those viewpoints?

When combined with censorship, misinformation becomes incredibly dangerous. Censorship aims to prevent people from accessing information. The censor becomes the sole decider as to who can access what information. The posterchild of this problem are nations controlled by totalitarian regimes such as North Korea. In North Korea, the independent press is simply outlawed and the average person is not even allowed to use the internet. Those reporting accounts which differ from the official government stance are often imprisoned, sent to "re-habilitation" camps, killed, or simply "disappeared" in the night. When censorship is combined with misinformation, the market of ideas is simply killed.

Circumvention is both a tactic and a strategy for reviving the marketplace of ideas, exposing corruption, and re-enabling the free flow of information. While most people think of circumvention as being a technological measure, it doesn't necessarily need to involve a modem, an internet connection, or a computer. Circumvention simply needs a method to access an uncensored repository of information. This repository could be a person from a foreign country who brings in contraband documents with them or an illicit billboard exposing government misinformation.

Technological circumvention is perhaps the most widespread and useful type of circumvention. As more and more nations decide to censor the internet and place limits on what people can do online, the ability to bypass firewalls and remain anonymous becomes more and more important. Technological circumvention tools include proxies, peer-to-peer networks, and rogue websites which operate outside the jurisdiction of their censors.

Rogue websites are perhaps the simplest form of technological circumvention. By hosting websites outside of the jurisdiction of the censorsing country, the censor loses the ability to control access to these websites. Many blogs critical of the Chinese government, for example, are hosted in the United States where they are safe from censors.

Peer-to-peer networks enable people to bypass censorship and access media content that might not be available through traditional means such as web access. They can exist solely within a nation, circumventing the need to go through a government firewall. Because of the diversity of peer-to-peer networks and the difficulty in indexing them for censorship purposes, they are powerful tools for distributing archives of documents, videos, photos, circumvention tools, and other static content. Unfortunately, they are difficult to use for web browsing or interactive communication. Examples of peer-to-peer networks include BitTorrent, GNUNet, and Freenet.

Proxies and proxy networks are the most versatile technological circumvention tools. They give people under censorship the ability to connect to peer-to-peer networks which they are barred from accessing, browse the web, use the internet anonymously, and, in some cases, host websites and online services of their own. Many one-hop proxies and Virtual Private Networks such as Xerobank exist, but they only protect ones anonymity and circumvention abilities to the extent that they can continue to operate and stand by their users. As they hold the keys to de-masking users and disabling their internet access, these providers often roll over under government pressure. Proxy networks are different as they route a user through several different proxy servers which do not have the ability to single-handedly betray the user. The most technologically advanced proxy network at this time is Tor. It routes a user's connection through three different proxy servers none of which can demask the user without the collusion of the others. The connections are all encrypted making them too difficult to eavesdrop on and the network makes efforts to hide it's "network signature" meaning even the most sophisticated firewall can't block it as there is no way to differentiate between Tor and other services such as online bakning. As an added feature, it also provides the ability to people to anonymously host websites in a 'darknet' where every user is anonymous. Another example of a proxy network is I2P which contains many similar features but it not as popular or useful as Tor.

Solution: 

People must build tools and networks to make it easier to engage in circumvention and these tools must be widespread enough to be useful in times of social unrest and crisis. New methods for building these tools must be discovered as circumvention is ultimately a cat-and-mouse game.

Pattern status: 
Draft

Sustainability of Weedy Sociality and Distributed Wilderness

Pattern ID: 
53
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
53
maja {and} xinwei kuzmanovic {and} sha
FoAM {and} GaTech
Problem: 

The process of globalization is causing a rapid decrease of diversity in the social, biological and cultural habitats, due to the dominant economic powers, such as proprietary communication technologies and transnational 'life industries'. Physical public spaces, as arenas for a wide range of interaction and social change are losing their importance, as the global marketplace has shifted its locus from the accessible public markets to the dispersed and elusive global networks.

Context: 

In the era of mass homogenization of branded public spaces around the world, we propose a research into the historical examples of sustainable urban spaces that focus on dynamics and diversity in the social, biological and cultural domains. The examples of such public spaces are community gardens and pocket parks, non-institutionalized plaza and street life, travelling fairs and periodic festivals. From these spaces, we learn about ways of conducting an alternative economy based on emergent trans-local actions, rather than accepting the generic, mono-cultural approach of the global free-market.

Discussion: 

We propose two projects: Hubbub and GroWorld as case studies for a pattern that deals with sustaining trans-local diversity in the social, organic and cultural domains. This pattern is based on the assumption that social interaction and exchange can take advantage of the information technologies to augment site-specific urban contexts with a layer of pliant digital media, that can be shared between several localities and communities. By developing (elements of) spaces that can be seen as autonomous, 'alive' entities, the public arenas acquire additional layers of interaction (human-human, human-built space, human-media space...), that can yield unexpected social participation.

Hubbub, a project developed in the Topological Media Lab at Georgia Institute of Technology, is an investigation of how accidental and non-accidental conversations can by catalyzed in urban spaces by means of speech projected onto public surfaces. Hubbub installations may be built into a bench, in a bus stop, a bar, a cafe, a school courtyard, a plaza, a park. As you walk by a Hubbub installation, some of the words you speak will dance in projection across the surfaces according to the energy and prosody of your voice. We'll capitalize on recognition errors to give a playful character to the space. Hubbub's success will be measured by the extent to which strangers who revisit a hubbub space begin to interact with one another socially in ways they otherwise would not. Hubbub is a part of a larger cycle called URBAN EARS, which explores how cities conduct conversations via the architecture of physical and computational matter.

GroWorld is an initiative that started within FoAM in Brussels. It encourages multidisciplinary discussions, bringing different research topics into a common focus: 'growth processes' in (physical and virtual) life. GroWorld is currently developed in three parallel trajectories: ecological, technological and socio-cultural. The trajectories are mutually independent, but complimentary, with their results being integrated into several experiments. The ecological strand involves building a trans-local network of public gardens concerned with preserving local bio-diversity, grown by scientists, landscape architects and neighboring communities. The gardens are sites evolving on their own accord - becoming patches of autonomous organic wilderness in the midst of an urban jungle, grown and molded by their care-takers and temporary dwellers. They are devised both as growing environments in which the visitors can comfortably linger, surrounded by specific local flora, and instruments allowing their players to collaboratively shape and steer the environment's processes of growth, decay and transformation. GroWorld's cultural trajectory comprises artists and designers interested in 'biomimetics', learning from nature to design responsive spaces and objects. More specifically, this strand examines growth processes in audiovisual media, textile design and human computer interaction and applies this research in mixed reality installations, a-life gaming environments and smart textiles. Simultaneously, the technological strand develops responsive media, technologies and interfaces for social interaction, information and entertainment. Its results should be accessible to different communities and should be adaptable for several social, biological and cultural contexts - adaptable to both indoor and outdoor spaces, different climates and cultures.

