group works: A Review

by Raven Glomus

I said that I would be reviewing things other than books this week and today I want to review a deck of cards.  

It sounds like this would have little to do with communes and communities, but this is not a deck of playing cards or tarot cards, this is a deck of what they call ‘pattern cards’.  Essentially, the Group Pattern Language Project compiled a workbook (which they call group works) for analyzing group processes (they describe it as “A Pattern Language for Bringing Life to Meetings and Other Gatherings”) but instead of putting it in book form, they published it as a deck of cards!

The deck is partly based (as is referenced in their description) of the idea of developing ‘pattern languages’, first popularized by Christopher Alexander and his cohorts in the book, A Pattern Language.  Each card describes what they see as a pattern that is useful to groups–what they refer to as “…the seeds of a more dynamic and effective group experience.”  An example is the card on ‘Commitment’, which reads: “A group dedicated to its work persists through obstacles, distractions, and lulls.  Remind yourself of your larger purpose and what you really care about.  As the group moves toward action, support effectiveness by getting clear on who will do what by when and how to ensure it really happens.”  Each card also has a list of the patterns (other cards) that it is related to, in this case:  “Closing ~ Purpose ~ Courageous Modeling ~ Honour Each Person ~ Setting Intention ~ Taking Responsibility ~ Shared Leadership and Roles”.

Putting these patterns on cards rather than pages actually has several advantages.  You don’t have to flip through pages and there is no particular order to the cards, so that you can organize them in whatever order you like.  You can group stuff together or just take out and look at the cards that you are particularly interested in or seem relevant to what you are doing.  You can use the list of related patterns to create something focused on your particular needs.  (I did actually try using the deck once for a tarot reading but that didn’t work out very well–of course, that wasn’t what the deck was designed to do!)

The deck also comes with two booklets, one on what the deck is all about and how to use it effectively, as well as a bit about each of the authors.  This serves as what would be an introduction if this was a standard work book.  The other booklet organizes the patterns into “Pattern Categories” showing which card goes in which category, gives a list of all 91 patterns (cards), and gives a “Key to the Cards”–looking at all the parts using an example.  The parts they list consist of the Pattern Title, the Pattern Image, a Photo Credit, the Pattern “Heart” (the description I listed above), a Category Icon which reflects which of the Pattern Categories the card belongs to, and Related Patterns (again, the list I cited above–also see the picture below).

There is more information available online, including pictures of the cards, a free pdf of all the cards, and information on how to order a deck for yourself. (It’s $35 to buy a deck.)  I’m not sure that this is the most important thing you could get for your community, but if you are really interested in group process–or thinking about how to have better meetings, a real need in many communes–you might well benefit from having a deck of these cards to consult with.

group works: A Review

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