Establishing a robust framework to grow skills in collaborative practice and enquiry

Patterns and Techniques


This essay gives a basic introduction to the concept of patterns and techniques, the mechanism we use to organise and develop the Collaborative Encounters methodology.

As we began to develop this enquiry, it quickly became clear we needed to create a shared language around collaboration. One that enabled us to recognise and discuss certain tactics or behaviours as they emerged in different projects, to address the fragmented approach to collaboration, to establish a critical language and structures that helps us to understand and examine to sift and sort different kinds of collaborative encounter.

At the same time, we need a framework that also helped us to teach collaborative practice in a way that invited discovery and debate, rather than a closed system. This is important - for reasons we make clear elsewhere, we're against creating something that is overly rigid. Instead, we require a structure that is organic - and not only helps us to teach collaboration, but also to explore it further during each project or learning programme we undertake. 

To do this, we've adapted Christopher Alexander's work on a "pattern language" for architectural design. Alexander's model was conceived as a structured method of describing good design practices in architectural planning - from the optimal design of a front porch to an entire city system. 

Collaborative practice is a little different to architectural planning, and we've used a simplified model that distinguishing simply between patterns and techniques. 


Patterns are abstract descriptions of a particular kind of behaviour - things like "weave the red threads" or "disrupt the is". For each pattern, we do three things. First, we describe the kind of challenge which they seek to address ("conflict", "disengagement"). We then detail what the pattern is, and how it addresses the issue. We then detail particular techniques that can be used to enact the pattern.

Techniques are much more literal. They describe concrete actions that practitioners can use in collaborative encounters. Some of them are exercises or formats for a workshop, others are more appropriate as project planning or management tools. They might include things like - Pecha Kucha presentations, object curation, cutups, narrative worksheets. Throughout, we've taken a magpie approach, bringing together examples from diverse fields including futures consultancy, experimental literature, museum curation.  


We've used this structure for a few reasons. By creating abstract patterns, we hope to explore how common themes may extend across wildly divergent types of encounter. By connecting these patterns to individual techniques we hope to facilitate a constant kind of trade between different fields - encouraging practitioners from business to deploy techniques from the arts, or vice versa. 

We're also attracted by the Alexander's approach to planning embraced the significance and interaction of different levels of meaning - how the success of a front porch or bay window both influences and is influenced by the patterns that surround it:

... no pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns ... This is a fundamental view of the world. It says that when you build a thing you cannot merely build that thing in isolation, but must also repair the world around it, and within it, so that the larger world at that one place becomes more coherent, and more whole; and the thing which you make takes its place in the web of nature, as you make it.

Although we simplify and modify his architectural model, we believe a very similar philosophy applies to collaboration. A methodology is designed to embrace this fact - something that provides clear stimulus and guidance to help newcomers and experts alike to evaluate and design different kinds of collaborative encounter, whilst encouraging a constant mobility, moving both horizontally and vertically to continual refresh and create collaborative practice.

On the site we will be sharing a handful of the most important patterns and techniques from the Collaborative Encounters methodology to give readers a sense of how we think and work. Please contact us if you'd like to purchase access to the full archive.