Research Group System Science and Pattern Literacy – 2018 Activity Report

The Group’s Objectives and Organization

The BCSSS Research Group System Science and Pattern Literacy was launched in October 2017 by Maria Lenzi and Helene Finidori to bring together researchers and practitioners from different fields interested in the connection between patterns and systems. Our research is dedicated to the development of socio-technical systems, tools and methods, aimed at enhancing Pattern Literacy (pattern, model and archetype recognition, sharing and application) as a key skill – alongside the „New Literacies“ such as System Literacy, Computational Literacy, Visual Literacy and Coding Literacy – to handle real world complex challenges.

Our operational objective in the short to middle term is to elicit interest and foster communication around the different understandings and applications of patterns with the aim to develop a common base of knowledge and tools that can help cross a variety of boundaries (linguistic, ontological, epistemological, methodological) and get practitioners from different domains to better understand each other while they attempt to grasp and tackle the complexity of the world around.

In terms of collaboration, we privilege a structure that does not require the on-going synchronous participation of volunteer researchers other than the initiators’, but that can build incrementally and asynchronously according to opportunities and to who ‘shows up’ to participate. In other words, we function as an ‘open’ project. On-going participation is indeed often hard to maintain as participants get caught up in other priorities, so our development will be based for the start on the production and aggregation of small units of content that converge in generating interest, and in creating a greater meaningful whole incrementally. 

The Group’s Activity in 2018

We started our activity with a qualitative survey meant to serve as a point zero for both a more general mapping of the pattern landscape and an engagement of participants.

The Survey Mapping the Landscape of Patterns across Domains, launched and announced late February 2018, generated 140 responses, from respondents coming from the systems science, business consulting, computer science and information technologies, design, group facilitation communities and more. The rate of full completion is close to 70%, which is quite significant as the time announced to complete it was 30 minutes. An 88% of respondents shared their contact details to receive results and/or pursue the conversation, and a similar proportion provided at least top of mind concepts and images, as well as definitions of patterns, which delivered a solid corpus of data.

The welcoming of the survey, the level of the respondents and the richness of the responses are beyond our expectations.

Applying multiple concepts and tools for survey and text analysis to the collected data, we were able to refine our perception of the role and potential of patterns and their relation to systems. We also detected „patterns“ in definitions of patterns, and identified higher order attributes of patterns, that transcend boundaries between domains, concepts, social constructs and physical entities.

The survey was analyzed in two stages:

We first released initial insights that we shared with our respondents in June 2018. They are now available for all in Mapping the Landscape of Patterns across Domains – Vol 1: Overview of Survey Results.

In a second step, we drilled deeper in the data to identify linguistic and semantic regularities that can be used as «knowledge units» to support the identification and the unfolding of an understanding of patterns. We also developed algorithms that can be applied for future research. Selected results of this research are now available in Mapping the Landscape of Patterns across Domains – Vol 2: Linguistic and Semantic Analysis.

As part of a dissemination effort, overview results were also presented during the International Society for the Systems Sciences (ISSS) 2018 meeting as part of Helene Finidori’s Patterns as Connectors of Multiple Realities presentation, and at the 2018 Pattern Languages of Programmes (Plop) conference and Portland Urban Architecture Laboratory (PUARL) meeting as part of her Configuring Patterns and Pattern Languages for Systemic Inquiry and Design presentations.

Overall the survey enabled us to make an important step in developing a knowledge basis and a network that should serve as a platform for outreach, conversations, learning and experimentation and be accessible to all interested in learning about patterns and in developing skills in application of patterns for different purposes.

Future plans

Our experience with the survey can be applied to similar analysis of existing corpora of classical publications of systems science, general systems theory (GST), and cybernetics, to see patterns and systems in a new light. We will be looking to acquire additional expertise both in terms technology and research collaboration to move forward on this project.

In terms of output, we plan to leverage our contacts with respondents and other potential partners to produce and share on our webpages and via social networks:

  • further insights from the group on-going research
  • interviews with expert researchers and practitioners that go in depth into a variety of perspectives and areas of work
  • round-tables that help cross-pollinate around transversal topics

We will be reaching out to the BCSSS members for both these endeavors.

Thank you for your attention,

Maria Lenzi & Helene Finidori

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