New (Pattern) Languages of Inclusion

Pattern number within this pattern set: 
Greg Paine

There is a need, within our increasingly complex, fast-paced and fragmented time for a new form of expression that is similarly intricate and dynamic - but which can also promote synthesis and integration. Such a form of expression will be holistic but concise; definite and robust enough to promote action and reflective review, but not dogmatic or restrictive of creativity. To be integrative, it should also fulfill the role of a lingua-franca between different interests and users.

The concept of a ‘Pattern’ as developed by Christopher Alexander has been recognised as one such form of expression. However, Alexander has produced no concise workbook to assist the layperson seeking to write an ‘Alexandrian Pattern’, thus limiting its take-up and adoption.


Notwithstanding the intuitive valuing of the whole that the common use of the word


Within this context we have grown unused to working integratively in groups of different knowledges and interests and unused to representing the more synthetic and holistic outcomes that such working environments engender. Nevertheless, various people are undertaking work in this regard and the idea of new languages of synthesis generated by patterns is seen to hold promise. In particular, the work by Christopher Alexander to develop a practical alternative of creative synthesis based on pattern processes now constitutes an iterative body of theory and practice of some 40 years. Instructively, it resonates with - and in turn synthesises - a number of contemporary viewpoints: the use of systems thinking to map out intricate connections; the idea of the whole as an unfolding of an extant order, as promoted by the physicist David Bohm; the valuing of immediate human experience, typical of phenomenological inquiry; and the search, within chaos theory, for the patterns that make complexity manageable.

However, notwithstanding that Alexander’s work is becoming increasingly recognised, there remains a limitation: a workbook to assist those wanting to generate their own pattern languages.

Some specific research to address this limitation (Paine, 2004) has defined a number of lessons. This research adopted an holistic view of pattern: extending its well-known and practised ability as a tool of analysis, perception and static design by exploring ‘the other side of the coin’, as promoted by Alexander - the use of pattern as a tool to reveal our intuitive understandings of the whole in a way that generates positive action. To learn more about these latter attributes, ‘pattern practitioners’ from ten different fields (for example permaculture, choreography, Feldenkrais, pyschotherapy) discussed their work. Close relationships were found between pattern and a desire to work with the whole, and between pattern and ‘life’. The practitioners were involved in forming new patterns from existing patterns. In doing so they used similar tools: active observation, listening and questioning, intuitive understandings, and established ‘lessons’ developed through iteration. Their new patterns tended to be inherently more flexible than the contributory patterns, while still retaining robustness. There was also a strong interest in using pattern as a lingua franca to aid communication between themselves and others. The research then worked with a particular user group (in this case involved in the practice of sustainable development) to generate a specific pattern language. This work, coupled with reference to that of Alexander, allowed the development of further lessons about the generation of pattern languages. It was revealed that the exercise of writing the type of compound pattern envisaged by Alexander is inherently disciplined with its own rules (or patterns). Importantly in respect to the holistic objectives of pattern languages, these rules also resonate with the nine dimensions that the research revealed when also seeking an understanding of that otherwise ineffable entity, ‘the whole’. These comprise the eight dimensions nominated in Figure 1 plus a ninth non-written ‘ineffable tension’ inherent within the illustration itself. The rules form the Solution component of this Pattern.


When preparing a Pattern:

1. Extend the description and analysis aspects of a ‘common pattern’ by including properties of synthesis and generativity.
2. Maintain a commitment to a vision of the whole of what is sought - to that which is larger, beyond one’s own field, time and place, and greater than the grouping of its parts.
3. Reveal our experiences of this whole - via critical observation, reflective questioning, the ‘bracketing’ out of more ego-led responses, and the allocation of sufficient time to do this.
4. Slice the subject matter within each Pattern discretely - large enough to stand alone and have meaning by itself, but distinct enough so that the solution does not become muddled with other action.
5. Value both intuitive and analytical knowledge - asking what one feels about the subject is as necessary as asking what one thinks about it
6. Collaborate, with critical reflection, with prospective users - do not write a Pattern language as an individual, or small group, acting alone.
7. Appoint someone to undertake the focus and hard work necessary to transcribe this collaboration, in the manner of a mid-wife - noting that this role is, potentially, within the ability of any aware and interested person.
8. Ask, constantly, whether the ‘Solution’ component can (appropriately) be implemented in many different ways, or does it (inappropriately) only define one particular response?
9. Test whether the Pattern is a true reflection of positive experience by determining whether it results in people nodding quietly in agreement or giving a quiet smile of recognition.
10. Use a clarity of expression, economy of presentation, inclusive terminology, a graphic sensibility, and sufficient references to facilitate review and development.
11. Ensure they are ‘do-able’ - Patterns come to life, and generate reflective review, through practice and thus require equal attention to the means by which they can become known and actioned.
12. Link each Pattern, as both a ‘whole’ within itself and a part of a larger ‘whole’, to others - just as words become linked together, and increase their potential, in a language.

Pattern status: