This article is a backstage cousin to the previously posted summary of Rainier Beach projects and is presented now as a personal thought experiment I used to initially guide my participation in these projects.
I have only recently pulled this material out of my files in preparation for future projects, and did not refer to it after the initial assessment. Now, looking back and seeing how things developed over the past three years, maybe there was more value to this exercise than I had thought at the time
At the point I was beginning to get involved in providing support to the Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition (RBCEC), I was also collaborating with the Public Sphere Project, particularly on Liberating Voices: A Pattern Language for Communication Revolution, including writing and editing patterns as well as developing workshops for a series of Civic Intelligence classes at the Evergreen State College.
It only made sense to personally test drive the Liberating Voices patterns using the same templates and methodologies I was exploring with the Evergreen students.
The 136 patterns of Liberating Voices represent a snapshot of the collective wisdom of academics and practitioners into the vital centers of activity that constitute an enlivening flow of information and communication through community at every level. In principle, the patterns can be expressed in a rich variety of ways, reflecting distinctive cultural strengths, while maintaining a consistent role in realizing a community’s highest aspirations.
I conducted a survey of patterns that seemed to be already present or emerging in Rainier Beach, based on conversations with local leadership and activists, and circled 27. The letters and numbers in the Yes and No columns were used for the plotting exercise later in this article (for example, I plotted Civic Intelligence at B-Developmental level, Phase 3). [Personal confession: sometimes I have to play around with my rationality to get it to sing.]
The selected patterns are listed in the following image under the categories/themes of the Liberating Voices Pattern Language.
I then plotted these 27 patterns over three phases (for an intuitive sense of relationship in time) and three levels of change (Foundational, Developmental, Transformational). This was an adaptation of the template I used at Evergreen, which identified three levels of priority (High, Medium, and Low), which on reflection didn’t seem to capture the interactions between levels (that is, the sense of being able to set aside or ignore Low level patterns instead of recognizing their “Foundational” role in holding up the others).
I must emphasize that this is the first time I have publicly shared this background “thought experiment.” The only reference I made to project leaders was through language I recommended in the preparation of grant proposals, notably the focus on Citizen Journalism as a pivotal area for engagement.
That said, The Control of Self Representation pattern could be seen in the desire of local leadership to shift public perceptions of the neighborhood and re-balance the images broadcast by mass media channels. The “Lift Every Voice” campaign, which began the series of projects, finds it’s parallel in the Voices of the Unheard pattern. The Power of Story infused all the efforts underway in the neighborhood, particularly expressed in the Rainier Beach Story Guild project.
I invite the reader to note other apparent areas of convergence and divergence with the project summary outlined earlier. Some points of alignment are striking, for example, the independent use of the phrases, “A Place for Everyone” and “A Beautiful Safe Place,” as core action areas under the Rainier Beach Moving Forward initiative (oops, not explicitly noted in the earlier posting), which reflects somewhat positively on the “common sense” intuitions of Liberating Voice editors (“Great Good Place”) in the underlying shared desire of community residents in any geographic areas for the quality of “place” in which they live, work, and celebrate together.
For me, the exercise did provide a useful map for conceptualizing existing trends, values, and energies (within the boundaries of specific, agreed upon tasks and objectives worked out with project directors), as an alternative to any number of more rational, data-oriented methods of analysis and strategic planning and apart from direct cause-effect frameworks. It also helped to illustrate the power of a pattern language framework to identify and reinforce spheres of activity that integrate diverse values while stimulating related actions that may or may not have been explicitly planned or anticipated in advance.
Looking back on this “thought experiment” encourages me to revisit the application of Liberating Voices in a team setting of local residents. I have been reluctant to do so because I was concerned that the level of academic language that characterizes many of the key patterns would require significant contexting and explanation.
The core insights, however, seem to remain valid and worth further exploration. Feel free to download and explore these tools on your own, and share your own experience and insights.
In future posts and newsletters, I will comment in more detail on specific patterns that I think have had the greatest potential for rallying creative energies and opening new directions.