social

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

Emergency Communication Systems

Pattern ID: 
618
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
121
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Natural or manmade disasters reveal the fragile nature of our social infrastructures, including our most advanced technologies, and require us to draw upon our own essential resourcefulness. Given the destruction or significant compromising of basic civic infrastructures—, electrical power, water and sewage, natural gas, roadways and communications systems— individual and local capacities as well as external supports at every level must be prepared and effectively implemented to ensure personal and collective survival and wellbeing.

Context: 

Disasters require the attention of every level of society, from individuals, families, and neighborhoods to city, state, and national agencies as well as international organizations. The content and flow of information is critical at every stage, from policy development to preparation, search and rescue, recovery and the reconstruction of vital infrastructures. Therefore, to some extent, everyone may be called upon to participate in various the aspects of this pattern, not only in the area of immediate impact but in the formal development of policies, procedures and systems as well as informal, voluntary emergency responses that help to extend the safety net for those directly affected.

Discussion: 

In the space of one year, 2005, the world witnessed three major natural disasters: —the Southeast Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina in the Southeast United States, and the Pakistani earthquake—, and all were reminders as to how quickly even the most basic and essential structures can literally be swept away in a matter for moments. A spotlight was also cast on pre-existing environmental conditions, policy decisions, inadequate preparation, and either dysfunctional or non-existing communication systems that either led to or intensified the extent of damage and loss of life.

This pattern encompasses three different periods that focus upon emergency situations: (1) the pre-existing conditions and preparations prior to the occurrence of any disaster, (2) the actual disaster and immediate response, and (3) the longer term recovery and reconstruction of physical and social infrastructures. While all levels of society are involved, the particular focus of this pattern is on the initiative and actions of civil society.

In the period prior to any disaster, the focus is on advocacy for effective policies, including the remediation of social and environmental conditions that might prevent or at least moderate the damage of a disaster and the establishment of evacuation, response preparations, and the storage of food and medical supplies as well as the setting up of emergency communications networks and facilities. For example, Seattle Disaster Aid & Response Teams (SDART) calls for neighborhoods to be prepared to be self-sufficient for at least three days by organizing teams that draw upon local resources and skills. The program trains neighborhood teams and sponsors functional drills to rehearse roles and responsibilities.. In terms of advocating for improved communications systems and facilities, the World Dialogue on Regulation for Network Economies has compiled a special dossier on the role of regulators and policymakers in ensuring that adequate emergency communications are available.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the delivery of food, shelter and medical care can be hours, days, even weeks away. Tasks that must be handled by the stricken residents, as outlined and assigned to teams under the SDART model, include damage assessment, first aid, safety & security, light search & rescue, and providing sheltering & special needs. Communications responsibilities include monitoring emergency radio broadcasts, keeping neighbors informed of relevant information, relaying information about damage via amateur radio operators, satellite radio, cell phones, signs, or whatever means are available. In the longer period of reconstruction following a disaster, when additional external resources can be brought into play, it is vitally important to ensure close coordination.

The very young and very old, as well as the poor face the greatest risk, in the short and long-term aftermath of catastrophe, often related to the worsening of already existing conditions of poor health and nutrition and inadequate housing. UNICEF studies of groups hit by warfare and famine show it is critical to provide the correct mix and balance of relief services and providing not only food but public health assistance to prevent massive outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Civil society is capable of organizing large-scale efforts in the wake of disasters as demonstrated by the Katrina PeopleFinder Project and the Southeast Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog SEA-EAT blog associated with the East Asian tsunami. Other projects to assist in the reestablishment of communications systems include the Center for Neighborhood Technology’s (CNT) Wireless Community Network project and supportive efforts by the Champaigne-Urbana Community Wireless Networks for both developed and developing nations.

One of the most common approaches for alleviating at least part of the challenge of communications around emergency situations is the idea of open, non-proprietary protocols, the "secret ingredient" behind the Internet's phenomenal success. The Common Alerting Protocol is one such data interchange protocol and the Partnership for Public Warming (2006) is working on a wide variety of efforts to resolve national standards, protocols and priorities.

Even areas far distant from the disaster must also be prepared to handle a mass displacement of populations, possibly for extended periods of time.

Solution: 

Therefore, individuals, public agencies, environmental advocates, and international relief organizations needs to continually reassess their level of preparedness and coordination in response to humanitarian emergencies. This means thinking and planning for the short-, medium- and long-term as well as continuing to address persistent issues of poverty and debilitating economic conditions. Information and communication technologies can play important roles in this area — but in order for the technologies to be useful, the people in areas where emergencies do or might occur and people outside of those areas must both assume leadership for genuine progress to be made.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Disasters require the attention of every level of society, including individuals, families, and neighborhoods as well as city, state, national, and international agencies and organizations. The content of Emergency Communication Systems and the dynamic and flexible flow of information through them are critical at every stage, including policy development, preparation, search and rescue, recovery, and reconstruction of vital infrastructures.

Pattern status: 
Released

Soap Operas with Civic Messages

Pattern ID: 
860
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
120
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Poor people in the developing world and elsewhere have high infant mortality rates and deaths from diseases that are preventable or readily treatable (as well as a host of social ills, such as wife beating). Moreover , lack of information coupled with inflexible or outmoded social traditions and superstition can perpetuate cycles of needless suffering for people of all economic sectors. Unfortunately the need for accurate health information is often addressed by ineffective public service announcements that seem preachy or uninteresting or otherwise fail to reach the entire “audience” or particular nexus of people who must be involved in important decisions.

Context: 

People all over the world face important life decisions with inadequate information that is often accompanied with overwhelming social pressure to behave in certain ways. Policy makers, media producers and community activists are faced with the challenge of presenting that information to the people who need it, in a form that is accessible and acceptable.

Discussion: 

The concept of Soap Operas for Social Change, developed by Mexican television producer Miguel Sabido, deftly weaves health and other socially responsible information into “traditional” soap operas to raise consciousness without compromising the compelling everyday drama that the genre exemplifies. Although this type of soap opera (called Telenovelas in Latin America) is not in the majority, there are examples of its use throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa.

