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Pattern Language for Participants

Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue

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Part U of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development (1991).


This section gives a very provisional outline of the "windows" through which any participant might choose to perceive a "conference" and the possibilities for action there. In its final form, distributed to participants, each item here could have attached comments and advice as a kind of "how-to-do-it" or "recipe" book open to subsequent amendment by participants themselves.

1. Meeting patterns: Organization and Services

"Pattern" is a suggestive general term to describe any particular (and usually familiar) way of organizing the flow of energies in a gathering. Patterns can be combined into a network within a "pattern language". Some of the resulting arrangements are "better" than others, and the challenge is to find arrangements which enhance the hidden quality which makes them "feel right" in a given set of circumstances.

  1. Macro-patterns include: Conference, fair, market/bazaar, agora/forum, symposium, workshop, demonstration, drama show, reception, exhibition, court, festival, lecture, pilgrimage, passion play, ceremony/ritual, panel session, sharing, brainstorming, songfest, games, holiday camp, contest, public blessing, celebration, discussion, group meditation, carnival, show/music hall, majlis, dance, happening, procession, retreat, audio-visual.
  2. Micro-patterns include: Talking to speaker, speaking to group, sharing with another, protesting, learning, coffee table discussion, swapping information, lobbying/persuading, having fun, changing, distributing papers, receiving documents, show and tell, meeting new people, non-verbal experience.
2. Pattern participation: Roles

Many of the above patterns are "activated" only by the presence of people playing appropriate roles. People may take up these roles irrespective of the formal reason for their participation in the gathering and their performance may be more significant for the gathering than their concerns (see below). These roles may in fact be considered as sub- patterns in their own right.

  1. Role patterns include: Speaker, listener, jester, facilitator, writer, therapist, devil's advocate, priest, sympathizer, strategist, rapporteur, interpreter, musician, creative artist, performer, "accompanying person", game organizer, child, ego stroker, agent provocateur, improviser, note-taker, critic, organizer, lobbyist, caterer, adviser, old person, fixer, presenter, animator, super-star, wise person, networker, mediator, handicapped, fan, appreciator, material arranger, discussant, ritualist, chairperson, security person, helper.
3. Pattern concerns

People participate in events because of "concerns" which they wish in some way to advance or promote. These concerns colour the energy content of the patterns through which they are expressed.

  1. Theoretical concerns as represented by the intellectual disciplines of which, ungrouped, there are some 1,800.
  2. Substantive concerns, namely societal problems and conditions, typically including: population, inflation, unemployment, refugees, energy, environment, illiteracy, human rights.
  3. Aesthetic concerns, especially their expression and involving others in that expression: music, song, poetry, art, theatre, dance, textures, perfumes.
  4. Intangible experiential concerns: prayer, meditation, power, humour, risk, renewal, ego trip, other negative values, other positive values.
4. Pattern perception

In a complex gathering people need to have some image through which to make sense of the event as a whole and of where it is going, and to help them to decide on how to participate in it. Whatever the images used they are needed to give a sense of continuity and context. Different people prefer one or more different images:

  1. Structure: The gathering may be "objectified" in terms of any of the following:
    • Agenda, critical pathway, system diagram
    • Programme matrix, event timetable, programme "tracks"
  2. Risk: Participants may prefer to assess their participation in terms of "risk tracks". Some may be entirely conventional low-risk lecture/discussion type events. Others may be designed to make the participant take or defend a position as a person. Others may involve the participant in some personal transformation process; and some may be high-risk experiments which may fail, as experiments do, providing lessons for the future.
  3. Ceremonial and celebration: The gathering may be decided as a grouping of sub-ceremonies culminating or constituting some macro- event. This may involve, or be seen as, the high point of a pilgrimage with associated festival activity.
  4. Games: The gathering may be described as a pattern of interlocking games, whether recreational, therapeutic or "serious" in intent. An underlying objective may be the emergence of qualitatively superior games (eg in the style of Hesse's Glass Bead Game).
  5. Topic tracks: The gathering may also be objectified as a complex set of interweaving topic ("concern") tracks as is often done in conventional conferences.
  6. Quest: The gathering may be attractive to some when interpreted as a mystical quest or an exercise in collective alchemical marriage.
  7. Learning pathways: To those oriented towards education, the gathering may best be understood as a complex set of interweaving learning pathways.
  8. Energy sources and sinks: Some may choose to see the event in terms of sources of different qualities to be cultivated, energy receptacles to be created and maintained, and energy sinks or traps to be avoided. The whole event may be seen in terms of gathering and using ch'i energy.
  9. Community: Some may prefer to experience the event as an "instant community", enriched by the presence of children, old people, the handicapped, etc.
  10. Imagery and dance: Such a gathering can also lend itself to comprehension as a pattern of aesthetic images, or as a dance of energies.
  11. Group formation: For some there will be ways of using information which could make of the whole gathering a gigantic experiment in forming and reforming groups until the most mature groups emerge suitably empowered and able to relate appropriately to other groups emphasizing other energies.
  12. Socio-political analysis: The gathering will lend itself to description and interpretation in terms of power politics and societal dynamics.
  13. Abstract forms: Some may wish to see the gathering as energies patterned onto more abstract forms:
    • Spiral, hierarchy, network, tensegrity, mandala
    • Matrix, torus, polyhedron, knot
  14. Symbol systems: Some may be attracted by seeing the interweaving energies at the gathering in terms of a particular symbol system such as astrology, the I Ching, any pantheon, etc. These could even be used to identify imbalance in the energies represented, blockages in the evolution of the event, or threshold tests and challenges.
  15. Catastrophe theory: The transitions in the event may be best understood by some in the light of the mathematics of catastrophe theory.
  16. Drama: The gathering should be dramatic, and some may want to participate in it in such a way as to heighten the dramatic effects and the significance of the event as a whole.
  17. Psycho-cultural analysis: The forms and expressions of the gathering can be seen in psychoanalytical terms with necessary archetypal confrontations.
  18. Group healing exercise: The gathering may been seen as a body to be healed and rendered whole.
  19. Ecosystem: The various perspectives and processes may be best mapped by some onto an image of some environmental system with different species interacting, procreating and developing somewhat at the mercy of the elements.
  20. Information processing device: The whole gathering may be interpreted as a complex bio-mechanical computer processing different types of information, storing it, and forming it into various images of the whole -- possibly with some final output.
  21. Taoist group meditation: The gathering may also be understood as a collective meditation.

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