Monday, August 15, 2016

Neither an Optimist nor a Pessimist Be

Originally published @ in September 2010

Far from the public eye, a battle is raging.

The battle is being waged over abstractions but it touches our hearts and, perhaps more importantly, our minds. And although it's a battle with consequences, it's a battle that really shouldn't be fought at all.

The battle I'm referring to is the one between the Optimists and the Pessimists.

On one side are the optimists. They believe that in spite of everything things are getting better. The pessimists, as everybody knows, believe that things are inevitably getting worse.

Although I've been accused of being one or the other of them on various occasions, I'm not a member of either camp. In fact because both sides are wrong, I hope they both lose.

The two views are strangely similar. Both views make wild, unprovable claims. Both views are simplistic. And both demonstrate fatal forms of intellectual blindness: Optimists refuse to see the challenges; pessimists won't acknowledge the opportunities.

Ironically it's the point that both sides agree on that's the most dangerous: that historical momentum makes human effort unnecessary. Both views imply an inevitability that is not only inaccurate but paralyzing. In short, they offer excuses that many people are consciously or subconsciously looking for, reasons for not getting involved.

But, with apologies to Shakespeare, if neither an optimist nor a pessimist be, who or what should we be? Is there a word for a better way to think about the future?

Luckily such a word exists. The word is meliorism.

Admittedly the word is a bit obscure. But it needs to be rescued from its obscurity. And it needs to be the last idea standing after optimism and pessimism have been retired from rhetorical service.

Meliorism is the belief that the world can be made better by human effort. (But note that the flip side — that human effort can make the world worse — is also true.) And also note that that operative word is can. Unfortunately, unlike the virtual guarantees afforded by optimism and pessimism, meliorism focuses on the difficult challenges that we face, not on a fruitless debate.

But what does all of this have to do with the evolution of the Internet?


For one thing the internet inspired the optimists to some of the greatest rhetorical heights of all times. The optimists convinced many people that a golden age was imminent. The governed would achieve parity with the governors. Knowledge would flow equally to all and education would be transformed. The wisdom of crowds would rule the land. And censorship was impossible because information wants to be free.

On the other hand, cynical utopia deniers — dour pessimists — continued to assert that things will always be unequal, the Internet will change nothing at all, and that the human race will never develop the civic intelligence that it needs — Internet or no Internet.

But little by little people are breaking free of the optimism / pessimism trap. They are realizing the Internet is not magic after all. They are learning that it's not immune to the forces that created the commercial television or radio we know today.

The fact remains that the Internet represents an extremely rare opportunity. For one thing, it's a meta-medium that can assume many shapes. Because it's becoming a tool that billions of people use, it could help people of the world work together to address their shared concerns. The "coulds" could be multiplied ad infinitum: the Internet could be used to help mediate discussions between adversaries; it could be used to develop solutions to problems of environmental degradation, oppression and intolerance, and violence. It could

Another critical question surfaces in relation to these issues. Is there a role for business in building the information and communication infrastructure that promotes the civic intelligence that the world needs? And if not, why not?

Unfortunately the standard rules might not apply. For one thing, who is interested in building capabilities for people with few economic resources? And while the costs of despotism and anarchy are high indeed, democracy has no immediate ROI. And would venture capitalists bother with ventures with dubious aims like developing social imagination or improving collective problem-solving capabilities?

Clearly people in business can be counted on for innovation for economic gain. My presumption is that they could retool themselves intellectually for social innovation as well.

Meliorism, unlike optimism or pessimism, doesn't allow us to wriggle out of our responsibilities. In the case of the Internet, meliorism compels us to imagine what the Internet could be and to work for those possible outcomes.

We have the imagination and the resources to build the Internet that the utopians may have envisioned and the dystopians swore we'd never see. It will take the meliorists who have gotten tired of the silly debate over optimism and pessimism to roll up their sleeves and actually make it happen.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Civic Intelligence ~~ Towards a Reconciliation of Disparate Threads

This note is an early version of a summary of the findings and assertions so far in relation to my exploration of civic intelligence. 

As you know I'm trying to develop civic intelligence as a focus for research, activism, education, policy-making, ... , etc. You also of course know that it's not a term that's in common use and I'd like to change that. I would love your comments on any and all aspects of this.

I've been packing the idea of civic intelligence in many ways for quite awhile. Sometimes it's used as a part of social inquiry, sometimes it's meant to be aspirational, and sometimes it's intended to be used as a goal or guideline — and other uses are possible (ranking schools for example). These varieties of uses could be a source of confusion (in either the critique or the exploration itself). My belief and hope is that the diverse perspectives are in fact coherent, although that might not be apparent without the background logic.  

