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
2. Pattern participation: Roles
- 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,
- 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.
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.
3. Pattern concerns
- 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.
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.
4. Pattern perception
- Theoretical concerns as represented by the intellectual disciplines of which,
ungrouped, there are some 1,800.
- Substantive concerns, namely societal problems and conditions, typically
including: population, inflation, unemployment, refugees, energy, environment, illiteracy,
- Aesthetic concerns, especially their expression and involving others in that
expression: music, song, poetry, art, theatre, dance, textures, perfumes.
- Intangible experiential concerns: prayer, meditation, power, humour, risk,
renewal, ego trip, other negative values, other positive values.
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:
- Structure: The gathering may be "objectified" in terms of any of the
- Agenda, critical pathway, system diagram
- Programme matrix, event timetable, programme "tracks"
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- Topic tracks: The gathering may also be objectified as a complex set of
interweaving topic ("concern") tracks as is often done in conventional
- Quest: The gathering may be attractive to some when interpreted as a mystical
quest or an exercise in collective alchemical marriage.
- Learning pathways: To those oriented towards education, the gathering may best be
understood as a complex set of interweaving learning pathways.
- 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.
- Community: Some may prefer to experience the event as an "instant
community", enriched by the presence of children, old people, the handicapped, etc.
- Imagery and dance: Such a gathering can also lend itself to comprehension as a
pattern of aesthetic images, or as a dance of energies.
- 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.
- Socio-political analysis: The gathering will lend itself to description and
interpretation in terms of power politics and societal dynamics.
- 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
- 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.
- Catastrophe theory: The transitions in the event may be best understood by some
in the light of the mathematics of catastrophe theory.
- 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
- Psycho-cultural analysis: The forms and expressions of the gathering can be seen
in psychoanalytical terms with necessary archetypal confrontations.
- Group healing exercise: The gathering may been seen as a body to be healed and
- 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.
- 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.
- Taoist group meditation: The gathering may also be understood as a collective
(End of document)
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