Both Hubbub and Groworld are phenomenological experiments, that are built upon symbiotic collaboration between different cultures and disciplines. The projects should lead towards manifold applications of developed media and technologies, with a high level of invariance. Metaphorically, these practices can be compared to the horticultural, communal patterns of farming, that can function as an alternative to generic or monocultural approach to global economy.

Integration of cultural, ecological and technological studies will move these projects towards a long term experiment in sustainable creative, technological and sociological development, connecting organizations and individuals from various disciplines and cultures in one common goal: growing an adaptive, sustainable habitat for nature, technology and culture.

Solution: 

Minimize borders and maximize edges. The sustainability of public spaces is dependent on an abundant diversity of social, biological and cultural habitats. Their interrelationships will inevitably grow at the edges of dissimilar environments, such as urban-natural, cultural-scientific, physical-digital. The public spaces of the future should merge the context and the meaning of the local, physical sites with the globally accessible digital media and build trans-local events encouraging interaction between communities on both sides of the digital divide.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
from DIAC-2002 paper, Sustainable Arenas for Weedy Sociality: Distributed Wilderness

Using Collaborative Technologies for Civic Accountability

Pattern ID: 
26
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
26
Tom Tresser
Passionate Strategies
Problem: 

Citizens are attempting to come together in communities around America and the world to solve community problems. At the same time community organizers lack effective technologies to help them bring people together and to assist in their efforts to hold governing bodies accountable and responsive to citizen input. We need more collaboration among citizens and more transparency for our governmental agencies.

Context: 

There are dozens of citizen action organizations working in America to bring forth local people into civic life and to solve social and economic problems, The Industrial Areas Foundation is one such group which has been promoting civic engagement for over 50 years (see www.tresser.com/IAF.htm) The IAF has helped create over 50 local and regional citizen action organizations. These organizations are coalitions of organizations, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, labor unions and community-based groups. Over 2 million families are members of the constituent groups involved in this work. There are other networks supporting civic engagement, such as the Gamaliel Foundation (see

Discussion: 

A technology-enabled approach to the work of these organizations offers a number of intriguing possibilities. Often, these organizations are working in disadvantaged neighborhoods where Internet connection and PC ownership tends to lag behind communities where the residents have more income and have attained higher levels of education. Community organizers who use technology to achieve their goals have the additional opportunity to introduce new tools to their constituents and help them use and master these tools. I am encouraging social and community change practitioners to build technology strategies and tools into their work and to help their allies and citizen-leaders master technology in order to achieve organizing goals.

Solution: 

I propose to create two related enterprises for community technology applications for community organizing, First, a web-based project called "We Are Watching." This is a collaborative tool for allowing teams to monitor government activities and analyze governmental budgets. The online work would be supported by offline training. "We Are Watching" would be template-based and could be customized for any jurisdiction. It would include reporting, webcasts and spreadsheet tools. Citizen teams would be assigned various beats" covering government meetings, attending and exposing fundraising events and interviews. The budget analysis would work like this. Using the Chicago city budget as an example, the lead organizers must first post the budget online as HTML and work with participating organizations to identify and populate a series of working groups assigned to review a specific department. This team is coached by a project volunteer versed in government budgeting and has access to an online help center. The team meets (online) and assigns tasks. Essentially, each team must contact the official in charge of their assigned government unit and interview them about their budget. The team eventually posts their analysis, questions and recommendations on the project page. In this way the entire city budget will be scrutinized and annotated. All teams will be invited to a Peoples Budget Congress where spokespeople for each team will make a brief statement. Additional components of the "We Are Watching" project would be graphical interface databases that would allow users to easily see which groups gave how much money to their elected representatives. The second component of this project would be a hardware and ISP provisioning service that would supply participating organizations with PCs and Internet access at reduced rates. In Chicago, we have an IAF-affiliate, United Power for Action and Justice, which has over 350 member organizations. These member organizations are mostly religious institutions with anywhere from 200 to 2,000 families as congregants. I could imagine a very robust business supplying PCs, access, training and support to all these families.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
from http://www.civiclab.us/

Activist Road Trip

Pattern ID: 
611
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
134
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

It is surprising how little people really experience and learn when they travel. They often seem to be in a hurry to get to a certain place where their friends or relatives live or where the media or other "expert" has told them they should go. Many people would like to see and learn about how people live and the challenges they face, but it’s often difficult to do. Since there is apparently scant profit in trips that would help bridge cultures and encourage understanding, there is little support for it. Also, for most people in the world, travel is costly, is sometimes perceived as dangerous, and there are lots of borders that can block our progress.

Context: 

In an era of globalization, problems are no longer confined to local areas. Also, in an era of heightened fear-mongering, paranoia and suspicions about others, the importance of building bridges individually and in groups can't be stressed enough. One of the best antidotes to propaganda is first-hand knowledge and personal ties to people in different regions.

Discussion: 

Travel offers immeasurable insights if people are receptive to them and have meaningful experiences while on the road. The trouble is, of course, that "it's possible to travel all around the world and not get anywhere at all." The Activist Road Trip pattern is designed to prevent that from happening.

Lori Blewett and I just returned from a trip to Venezuela with twenty-five students. Our ultimate destination was Caracas, Venezuela, one of the three locations of the "polycentric" World Social Forum in 2006, but we visited Barquisemeto and the small hillside village of Sanare. Our tour was conducted by Global Exchange, a non-profit organization located in California, that leads "Reality Tours" to nearly 30 countries including Afghanistan, China, Ireland, Mexico, India, Iran, the Mexican-US border, and Cuba. We visited a number of community centers, health clinics, educational missions, agricultural cooperatives, and housing developments set up by the Chávez government. Also, during the bus drive from Barquisemeto to Caracas our guide briefed us about recent Venezuelan history from the point of view of Chávez supporters as well as detractors. Global Exchangeset up numerous presentations including one from an economics professor (with opposition leanings) who explained some of the particularities of the Venezuelan economy. We also had ample opportunities to converse with people at the forum.

Activist road trips can provide more meaning than standard, non-activist, road trips. But how is the pattern employed? At a basic level, people can simply go on an activist road trip. This means pursuing activist activities — especially learning — while "on the road." The preferred mode of transportation is by foot, bicycle, or car; possibly by bus or train; and probably not by airplane where unscheduled stops and flexible timetables aren't allowed. This is not to suggest that the trip should be haphazard or random — just that serendipity is likely to come into play (and chance favors the prepared mind). Thinking about the trip ahead of time, planning for it, arranging to meet with various people and organizations in advance is very useful — just don't over schedule or otherwise become slave to your plan. A simple way to "ground" the trip is to attend events at the destination and at points along the way. Events could include anything from a mass rally to a simple breakfast with friends of friends. And don't forget to record your impressions during the trip and debrief and discuss upon your return.

