Patterns of Cocreation

Early next month I head to Thailand for the Ci2i Global Lab – a gathering to develop practices of cocreation.  I was invited to present CoCreate Adelaide as a case study – or more specifically, the methodology we applied with our November event, the Festival of CoCreation.

I am glad that I can share my experience with CoCreate, and I’m glad for the opportunity to refine my thoughts about it and the methods we have developed.  But I’m even more excited about the emergence of a sophisticated global practice of cocreation.  This is a chance to participate and contribute to the practice on an entirely new level.

So in the lead-up to Ci2i, I’d like to offer a thought on knowledge development, from my recent explorations of pattern languages.

Generating aliveness with deep patterns

To work our way towards a shared language once again, we must first learn how to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life.
– Christopher Alexander, The Timeless Way of Building


Christopher Alexander is more a facilitator than a builder.  He aspires to generate life.  His isn’t a process of making things, it is a practice of responding to human needs.

He makes his pattern language sound really simple sometimes.  Patterns are architectural solutions, “relationships between elements that resolve a conflict among certain forces meeting in a context”.  Patterns are distilled from what repeats time and time again, and from what we can see and feel generates aliveness.  So it seems almost like we could walk out to a handful of the nearest “vibrant” places and deduce some patterns quite simply – for instance, that aliveness comes from having a barista with tattoos.

But “hipster barista” isn’t a very deep pattern.  Nor are things like “a grid of sessions by time and space” are either.  These things re-appear in certain kinds of living spaces, and we can see they play their part in liveliness.  They are solutions we might use – and if we ever need them, they’re great things to know.  But there is nothing generative in these patterns – they do not really support a practice to come alive.

Alexander doesn’t describe fashion or incidental patterns that he notices in a mix of lively places.  Nor does he pick a mix of patterns without an idea of how they relate – “no pattern is an isolated entity”.  He draws out not just commonalities and lessons, but a generative language – a mutually consistent whole and structure that embodies and enables a generative way of working.

I think – taking a leap – that Alexander’s profoundly life-giving philosophy for architecture is the heart that enables the depth to his patterns.  His philosophy is the master-pattern that generates the whole pattern language of his architecture.

Reflecting on this, thinking about the upcoming Ci2i Lab, I am drawn into the philosophy for cocreation.  I can see already some strong philosophical principles in the articulations of Ci2i – including an underlying value of thriving.  And I guess there is a lot more there as well, but I’m not sure what it is yet.  It’s exciting because I like this stuff, and because I don’t have much chance to flesh it out with others.  And it’s exciting because I think the challenge before us makes it really important.

So I’m eager – nay… anxious – to explore this philosophy.

Is it what we need, if we are “to discover patterns which are deep, and capable of generating life”?


And yes, I am keen in general to develop understanding of pattern languages, how and where they might work, what we can learn from them, how to apply them and what makes them work.  Meta-patterns of pattern languages, perhaps?  I might write something about that later.

In the meantime, if you want to explore the potential of pattern languages in cocreation, check out Lilian Ricaud’s (@liliousCo-Creative Events Pattern Language project.  I’m glad to have found such a great thinker-doer already on the road carrying the flame – lighting the way!

One thought on “Patterns of Cocreation

  1. lilian

    Just like you I’m exploring the path laid out by Alexander. I read his work, but I’m still trying to figure out the deep meaning of his patterns, so I went back to read again “the timeless way…” and found this (chapter 6):

    “The specific patterns out of which a town is made may be alive or dead. to the extent they are alive, they let our inner force loose and set us free; but when they are dead, they keep us locked in inner conflict.

    (…) Certain patterns do create a special sense of life.

    They create it in the first place by allowing people to release their energy, by allowing people themselves to become alive.”

    *I feel this is a the key criteria to distinguish between a clever design solution formated as a pattern and deep/living pattern in the Alexander’s sense*

    “(…) Each pattern that creates conditions in which people can resolve the conflicts they experience, for themselves, reduces people’s inner conflict, helps to put them in a state where they can meet more new challenges, and helps them to be more alive.

    On the other hand, each pattern that creates conditions in which people experience conflicts which they cannot resolves for themselves, increase their inner stress, reduces their capacity to resolve other conflict” (Timeless way, page 115)

    Other random thoughts that came after reading again alexander’s book:

    – important to identify the forces in presence, whether in the environment or whithin us, and their potential conflict or synergy
    – solutions to a problem might not be patterns in themselves (or at least deep generative patterns) but they probably contain deep patterns themselves
    – the “work outloud” pattern I proposed might need to be combined with/balanced by Alexander’s “intimacy gradient” pattern.

    On one hand it is important to throw ideas in the wild so they can be caught, on another hand it’s good to be able to throw them in a more private/safe place while they are still not fully riped and let them grow before throwing them in the wild.

    that might have been one reason your post didn’t write itself easily. good to put ideas in the wild, but don’t overdo it, whatever you do it should feel right 😉


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