In 1967, the Peruvian telenovela “Simplemente Maria” that chronicles twenty years in the life of a maid working through the travails of the day as a single mother preparing for a career as a fashion designer was launched. It was this show apparently that opened up the possibility of social messages intertwined with popular culture. According to Hanna Rosin whose New Yorker article, “Life Lessons” helped inform this pattern, “Peru’s working-class women identified deeply with Maria; they saw her story less as a Cinderella fantasy then as a future that was possible for them, too. Thousands of maids wrote to the station to say that they were going back to school.”

The hero or heroine of a "Sabido soap" is a “transitional” character in the drama, a "fallible character who struggles to behave decently" (Rosin, 2006). In fact, the most important aspect of the telenovela is the barrage of giros (twists of fate), trials and tribulations, that continually tests the protagonist’s perseverance. In China, the program “Bai Xing,” or “Ordinary People” in English, features Luye, an unmarried rural Chinese girl who has a baby and moves to the city. This perfectly “ordinary” story is filled with the the real-life drama that people routinely face but is rarely portrayed. In recent episodes Luye discovers that two of her acquaintances have AIDS, a subject that is generally not found on Chinese television.

The non-governmental organizations Population Communications International and Population Media Center has been involved in socially responsible soap operas for many years. The focus is on usually related to population issues although this frequently involves health, sustainable development and environmental issues as well. Both are involved in the development of television and radio shows as well as work in other media, media leadership issues, and communication strategy and theory as well. The PMC web site explains that, "The advantage of using long-running, entertainment serial dramas include their huge audience appeal and the emotional bonds that are formed between the audience members and characters, which can lead to strongly positive influences of the characters on attitudes and behaviors by audience members." Sabido has developed a methodology that was informed by the integration of several key communication theories.

Ideally the social messages in the soap operas and telenovelas are presented in the form of choices that can be consciously made – not injunctions or instructions which must be obeyed. The best of these soap operas are probably more like this although the protagonist ultimately will make a choice and that choice is likely to be the one favored by the producers of the program. For many reasons, everybody who is involved in formulating a response to a given situation would be party to the dilemma played out on the television screen and weigh all the relevant factors individually and collectively. In Nepal, for example, the mother-in-law and husband are key players in decisions involving childbirth and must therefore be part of any approach to offer new choices for life decisions. Because soap operas in developing countries are shown in prime time (rather than during the day as, for example, in the U.S.) and are, therefore, seen by people across the spectrum of the population and because a high percentage of the viewers, are illiterate or are otherwise unable to gain access to relevant information, Socially Responsible Soap Operas make ideal vehicles for the propagation of useful information on such topics as family planning, domestic violence, nutrition, home management and emergency preparedness.

Socially Responsible Soap Operas are clearly subject to challenges from many sources. In Burma, for example, the radio show “Thaby e gone Ywa” (Eugenia Tree Village) was broadcast illegally over shortwave radio because Burma’s military dictatorship declared the program illegal. In the examples discussed above the creators of the programs are aware of the dangers of using the media for propaganda. As William Ryerson, president of PMC, explains, "Unlike brainwashing, PMC’s approach is to show a range of options—to broaden rather than to narrow the perspective of the viewing audience with regard to the choices available to them. For each of the options, the programs show realistic consequences."

On the other hand, the desire to fiddle with the content of popular shows could prove irresistible to overzealous governments that were intent in spreading their messages. Put in this context the practice of inserting message into soaps seems positively Orwellian. Yet commercial message are increasingly commonplace and “product placements” in Hollywood films, television shows, and, even books, while the society at least seems unfazed. Recently in the U.S. a spot in a book for teenager girls was sold to the highest bidder, a glossy lips makeup manufacturer. Also, of course, subtle and not-so-subtle messages thoroughly permeate much of the mass media, some of which is explicitly designed (for “mass appeal,” government appeasement, or as an expression of personal ideology) while others are unconsciously added to the mix, the atmosphere of commercialization is seemingly too ubiquitous to be resisted.

Although many of the people who are likely to get involved in this pattern are policy-makers or media producers, other people can help promote this idea by entering into a dialogue with people who are better positioned to make changes. Although strong challenges exist, this pattern has rich potential as a tool for positive social change.

Solution: 

Information about family planning and other important life decisions can be integrated into soap operas in ways that strengthen the dramatic impact of the show while leading to beneficial social effects at the same time.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

People all over the world face important life decisions with inadequate information and social pressure to behave in certain ways. Policy makers, media producers and community activists must present that information in forms that are accessible and acceptable. Soap Operas with Civic Messages weaves health and other socially responsible information into soap operas without compromising the compelling everyday drama that the genre exemplifies.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Population Media Center

Great Good Place

Pattern ID: 
470
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
119
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)
Version: 
2
Problem: 

People often don't have access to places in their neighborhoods that are outside their home or workplace. People need places where they can feel at home and hang out for extended periods without the need to spend lots of money. Unfortunately there is a scarcity of what Ray Oldenburg calls "great good places" that are convenient and welcoming. In many regions of the world people have forgotten how to "hang out" with friends, a lost art that refreshes the spirit and — sometimes — leads to social action as well.

Context: 

This pattern is applicable to any place where people live. Whether a community is rich or poor, it needs "third places" where people comfortably congregate.

Discussion: 

"The right of free assembly is the most natural privilege of man." Alexis de Tocqueville (1963)

This pattern makes the case that probably shouldn't even need to be made; that people need the physical presence of others and that virtual spaces however important and vibrant they can be, have not made physical meeting places obsolete.

Although situations are different in different locations, the fact remains that communities need what sociologist Ray Oldenburg calls a "great good place" or "third" place which is a physical location, more-or-less public place, where people can "hang out" and talk about whatever they need to talk about. Unfortunately these locations are threatened in many places. Many factors can contribute to the decline in great good places. Some neighborhoods may be dangerour or have a mistrusting atmosphere. Some may be too economically disadvantaged to be able to afford a safe place with a roof overhead. Moreover in the era of television and the car, the art of spending time around people that might be strangers may be dying. Other locations may have such high rents that it becomes necessary to cycle customers quickly to increase the "efficiency" of the cafe.

