Paper abstract - Call for papers - Purplsoc Workshop Nov 2014
The abstract for the preparation of the Purplsoc workshop in Austria mid November. The date of submission of the paper has been postponed to end of August. A full paper is due in October. Please chime in and indicate if you would like to attend this workshop and/or participate in the writing of the full paper

A Pattern Language for Systemic Change (re)Generative of Commons – PurplSoc 2014 Workshop - Long Abstract 

By Helene Finidori

The goal of this paper is to lay the ground for the conception of an open source  pattern language for systemic change, regenerative of commons and sustainable lifeworld processes, to help transition to a sustainable and thrivable world, that we expect to move forward during the time leading to the Purplsoc conference in July 2015.

This pattern language will give communities of practice the means to construct their own self-correcting and regenerative structures, models and solutions and deal with the challenges they face from the place they are at, by helping change agents understand the situations and contexts they find themselves in and by helping them evaluate and use the margin of maneuver at their disposal to monitor and effect outcomes. We wish to create syntax principles that can both enable game-changing design and provide a learning experience able to enhance systemic awareness and problem solving capability.

The challenge is that systemic outcomes are the produce of interactions between phenomena that arise from nature itself, human nature, applied intentionality, the structures in place, and the processes, behaviors and dynamics that result thereof, which may or may not be controlled or influenced by human action, and the effects of which may vary with accumulation and time, building their own momentum. 

Seeing this only from the perspective of values or mental models, or agency, or structure, or as purely deterministic, is limiting. It is critical to look at inter-connected processes as they unfold, to untangle the variables in the complexity at play, to distinguish what can be controlled versus influenced versus nurtured or just contemplated as possibility and worked with or around, and to integrate how effects can build up. It is essential to look at the interaction between agency, context, structure and the various dynamics at play. The pattern language that we will be creating must integrate these many factors and dimensions.


Centers as essence of life

Christopher Alexander refers to "centers" (Alexander 2002) as the 'why/what for' determinant of the attributes of a design. Centers are the essence of life. "Patterns" are combined in 'generative sequences' to create/(re)design better "centers."

Seeing centers as essence of life, as nodes of embodiment of commons logic, sits quite well with the definition of commons as archetype: the diverse, multi-dimensional and distributed factors of livelihood and enablement, generative of abundance, or the conditions for existence, to be nurtured or (re)generated.

Centers are constitutive of commons health and protection, designed or 'constructed' not as representation of a desired order in a state of homeostasis, but as generative systems, where generativity flows to where it is needed to provide on-going opportunity for thrivability and renewal. And the patterns, assembled for each center/social object according to its own internal drive or engagement logic would be aimed at 'bettering' the commons in whole or in part in all its forms and dimensions, in a dynamic manner.

Patterns as we see them are not only problem solving principles (Alexander 1977), but they are also systems-structuring and generative elements that combine various drivers and forces with their own feedback and feedforward loops that operate at various levels and scales as things are unfolding and building up. A scaffold for change is thus built as we go, and the existing structure becomes the scaffold for more, enabling to add new 'blocks' like a Lego construction. One can imagine elements with the hooks and bridges that would enable connection and reconnection to other generative factors in a variety of possible dynamic sequences able to form newer always more resilient and 'true to purpose' wholes, with ways to visualize the parts and wholes as things unfold and evolve, to navigate the adjacent possibles (Johnson) from our respective localities, learning and identifying needs and opportunities on the way. A mosaic of possibilities assembled around communities of practice and clusters of engagement.

In practical terms, the patterns we envision are not prescriptive or suggestive of solutions to problem situations within given contexts and in the presence of certain forces (static patterns), they are descriptive of elementary/elemental generative principles, drivers and mechanisms, and the effects they may have in combinatory or sequences (dynamic patterns) over pressure and time. And this comprises the heuristics that helps identify variables and orient retrieval of information and decision making towards specific systemic effects (re)generative of commons, and corrective of unintended effects.


Building a Pattern Language

The pattern language is a multi-variable multi-layered design ecosystem, constructed around the notion of 'social objects' (i.e. what a community choses to focus its attention and caring on) as "centers" or nodes of embodiment of commons logic and 'connective tissue' that bring various cohesive elements together. It will be built from:

  • the drivers, forces and conditions, structures, behaviors, processes, dynamics, algorithms, mechanisms etc... (natural or artificial, conscious or automatic, intended or not) and their effects on the system in various contexts,
  • the interactions between them, how they 'feed' into or ‘impulse’ each other, and the emergent effects they may have over time when combined and sequenced, and accumulated; and the conditions under which they can be combined to produce or temper certain effects in order to change the game,
  • the heuristics that enable the assessment of margins of manoeuver for change, and the perpetual adjustment of patterns and their sequencing, including notions of limits and optima beyond which remedies become toxic or pattern become anti-patterns,
  • extracting elemental drivers from experience and praxis on the ground, and connecting them to libraries/repositories of solutions, in a form of living contextual ontology.

  • using various kinds of media, logics and languages so that change agents wherever they are located can recognize and make use of them in their own contexts, following their own engagement and action logics, and so they can perceive and make sense of what emerges in other contexts and logics.


The process of mining and finding patterns, of assembling them into sequences, of inquiring and probing their sustainability and trueness to purpose is part of a peer-to-peer learning process that will enhance general awareness and literacy.

The pattern language for systemic change and PurplSoc

During the course of this project, we will seek to further explore how research in phenomenology, process philosophy, and systems thinking and dynamics and their relations to culture can complement existing research on and applications of pattern language. 

This is an ambitious project, but the interest it has drawn across disciplines and the possibilities we see in the work we have been studying so far makes us confident of its outputs and outcomes. 

The work and resources we are gathering can be seen as the project unfolds on the Debategraph we have created for it. 

Our objective with a participation in the Purplsoc process is to examine how classical Alexandrian approaches can be complemented in order to better understand situations, the variables and dynamics at play and the margin of maneuver for change, and to explore how generative process, dynamics and elements of inquiry can be integrated into the pattern language. We will start by identifying and expressing some dynamics of scarcity and abundance, and some known effects such as the network effect, the Mathew effect or the Jevons paradox in terms of patterns and sequences of drivers and explore the heuristics that can be associated. The extended paper for the workshop will cover more in details the types of variables that may be pertinent as ‘smaller segments of study’ (Quillien 2013).



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Alexander, C. (2002). The Nature of Order – Book One - The phenomenon of life (Berkeley: The Center for Environmental Structure).

Alexander, C. (2002). The Nature of Order – Book Two - The process of creating life (Berkeley: The Center for Environmental Structure).

Finidori, H. (2014). “An Ecology for Transformative Action Awaiting to be Discovered”, Spanda Journal, (V)1: 5-14 <> [retrieved 24 May 2014].

Finidori, H. (2014). “An Ecology for Transformative action & Systemic Change”, <http://> [retrieved 24 May 2014].

Finidori, H. (2013). “Show me the action, and I will show you the commons!”, Lo Squaderno 30 <> [retrieved 28 April 2014].

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Finidori, H. (2012). “We Move... Building an Ecology for Transformative Action”, <> [retrieved 25 April 2014].

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Quillien, J. & West, D. (2013). “Culture under the Microscope” Notes from the presentation at CodeFreeze 2013. 

Quillien, J. (2007). “Grasping the Ineffable: From Patterns to Sequences” <>  [retrieved 21 August 2014].

Rittel, H. & Melvin W. (1973). “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning” in Policy Sciences: 155–169 (Amsterdam: Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company).

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Paper abstract - Call for papers - Purplsoc Workshop Nov 2014
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