Meta Patterns - How To Think About Patterns

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Earl Mardle
KeyNet Consultancy

Successful patterns in social contexts are emergent properties of social activities. We observe a number of events and suspect that a "pattern is emerging" or as Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, "All happy families resemble one another, but each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

The purpose of pattern language is to decode the "patterns of success" so they can be replicated. The problem is that those who create the successes are often not good at unpacking them into a structure that others can learn from.


Many of the patterns on thise site contain excellent ideas and many fine statements of intent or piurpose and prescriptions for solving the problems indicated, but very few of them contain useful pattern langauges that others can draw onm.

This pattern is started with the aim of showing how such submissions can be converted into pattern language.


Pattern elucidation is an analytical process that attempts to reach a general conclusion by exhaustive particularisation in the process of which, personality and narration are replaced by roles, relationships, context and process. Not every community has a Dorothy Okello, but many communities have a women's health activist who needs better communication with her counterparts in other villages, regional centres and the WHO.

Not every community includes the nephew of the regional governor, but many will have a person with more vertical connections in the social and political hierarchy and knowing how to engage that person to support a project is valuable knowledge.

By teasing out the roles, relationship, context and process in multiple successful programmes, we hope to enable the pattern to reveal itself. Achieving the first part of that pair is the purpose of this pattern.

I have started with Pam McLean's Human networks bridging the digital divide in rural Nigeria because it deals directly with a project that has some history and is unfiolding in a very difficult environment where unsuccessful choices will quickly become evident. That it continues at all means that it must be doing something right, the question is, what?

The first step is to read Pam's document which has a number of characteristics that will, unfortunately, need to disappear. These are the narrative and anecdotal tools that give life to storytelling, the connectives that enable us to graps and recall the gist of the story even after we have forgotten the details themselves. However, in the immediate future, the whole document needs to remain available because at this stage we cannot know for sure where, and why, the pattern language will need to branch, drilling deeper into some aspect that previously seemed self explanatory.

The vital points to remember from Pam's pattern is that,
1. although the project objective is to bring communication tools to rural Nigerian villages,
2. the problem that she is solving is how to reach that goal by using Human networks

While the outcome in this particular case may be to establish ICT network access, the way it is being dealt with when tthe access doesn't yet exist, might also be applied to introducing environmental awareness in such a community, or attempting to eradicate feamle genital mutilation.

This is the point of pattern language, that we can derive from one context, successful strategies for another context altogether.


This is a start on describing the solution to the problem of extracting from narrative knowledge the implicit understanding behind it. The html structure is not good, with far too much screen space included (to be fixed). The original material is coded in red followed by the enquiry into its statements. The indents indicate that some queries may be subsets of a higher level one. In future iterations I would expect that small sets of these queries would become patterns in their own right as more expertise is brought ot bear on the issues. You can download an RTF file of the document here and feel free to modify and extend it yourself.

Human networks bridging the digital divide in
rural Nigeria

Pamela McLean CAWD

The problem of the digital divide

I am not keen on DD as a top level problem.
Lack of access to technology is not, in itself, a problem. Certainly
within the context of the Pattern language project, we might be
looking at economic, gender or political
exploitation, environmental problems caused by inappropriate
activities, health and educational
problems, employment etc. all as subsets of
poverty. But let us assume that we have dealt with those and decided
that the problem can be solved by Better Access to Communications

Sub Problem

challenging in rural areas, where there is poor infrastructure, high
levels of illiteracy, no telephones, and an established pattern of
population drift (and brain drain) from rural areas to the urban
areas and overseas.

(Para transferred to Solution}


A rural area in Nigeria.
The approach to crossing
the digital divide that is being developed there could be relevant to
any place which has similar elements.

The basic elements are:

A large rural area,

  • How Large?

  • What is the geography? (Are
    there high points that could be wireless relay stations [See Juasun
    project] or rivers that are used for transport.

  • What is the climate/


Beyond the reach of
telephones but has effective human communication networks (e.g.

  • How far away are existing
    communications networks?

    • What plans exist to bring
      communications closer?

  • What regulations currently
    control ownership and operation of
    communication networks?

  • What infrastructure is

    • Roads? (paved/ unpaved –
      open all year or closed seasonally by rain/ snow etc.)

    • Public transport?

      • [See COW

    • How do these support the
      effective human networks?

      • Describe the constituents
        of these human networks.

        • How do they work?

        • How can you identify one?

    • How many will support or
      gain from this project?

    • How many will object to/
      oppose this project?


  • What is the economic base of
    the community?

    • Aid Funding

      • International aid

      • government contracts and

    • market towns servicing
      trade routes and nomadic communities

    • farming

      • subsistence
        farming on tenured lands

      • subsistence farming on
        freehold lands

    • dry land farming

    • market based farming etc.