People can always elect to go on an Activist Road Trip but the concept itself must be institutionalized to make it easier for people in general to go on these trips and, ideally, to build active networks of people who are interested in similar issues. As with other patterns we concentrate on how to promote this incrementally, with little pieces that organically build towards larger networks or assemblies, rather than through a grand, top-down, plan. Therefore we must build upon the basic components: physical locations, activists (hosts, guest, and guides), information and means of getting from one place to the next. Many “pieces” of this pattern now exist. When, for example, punk rock aficionados, travel they often share information with each other — who’s cool in the next town, whose couch is available, etc. This works—at least to some degree for the punk community, but what if a non-punk (like me?) wants to meet with some punks or if a punk wants to find out more about a non-punk group?

The chore is to help promote processes and ideas to build a thriving alternative to existing approaches to travel that are disconnected and disengaged. Ideally each visit helps to build the network while advancing positive social change. How can the network promote people from different communities getting together? Some of the pieces that we can envision include integrated calendar of events and atlases specifically designed for this type of trip. These atlases would necessarily be dynamic — events as well as the non-profits, infoshops and other host organizations — are often short-lived.

Of course the above discussion suggests that the point of the road trip is to visit activist sites along the way. Another approach is going on a road trip as activists. The Bee Hive Collective that travels throughout Latin American and develops intricate and beautiful murals that illustrate indigenous issues and struggles, and the Miss Rockaway Armada that traveled down the Mississippi River in the summer of 2006 to share art, music, environmentalism and an anarchist perspective with everyone they met, are great examples of this. In both of those cases, the groups essentially brought their activism with them. The ultimate activist road trip in the U.S. would have to be the Freedom Rides in the spring of 1961 where activists traveling on buses from Washington, DC to various towns and cities in the deep South to publicize their fight for civil rights were met with racist violence that was only quelled after federal intervention.

A person implementing this pattern should expect a number of challenges. For example, people working in one activist destination could be overwhelmed by large numbers of people “passing through.” It is incumbent on the traveler to make sure that the host is not taken advantage of. Visitors must be sensitive to their host's situation and aware of their responsibilities as guests. Encounters between visitor and host, important as they are, have several potential complications. Who knows that the “field trip” to, say, a worker's collective is not to a "Potemkin village" that has been carefully "staged" in order to convey certain impressions to the guests, perhaps in a bid for funding. And how do we ensure that the visitors to a favella in Rio De Janeiro, a township in Capetown, or to the South Bronx, are not simply treating what they're witnessing as a spectacle.

The possibility exists that when any destination is made public, in an “atlas,” for example, hostile townspeople might choose to harass the travelers or the host. There could also be other types of vexing side-effects. If, for example, people in the hosting situation were serving food to visitors, the local health department could decide to pay a call on an “illegal dining establishment.” Also, the network is built on social relationships and the ones encountered in an Activist Road Trip are more likely to be dynamic than more established venues.

There are dozens of possible places to visit on an Activist Road Trip: activist organizations, collectives, shelters, migrant camps, small businesses, reservations, encampments, sanctuaries, labor halls, organic farms, conferences, concerts, environmental disasters, prisons, community media centers, barrios, refugee camps, etc. Ideally the travelers could stop at "World Citizen Travel Bureaus" along the way or at "People's Embassies" or, even a "Museum of Civil Society" — if people create them!

And People can add an Activist Road Trip to another trip. Rather than fly in to their destination, dropping in out of the sky as it were, people could explore the region en route to, or returning from, the event to observe first hand the realities that the forum examines. This can even be done within the city itself. One doesn't have to travel very far — physically — to find unexplored regions. The Activist Road Trip can be done in your own region or city.

Note: The photo above is from The Miss Rockaway Armada activist road trip.

Solution: 

References: Bridging the Global Gap; Global Exchange web sites & other literature

Categories: 
orientation
Categories: 
engagement
Themes: 
Digital Divide
Themes: 
Research for Action
Themes: 
Education
Themes: 
Community Action
Themes: 
Social Movement
Themes: 
Case Studies
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Travel offers immeasurable insights if people are receptive to them. The trouble is, of course, that it's possible to travel all around the world and not get anywhere at all. The Activist Road Trip pattern is used whenever activism is combined with travel. Activist Road Trips can be long or short; meditative or obstreperous. One doesn't have to physically travel very far to find unexplored regions sometimes in one's own region or city.

Pattern status: 
Released

Peaceful Public Demonstrations

Pattern ID: 
434
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
133
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Governments and large companies often ignore the will or well-being of the people. An election can be stolen a war can be illegitimately launched, an environmental disaster can be caused — all without significant challenge from legistatures, the courts or other designated "guardians of the people."

Context: 

When "normal" dissent is being ignored; when imminent, possibly catastrophic, initiatives are being undertaken such as an unprovoked invasion of a sovereign country. In these cases "traditional" ways of registering dissatisfacton aren't appropriate.

Discussion: 

Although crowds of people can be — and are — denigrated by politicans, the media, and other powerful institutions, their existence is somtimes the most profound expression of a population whose rights or sensibilities are being ignored. People must sometimes take to the streets to visibly express their dissatisfaction.

Large public demonstrations are probably the most overt form of protest. It is hard to deny the reality of thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands of people, in the streets peacefully marching, with banners and signs, music, costumes, noisemakers and other devices that have been spontaneously and individually designed. Though often portrayed in the media as marginal and/or dangerous, mass demonstrations (such as those in the Ukraine in December 2004) are generally peaceful and, indeed, suitable for the whole family. As a matter of fact, the presence of families and older people helps ensure that the demonstrations are peaceful. Through their visibility, they also help to legitimize the protest by showing that the concerns aren't limited to one demographic use, youths, for example.

In February, 2003, the world witnessed the largest expression of this pattern in history. People gathered in over 600 ciites in over 40 countries worldwide to protest the invasion of Iraq by the world's only superpower. Although the Bush administration was undeterred by this unprecedented display of disapproval, the idea of peace as an ideal was brought forward by civil society worldwide and held aloft as a universal idea — one that citizens must not allow governments to pursue — or ignore — according to their own calculations and motivations.

Mass peaceful demonstrations don't take place in a vacuum. They need to be tied to broader strategy. This often involves engaging with the media and with established governing (or intermediating) entities. It is often helpful to have a clear set of demands. Finally, although this doesn't always happen, measures like gathering names and contact information can be used to help build a large activist network that persists beyond the duration of the protest itself.

I was dreaming in my dreaming
Of an aspect bright and fair
And my sleeping it was broken
But my dream it lingered near
In the form of shining valleys
Where the pure air recognized
And my senses newly opened
I awakened to the cry
That the people / have the power
To redeem / the work of fools
Upon the meek / the graces shower
It’s decreed / the people rule

   -- Patti Smith, "The People Have the Power"

I think that the photograph of the demonstration in Los Angeles (early 2003) against the US invasion of Iraq used above is from a web site that helped promote the worldwide peace demonstrations.

