Sunday, 14 December 2008

Pattern Language and Helmut Leitner

I mentioned Pattern Language at a Meet-up last week, so here is additional information as requested. By putting it here, instead of in an email, I can more easily show other people later.

I will try to return to this blog entry sometime and add more explanation - but Adam - who I am writing this for now has already had some introduction.

My weekly half-hour Skype-chat tutorials on Pattern Language are with Helmut Leitner. His paid work is as a software developer and consultant. Currently his main personal interests are ...
  1. videobridge events (connecting places for education and cultural events)
  2. building a network of interconnected places in Austria/Europe/World taht collaborate that way
  3. system theory of unfolding living systems, following the ideas of Christopher Alexander (wrote a book about that)
Here are some qotes from Helmut from our first Skype-chat (which I know he is happy to make public). I have picked out some main teaching points. I am privelaged because I am able to ask questions and discuss that ideas as we go along - but I have not included any of that. NB - we Skype in haste so there are some typos :

System situations are often complex and it is not clear which way to go, where to invest time, money, energy or other resources. It is interesting to find the potentials that allow to step forward in the most efficient way.

So there are structural concepts that help to describe and design systems. There are process-related principles that increase to chance to do things right.

Development would be relatively easy if the developed system
were like machines and followed certain laws or rules predictably ...
then we could act like a machine builder and construct and build
them ... but their aren't.

All really interesting systems - like society, humans, ecological
systems, cities, communities - are like organisms that have their
unique indivdiuality. They unfold according to general but flexible
principles but they are unpredictable. They are to be nurtured,
gardened, supported in their growth.

Such unfolding processes have always numerous opportunities to
continue from the current situation. Development needs decisions
to follow one path or the other. Each decision influences all the
future decisions and may be right or wrong.

For example: do you want to marry this partner, Yes or no? Your
whole life will change on that decision. The children you get
and care for. The perspective on what is important in life.

For example: Learn this or that profession? On such decisions
almost everything depends. The people you have most contact with,
the things you learn, the abilities in which you grow.

The support of development, the coaching of unfolding is not easy.
Only in 2002-2004 Christopher Alexander published his 4-volume
"The Nature of Order" life-work, which shows the rough outline
of a general concept how to do this in a holistic way. His
earlier books "A Pattern Language" and "Timeless Way of Building"
(about 1980) tapped the potential and inspired people but they
were not yet the breakthrough that is available now.

In my book "Mustertheorie" (published in German) I tried to boil
the 4000+ pages of Alexander, that need a year to reading and study,
down to about 170 paperback-pages that can be consumed and thought
through during a weekend's time.

"Pattern Theory", a theory about how to improve systems, by
understanding their structures and processes, by recognizing the
meaning of patterns as the fundamental modules of knowledge that
can be shared, for decisions to be made in a participation process
based on our feeling for the quality of life.

Still, to make this work, one should understand that numerous
concept have to be understood and practiced. Pattern theory is
like a new kind of science or an intricate game like chess.
One can give an principle explanation of science or chess in
a few minutes, but to make this work, to create first results,
it may take days, weeks, months or years, depending on your
intuitive understanding and talents. Some may grasp this
immediately, others may never grok or like it.

There are about 50 concepts that make up the body of pattern theory,
roughly ordered in four groups. The more these concepts are
available in your mind, without thinking, the easier the work
with development processes will be. I give an incomplete

- The first group of concepts describes STRUCTURES by using
gerneral PROPERTIES that living systems have. We have words that
label these properties but its important, that what is meant is
deeper than the meaning of these words in everyday language.
So we have properties like BOUNDARY, SIMPLICITY, GRADIENT,
RHYTHM and LOCAL SYMMETRY (and more) but these need explanation.

- The second group is about principles of PROCESSES that help
in creating system development. There are principles like

- The third group of concepts is about the concept of PATTERN,
which unifies structures and process as units of meaning.
Patterns have INPUT and OUTPUT, they are subjects to FORCES,
given and a DESCRIPTION supporting their application.

- The fourth group of concepts kind of glues everything together.
We talk about SYSTEM and the elements in the system are called
CENTER (not necessarily in the center, everything and everyone
you can see or image is a "center"). Our main concern is LIFE,
and its unfolding by increasing the QUALITY OF LIFE. Doing so
requires to perceive and think about STRUCTURES and PROCESSES
and PATTERNS (already mentioned and on top of the first three
concept groups). It is about WHOLES. At a human level we think
about the SELF and its unfolding (sense of life) in a co-process
with unfolding environments, people, communities.

This link takes you to diagrams.

There is also a website which has developed from Douglas Schuler's Pattern Language yahoo group. The book mentioned there Liberating Voices - A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution was developed through the Pattern Language yahoo group.

Activist Road Trip is pattern 134 in the book, Helmut pointed it out to me as an example and for its possible relevance to Dadamac.


زياد آل الشيخ said...

Thanks for the introduction to Leitner's work. I wonder if his book is available (translated) in English?

Pamela McLean said...

I am glad you found it of interest. As far as I know there is no English version. However Helmut did send me English versions of several diagrams a few days after he had sent the originals in German. (I had made an attempt to understand the originals with help from a friend who knew some German vocabulary, but the proper English ones were much appreciated.) That is all I know of anything that is in English.


Helmut said...

Helmut Leitner: I would like to publish the book in English but I would need an interested publisher and an editor to correct my raw English translation (which is only 25% finished).