Population drift (brain
drain) resulting in members of the community living on the connected
side of the digital divide (e.g. London).

  • What is the demographic
    effect of this drift?

    • Hollowed out community with
      absent working age families

    • men only absent leaving
      high proportion of women

    • rapidly ageing population
      base as everyone else leaves)

  • What social and economic
    problems are generated by these demographic shifts?

  • What benefits flow from the

Communication links between
the two communities.

  • How are these links
    currently sustained?

  • What are the drivers for
    this process?

  • Why would they be involved?



An individual with vision to
get it all started (e.g. the late Peter
Adetunji Oyawale,
founder of CAWD: the Committee for African Welfare and Development)

  • How do you identify such an

    • What role does self
      selection play?

    • How does the community
      select and promote its leaders?

  • What kind of experience of
    ICT do they need?

  • What kind of role
    do they currently play in the community?

    • How critical is that role?

Community Base

An individual or group with
influence in the rural community acting as a local champion (e.g. The
Oke-Ogun Community Development Agenda 2000 Plus committee)

  • What is the relationship
    between this person/ group and the individual with vision?

  • Does the individual need to
    belong to a group in common with the source of influence?

  • What kinds of organisation
    are best for this role in this community?

  • What kinds of organisation
    are not good for this role in this community?

Partner Network

An individual or group on
the connected side working on behalf of the local champion (e.g.

  • What characteristics does
    the connected end need?

  • What resources does the
    connected end ideally possess?

    • Technical skills.

    • Organisational resources.

    • Financial connections

    • Political connections

A director (Originally Peter
Adetunji Oyawale. Since his death Pamela McLean, UK Co-ordinator
of CAWD, has been acting director)

  • What is the role of the

    • Why is that role
      important to the process?

  • At what point does that role
    become critical?

  • How important is it that the
    director have direct personal experience of the situation at the
    other end of the bridge?

    • Why?

Research and Consultation

There are many ways to try
bridging the digital divide. Sharing ideas and experiences at a
comparatively early stage enables others to join the learning curve.

TOOL: ICT & development- help or hindrance?
Also The
community telecentre cookbook for Africa: recipies for

  • Why is it important?

    • What are the benefits of
      doing so and the penalties for not doing so?

    • What examples can you

  • How are these ideas shared?

    • What processes are
      effective/ ineffective for doing this?

  • What results are you looking
    for from this process?

The digital bridge project
in Oke-Ogun, Oyo State Nigeria, was the vision of the late Peter
Adetunji Oyawale, founder of CAWD. He was a man of many parts,
including local champion, ICT professional and son of an illiterate
peasant farmer.

  • What particular properties
    did each of his qualities confer on his ability to carry out the

    • How important are
      these factors in choosing the evangelist?

    • Could they be distributed
      among more than one person?

  • Which of them are absolutely
    critical in this context?

He was a digital bridge
personified. He built enthusiasm for a sustainable development
project amongst the rural community in Oke-Ogun and amongst his
friends on the connected side of the digital divide in the UK.

  • How did he do this?

    • What benefits did he

    • What costs did he talk

      • How were the costs and
        benefits resolved so that the project was accepted as a reasonable
        use of the community's resources?

life was an example of the population drift that occurs from rural
areas to the developed world, a succession of moves from illiteracy
to education, qualifications and skills, and no opportunities to
apply those skills back home. He believed that the answer was to take
information to people instead of having people move in search of
information. He believed that digital technology could enable a
practical and cost effective approach to improving educational and
employment opportunities in rural areas like his home.

  • How did he convert this
    belief into a story/proposal that captured the imagination and
    energised his community?

  • What steps did he take
    between making his proposal and implementing the project?

    • How many of those steps
      were locally necessary but variable by community and culture?

    • How many of them appear to
      be essential to a successful implementation?

Dealing With a Major Disruption

Despite Peter’s tragic
premature death in Nigeria in December 2000,

  • What were the circumstances
    of his death?

    • Was it in any way linked to
      the project?

    • How common is that in this

      • What does it imply, if
        anything, for succession planning in projects of this kind?

      • How is that process
        managed in this community?

his vision has continued to
grow and develop. Individuals and groups are developing to take on
and extend the many roles he initiated. The OOCD (Oke-Ogun Community
Development Agenda 2000 Plus committee) has taken his role as local
champion. CAWD, with its history of supporting his vision, and its
access to information and technical expertise, is enabling the
project from the connected side of the digital divide.

  • What differences have these
    changes made to the way CAWD operates?

Personal communication links
between Nigerians in London, and the community in Oke-Ogun, help OOCD
and CAWD, and strengthen the foundations on which the project is
being built.

  • What has been the process to
    transfer from the individual to the

    • How were those groups
      chosen for the roles they have undertaken?

    • How well fitted to those
      roles are the groups that are performing

      • How have they had to adapt
        to be able to fulfil those roles?

    • What would you have done
      differently if you had the choice?

In Oke-Ogun the information
network relies largely on word of mouth, through the village markets,
the weekly meetings for religious worship, and the trading networks
between the village markets and urban centres. The main urban centres
have telephone lines and public e-mail access. Some e-mail and
telephone communication is possible between the urban centres and the
UK, but web access is virtually impossible.

  • What is the content of the
    word of mouth network?

    • What do people tell each
      other about the project?

      • How do you measure the
        effect of that spread of information?

    • What do people coming to
      the project through that network expect to find?

      • How accurate are their

    • What do they use the
      project facilities for?

    • How long do they stay in
      contact with it? (What is the drop off rate?)

      • Why do people drop out?

In the UK access to the
Internet is easy, so contacts can be made
and information can be collected on behalf of the project.

  • What kinds of information do
    you collect?

    • Where do you get it from?

    • What do you do with it?

  • Give some examples of
    information collected and delivered and its effect?

  • How do you find out what
    information is needed?

  • How do people in Nigeria
    find out that they need a particular piece of information?

Contact between Nigeria and
the UK is enhanced when people visit friends and relatives in
Nigeria, and physically carry Internet
printouts, videos and letters between the two countries. It is not
instant online access for the OOCD committee and it is not
video-conferencing, but it is a step in that direction.

  • At what level of physical
    connection does this become workable?

    • How many people carry
      information to Nigeria?

    • How often does the project
      use this courier system?

  • What are the limitations and
    down sides to this method?

  • What are the other benefits
    of doing things this way?

Together the OOCD and CAWD
are clarifying Peter’s digital bridge vision of providing
Community Digital Information Centres (CDICs)
linked to a community radio station.

  • How are they clarifying the

    • What was unclear in the
      original vision?

    • How much of the original
      vision was incorrect or inadequate to the task it was supposed to

  • Give examples of

    • the original vision

    • the process by which it was

    • why it needed to change

    • the changed vision.

Prior to building the ICT
infrastructure, or ‘information highway’, ‘information
traffic’ is flowing in both directions. The OOCD is recognising
how the community could benefit from online Internet

  • How are these benefits being

  • What are they?

  • How are they being
    communicated to the community?

  • How are they being taken up
    and what are the benefits that flow from

shared awareness of potentially useful ‘information traffic’
is increasing. Later this ‘information traffic’ will flow
through the community network, to and from the CDICs and the linked
radio college, and through the wider connected community.

  • How is the shared awareness

    • How is its increase being

    • What is the significance of
      the increase?

  • What does the information
    traffic consist of?

    • What kinds of information
      are flowing in this traffic?

  • How
    is it being carried?

  • Who is generating the
    traffic and who is receiving it?

  • What effects is this traffic
    having on the project?
    (How is it being used?)

For the ‘information
highway’ CAWD UK is researching appropriate technology

  • What kinds of technology
    does the project need?

  • How does it decide on the
    capabilities and functions that it

  • What process does CAWD use
    to identify appropriate technology?

    • Does it start with a
      shopping list of functions and find technology to meet them

    • Does it start
      with the resources [technical, financial, infrastructural]
      available in Nigeria and look for technology that they can support)

  • How are the decisions made
    about which technology to adopt?

  • What happens then?

while the OOCD is discussing
ideas with local government chairmen, gaining support and finding
appropriate locations.

  • What ideas are being
    discussed with local government?

    • Why
      do those ideas matter?

      • What kinds of support are
        they giving?

      • What is their agenda in
        doing so?

  • How are appropriate
    locations identified?

    • What criteria do you use to
      define appropriate locations?

      • How did you reach these

The first objective is to
provide the OOCD with online Internet
access instead of printouts generated in the UK. The vision goes much
further, as outlined above.

  • How is this access defined?

    • Who will have the access?

      • How are those people

  • How will it be financed?

The speed of implementation
will depend on the resources the project can attract, but we
anticipate an incremental approach, growing in response to expressed
needs of the community.

  • What is the starting point
    of the incremental approach?

  • How will the community
    express its needs?

  • How will they be


;Ideally digital bridge
building should be a collaborative venture from an early stage, needs
driven as well as technology driven. However people in rural Africa
are poorly placed to be actively involved in designing digital
bridges for their communities.

The Oke-Ogun
digital bridge project combines a technology led approach (from the
connected side of the digital divide) with a needs driven approach
(from the rural communities and their representatives). This has been
achieved by recognising the value of existing human communication
networks in the rural areas, beyond the reach of the telephone
network. The fact of population drift from rural areas to the
developed world adds to the scope of the network. From the beginning
the project has involved a human network ranging from the
multi-cultural community in the UK to peasant farmers in distant
rural Nigeria.

Pattern status: