Towards a pattern language for a new economy

Maybe it is just a sinking feeling you get in your stomach when you think of the global economy, or maybe you have delved into the depths of economic thinking. Either way we are not alone if you are concerned that the great human invention – money – is dysfunctional. Many are commenting on how our economic system – often called capitalism although that is hard to define exactly what it is – is coming apart. The comments are coming from the direction of Marxists, conventional economists, free thinkers and even the World Economic Forum.

In other words, the way we use money is not fulfilling the purpose of distributing wealth, ensuring the basic for survival, or driving stewardship of land and minerals.

People have started taken action. Although in their infancy, alternatives abound, including the REconomy movement – a branch of the Transition Towns movement that seeks to help create social, resilient enterprises based on local conditions. REconomy is very much a grass-roots movement. Those involved in REconomy locally have very little time for coordinating with others, sharing knowledge or engaging in EU-funded large projects. Making something happen on a local basis takes a lot of effort. Despite the initial enthusiasm you can whip up initially, it is a long, hard slog to get your high-street, if you  are lucky enough even to have one (most are gone in Sweden), free of the domination of global brand chains. Indeed its hard enough just to get a local bakery started.

But it IS working. In several places the REconomy movement has increased the number of jobs in local firms, seen businesses be more sustainable and helped foster a sense of community,

The REconomy movement doesn’t have to start its own brand chain. Like many other movements it sees itself as a community of practice (COP). A community of practice is a network of practitioners helping each other get on with their practice, or business. A community of practice does not have to have its own organisation, rules, by-laws, membership fees, shareholders, stakeholders or the like. Just people sharing experiences. It COULD have some or all of that – if it helped – of course. You can commercialize a community of practice. Do that in a fair way and you get a platform co-operative.

A shared language of patterns

One thing that helps communities of practice is to develop a shared language. Terms appear that only practitioners understand the real meaning of – like names of tools used by people pursuing the same craft. But how do you share experience? The answer came from Christopher Alexander who put forward a ‘pattern language’ approach. He believed – and proved it – that you can describe something in a way that others pursuing your craft can follow. They can at least get started, copy what you describe and learn from experience from there.

As Alexander says: “no pattern is an isolated entity.  Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns within which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it.  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”.

We need to name the patterns in operation. And evaluate them

This is huge. As Peter Senge pointed out in his book the Fifth Discipline, we all go around with patterns in our heads of “good ways to get stuff done” without even knowing. For practitioners of a craft, as their surrounding context changes, for them to change with it they need to be aware of the pattern (or paradigm) they are applying and question whether it will take them into the new context.

This is REconomy : Bringing to the surface the patterns that are hidden but operating, putting them together with the new context, questioning their fitness for purpose and developing new ones.

What follows is a first attempt to create a pattern for how to describe an emerging pattern for REconomy , based on experience.


  • What is the underlying economic paradigm that is working, hidden.
  • What is the context that it is operating in.
  • Explain how the paradigm is unfit for purpose.
  • Summarize the problem or challenge that the REconomy pattern you have discovered will address. you can use question form like “how can we increase employment in locally-owned companies?”
  • Explain what this new pattern will do, how it will help
  • Give your explanation as succinctly as possible with enough detail that it can be tried elsewhere.
  • Include: number of people, the time-frame, the geographical reach and resources needed.
  • Explain how your pattern addresses the initial challenge
  • Provide additional information including other patterns this pattern works with, reference links and next steps to move forward.

More reading

Very useful in this context is to understand the two loops theory of system change. We are in a dying system and a new one is emerging.


Footnote: you might be asking for an example of the way this pattern language could work in practice. If you revisit the article you will see it is written using my proposed structure. Still needs work but a start at least!




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