Oldenburg discusses many instances of the role of the "great good place" in history. These include German beer gardens in the US in the early 1990s, Viennese coffee shopts, French cafe society and the like. It also discusses the fascinating role of taverns etc. in the development of the journalism, the media, business practices, and social change — including the American revolution against the British. Oldenburg quotes Sam Warner (1968) who states that the informal tavern groups "provided the underlying fabric of the town, and when the Revolution began made it possible to gather militia companies quickly, to form effective committees of correspondence and of inspection, and to organize and to manage mass town meetings."

Bradie Derrenger makes the important point that the "great good place" might not always be a traditional coffee or donut shop. From the seat that he takes every day while waiting for the ferry that takes him to work he can engage with people he sees every day and with those who may be crossing Puget Sound for the first time. And if and when other people started congregating there it might just happen that others would also do so.

Interestingly it may be the case that communities with more "third places" are more politically and economically active. Whether this is always the case, a "third place" often contributes to a community's "social capital" which, as Robert Putnam has shown generally provides a wide range of benefits, including economic.

Solution: 

Communities need to ensure that "third places," which are neither the home nor the workplace exist where anybody in the community is free to go and stay for as long as they want. These places can be cafes, plazas, community centers or simply places with chairs or benches. These locations can be privately owned but their de facto policies must support the needs of the community for them to serve as genuine third places.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Around the world people have forgotten how to "hang out" with friends, a lost art that refreshes the spirit and sometimes leads to social action as well. People need places other than their home or workplace where they feel comfortable without spending much money. They can be cafes, plazas, community centers or simply places with chairs or benches. They can be privately owned but they must support community needs for them to serve as Great Good Places.

Pattern status: 
Released

Thinking Communities

Pattern ID: 
782
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
118
Aldo de Moor
CommunitySense
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In the modern Information and Communication Age, people no longer have time to think. Creative thinking is a human activity essential for self-realization, and for providing sustainable solutions to the myriad problems of our ever more complex global society. Three main factors prevent Thinking Communities from developing: lack of suitable locations for "semi-solitary" deep thought, lack of affordable communications infrastructure for such communities to develop, and too many social, professional and financial constraints preventing people from breaking out regularly for a sufficient period of time.

Context: 

This pattern supports creative individuals and small groups with a pressing need for finding the time and concentration to work on a major project, but who lack access to locations, and are inhibited by many personal constraints. The pattern helps them to connect with individuals and organizations interested in providing affordable thinking facilities, and then to design and build their Thinking Communities. These communities allow their members to concentrate deeply, while also to meet peers who are working on their own projects. This semi-solitary mix of deep thought and social interaction should significantly increase individual and societal creative thinking capacity.

Discussion: 

Thinking, resulting in new knowledge, is an essential human activity. Most related community research has focused on knowledge management and knowledge construction communities, often in an organizational or educational setting. For example, a typical corporate knowledge management community acts as a custodian for a Knowledge Domain, nurturing the sharing and creation of practices and knowledge that is key to the achievement of both company and personal objectives (Von Krogh et al., 2001). Similarly, an educational knowledge building community is a group of learners committed to advancing the group's knowledge of some shared problem through collaboration knowledge (Chai and Khine, 2006). However, when shifting from such an institutional to a more individual-oriented type of knowledge community, not much is known. In such a community, not organizational goals but individual thinking requirements, preferences, strengths, and weaknesses predominate. The resulting communities have much more of an emergent nature, and can be realized in a wide variety of forms. Thinking Communities, even more so than other communities, cannot be fully designed in every detail. Instead, developers should provide the right conditions and just enough guidance for such communities to get started, then let them evolve (Preece, 2000). A Thinking Community pattern can help outline such conditions and guidelines, while leaving each community enough freedom to develop its own unique values, norms, structures, and processes.

Thinking Communities require the right physical locations for individuals to reflect deeply by themselves, while also being able to interact on their thoughts with peers. They need an electronic communications infrastructure to organize and coordinate their community and communicate between locations. Social, professional, and financial constraints need to be minimized.

With location, communication, and personal constraints satisfied, Thinking Communities should start to be established and grow. A great variety of communities, ranging from loosely connected, semi-solitary individuals to large groups intensely focusing on solving a joint problem, will develop. Thinking Communities could thus become catalysts of creative thinking processes urgently needed to deal with some of the many pressing problems facing our globalizing world.

Examples

Thinking Communities can manifest themselves in numerous forms. Each of the dimensions identified in the pattern can have many possible values. The pattern acts as an analytical lens to help identify successful combinations of values, and possibly new types of Thinking Communities. To give some idea of the breadth and depth of Thinking Communities, here are some of many possible examples:

- A researcher is totally overworked, overwhelmed by the continuous stress of teaching, the publication rat race, and projects. She decides to recharge by taking a two month sabbatical after a conference she attended on the other side of the world. Since semester is over, she can plan it in between two academic years. She looks up the country she is visiting in the ReCharge researchers community web site, and discovers a scenic location close to the conference site, in the middle of a National Park. They offer long-term accommodation, for low monthly rent rates. They also have Internet connections, provide meals, and have a common room where she can meet fellow researchers. After two months of deep thinking and discussions with colleagues who provide fresh angles on her research, since they are not in her field, she goes back home. She is full of fundamental, new ideas that will sustain her in the stressful years to come.

- Many people are inspired by the ways of living and thinking of indigenous peoples. However, it is often hard to establish relationships with such communities. A First Nation, however, hosts a simple hostel with a limited number of rooms on its domain, allowing thinkers to work on their projects, while inviting them for a selected set of meetings and activities with the local community. This offers visitors a low-intensity, non-intrusive opportunity to get a realistic sense of the values, problems, and strengths of these communities, much beyond the understanding provided by the usual, shallow touristic visit to a reservation arts center. Simultaneously, it offers these local communities an alternative source of income and access to a world of ideas and contacts provided by visitors sincerely interested in building bridges between cultures.

