Patterns Workshop with Doug Schuler

We were lucky to have MAZI Advisory Board member Doug Schuler pass by The Open University last week, and he kindly agreed to run a workshop introducing his ‘Liberating Voices’ Patterns language and engagment tool. Video of event

Doug has long been interested in how communities can work together to overcome local challenges, the concept of ‘civic intelligence’ and what tools people can use to discuss and respond to challenges.

Drawing inspiration from Alexander’s book proposing a pattern language for architecture, urban design, and community livability, Doug brought together a number of writers, activists and academics, and created the 2008 book ‘Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution’ ( and explored suitable ‘patterns’ – ideas, ways of working and mechanisms that can be used to discuss and investigate community challenges. When a selection is put together, you might devise an approach with various aspects, a ‘language’ for addressing the challenges.

The book contains 136 patterns which were written by 75 people from around the world. Each pattern presents a conceptual seed that can be used a multitude of different ways by different people in different contexts for different reasons. Patterns can provide new ways of perceiving challenges and opportunities.

Doug has generated a card pack from the book, and these are designed to be used in a workshop, with people gathered around shared challenges. Cards are debated, selected, and combined to help offer insight into ways in which a challenge might be approached.

In the workshop, Doug introduced his own background in computing and community based research, talked about Alexander’s work and how this had led to his own pattern language.  We then broke into groups, and shared out cards to think how we might address our challenges. My group was exploring how the Open University might bring together geographically separated students into the sense of being a shared community of practice; a second group were looking for ways of involving a wide range of stakeholders in a sub-Saharan agricultural project seeking to optimise water usage; and the final group explored home schooling in the UK.

Doug got us to share the cards between the group members, and individually reducing our pile (of about 40) to 3. Much deliberation and agonising happened and we all ended up with half a dozen, which we then talked through with our colleagues to reduce again. Doug was interested to see if we could reduce to three in total, our group ended up with a central card surrounding by a clock of about ten others! These divided approximately into philosophical reflections, practical mechanisms that might be used, and goals we were trying to achieve.

The cards have a single side of description, which leads to individual reflection and then group debate about their meaning and how they are applied by different people from different domains. Overall, the process then is one of reflection and discussion, with the cards acting as boundary objects to instigate debate. I found this a really interesting process: more structured than giving people  blank flip charts and asking them to discuss topics, yet open enough that there was plenty of room for conversation and interpretation.

This fits nicely into the emerging MAZI focus on the ‘pre-tech’ aspect of engaging communities with DIY networking: gathering where we are keen to elicit challenges, tensions, and goals; and to help people move to articulating what approaches might be tried.

Doug’s used these all over the world. The patterns are available at There are also complete sets of the cards available in Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and Vietnamese and other translations are in work. Card sets are available from the author or online. They are licensed for free use.

Other people have also thought of patterns that might be relevant to MAZI: the EU DiDIY project considering policy patterns for Digital Do It Yourself, and there was a talk at Chaos Communication Congress (2007) that turned into a wiki on how patterns might be applied to help the successful setting up and running of hackspaces.

From Mark Gaved’s blog. Feb 5th 2018

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