Solution: 

Peaceful, mass public demonstrations both large and small, in combination with other forms of dissent are sometimes necessary.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although demonstrations are disparaged by politicians and the media their existence is sometimes the deepest expression of those whose rights or sensibilities are being ignored. It is hard to deny the reality of thousands of people in the streets peacefully marching, with banners and signs, music, costumes, and noisemakers. Peaceful Pubic Demonstrations need to be tied to broader strategies that include building activist networks that persist beyond the protest itself.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Wiki commons

Open Source Everything

Pattern ID: 
614
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
127
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Commercial interests in the form of large multi-national corporations strive to fulfill only the most profitable needs or wants. In many cases, the highest or easiest profit aims at wants that may not ultimately be in the interests of the targetted consumers (let alone the workers or the environment). For instance, many food companies focus on high fat, high sugar, high salt products that humans find tasty based on an evolutionary history in which these substances were difficult to find. For people in the developed world, however, having access to such foods is unhealthy. Furthermore, the way these foods are produced, transported and marketed involves unaccounted for costs to humanity. This is just one example. In general, corporations are not only motivated, but legally required to maximize profits, not meet actual human needs.

Furthermore, the economies of scale lead large companies to focus efforts on those wants that are best met by mass-produced goods and services. There are a huge range of very specific needs that much smaller groups or individuals have which do not provide suffficient inducement for large companies to provide.

Thus, the corporately created world both fails to meet many human needs and even when it does produce value, it tends to focus on wants rather than needs and do so in a way that has many undesirable side-effects.

Context: 

In a variety of arenas, including publishing scholarly work, the development of educational materials, and the development of useful, robust software, an "open source" process has shown itself to be very effective. There are a variety of reasons why such a process is now timely. First, there are a large number of people globally with access to the Internet. This allows global communities with common interests to work together without the necessity of physical travel (which can be expensive in time and money). Second, there are worked examples of people from many fields volunteering their efforts to create value for the common good of their community. These examples serve, in turn, as models for other communities. Third, there are a critical mass of people with time and knowledge to add value to such collective efforts. Fourth, although it has been common in the past for those in power to use their power to keep their power, in modern times, a series of social and legal processes have been put in place to consolidate power into structures that are no longer effectively regulated by countervaling forces such as local governments or community pressure. The first three factors make the use of Open Source feasible and the last makes it manditory. In addition, Open Source has the capacity to personalize and customize value to much smaller groups than is feasible for large companies. Thus, by offering Open Source materials, people may collectively fulfull a greater proportion of human needs and wants. This is currently referred to as "the long tail." There are a very large number of people wanting a few common things and a very small number of people each wanting something different. Open Source is much better positioned to fulfill those different things wanted by only a relatively few.

Discussion: 

Perhaps the most articulate introduction to the general concept of open source is the introduction to Eric von Hippel's Democratizing Innovation:

"When I say that innovation is being democratized, I mean that users of products and services -- both firms and individual consumers -- are increasingly able to innovate for themselves. User-centered innovation processes offer great advantages over the manufacturer-centric innovation development systems that have been the mainstay of commerce for hundres of years. Users that innovate can develop exactly what they want, rather than relying on manufacturers to act as their (often very imperfact) agents. Moreover, individual users do not have to develop everything they need on their own: they can benefit from innovations developed and freely shared by others. The trend toward democractization of innovation applies to information products such as software and also to physical products. As a quick illustration of the latter, consider the development of high-performance windsurfing techniques and equipment in Hawaii by an informal user group."

Probably the most notable and widespread success story of "open source" is the development of open source software. The "source code" of any computer program is the complete set of instructions that the computer follows to provide its functions. There are two competing philosophies that determine the rules regarding the distribution of software "source code."

The basic business orientation dictates that, above all, the source code should be kept private and that only people who are allowed to make changes to it -- either to add functionality or fix bugs -- are the people who are authorized by the company that owns it. Although there are several variants, the "free software" or "open source" model if more-or-less the opposite of the corporation model in nearly all respects. Anybody can obtain the source code without cost. Anybody can make changes to the source code. And anybody can distribute the code without restriction to anybody.

Besides its desirable price (nothing!), the open source model offers many advantages over the closed, corporate model. One is that many eyes can identify and fix many bugs. Software flaws such as bugs or security holes are more readily found and exposed. (This is the reason why fair voting advocates are generally in favor of open source voting software.) Another reason is that the open source model promotes innovation by allowing anybody to implement new functionality. Although many of the modifications may be unwanted, some may provide a foundation for desirable features. Although the open source approach has its own disadvantages (as do all approaches), it offers surprisingly stiff competition against deep-pocketed corporate behemoths. Linux, for example, is more robust, less buggy and on a faster release cycle than well-funded corporately engineered operating systems.

Although computer programmers have been at the forefront of this intellectual revolution, computer programs are certainly not the only complex artifacts that could be designed, built, maintained and improved through an open-source collective effort.

One obvious artifact to think about moving into open source development is the development of vaccines and other medicines. And in this arena, medicines that could reduce suffering caused by the worldwide HIV-AIDS epidemic come to mind readily. Of course, in so-called "primitive" societies, knowledge of how to find, prepare and use medicinal plants was a precious gift handed down from generation to generation.

With oil prices skyrocketing, open source automobile developers could work together on developing automobiles with super high mileage and other environmentally friendly features. Already (NY Times August 2005) hobbyists are modifying Priuses and other hybrid vehicles to pump up the mileage.

Because corporations are driven primarily to maximize profits, they tend to focus efforts on the very popular and tend to ignore small niche interests. For example, the open source music movement now allows individuals to create music collaboratively and globally. Probably the most popular of these, adding 200 users per week is MacJams. (See links below for general home page and to see what an individual's entry looks like). Albums can be built and distributed on a one-off basis without the high up-front costs of using a recording studio.

Similar avenues exists for poetry, stories, photographs, video and artwork. Examples may be seen at lulu.com, Xlibris, and publishamerica.

Solution: 

Use the mechanism of Open Source to meet needs that are not well-met by large institutions and corporations as well as areas where the social and environmental costs of market-driven competition outweighs the value provided.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

High profits for corporations can mean low benefits for consumers, workers, and the environment. In many areas, including scholarly publishing and the development of educational materials and software, an "open source" process can be an effective alternative. Open Source Everything can be used to meet needs where the social and environmental costs of market-driven competition outweighs the benefits.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Ligeti Stratos

Open Source Search Technology

Pattern ID: 
431
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
125
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

People rely on search engines to find the information they need on the web. The motivation, however, of the groups providing search engines is securing profits for their owners; other motives necessarily and inevitably take a back seat. The negative implications of relying solely on commercial search engines, though vast, are generally not recognized. If the enormous gatekeeping potential of commercial search engines is not balanced with open and accountable public approaches, the ability to find non-commercial information including that which doesn't appeal to broad audiences or is critical of governments and other powerful institutions could conceivably disappear. The privatization of the means to access information could also lead to a situation where advertisements and other "sponsored" information could crowd out non-commercial information.

