Hierarchy of Scope


As we develop Pattern Languages we seek and discover all kinds of patterns. As we understand the Pattern Scope of a pattern we are working on, we can begin to understand its place within the structure of the language we are building.


It is hard to be meaningful in a language whose structure we do not understand.

A pattern language's elements are the patterns, this is clear: each pattern which has been clearly identified and which really is a pattern has equal overall status, in the way that every species in an ecosystem is fundamental to the whole that is that ecosystem. If a species is removed, or changed, the ecosystem changes.

If we imagine a language as a forest, with patterns such as trees, branches, leaves and roots, earth with minerals and mycorrhizal fungi, insects with legs, wings and eggs - and so on, it is insupportable to claim that any one of these patterns is more fundamental than any other.

Of course, you might claim that a forest is defined as a large number of trees, grouped in close proximity, and that trees are thus the fundamental pattern. But this claim would be exposed as false if you removed all of the leaves, or all the insects, for the forest would die, or change beyond recognition.

We can further refine our understanding of this reality by recognising that each and every forest that humans know of is named. These names are not only to do with geographical location, but in direct recognition that each has a unique character. All are made of 'many trees in close proximity', yet each is particular - because of differences in other constituent aspects.

Each pattern implies, and is in turn implied by, other patterns.

Nevertheless, we can see that the scope of an instance of a 'leaf' or 'mineral' pattern is small, while the scope of a tree is large. A mycorrhizal fungal mat could be the size of the forest itself, under the surface.

This condition of scope is real and of enormous import.

Patterns of wide scope are often impossible to build wholesale. You cannot build a forest. All you can do is plant trees in conditions under which you hope they will thrive, and then wait a few decades. The character of these patterns is emergent, hard to predict in detail (often impossible, to all intents and purposes). Will a species of bird begin to migrate to the forest as it grows? Will they strip all the fruits and hinder its development, or will their habits spread the seeds far and wide, so that the forest expands?

Patterns of narrow scope are often required in huge numbers. A tree can easily grow a new leaf, or cut off the supply of sap to kill a leaf in drought conditions. However, if each leaf of the tens of thousands the tree makes does not develop in response to its particular condition within the larger pattern of the tree - become unique - the tree will not thrive.

It is often true that the conditions of growth of 'narrow scope' patterns is more crucial than those of 'broad scope'; the latter have enormous momentum, the former have only their own agency and some tiny fraction of the overall system resources with which to fulfil their role of becoming unique, maximising the systemic adaptation to their individual context.

To tranlsate this into a human context, the greater the extent to which a society can provide developmental frameworks that encourage and support each individual to discover the most fulfilling response to their unique circumstances (both inherited and contextual), the richer in resilience and sustainability that society will be. And this is true even though the death or life of any single individual will likely go largely unnoticed. The society has millions of people, yes, but it also has nothing but individuals with which to reproduce itself.

Patterns of intermediate scope may be buildable, but require significant co-ordination of resources in terms of time and material, usually requiring adaptation to changing conditions throughout the course of development, as with the growth of a tree from a seedling into a mature forest elder.

Some patterns are like catalysts - relatively simple in themselves, but capable of systemic influence - consider the organising influence of Piccadilly Circus across London's West End.

Understanding these broad characteristics, at the least, of the patterns that make up a language, makes it more likely that the Social Poetry through which the language is used to make change in the world, is rich and effective.


As the Language develops, order the patterns according to a hierarchy of scope, and group them in related clusters, to promote fluency and confidence in use. (We are beginning to use the terms 'claves' and staves', the former to denote broad categorisations, the latter for finer grained differences - these will need their own patterns).


['not recognised' here means I had written pattern names which the 'builder' script could not find, as they are yet unwritten: work is incomplete.. here be dragons!]. Seek to understand and identify patterns by scope: not recognised , not recognised and not recognised . Develop the not recognised to help with the legibility of the not recognised.