I'd like to think that a graphic depiction can be developed that showed the main elements and regions of the overall exploration. Ideally this would help maintain coherence, reduce misinterpretation, and promote additional work in this area. (And, of course, critique could help shape this effort into more productive ways.)

I'm trying to explore a lot of things simultaneously — including the fact that exploring and practicing civic intelligence seems to be empowering to students, although this isn't addressed in this note.

The following is an attempt to describe one region of the framework which is largely positivistic and should have the necessary rigor and logic to be palatable to social scientists of various types. I consider that everything is subject to modification.

(1) We start with a (working) definition of Intelligence. This seems to be keeping with standard views of intelligence while containing elements that lend themselves to characterization and analysis. I wanted to focus on the potential richness of the concept (of intelligence) rather that be limited to a minimal, quantified and somewhat non-useful construct that some social scientists seem to prefer.

Definition of Intelligence: An integrated set of processes that enable an agent to act in ways that are appropriate to the agent's goals and to the environment in which it exists / acts — particularly areas that present actual or potential challenges or opportunities. 

The "processes" generally include things deciding, reasoning, learning, remembering, etc.

An "agent" can be one or more people, any group, animal, computer program, hybrids of the above, and others as well as any artifacts, natural or otherwise, or system of artifacts that are useful in pursuit of the goals. 

Collective intelligence is a major type of intelligence that is distinguished from individual intelligence (e.g. that of a single person).

Intelligence can also be distributed over space and time. And the results of the diverse processes can be stored in many ways—in human memories, libraries, online, or in tools, systems, or artifacts.

(2) The various components / elements of the definition suggest ways to characterize, analyze, categorize various approaches.

Composition of the "agent"
Environment in which the intelligence operates (Intelligence is context dependent)
Processes that are used and how they are integrated (i.e. the structure)
Goals, values, and norm
The products of the processes

The claim that I'm making is that it is probably possible to identify different versions of intelligence by the goals, types of actions, and composition and coordination of the agent. This might not be 100% certain but it could be useful.


Civic intelligence can be used to rank colleges and universities!

Civic intelligence can — and ought — to be a key element of education. Especially progressive education.

One use, among many others, would be to actually rank institutions of higher education based on the idea of civic intelligence. My students and I worked on this project and I worked our findings into an opinion piece entitled What is the civic intelligence of your university or college?.

I'm trying to make the case that colleges and universities could / should think about themselves in terms of civic intelligence.

We're hoping to go to the next phase: putting more rigor into the rubric and actually using it to rank some schools.

I'd love to hear your thoughts in relation to this idea.

Relevant patterns include: Indicators, Public Agenda, Education and Values, and Experimental School.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Liberating Voices Pattern Links

Liberating Voices Pattern Language

The patterns that appear in the book and their respective authors are listed below. In addition to the 136 patterns, the book includes several chapters that discuss the motivation, theory, development and use of the patterns and the pattern language.


Theory is the most general level of the patterns in the language. In a broad way, the patterns in this section express the assumptions that we are making about the world and, most importantly, how we intend to engage in the world.

Civic Intelligence


      Douglas Schuler

The Commons


      David Bollier

The Good Life


      Gary Chapman

Organizing Principles

Organizing principles are less general than theory but are still quite abstract. They can motivate and inform any enterprise, yet they themselves are not corporeal, they are ideas that we can employ to orient our work in a meaningful way.
As we move forward, we realize that certain guidelines can be used to as help ensure that our work is purposeful.

Social Dominance Attenuation


      Douglas Schuler

Health as a Universal Right


      Douglas Schuler

Global Citizenship


      Douglas Schuler and Lori Blewett

Political Settings


      Jonathan Barker

Social Responsibility


      Stewart Dutfield, Burl Humana and Kenneth Gillgren

Matrifocal Orientation


      Lori Blewett


Collective Decision-Making


      Valerie Brown


Memory and Responsibility


      Douglas Schuler


Working Class Consciousness


      Steve Zeltzer


Back to the Roots


      Douglas Schuler


Demystification and Reenchantment


      Kenneth Gillgren




      Douglas Schuler


Linguistic Diversity


      Douglas Schuler


Education and Values


      John Thomas




      Burl Humana
Society needs to change in many ways. Some routes towards that end are listed below.