- Two countries go to war. Enlightened individuals from both sides want to discuss their differences in order to stop the madness, but discussions on an open electronic forum dedicated to the conflict inevitably derail into emotional rants and diatribes. Meetings in either country obviously do not work for political and security reasons. Forum members from another country, which has managed to successfully negotiate a peace agreement between its feuding factions in the recent past, invite a number of the most reasonable discussants to come to a resort in their country. A private foundation, sponsoring the discussion forum, pays most of the travel expenses. In the resort, the discussants gather in a number of group sessions, but also get ample opportunity to break out, go for walks, and have one-on-one discussions. Their meetings are structured by electronic meeting room software. Although in the short time frame available they cannot reach agreement on a “Roadmap to Peace”, they do agree on the most important issues to be worked out. In a closed electronic forum, supported by the same software, they continue their discussions upon return to their respective countries. The bonding and face to face meetings in a peaceful environment have created the conditions to start building a Thinking Community across political borders.

Solution: 

A finely meshed, worldwide network needs to be created of affordable locations where people can concentrate and work on their individual creative projects, while simultaneously being able to meet up with peers working on their own acts of creation. The Web will provide the communications infrastructure to develop the concepts of Thinking Communities and match supply and demand of Thinking Locations. Social, professional, and financial constraints need to be addressed by developing concrete guidelines and solution patterns.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Creative thinking is essential for self-realization and for finding sustainable solutions to the problems of our complex global society. A worldwide network of Thinking Communities needs to be created that links affordable locations where people can concentrate and work on individual — as well as collective — creative projects. These would allow members to concentrate deeply, while allowing them to meet peers who are working on other projects.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Aldo de Moor

Telecenters

Pattern ID: 
871
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
117
Michel J. Menou
Peter Day
Douglas Schuler
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Across the globe new information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly perceived as elements essential to citizenship in contemporary society. However, numerous preconditions must be met before a person can make use of the applications and systems that represent the network society. Sometimes understood as contributing to the phenomenon known as the digital divide, these preconditions include, at the very least, an income level that facilitates payment for the equipment, its maintenance and operation; skills to use ICT, the availability of electricity; an awareness of ICT might matter and confidence in oneself and in the possibility of an improvement in one's condition. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people on planet earth, these preconditions are not being met nor are they likely to be in the near future!

Context: 

Telecenter projects can exist at various levels from the small local community, for example, to the neighborhood or grassroots organization in a village, to the entirety of a large country, or even at the international level. Telecenters are, on the one hand, rooted in particular circumstances and, on the other hand, a product of dynamic realities. Because no two communities are alike (different environments, cultures, norms, values, etc.) the idea that recipes, "best practices", models or the like can be found and mechanically replicated across communities is foolish. Nevertheless a clear understanding of basic concepts and principles might be a useful guide for individual and collective reflection, as once again telecenters emerge as significant network society phenomena.

This pattern might be useful for individuals and grass root organizations for whom the use of appropriate ICT might strengthen their efforts toward overcoming the limitations of existing social conditions. It might also be useful for local or central government agencies intending to undertake positive action, with the help of purposeful and appropriate uses of ICT, in favor of social progress.

Discussion: 

In order to overcome the limitations listed above, the idea that public facilities might be established within communities is now fairly commonplace around the world (Menou 2003). Modern public access points to ICT are often referred to as "telecenters" even though their origins, ownership, purposes and modes of operation are so diverse that the development of a typology of public access points might be justifed, so that the commonalities and differences might be understood (Menou & Stoll 2003b).

Telecentres first emerged in Scandinavia and the UK during the 1980s and early 1990 and were known as telecottages, telehus, teleservice centers and electronic village Halls (Day, 1996 a&b) while the first "Community Computer Center" in the US was established in 1981 in the basement of a housing project in Harlem (New York City) (Schuler, 1996). Intended to provide public access to computing technology, these initiatives were either run as community development projects, commercial ventures or a bit of both (Day, 2001; Day & Harris, 1997). In the so-called "developing countries" one might distinguish 3 main avenues that the development of telecenters took. Most publicized is "pilot projects" initiated by international development agencies such as UNESCO, World Bank, IDRC, USAID, etc., which resulted in the implantation of isolated facilities with limited involvment of the communities at the beginning, e.g. Timbuctu in Mali, Kothmale in Sri Lanka. Another line is government programs pretending to overcome the "digital divide" by the implantation of a large number of telecenters in "undepriviledged" communities (e.g. @Argentina) with the same drawbacks of a top down approach, no networking plus bureaucratic constraints. A third line combines individual initiatives by grass root NGOs in particular locales and a franchising model developed by the Red Cientifica Peruana in Peru, known as "Cabinas Publicas Internet" which entertained ambiguities between community service and small business development.

Today the variety of public ICT access points (or PIAPs) and the nature of their roles is more wide-ranging and can be distinguished according to:

- their origin, ranging from ad hoc initiative of an individual to national and international programs;
- their purpose, ranging from profit of business owners - e.g. cyber or internet cafés - to free support to community development endeavors - e.g. true community telecenters;
- their ownership, ranging from individual small entrepreneurs to community groups, local and central government entities;
- the community participation in their governance, ranging from nil to full control;
- the mix of ICT available, ranging from only one, e.g. public phone booths, to all (e.g. phone, fax, internet, radio, web TV, etc.);
- the variety of services offered ranging from independant use of ICT to a wide mix of economic, social, educational and cultural activities;
- whether they stand alone or are part of a more or less extensive network

True community telecenters are part of the efforts undertaken by community members to build community and improve community conditions; they utilise ICT as a means, among others, that facilitate the attainment of these objectives (Menou & Stoll, 2003a). The centers are designed and managed with full participation of the community (Roessner 2005). Non- community telecenters are only concerned with providing access to ICT at an affordable cost to people who are deprived from it, whether temporarily or permanently. For the remainder of this pattern we focus exclusively on community telecenters.

Community telecenters typically get started via two main avenues:

1) They are the brain child of interested individuals or grass root community groups who champion their development and implementation through various community strategies and actions; or
2) They form part of a top down (usually government or international agency) program purporting to bridge the "digital divide".

Telecenters face a variety of problems and challenges that can be categorized as either social, political, economic, or technical.