Context: 

People in their daily lives need, search for — and find — a tremendous amount of information. Increasingly, they are looking for this information in cyberspace. While Internet technology has opened up an unbelievably vast amount of information and opportunities for communication for millions of people worldwide, the very fact that we are relying on technology which is out of our control is cause for concern — if not alarm. Although the application of this pattern is relevant to any system that people use to find information, our immediate attention is drawn to the Interne which is poised to become increasingly dominant in the years ahead.

Discussion: 

Access to information can be made easier; barriers to obtaining the information that people need can, at least in theory, be anticipated and circumvented. But, like the chain whose ultimate strength is determined by its weakest link, access to information can be thwarted at many levels. Although non-public (commercial and otherwise) providers of information and communication services can be "good citizens" who prioritize the needs of their users, the temptation to become less civil may prove irresistible if and when the "market" suggests that uncivic behavior would result in higher revenue. In circumstances such as those, they may decide to relax their current high standards accordingly. Big web portals are, for example, becoming increasingly cooperative with the Chinese government, presumably because of the huge market which potentially exists there. One approach to addressing this problem, an open source / public domain classification system similar to that used in the public libraries in the U.S. and other places coupled with open source, community owned and operated search engines, is simultaneously defensive and forward looking. Defensive, because it could serve as a hedge against information deprivation and commodification. Forward looking, because this approach could help usher in an exciting new wave of experimentation in the era of access to information. As the development of the Internet itself has demonstrated, the "open source" nature can help motivate and spur usage in terms of the complementary tasks of classifying information and retrieving it easily. Existing classification approaches like the Dewey Decimal System also have limitations (Anglo-centrism, for example) and approaches like Dewey are not strictly speaking in the public domain (although Dewey is readily licensable). Nevertheless the Dewey system might serve as at least a partial model. Schemes that are well-known, such as the Dewey Decimal system allow everybody to communicate more quickly and with less cost. It is the open protocol nature of the Internet that has allowed and promoted easy and inexpensive ways to not only get connected, but to develop new applications that relied on the underlying, no license fee, protocols. Computing and the potentially ubiquitous availability of online environments provide intriguing possibilities that older approaches didn't need or anticipate. The Dewey Decimal system, for example, tacitly assumes a physical arrangement of books — the code assigned by the librarian or technicians using the system declares both the book's classification and the location it will occupy in the library. Although having a single value is not without advantages, an online environment opens the door for multiple tags for a single web page — or for finer-grained elements (a paragraph, for example, on a web page or the results of a database query) or, broader-grained collections of elements. A federated collection of link servers (Poltrock and Schuler, 1995) could assist in this. As far as search engines are concerned, civil society can hardly be expected to compete with Google's deep pockets and its acres of server farms. Yet, it may be possible to distribute expertise, knowledge, and computational capacity in such a way that a competitive "People's Google" ("Poogle?) becomes conceivable. The idea of a single organization within civil society that can even remotely approach Google's phenomenal computing resources is of course absurd. But so in general is the idea of civil society "taming" the most powerful and entrenched forces and institutions. The problem here, though chiefly technological, is very similar to the one that civil society faces every day: How can a large number of people sharing similar (though not identical visions) work together voluntarily without central authority (or centralized support), undertake a project and succeed with large, complex undertakings. The "answer" though diffuse, incomplete and sub-optimal is for the "workload" — including identifying, discussing and analyzing problems to devising responses to the problems — to be divvied up — as "intelligently" as possible — so people, doing only "pieces" of the whole job can be successful in their collective enterprise. This strategy is much easier to define and implement in the technological realm. One very successful example of this is the SETI@home project that employs the "idle" cycles of user's computers all over the world to analyze radio telescope data in a search for extraterrestrial intelligence. If, for example, one million computers working together on the people's search project, could devote some amount of processing power and storage to the project, the concept might suddenly become more feasible. Although it would be possible for every participating computer to run the same software, breaking up the tasks and distributing them across a large number of computers (thus allowing us to "divide and conquer") is likely to provide the most suitable architecture for a People's Search Engine. For one thing this allows dynamic re-apportioning of tasks: Changing the type of specialization that a computer is doing to make the overall approach more effective. At the beginning of "Poogle's" life, for example, half of the computers might be devoted to finding (or "spidering") and indexing websites while the other half might work on identifying which web sites meet the users' search criteria and presenting a list of pertinent results to the user. After a week or so, it may become clear that the first task (identifying and indexing sites) may require less attention overall while the second task (handling user search requests) desperately needs more processing power. In this situation, some of the computers working on the first task could be re-assigned to the second task. Of course this situation might become reversed the following week and another adjustment would be necessary. In a similar way, the contents of indexes could be shifted from computer to computer to make more effective use of available disk space more efficiently while providing enough redundancy to ensure that the entire system works efficiently even though individual computers are being shut down or coming online all the time and without advance notice. The People's Search Engine (PSE) would make all of its ordering / searching algorithms public. Google's page-ranking algorithm is fairly widely known, yet Google has adjusted it over the years to prevent it from being "gamed" in various ways by people who hope to increase the visibility of their web pages by "tricking" the algorithm to gain a higher page rank than the Google gods would bestow. Ideally the PSE would offer a variety of search approaches of arbitrary complexity to users. Thus people could use an existing, institutionalized classification scheme like the Dewey Decimal System or a personalized, socially-tagged "folksonomy" approach, a popularity approach a la Google, a social link approach like Amazon ("People who searched for X also searched for Y") or searches based on (and/or constrained by) "meta-information" about the pages, such as author, domain, publisher, or date last edited.

Solution: 

The development of "open source," public domain approaches to information access is essential for equity and progress among the people of the world. The possibility of credible competition will serve as a reminder to for-profit concerns that access to information is a sacred human right. It would also help to maintain and extend the patterns of innovation that open protocols have made possible. Among other things, researchers and members of civil society need to work on classification systems for Internet resources. It is imperative that civil society focuses attention on open source approaches to searching, archiving and other information access needs. For many reasons, this will help in the evolving process of opening up the world of information to people everywhere.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

If the gatekeeping of commercial search engines is not balanced with open and accountable public approaches, the ability to find non-commercial information or that which is critical of governments and other powerful institutions could disappear. Open source, public search engines using open classification systems could solve this problem. This could open a new wave of experimentation and remind us that access to information is a sacred human right. 