Transforming Institutions


      Brian Beaton


Teaching to Transgress


      John Thomas


Fair Trade


      Burl Humana and Anna Nakano


Sustainable Design


      Rob Knapp




      Lori Blewett


Spiritually Grounded Activism


      Helena Meyer-Knapp




      Kate Williams and Abdul Alkalimat
If we are to have possible chance at success, information of various types will be needed and it must be available to the widest audience.


Earth's Vital Signs


      Jenny Frankel-Reed


Big-Picture Health Information


      Jenny Epstein


Whole Cost


      Douglas Schuler




      Douglas Schuler
In order to come together and to make the changes that are necessary we will need venues in which this can happen.


Public Agenda


      Douglas Schuler


Democratic Political Settings


      Jonathan Barker


Big Tent for Social Change


      Mary Reister and Shari McCarthy
And people must have access to information, discussion venues, and, in general, opportunities for bettering themselves and the whole of society.


Opportunity Spaces


      Douglas Schuler
People must be prepared to engage in these struggle and there are a great number of skills and capacities that individuals and organizations should improve.


Strategic Capacity


      Douglas Schuler


Media Literacy


      Mark Lipton


Participatory Design


      Douglas Schuler


Citizen Science


      Stewart Dutfield


Mobile Intelligence


      Douglas Schuler




      Douglas Schuler

Enabling Systems

Enabling systems are concrete expressions of our objectives, often integrating institutions and technological systems. They are enabling because they actively encourage the multiplication of ideas and actions upon which people can help create a better society.
Now that the world is so tightly connected the need to develop better support for global systems is becoming more critical.


World Citizen Parliament


      Douglas Schuler


Economic Conversion


      Lloyd Dumas


Strengthening International Law


      Richard Falk


International Networks of Alternative Media


      Dorothy Kidd
We must build intelligence from the ground up


Design Stance


      Rob Knapp


Open Action and Research Network


      Douglas Schuler


Alternative Progress Indices


      Burl Humana and Richard Reiss


Meaningful Maps


      Andy Dearden and Scot Fletcher


Citizen Access to Simulations


      Alan Borning


Culturally Situated Design Tools


      Ron Eglash


Conversational Support Across Boundaries


      John Thomas


Truth and Reconciliation Commissions


      Helena Meyer-Knapp


Online Deliberation


      Matt Powell and Douglas Schuler
Some of our communities are under stress and they need different kinds of support.


Alternative Media in Hostile Environments


      Douglas Schuler


Mutual Help Medical Websites


      Andy Dearden and Patricia Radin


Indigenous Media


      Douglas Schuler and Miguel Angel PC)rez Alvarez


Peace Education


      Helena Meyer-Knapp
And of course globalization does not obviate the need to support the local community as well.


Intermediate Technologies


      Justin Smith


Durable Assets


      Justin Smith


Public Library


      Stewart Dutfield and Douglas Schuler


Digital Emancipation


      Gilson Schwartz


Community Networks


      Peter Day


Online Community Service Engine


      Fiorella De Cindio and Leonardo Sonnante


Community Currencies


      Burl Humana and Gilson Schwartz


Although largely invisible, policy nevertheless is a major force upon our lives. As a set of public rules, guidelines and programs, policy creates and demolishes barriers. Policy represents an arena of public affairs which, ironically enough, is often closed to the public.
Some basic principles are needed to underpin public policy and make it open and accountable.




      John B. Adams and Douglas Schuler




      Douglas Schuler


Media Diversity


      Douglas Schuler


Ethics of Community Informatics Research and Practice


      Randy Stoecker
Some policy is best advanced through systems.


Free and Fair Elections


      Douglas Schuler and Erik Nilsson


Equal Access to Justice


      Donald J Horowitz


E-Consultation as Mediation


      David Newman


Participatory Budgeting


      Andrew Gordon and Chris Halaska
Global economic systems mean that vast amounts of money is being transferred every day. How can this phenomenon better serve the public good?


Transaction Tax


      Burl Humana


Powerful Remittances


      Scott Robinson
Society runs on information and access to certain types of information is essential.


Positive Health Information


      Jenny Epstein


Accessibility of Online Information


      Robert Luke


Open Access Scholarly Publishing


      John Thomas


Mobile ICT Learning Facilities


      Grant Hearn
And the community itself should lead in other initiatives.