In the social realm the key issues are:

- the relevance of the telecenter and ICT use as a means to support the various development efforts undertaken by the community
- the appropriateness of its role, the social interaction it permits and the information it makes available, especially with regard to cultural and gender biases
- the availability of people with required skills to operate and manage the telecenter and provide training and support to the users
- the level of information and computer literacy in the community and the availability of intermediaries to offset their deficiency
- the availability and accessibility of local information.

In the political realm, key issues are:

- the degree of ownership that the community might have from the inception, or progressively reach;
- the level and continuity of community involvement in the management of the telecenter
- the support of, or conversely conflict with, local and national authorities and pressure groups
- the relationship with national programs in the area of universalization of telecommunications services and digital inclusion, and the ability of the telecenters to preserve their identity and autonomy though participating as appropriate in such programs;
- the attitude of telecommunication companies vis a vis competition, universalization and digital inclusion efforts.

In the economic realm, key issues are:

- funding for initial investments
- securing regular income streams that can can support the operation of the telecenter
- securing resources for the maintenance and renewal of the equipment
- offering employment conditions that are attractive enough for retaining the permanent staff

In the technological realm, key issues are:

- reliability and cost of power supply
- reliability and cost of telecommunications
- reliability and cost of access to the international internet backbones
- ability to implement a distributed network
- capability of operating FOSS applications
- capability of deploying media integration, in particular radio

In many countries central governments have funding programs to encourage the development of "telecenters". Significant financial backing from international organizations is also commonplace and support is also often available from local governements.

Telecenter associations have been set up and are seeking to establish their influence at the local level as well as forming broader groups at regional and international levels. These structures are powerful instruments for sharing knowledge and experiences, helping each other and consolidating the movement Menou, Delgadillo Poepsel & Stoll 2004). Such grass root organizations should not be confused with a number of top down portals and support schemes that pretend to represent telecenters and disseminate second hand knowledge for sake of specific political and commercial interests

Mirroring events from the 1980s & 90s when computers were parachuted into communities as part of top down development programmes, the current crop of telecentres face similar challenges of social, financial and technological sustainability. At that time telecottages and electronic village halls (EVHs) were very much flavor of the month among government and funding agencies (Day, 2001; Day & Harris, 1997). However, they were viewed as short-term project that were expected to achieve sustainability with no support or training. Some transformed themselves into small commercial ventures but most closed eventually leaving behind them a great deal of frustration and dissillusionment in the community.

Very few lessons from that period appear to have be learnt. In the UK, the UK Online Centre programme, some 10 years or so after the initial telecottages and EVHs closed, many of the UK Online centres have closed or are closing after massive amounts of public funds had been pumped into them. Across the globe, the present tranche of telecenters seem to be following a very similar pattern of contradictory trends. On the one hand they are recognized by governments and international agencies as key instruments for achieving digital inclusion. Thus a proliferation of funding programs to support their establishment has been witnessed in recent years. On the other hand the support currently being displayed has no long-term policy substance behind it and may not resist the medium term hazards of development endeavors. The pressure toward securing financial sustainability in the short-term - usually 3 to 4 years - may indeed push many telecenters to close or attempt to reinvent themselves as business enterprises wherever this is feasible despite the fact that by definition they serve a population which does not have a level of income sufficient for paying for non essential goods and services. Similar attempts in the UK and Scandinavia have historically proved fruitless and we hold out little hope for the future of most telecenters without significant changes being made to policy and funding strategies.

Examples
Asodigua, Guatemala: http://www.asodigua.org
SAMPA.org, Brazil: http://www.sampa.org
Container Project, Jamaica: http://www.container-project.net

Solution: 

In the same way that public library services facilitated increased participation in society for the socially excluded through universal access to knowledge, so too can telecenters have a similar socially beneficial effect on citizenship in the network society by increasing access to and participation in information (content) creation, communication exchanges and knowledge sharing. However, history shows that treating community telecenters as short-term projects rather than part of the social infrastructure results in the long-term failure of these initiatives with community disillusionment and increased social exclusion ensuing. For telecenters to be effective instruments in bridging the digital divide and promoting social inclusion consideration of their policy, economic, technological and social sustainability is required.

We posit that a policy framework is required which establishes community telecenters as component parts of basic infrastructure supporting community life. Such policies should develop mechanisms that guarantee that appropriate levels of funding will be maintained to ensure long-term operations. In the network society, telecenters should be as much apart of our social infrastructures as public libraries, education, police services, etc. It is simply inappropriate to expect telecenters to function as instruments of social inclusion in the digital age by adopting business models from the commercial world. Similarly, the composition of the funding model that many telecenters are forced to live by is flawed. Relatively large sums of capital funding that support the purchase of equipment is made available but little or no long-term funding is obtainable for revenue functions such as equipment and network maintenance and renewal, on-going training, or the advocacy and awareness raising work that keeps telecenters at the hub of community activities and needs. Even in some of the most well intentioned cases a form of myopia exists, where ICT is concerned. Approaches that would not be accepted in other aspects of social life appear to the norm where technology is concerned. Simply throwing computers into local communities does not in itself address community need. If technology is to be both appropriate and effective it must form constituent parts of the toolbox that communities have for dealing with issues and problems. Telecenters must be grounded in the fabric of community life if they are to be socially sustainable.

A pre-requisite for social sustainability is community engagement. This demands community people getting actively involved in shaping and running telecenters in some way. In all likelihood this will involve learning directly from the experience of community telecenters operating in conditions similar to their own, so social networking skills need to be developed. Social sustainability means identifying what contribution a telecenter might make to community development efforts and involving community groups in designing, implementing and developing the telecenter. Operation and management training for members is essential if telecenters are to prosper. Support and advice in identifying and acquiring appropriate funding sources is a necessity. Finally, local communities can assist themselves in these matters by electing public administrators and lawmakers who genuinely support community technology initiatives and who understand the significance of their role in the community environment.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Across the globe new information and communication technologies (ICT) are increasingly perceived as essential to citizenship. In the same way that public libraries increased participation for the socially excluded through universal access to knowledge, so too can Telecenters that provide free or inexpensive ICT facilities. Remember that numerous preconditions must be met before Telecenters can effectively meet their objectives.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
Creative Commons. Photograph by Tariq Zaman

Everyday Heroism

Pattern ID: 
447
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
116
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

In popular media, protagonists are usually richer, stronger, and more beautiful (or handsome) than "ordinary" people. "Ordinary" people, even if they have names, are turned into stock characters. Many of the situations, moreover, in which the protagonists find themselves are extraordinary (e.g. horror, action, thriller, fantasy just to name a few genres). This approach has the effect of making people feel that their own lives are boring and unimportant. Indeed, many people feel that "escaping" into a mediated reality, whether it's television, video games or movies, is the only way to "live." This approach also distracts people from actually addressing real problems by directing their imaginations on to situations that are totally irrelevant to their own lives.