Pattern status: 
Released

Environmental Impact Remediation

Pattern ID: 
603
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
124
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Jim Gerner
Free Geek Olympia
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Although information and communication are often conceived as abstract, intangible and immaterial, the systems that maintain them are, of necessity, constructed with solid things such as paper, lead, concrete, rubber, glass, mercury, cadmium and silicon which are fabricated into the delivery trucks, wires, library buildings, computers, chips and CDs. The manufacture (and ultimate retirement) of all of these things is often accompanied with environmental damage, as the 23 "Superfund" sites in Silicon Valley will attest, In 2005, 63 million computers in the U.S. were replaced with newer models. Up to 80% of the waste is then sent to developing countries where it often contributes to environmental and health hazards. Additionally, energy is consumed — often in immense quantities — throughout every stage in the life-cycle of a product. As devices are made with shorter and shorter life-spans and the uses of ICS increases worldwide, this problem will become more critical unless something is done.

Context: 

Vast numbers of people are affected by the increasing "informatization" of the world. This includes people who are fortunate enough to capitalize on the new technology and those who are unfortunate enough to live with the refuse. This pattern can be used by people who have some control over the situation, including those who are in a position to develop laws and policies, producers who can lessen the effects of their products entering the waste-stream, and local communities who can develop policies and programs for responsible treatment of discarded technology. Community activists, health professionals, local governments, and neighborhood organizations will need to organize and work together in this effort. Other possible participants include computer geeks, social activists, environmental activists and those wanting to learn more about computers and new technology.

Discussion: 

The use of information and communication systems is expanding enormously in countries like the US as well as in countries like China and India. This is causing immense demands on their infrastructure and on the environment. Computer technology has grown increasingly more sophisticated in a very short period of time. During that same time, the costs have dropped in relative and absolute terms, thus resulting in a massive number of obsolete computers and other technology much of which has been dumped somewhere where toxins like lead, cadmium and mercury can leach into the soil and water.

In addition to the new intellectual and social spaces that the new technology helps provide, we need to think about the impact that information and communication systems are having on the environment. Although we associate physical spaces like libraries and auditoriums with energy and resource use, the creation, storage, and distribution of information requires energy and resource use as well. Some of this use doesn't square with conventional wisdom. Computer use, for example was supposed to lower the consumption of paper because everybody would simply read the computer screen. The amount of travel was also going to decline because business could be conducted electronically, thus substituting communication for transportation. The electronics industry was also celebrated as an environmentally friendly industry yet there are 19 "superfund" sites associated with high-tech industries slated for environmental remediation in Santa Clara county, home to more of these sites that any other county in the U.S. IBM and Fairchild Electronics were disposing their waste products in underground tanks which subsequently leaked trichloroethane, trichloroethylene, Freon and other solvents into the drinking water of 65,000 people. There also seems to be an unhealthy link between the waste producers and the people who must deal with it, specifically prison inmates who work with inadequate protection and no health insurance working in for profit prisons.

Why pick on information and communication systems? After all, other sectors use energy and cause pollution. One reason is that "electronic waste is the fastest growing part of the waster system," according to the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. Another reason is that it's important for people to realize that information and communication technology is not a utopian, magical answer to all problems. Obviously we need to consider the entire life-cycle of all products — including those related to information and communication. (While this task is not trivial, thinking about the "second order" effects while extremely important, is even more difficult to do meaningfully. The effects of the automobile on all aspects of life, including attitudes on sex, as well as the effects of the size of the weapons industry in the U.S. on foreign policy are both intriguing examples of unforeseen side-effects.) Understanding the entire "cradle-to-grave" (and beyond! as in the case of toxins that can reach out from the grave to poison air and water) is critical, but what should be done with the information? It may be easiest to require that every manufactured or imported product is covered under an ecologically-sound "Take-it-Back" (SVTC, 2005) policy that requires the manufacturer or importer to pay for recovery or safe sequestering of hazardous materials.

Free Geek was started in Portland, Oregon in 2000 by members of the open source software community to bring resources to bear on the problems of e-waste and the digital divide by helping "the needy get nerdy." The Free Geek approach combines participatory education and environmentalism. Free Geek addresses the problem of discarded computers and other electronic e-waste can be diminished by reusing and recycling. Free Geek uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology. Volunteers are eligible to receive a computer after finishing a tour of service which educates the volunteer about computers and about the environmental impacts of ICT. The city government in Portland, as part of their effort to reduce e-waste helps support the project. A broad range of people are working together to cross the economic and social divides by working towards a common goal. The Free Geek concept has quickly spread to other areas including Washington, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Illinois.

The Free Geek approach is not the only way to address the problem of lacking a community recycling program. There are many similar projects throughout the country that may or may not use open source software. But Free Geek is worth mentioning here for many reasons. First, Free Geek was developed by civil society; second, Free Geek is a partnership between several sectors and thus helps bring all sectors of the local community into a common struggle; and, third, Free Geek is an innovative approach that deftly addresses a multitude of issues within a common set of principles, assumptions and actions.

Starting and running a Free Geek or similar program requires a variety of skills and activities. The pattern can only be implemented by a group of people. To start that group one would post meeting announcements and invite members from local Linux users groups, college students and others. Since the overall environment for this approach will vary from community to community it's important to find out what's happening in your community and who's involved. The success of the project is likely to depend on how well you understand your community and can work with people in the community. Beyond that, there are many "nuts and bolts" issues including finding space and funding and developing programs. Associating with Free Geek is probably a good idea because of its network of dedicated people, useful documents and software for running an community recycling project.

The environmental problems associated with information and communication technology are severe and no mutually agreed-upon long-term, sustainable solution has been identified. People are developing a variety of creative and thoughtful responses to the problems of ICT-related pollution but more are needed. Information and communication technology can probably be part of the solution — but part of this involves stopping be part of the problem.

Solution: 

As a necessary part of stewardship and responsibility, it's essential to come to terms with the environmental impact of information and communication systems and devise suitable strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. Some combination of policy, consumer education, habits of consumption, social and technological innovation and recycling will probably be necessary for this take place effectively.

Introductory graphic located at http://freegeek.org/volunteer.php

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Although information and communication may seem abstract and immaterial, the systems that support them are built with solid things whose manufacture and disposal is often accompanied with environmental damage. We must acknowledge the environmental impact of these systems and devise strategies towards minimizing their negative effects. One group, Free Geek, uses volunteer labor to give new life to discarded technology by reusing and recycling.

Pattern status: 
Released

Illegitimate Theater

Pattern ID: 
621
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
123
Mark Harrison
The Evergreen State College
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Theater, viewing and participating in performances, is an ancient yet vital cultural force. Although "legitimate" or mainstream theater has traditionally been a gathering place for the exchange of ideas, it is largely irrelevant in today's world as a tool for social change. Forces which have contributed to this situation include economic factors, dwindling audiences, the talent drain to other mediums, the transformation of audience tastes and expectations as a result of film and television, and the decline of the avant-garde as alternative to legitimate theatre.