Grassroots Public Policy Development


      Douglas Schuler and Michael Maranda


Multi-Party Negotiation for Conflict Resolution


      Helena Meyer-Knapp and Stewart Dutfield


Users' IT Quality Network


      Aake Walldius and Yngve Sundblad


Academic Technology Investments


      Sarah Stein


How effective people are in their pursuits depends on how well they can work together. This realization motivates the patterns in this section and in the next. People and groups -- both informal and formal -- must actively engage with the world "outside" to achieve their goals. This, of course, can assume many forms from the purely cooperative to the openly combative.
Collaboration can often be better served when new ways of looking are employed.


Wholesome Design for Wicked Problems


      Rob Knapp


Voices of the Unheard


      John Thomas


Design for Unintended Use


      Erik Stolterman
In order to continually improve the effectiveness of our collaborations it's essential to build intelligence capabilities


Civic Capabilties


      Justin Smith


Strategic Frame


      Douglas Schuler


Value Sensitive Design


      Batya Friedman


Future Design


      Douglas Schuler


Experimental School


      Douglas Schuler, Steve Schapp and Thad Curtz




      Norman Clark


Citizen Journalism


      Lewis A. Friedland and Hernando Rojas


Document Centered Discussion


      Todd Davies, Benjamin Newman, Brendan O'Connor, Aaron Tam and Leo Perry
We'll also need to develop and strengthen institutions and programs that promote collaborations.


Citizen Diplomacy


      Douglas Schuler


Mirror Institutions


      Douglas Schuler


Patient Access to Medical Records


      Amir Hannan


Citizenship Schools


      Lewis A. Friedland and Carmen J. Sirianni


Community Building Journalism


      Peter Miller

Community and Organizational Building

A group is effective insofar as it integrates the insights, knowledge, skills, interests and resources of its members. Beyond this, a group must reflect on its own state, including its aims, methods of interpreting, decision-making, and planning and adjust its behavior accordingly. An effective group, moreover, must understand and adapt as well as shape the "environment" in which it finds itself.
Organizations must take part in collective learning.


Informal Learning Groups


      Justin Smith


Appreciative Collaboration


      Stewart Dutfield


Sustainability Appraisal


      Nick Plant


Shared Vision


      Stewart Dutfield and Douglas Schuler
And we need to think about organizations that can motivate and orient our work.


Community Animators


      Justin Smith


Online Anti-Poverty Community


      Penny Goldsmith


Sense of Struggle


      Douglas Schuler

Self Representation

The world contains a vast diversity of viewpoints and voices. These patterns in this section celebrate and strengthen that diversity while seeking ways to reduce conflict and encourage dialogue and understanding.
Thinking about ourselves in a new light will mean redefining the agenda.


Self-Help Groups


      Justin Smith


Self-Designed Development


      Justin Smith


Engaged Tourism


      Christine Ciancetta


Appropriating Technology


      Ron Eglash
And although much of the work is outwardly directed much of it needs to be home grown as well.


Control of Self Representation


      Douglas Schuler


Homemade Media


      Douglas Schuler


Arts of Resistance


      Douglas Schuler


Labor Visions


      Nancy Brigham


Universal Voice Mail


      Jenn Brandon
Stories belong to communities and our shared human experience. It's time to take them back and rediscover b and reinvent b stories


The Power of Story


      Rebecca Chamberlain


Public Domain Characters


      John Thomas and Douglas Schuler


Everyday Heroism


      Douglas Schuler


These patterns represent tangible projects that any community can initiate. Though these are generic in some way, the local situation will vary in every case and these projects will assume a "family resemblance" rather than a uniform one.
Building a new world requires new spaces and places to encourage innovation and collaboration. Here are two b and there may be others.




      Michel J. Menou, Peter Day and Douglas Schuler


Thinking Communities


      Aldo de Moor


Great Good Place


      Douglas Schuler
Communities are often faced with chores that they haven't anticipated or adequately dealt with. The patterns below are intended to help them roll up their sleeves and get to work.


Soap Operas with Civic Messages


      Douglas Schuler


Emergency Communication Systems


      Douglas Schuler


Community Inquiry


      Ann Bishop and Bertram (Chip) Bruce


Illegitimate Theater


      Mark Harrison and Douglas Schuler


Environmental Impact Remediation


      Douglas Schuler and Jim Gerner
Some of this work will involve technology development;


Open Source Search Technology


      Douglas Schuler


Socially Responsible Video Games


      Douglas Schuler


Open Source Everything


      John Thomas
Some will involve engaging the powerful;


Power Research


      Douglas Schuler


Citizens' Tribunal


      Douglas Schuler


These patterns describe activities that can be particularly effective even if only applied sporadically. They are limited in space and time, yet they can focus attention, unite disparate efforts, and help create conditions for future collaborations. These patterns appear last but are not insignificant. Indeed one of our most important tasks is discovering more of these tasks.
Many of these tactics involve probing and engaging.


