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A Pattern Language for the LIMITS Community: We Make the Road by Walking, A Messy Ethnography

Published onJun 21, 2022
A Pattern Language for the LIMITS Community: We Make the Road by Walking, A Messy Ethnography


This paper describes the process of two mutually informing activities: (1) the beginning of the creation of a LIMITS related pattern language, drawing from published material and feedback from the LIMITS community, and (2) the development of the Pattern Sphere (PS), a publicly available online system for supporting collaboration using pattern languages, which we believe can help support the work of the LIMITS community and other communities who are working to address wicked problems. Patterns and pattern languages present an approach to knowledge presentation in a semi-formalized way that has been used in many domains to help address complex wicked problems effectively. We intend for these patterns to make the knowledge of the LIMITS community more accessible. Moreover, we propose that these patterns could help people apply the core findings from the LIMITS work in real-life situations and, because patterns are intended to be used contextually, help them better understand where they are well-suited and where they are not. Patterns function only through application in, and adjustment to, local contexts, and this knowledge can spur their eventual integration into practices. Our hypothesis is that this work will be useful in at least four ways: (1) sharing the pattern and pattern language (PPL) perspective; (2) sharing useful patterns; (3) providing insights into the processes involved in developing patterns and pattern languages; and (4) providing a flexible, evolving platform for PPL work.

We're calling our research method a 'messy ethnography' because we wanted to place some attention on the choices we were faced with, the avenues taken or not, and the mistakes we didn't make, almost made, or did make as we went along. At the heart of this process was an online participatory assessment that we made available to the wider LIMITS community, taking stock of which of the 24 suggested patterns resonated most strongly while gathering general feedback as well as input on specific patterns. We will build on the assessments and comments to help craft the provisional set of patterns that we hope will provide a suitable foundation for future work. Future work will consist of a continuation of the development of both the Pattern Sphere software and the pattern language, in conversation with the LIMITS community and other communities who are helping to address the myriad wicked problems of the world today.

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