Context: 

Illegitimate Theater can be "legimitate" response in almost any setting of ordinary — and extraordinary — life. It can be practiced in any place where an "audience" might be found.

Discussion: 

"Legitimate theater" engages a paying audience sitting inside a theater with the expectation that they will watch the performance of a play or musical. These productions employ conventions normally associated with traditional theater: lights up and down, applause at the end of acts, a proscenium stage, professional actors working with prepared scripts, no significant interaction between performers and spectators.

Less than 2 percent of the population in the United States attends legitimate theater performances.

While legitimate theater has lost much of its relevance to our everyday lives, theater (or performance) in the broad sense is a fundamental human experience. As such it represents a reservoir of immense potential that a mediated experience can rarely provide: the potential for human interaction. Film and video provide a stream of images to watch, but no experiences in which the viewer can actually participate. Everyday life is often a sequence of ordinary, that is expected, events. One's life experiences easily become insulated from important world events — and the possibility of learning from new experiences as well. Ordinariness becomes a form of oppression and a steady dumbing down of society is deleterious to culture and to democracy as well. Performance provides an immediate human experience. Theater — particularly its "illegitimate" varieties — can also punctuate the ordinary and thrust new and unexpected experiences into everyday life. It has the power to bring a person into new, temporary realities in which the self is momentarily forgotten and submerged. Theater can empower the spectator with insight and possibilities.

Baz Kershaw in his insightful study of the British Alternative Theatre Movement over four decades explicitly addresses the role of theater as an instrument of "cultural intervention." His book (1992) "is about the ways in which theater practitioners have tried to change not just the future action of their audiences, but also the structure of the audience's community and the nature of the audience's culture." This pattern affirms Kershaw's observation: New theater should accompany a new society.

Other phrases — such as Theater Without Theater, Anti-Theater, Meta-Theater, The World's a Stage, Social Performance, Guerilla Theater, or Oppositional (or Radical or Provocative) Theater — are variations on the title of this pattern. Each of these alternative formulations focuses on some attributes and not on others. We use the term "Illegitimate Theater" primarily to highlight the differences between it and legitimate theater. Illegitimate theater can describe any performances in which one or more conventions of the legitimate theater are circumvented. For example, the convention of a single, discrete performance can be ignored in illegitimate theater. Thus, a "one-two punch" can be delivered, possibly anonymously: Half of the cast can "perform" — in Starbucks, at the zoo, or, even, a traditional theatrical venue — while the other half of the cast can "accidentally" encounter the audience afterwards and engage with them a second time, perhaps in dialogue, perhaps again as spectators, perhaps as actor / participants in a new performance that builds on ideas of the original one. The French group Le Grand Magic Circus devised a performance which gradually added the spectators (while withdrawing their members) at the "end" of their performance until finally the spectators were the only ones left "performing" (Bennett, 1990).

Performance is an extremely broad term that characterizes an infinite number of situations including sports, rituals, education, carnivals, politics and protest. It can encompass everyday social events such as shopping, eating in restaurants, going to parties or hanging out. Performance can be spontaneous or planned, obviously "staged" or masquerading as "real life," artistic, political, cultural. The advent of “performance studies” as an academic discipline which transcends the traditional notion of the theater has contributed to our understanding of these myriad forms.

Bertolt Brecht, the most influential artist/advocate of theater for social change, rejected Aristotelian drama (the basis of Legitimate Theater) in favor of the Epic or Dialectical Theater. His theories and plays, such as Three Penny Opera" and Mother Courage, blur the line between real life and performance, reveal the mechanics of production, present actor and character simultaneously, and employ a wide range of techniques designed to rouse the audience to social action. The venerable San Francisco Mime Troupe with performances such as Fact Wino vs. Armagoddonman, Damaged Care, and Mr. Smith Goes to Obscuristan, is a more recent incarnation of Brechtian rebellion. Augusto Boal from Brazil, a Workers' Party (PT) activist, pioneered "Theater of the Oppressed" and other forms of participatory role-playing theater that has helped audiences to explore and recognize their own predicaments while fostering cooperation and critical engagement.

Many public protests, especially those that include role playing, dramatic encounters, or masks, puppets and other props can be viewed as a type of performance. When Greenpeace's sailing ship "Rainbow Warrior" confronts a nuclear submarine or whaling ship, two symbolic worlds collide. Crosses symbolizing those killed in Iraq spring up in Crawford, Texas near the ranch of U.S. President George Bush; Argentine mothers and grandmothers clothed in mourning black stand before the president's Casa Rosa in Buenos Aires. More recently social activists employing techniques of illegitimate theater, have emerged to confront corporate globalization. These include the marching bands and giant puppets in the 1999 protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle, Reverend Billy from the Church of Not Shopping who orchestrates chain store "interventions" to "unlock the hypnotic power of transnational capital" and the "Yes Men" who have "played the roles" (as they satirically interpreted them) of various corporate and organizational officials to unsuspecting audiences around the world.

As Clifford Geertz would say — and Shakespeare before him — the world is truly a stage and everything we do in public is a type of performance. This of course means in a trivial sense that everyday life provides a venue for exhibition and self-promotion. The media exploits people's desire for "fame" (or publicity — the desire to be made publicly recognizable) and exhibits the ones it considers off-beat enough for public display, in the modern day equivalent of a freak show.

Media is more easily commodified when it assumes rigid forms. When a "package" exists, it's relatively easy — and cost-effective — to replicate it again and again with little effort or creativity. And when commercial broadcast media defines what is "legitimate", the imagination of the people decays, their capacity to create is harder to draw upon, their tolerance for experimentation and "amateurism" diminishes. Illegitimate

Theater, like other patterns in this language, has unsavory manifestations as well: burning a cross in the yard of an African-American or other ethnic minority, militaristic parades and rallies, public intimidates. Since "performance" likely predates language, its effects on people can be deep; it can unlock hate as well as love, anger as well as reason and compassion. Theater, whether legitimate or not, can be driven by emotion and therefore less analytic than many other patterns in this language. Illegitimate

Theater blurs or even negates the line between spectators and performers. In its extreme version everybody, all the time, is an actor. And "actors" in public performances can also be "actors" in social life, actors who help make things happen — for good or for ill. Although our life "in public" is a series of performances, our roles are often construed as "bit parts." But every moment is a "teachable moment;" every public appearance is an opportunity to do something new and to experience something new. Thus anybody, at least in theory, can practice the craft of illegitimate theater. The "performances" that come from this practice can be simple or elaborate, impromptu or painstakingly rehearsed. The point is to cause ripples in the everyday stream of life.