Whistle Blowing


      Tom Carpenter and Douglas Schuler


Tactical Media


      Alessandra Renzi


Media Intervention


      Douglas Schuler


Peaceful Public Demonstrations


      Douglas Schuler
Many involve learning with a mission.


Activist Road Trip


      Douglas Schuler


Follow The Money


      Burl Humana
Finally, although these patterns are intended to help people engage with the world with dedication, strength, creativity and love, it's not really possibly b nor desirable b to engage all the time. Don't forget that for your actions and thoughts to be effective, you must periodicallyb&


Retreat and Reflection


      Douglas Schuler

Monday, January 12, 2015

News Flash! "Humility" Added to Civic Intelligence Framework

The latest version of the Framework for Civic Intelligence. Based belatedly on a suggestion by Grazia Concilio, I've added "Humility" to the "Attitude and Aspirations" category. (And I know that I need to add "Sense of Humor" at some point — per Sergei Stafeev.) But will I be done even then?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Civic Intelligence in a City ~~ Is There Any way to Characterize it?

As many of you know, I’m interested in understanding, describing / defining, and cultivating civic intelligence. Civic intelligence is the collective capacity of groups of people to work together to address significant shared challenges effectively and equitably. We don’t have a word in common usage for this phenomenon but I feel that “civic intelligence” is the best expression for the job. 

One of the things I’m doing as part of this work is trying to come up with ways to characterize (if not measure) the civic intelligence of various collectivities (for example colleges*, towns, or NGOs). Ideally through this work we’d be able to better understand the state of civic intelligence and, possibly, be able to compare and contrast diverse collectivities to some degree. 

I’ve now come up with a set of 10 proposed proxy measures (below) to determine the degree of civic intelligence in a city, state, or other political unit. Ideally I would like to use these proxies to begin to work through a process where we came up some viable outcome based on these. 

I’m realizing that although I do not have the resources for this (time, money, knowledge, or brain power for starters) I still want to proceed. (I’m of the opinion that if something is worth doing, it should be done!) The question is how could this be crowd-sourced** to get around the various resource deficits. 

I’d like to see some findings from Seattle — where I live — but wouldn’t it be great if we could do this in other places simultaneously. Also, of course, the people working on this under-funded labor of love could learn more over time and modify and improve the process. 

Here they are — the list is still a draft; the order might be wrong and  there might be redundancy or missing patterns.***

(1) Responsive government
(2) Knowledge — shared throughout the city and diverse — about the environment — natural and otherwise 
(3) Social (political, educational, cultural) engagement
(4) Social capital
(5) Health and well-being
(6) Opportunities — economic and other
(7) Relative equality of inhabitants
(8) Integrity (transparency and lack of corruption)
(9) Good neighborliness (doesn’t take more than it needs; or export its problems…)****
(10) Availability of open and  diverse information and communication systems

I'd love to have your thoughts on this.

* I don’t like the term “crowd-source” — especially in a situation like this!

** I do also have something related to colleges and universities that’s reasonably well-developed — I think. I’m also hoping  to move  forward with that. 

*** But my strong feeling is that the point is not to get this down to a very small number of proxies.  

**** Basically this is related to evaluating  the effects of consumption or production of  policies, social mores, economic transactions, pollution, people or products, climate of the city being  looked at in relation to other cities, rural areas, etc. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

10 PATTERN CATEGORIES for a Minimally Successful People’s Campaign

What we would need to actually help create the information and communication systems that would empower civil society to address the significant problems that the world faces.

These categories are placeholders for a living pattern language that would help cultivate those systems. 

I'm putting this list up without commentary. I hope to add more soon...

Vision and Purpose
    Why get involved? What would we really like to see in our information and communication systems?

Resource Development online and otherwise, a people’s Google?!

   ourselves, our students, general public, venues, needs and approaches

Collaborative Venues and Values
   visioning, building, deliberating, experimenting

Network Development
   roles, infrastructure, branding, mission(s), outreach, other groups

   with government, business, conferences, internet bodies, manifestos, critique

Community Interaction and Dialogue
   partnerships, community inquiry

Open Communication
   schedules, protocols, shared documents, forums

Early Warning and Rapid Response

   events, white papers, op-eds, petitions, testimony

   guidelines, procedures, documents, self-evaluation, using our (not developed yet) patterns