Context: 

This pattern blends fact and fiction. It addresses the stories of people and settings in fiction and non-fiction and in "real life" as well.

Discussion: 

There are no reasons why stories involving "ordinary" people in more-or-less everyday life can't be genuinely beautiful, moving and inspirational.

The Everyday Heroism pattern was inspired by this passage: "Lispector (1925-1977) is best known for short stories and novels that are structured around small, epiphanic moments in the lives of Brazilian middle-class women" (Sadlier, 1999).

Jean François Millet's evocative painting of The Gleaners (1857) shows the simple heroism of simply staying alive. Toiling under the social stigma of gleaning for their food, these three women scoured the fields after the harvest for the leftovers to which they were entitled under French law. The film "To Be and To Have" provides another inspiring example. Through a simple and unhurried portrait of a school teacher in a small French village, the viewer understands his concerns for the children in the one-room school house, his hobbies and his connections with the entire village. No matter what the movies tell us, most real heroes don't fight intergalactic evil or psychopathic killers. The real struggles are at the "human level."

Beverly Cleary, a Portland, Oregon author captures a great deal of the ordinary "dangers" that everybody must face with her wonderful about Ramona. In Ramona the Brave, when Ramona was just six, "She was tempted to try going to school a new way, by another street, but decided she wasn't that brave yet." In that same year Ramona enters a new classroom with a teacher that doesn't seem to understand her or her imaginative ways of seeing things.

Although there is no evidence that Ramona became an activist, she probably would have respected the tough position it can put people in. One takes an unpopular stand and insists that changes for the good can be made. Clearly there would be no social change without heroism — including the "everyday" kind. A small but significant piece of wisdom offers encouragement to those of us who hesitate when faced with this challenge: Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.

The Giraffe Project promotes "ordinary heroism" (or, rather, heroism by people who might otherwise appear to be "ordinary") realizing that no movement is due to a single "leader." The Giraffe project celebrates people who "stick their nose out" and has named nearly 1,000 "Giraffes" thus far who have a vision of a better world. These people have all taken personal risks to initiate an ameliorative project on a grand a scale such as replanting a country's trees or on a "small" scale such as building bridges between two hostile groups in a community.

The original introductory photograph was of Reverend Maurice McCrackin, who was still active in his 90's, is from the Giraffe Heroes Project. In 1945 Reverend McCrackin built the first interracial Presbyterian congregation in the United States. The second introductory photograph was of a young Russian man demonstrating for fair elections. The current introductory photograph is of Greta Thunberg who was just nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her critical work on climate activism. The summary graphic is of The Gleaners, now in the public domain.

Solution: 

Produce — and consider — more popular media that involves "ordinary" people and "everyday" lives. Celebrate the heroes among us and strive to be one yourself. Even an "ordinary" one.

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

In the media, heroes are usually richer, stronger, and better looking than ordinary people. And the situations in which the heroes find themselves are not ordinary. This makes people feel that their own lives are unimportant. No matter what the movies tell us, however, most real heroes are ordinary. We need media that involves ordinary people and everyday lives. Celebrate the heroes among us and strive to be one. Remember: Speak the truth even if your voice shakes.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about summary graphic: 

Gleaners, Millet. Public Domain

Public Domain Characters

Pattern ID: 
731
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
115
John Thomas
IBM Research Hawthorne
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project
Version: 
2
Problem: 

Stories are one ancient and still powerful technique for people to create and share knowledge across temporal and geographical boundaries. Stories may be conceptualized as having three major dimensions: character, plot, and environment. Traditionally, societies have used and shared all of these dimensions. Today, in an effort to make the rich and powerful yet richer and more powerful, the natural processes of creating, sharing, and building on stories has been subverted into a process of "claiming" the world of stories as private property. This limits artistic creativity and stunts the growth of collective wisdom.

Context: 

Large, powerful corporations (many recently merged) control much of the media and have a huge influence on the international copyright laws. In most cases, the characters used in movies and television shows (even if originally taken from the public domain) are restricted in terms of the ability of anyone else to use them. In fact, in some cases, people have been sued even for setting up "fan sites" for these characters as well as for using them in satire. Arguably, there has never been a greater need for collective human wisdom. Yet, the profit motive gone hypertrophic has put a host of economic, legal, and logistical barriers across possible paths of collaborative thought.

Discussion: 

Humankind has generated a magnificent pantheon of fictional and not-so-fictional characters over the millennia of its existence. Unbelievably enough, this rich legacy may be stopped cold through a transfer of the ownership of humankind's stories and images to corporate rather than shared "commons" ownership. Civil society should establish a repository of characters who are available to all without charge. This could contain characters from our pre-corporate past as well as those of more recent vintage (such as Cat-Man (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cat-Man_and_Kitten) who was raised in Burma by a Tigress but abandoned on our doorstep by the corporation that spawned him. Ultimately it could even include those are now serving time, cloistered behind commercial contracts until their sentences expire. Novelists could legally allow the inhabitants of the universes they created to be enlisted in others: Cartoonists such as Matt Groening could donate Homer Simpson or a brand new type of American everyman complete with voices and descriptions of where he lived and what he liked to do. Frustrated novelists could supply names and descriptions that their colleagues could borrow for their own work. However, it is not only artists and writers who benefit from having access to stories and the characters who inhabit them. Characters can serve as sources of inspiration for all; they can give us hope in dire times; they can serve as models for ethical, effective, or clever behavior. One use of characters is to serve as a kind of "Board of Directors" that we can use imaginatively to help look at our problems and proposed solutions from various perspectives. (See http://www.research.ibm.com/knowsoc/ The Disney corporation may be the most prolific "borrower" of stories (including Aladdin, Atlantis, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, Davy Crockett, Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Hercules, Hunchback of Notre Dame, Jungle Book, Oliver Twist, Pinocchio, Pocahontas, Robin Hood, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Three Musketeers, Treasure Island, and the Wind in the Willows) from the public domain; the number of stories they have added to the humankind's commonwealth is still at zero. (Thanks in part to legislation that granted Mickey Mouse another 75 years of service to the corporation.)( State of the Commons - Culture)