Illegitimate theater, like is predecessors "legitimate" or otherwise, can be used to provoke emotional reactions, discussion or reflection. Practiced successfully and in a great number of venues, illegitimate theater could help foster positive social change and increased democratization of culture.

Solution: 

Illegitimate theater represents a intriguing set of possibilities for interactions between people that can lead to social change. Performance as a deeply human phenomenon can be explored by audience and performers alike in our quest for a better world.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Theater, viewing and participating in performances, is an ancient yet vital cultural force. Theater — particularly its "illegitimate" forms — can punctuate the ordinary and evoke new and unexpected experiences. Anybody can practice Illegitimate Theater that causes ripples in the everyday stream of life. It can be used to provoke emotional reactions, discussion or reflection. It can even help foster social change and the democratization of culture.

Pattern status: 
Released

Community Inquiry

Pattern ID: 
724
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
122
Ann Bishop
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Bertram (Chip) Bruce
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Communities face a wide variety of challenges in areas of health, education, economic development, sustainable environments, and social order. But regardless of the difficulty of these challenges, a necessary condition for addressing them is for communities to find ways for members to work together. Too often, community members work at cross purposes and fail to develop what Jane Addams (1912, Nov. 2) called "the capacity for affectionate interpretation," resulting in what John Dewey (1927) called "the eclipse of the public." Community inquiry is what Addams and Dewey called their theory and practice for reshaping communities and, thus, society at large.

Context: 

The challenges for constructive communities are as old as humanity and there will never be an absolute or universal solution to them. One reason is that every member of a community has unique experiences in life and thus unique perspectives, beliefs, and values. This diversity can be a source of strength within communities, but it can also lead to frustration, disappointment, conflict, and even violence. Diverse institutions have been created to address community challenges, including public libraries, public schooling, procedures for democratic governance, and venues for free expression. Often, however, these institutions are reduced from their idealized conception. With community inquiry, diversity becomes a resource and institutions are knit together productively.

Discussion: 

As Jane Addams pointed out in founding Chicago's Hull-House, the first settlement house in the U.S. (Addams, 1912), and Dewey examined through the creation of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, democracy has been more realized in its political than its social expression. That is, even when formal procedures are established and maintained, meaningful participation is by no means guaranteed. For example, a public library might offer a large collection of books available at no charge to members of the community, but meaningful use of those materials depends also on available public transportation, broad-scale development of literacy skills, and a social organization that makes people feel welcome. In this and many other examples, it is clear that the problem goes beyond institutions, structures, and procedures, requiring instead the means by which every member of the community comes into the process of authority.

Community inquiry provides a theoretical and action framework for people to come together to develop shared capacity and work on common problems in an experimental and critical manner. The word community signals support for collaborative activity and for creating knowledge that is connected to people's values, history, and lived experiences. Inquiry points to support for open-ended, democratic, participatory engagement.

Consider the case of East St. Louis. Its widely noted dissolution and destruction (Kozol, 1991) resulted from many factors, both internal and external. The integration of housing in neighboring cities had the perverse effect of East St. Louis losing most of its middle class and professional workers. Racism, both within and towards the city, was a key factor that led to its failure to get the resources it needed to maintain a vibrant community. Problems compounded as elements within the city began to pull in different directions, often serving their own ends at the expense of the larger community. For example, companies dumped hazardous waste and landlords allowed buildings to become dilapidated and dangerous. From a community inquiry perspective, East St. Louis exhibited a failure for democratic, participatory engagement and demonstrated little evidence of people within the city or larger entities—state and national—coming together with shared values and goals.

At the same time, East St. Louis has survived and in some aspects has developed the capacity to thrive. Community members have come together to address the severe problems they faced. Substantial assets, such as the talent and dedication of Katherine Dunham, have taken enduring form in her museums and international dance workshops for children (http://www.eslarp.uiuc.edu/kdunham/). The community collaborates with other organizations, such the University of Illinois; their joint East St. Louis Action Research Project (http://www.eslarp.uiuc.edu) has helped improve conditions in the city by setting up, for example, community technology centers, new housing, a light rail station, and a youth-driven community theater. At the same time, ESLARP has provided new opportunities for university students, staff, and faculty who have worked in the community.

A key element of the work in East St. Louis is that it reflects continuing inquiry by people who are invested in the community in a variety of ways. That is, successes to date have not come from outsiders dictating and delivering solutions, but by bringing together participants from diverse perspectives to work together. Moreover, this work, while it addresses very practical problems of jobs, environment, health, education, cultural preservation and enrichment, and so forth, does not stop there. Instead, local action becomes a means through which the residents and those outside learn more about the community and its possibilities. In that sense, inquiry is both action and understanding. The lesson from East St. Louis, and similar communities, is that the process of community inquiry is ultimately of greater importance than the solving a specific problem.

We see many additional examples around the world of the power of community inquiry. In the domain of community development and learning, for example, a National Science Foundation study carried out in rural villages around Bangladesh related the finding that material from well-worn saris supplied a filtering material that worked better in reducing cholera than the nylon mesh that microbiologists had developed (Recer, 2003). In Reggio Emilia, Italy, with few of the resources found in affluent and advanced communities, families and teachers developed an innovative approach to education, now heralded throughout the world, that recognizes the potential of all children to learn and grow “in relation with others, through the hundred languages of doing, being, reflecting, and knowing” (http://www.reggioalliance.org). Community inquiry can also be manifested in the development of information and communication technology. See, for example, the culturally situated design tools developed collaboratively between Renssalear Polytechnic Institute and its community partners (http://www.rpi.edu/~eglash/csdt.html) and the Community Inquiry Laboratory software created collectively by the University of Illinois and its partners around the world, who come from all walks of life (http://ilabs.inquiry.uiuc.edu).

Solution: 

Therefore: When a community faces some problem, think of it not simply as something to be fixed but rather as an opportunity for the community to come together, to build capacity, and to learn about itself and its situation in a manner that can be joyful and intellectually stimulating. Recognize that every member of the community has knowledge that may be critical to solving that problem but can be discovered only if that individual has a voice and a say in what the community does. Recognize also that most problems are not solvable in one step and even when they are, may recur in the future. Thus, it is critical for the community to not only fix its problems but to become an organism capable of further inquiry. The community’s knowledge about how to deal with challenges is not in fixed procedures but rather in the capacity to learn through ongoing action, or what Dewey called experimental knowing.

We have created a diagram to represent this cycle of ongoing community inquiry (see below): a spiral of asking questions, investigating solutions, creating new knowledge as we gather information, discussing our discoveries and experiences, and reflecting on our new-found understanding.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Communities face challenges in areas of health, education, economic development, sustainable environments, and social order. But regardless of the difficulty of these challenges, a necessary condition for addressing them is for communities to find ways for members to work together. Community Inquiry provides a theoretical and action framework for people to develop shared capacity and work on common problems in an experimental and critical manner.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Emily Barney
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