Opportunity Spaces

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Douglas Schuler
Public Sphere Project (CPSR)

Inequality can be understood to a large degree as unfair access to opportunities. In the U.S. opportunities for education, employment and health are often tied to economic status. Current social and technological systems are often not being used to create or support opportunity spaces that are equitable even though these are the hallmark of a just society. Without adequate opportunity spaces, marginalized people will almost necessarily prevented from meaningful participation in the society at large.


This pattern can be used in any community. After all, every community depends on opportunities. Some communities have ample opportunities that are open for all while some have all but the most demeaning opportunities denied to them. Although applying this pattern is intended to lead to concrete action, it can also be useful as a focus for thinking about equity and social progress.


How can society develop more -- and better -- opportunities for its citizens?

An "opportunity space" presents a possible step that a person might take as he or she plans for, and moves into, the future. It describes a potential "contract" between an offering entity and a person looking for future possibilities. Opportunities, of course, take many forms. These can include classes and seminars, volunteer positions, jobs, contests, access to the media, timely announcements, mentoring, scholarships, grants and many others.

Opportunities dictate the possible paths to the future that are available to people. Hence the opportunities that society ofers is of critical importance. What opportunities exist? Do they exist for all citizens or just privileged ones? How are these opportunities developed? Do people know about them? In many cases, spending a little more effort making the existing opportunities more widely known will help considerably.

There are often mismatches in a society between the opportunities that exist for individuals and opportunities that individuals believe exist for them. It is very important to understand that there is a great distinction between an "realizable" opportunity space and ones that are perceived to exist but don't and ones that exist but aren't known. Someimes the actual space is larger than the perceived one while sometimes the reverse is true.

Notes: This pattern needs to discuss several innovative approaches that communities and instituions are offering. It should also discuss ways to think tactically and strategically about implementing new or improving existing opportunity spaces. Descriptive image found at: http://www.jfklibrary.org/images/doors.jpg


People and communities need help realizing their potential. They also need support as they work to repair social and environmental problems. It is important to devote attention and resources (including policy, services, media and technological systems) to help create new (and improve existing) "opportunity spaces" for people -- and communities -- who need them.

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