Solution: 

Humankind has created a magnificent pantheon of fictional and not-so-fictional characters. Sadly, this legacy may be lost as corporations increasingly own the rights. The natural processes of creating, sharing, and building on stories has been degraded into a process of claiming stories as private property. The development and sharing of Public Domain Characters can help reclaim these timeless functions.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Humankind has created a magnificent pantheon of fictional and not-so-fictional characters. Sadly, this legacy may be lost as corporations increasingly own the rights. The natural processes of creating, sharing, and building on stories has been degraded into a process of claiming stories as private property. The development and sharing of Public Domain Characters can help reclaim these timeless functions.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about summary graphic: 

Felix and Charlie Chaplin share the screen in a memorable moment from Felix in Hollywood (1923). Public Domain. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felix_the_Cat

The Power of Story

Pattern ID: 
793
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
114
Rebecca Chamberlain
The Evergreen State College
Version: 
2
Problem: 

The truth about stories is that's all we are. Thomas King (2003)

Stories are fundamental to being human. How do they change as languages and cultures evolve through different communication technologies? In the age of cyberspace we often feel alienated from genuine stories, ones that we live with every day, that tell us how to become decent human beings and live meaningful lives. Corporate media exploit story patterns that evolved to pass on ethical codes, and we are trapped into thinking about products instead of reflecting on our lives. Traditional myths explored dynamic relationships between humans and nature. How can stories to help us adapt to our quickly changing world?

Context: 

This pattern addresses the concerns of organizations and individuals involved in: Education, Culture, Arts, Society, Mythology, Technology, Law, Philosophy, Humanities, Psychology, Science, Environmental Studies, Religion, Social & Political Science, and Activism.

Discussion: 

One way or another we are living the stories planted in us early or along the way, or we are also living the stories we planted "knowingly or unknowingly" in ourselves. We live stories that either give our lives meaning or negate it with meaninglessness. If we change the stories we live by, quite possibly we change our lives. Ben Okri, Nigerian storyteller.

Patterns in stories tend to reflect the environments we live in and the communication media we use. Indigenous peoples evolved patterns in oral traditions that resonated with the voices of the land and reinforced memory and meaning. The invention of writing and the phonetic alphabet played with the way language and images could be displayed as texts. The advent of the printing press offered freedom to experiment with new narrative and poetic forms, as well as restraints, as texts and language became standardized. The structure of stories changed as they moved from the places they were told onto the printed page.

Today, can words again become "winged" as they fly through both time and space in new forms offered by electronic media? Speech is communal; it exists only as it is being shared. As stories shift and change in response to new environments and technologies, who has access and jurisdiction to manipulate them? Can these new mediums offer opportunities to engage our senses and help us reconnect to the natural world? Can this enriched experience help us reflect on the deeper messages that stories contain?

Stories are conduits or vehicles that mediate our inner and outer worlds. When we tell stories, we are connected to live events and internal dramas. Modern cultures utilize technology to record ideas or performances, and tend to value the analysis of texts, recordings, and other artifacts of expression. We cultivate methods of reflection that reinforce our capacity to respond, think, and explore symbolic messages, but our objectivity makes us feel removed or alienated from authentic experience. We often yearn for the mystery of stories to deepen our lives. Oral cultures are immersed in ritual and experience; the time, place, and context in which a story is told is crucial to its meaning. Myths, which convey symbolic messages, are also repositories or living encyclopedias of practical knowledge and wisdom gained from sustainable relationships to the natural world. Oral traditions resonate with mnemonic patterns, poetic rhythms, tones, and inflections of local landscapes. 

Richard Louve points out that studies of the songs of birds and whales reveal many of the same laws of composition as those used by humans. New scientific methods have enabled humans to learn about the intricate patterns of human and animal communication, but have not given most children a deep or genuine experience of animals and the stories or songs grounded in the natural world. This results in what Love describes as the modern child's "hyper-intellectualized" perception of nature and other animals.

Technology gives us tools to analyze and preserve traditional stories, but also disrupts and alienates people from meaningful stories that connect them with sustainable patterns in the natural world. Modern myths are often caught up in the social, political, and economic systems that our new technologies have created. Those who control the stories, knowledge, and mediums of communication wield the power.

Marshall McLuhan explores the shadow side of technological and economic success by arguing that popular culture is a source for diagnosing the "collective trance" of industrial society. Ads are a new kind of storytelling; "a social ritual or magic that enhances us in our own eyes." Rolf Jensen says, "The highest-paid person in the first half of the next century will be the 'storyteller.' Many global companies are mainly storytellers, and the value of products depends on the story they tell." Advertisers proclaim freedom of choice as the foundation of the American way of life; however, they gloss over questions of power and control. McLuhan suggests that individuals break the hypnotic trance of the media through tough-minded evaluation that probes the collective myths of our industrial folklore.

Mythologist Joseph Campbell says, "not only have the old mythic notions of the nature of the cosmos gone to pieces, but also those of the origins of the history of mankind." He suggests, that to give meaning to life, the modern person cannot simply reproduce inherited patterns of thought or action, but must create their own stories. Since many people start with seeds provided by the media, how do they proceed?

Words and stories are active agents. Ernest Cassirer says that the "word," in early cosmologies, is the primary force from which being and doing originate. Likewise, the cause and effect of media and print "word magic" in modern cultures determines our political and economic systems, and can result in nationalism and colonialism. Traditional stories and myths that have evolved from oral, consensually shared standards and beliefs that value feeling and community interaction have come into conflict with technologies that value independence, analytical thought, and scientific or secular authority. Modern civilization is faced with a split between the head and the heart.

In the Greek myth of the phonetic alphabet, King Cadmus plants dragons' teeth (alphabetic symbols) that rise up as armed men. If the alphabet could have such effects, what is the effect of modern technologies? We face the problem of how to deal ethically with the power humans have manufactured through technology. Can we recover a sense of reverence for the word without fueling tribal or national myths that sow dragons’ teeth?

Thoreau anticipated these arguments in “Walking,” when he says, “There are other letters for the child to learn than those which Cadmus invented.” Rather than learning letters in dusty schools, Thoreau wanted students to learn from wilderness. For him, mythology came close to expressing the language of nature. He advocates a kind of “tawny grammar” that celebrates what is wild and free. Through this, he says, “The highest that we can attain is not Knowledge, but Sympathy with Intelligence.”

Perhaps McLuhan suggests a solution to our dilemma when he says, “two cultures or technologies can, like astronomical galaxies, pass through one another without collision; but not without change of configuration.” Are we ready for a transformation of this magnitude? Can we connect traditional stories and myths with new technologies in ways that don’t hypnotize us into a trance, but actually engage us more completely with community and the natural world?

Solution: 

Storytelling, an ancient art, needs to be rediscovered and updated. Stories help humankind to understand, reinterpret, and reframe the meanings that under-gird their existence. Can we use new communications technologies to weave together words and images, scientific information and poetic inspiration, and incorporate multiple voices (including the larger community of plants, animals, birds, and elemental forces) to tell multi-faceted stories of our earth communities? Can stories help us to weave together the communications and global challenges that face us as we learn to live co-creatively with each other and the natural world?

Verbiage for pattern card: 

The ancient art of storytelling needs to be rediscovered and updated. Stories help humankind to understand and reframe the meanings that undergird their existence. We can use new technologies to weave words and images, scientific information and poetic inspiration, and incorporate multiple voices to tell multi-faceted stories of our earth communities. As Thomas King tells us, The truth about stories is that’s all we are.

Pattern status: 
Released

Universal Voice Mail

Pattern ID: 
750
Pattern number within this pattern set: 
113
Jenn Brandon
Community Technology Institute
Version: 
2
Problem: 

How do people find a job without a telephone? How do they avail themselves of services, receive timely information, or stay connected to loved ones if they do not have a reliable message number? Even in this very wired age, the need for a phone number remains; the lack of a constant telephone number becomes a very real obstacle for the homeless or phoneless.

Context: 

Communities around the world have different levels of technological sophistication for supporting the everyday conversations of its members. The health of a community is sustained by these conversations and people who are blocked from this universe of conversations are, in a fundamental way, blocked from membership in the community. For that reason the integration of people into the broad community conversation network is important to all communities. Voice mail is a low-cost solution that substitutes for dial tone for those unable to afford it. Community Providing voice mail to a community of people cut off from the communications infrastructure is technologically plausible and works well in urban environments where there is existing infrastructure (telephone service, community providers, and pay telephones); however, the need for the service exists anywhere there are disconnected people. The audience of users runs the gamut from the homeless to the working poor to people fleeing domestic violence or dealing with health problems in need of a confidential communication link that is easy to access.

Discussion: 

In 1991, two program directors at the Seattle Worker Center conceived of a small project that had an unpredictably potent impact. Called Community Voice Mail (CVM), the idea responded practically to a specific problem: How can a homeless person find work or housing, receive medical or social services, or navigate daily life without a reliable and direct point of contact? Furthermore, how can the job developer, the doctor, the advocate, in short, the social services system charged with the mission to respond to the needs of the poor and homeless, do so efficiently and effectively if they must devote hours to tracking down the individuals they serve?

Community Voice Mail responds to this need by acting like a home answering machine for thousands of people across a community. The CVM service is a shared resource operated by the CVM national office and a local community-based organization that takes on the role of host. This host builds a network of participating agencies to maximize the distribution of the resource cost-effectively. People in crisis and transition may enroll in CVM through any number of social, human, or health services agencies in the community. By providing multiple points of access, the service allows practical and flexible eligibility criteria while maintaining basic measurement standards.

As of 2008, the program operates in forty-one U.S. cities and in Melbourne, Australia, connecting more than 461,000 people annually. The CVM national office provides guidance on how to start a CVM service and supports the resulting federation of peer sites. Cisco Systems is the majority funder of the nonprofit program and donated equipment and software for a centralized network that uses Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to manage accounts for tens of thousands of users. The network’s advanced capabilities include a broadcast messaging feature that is used to distribute information about job openings, training opportunities, community resources, and emergency weather warnings to the voicemail subscribers.

Connecting individuals via communication services integrates people into existing communication networks but, also, helps establish new networks. These networks could help support the community of people who use the system by allowing the users and the managers of the system to share relevant information and mobilize users in relation to specific issues and events.

Universal voice mail presents a meaningful pattern and objective that can assist communities by encouraging the integration of all people into the community. At the same time the employment of this pattern will necessarily take a wide variety of forms depending on many factors. These forms will be determined by the people who will use the services, organizations in the community that are providing the services, and the general nature and climate of social services in the community. Other things, including the technological infrastructure, social capital, and the ability to raise funds in the community, perhaps through an innovative commercial sector are relevant as well. The dedication of the organizers is also key, as is their ability to collaborate and incrementally improve the level of support over time. Since technological systems are still changing rapidly (although they are unevenly distributed, with the more technically sophisticated systems concentrated in economically privileged regions) the nature of the service needs — and the technological support that is needed to support the service — will undoubtedly change as well.

Solution: 

Universal voicemail should be available as a low-cost alternative to telephone service so that all people, regardless of income, have a reliable point of contact that maintains dignity and restores connection to opportunity and support.

Verbiage for pattern card: 

Even in this very wired age, the lack of a telephone number can be a real problem. Universal Voice Mail is a low-cost solution for those unable to afford their own telephone. Potential users include the homeless, the working poor, people fleeing domestic violence, or those otherwise in need of confidentiality. Universal Voice Mail should be available as an alternative to telephone service so that all people have a reliable point of contact and a link to their community.

Pattern status: 
Released
Information about introductory graphic: 
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