Participatory Patterns Workshop

Theoretical Basis

The Participatory Pattern Workshop (PPW) methodology [1], [2], [3] is a framework for engaging multi-disciplinary communities in collaborative reflection on educational innovation in a given domain. This methodology leads participants through a process of articulating their experience in the form of Design Narratives, eliciting from those Design Patterns, and using these to generate testable future design conjectures, in the form of Design Scenarios [4].

This methodology is mirrored by the Learning Design Studio approach, which guides practitioners through a reflective process of designing, prototyping and evaluating new innovations [5]. The synergies between the two are discussed in [6].

The overarching argument behind these design methods is that (educational) design fills a space between theory and practice, drawing on both and feeding back to both. In this space, we have educational design research (AKA “design based research”, which has a stronger commitment to theory, and design for learning (AKA “learning design”) which is closer to practice. But both should share the dual commitment to theory and practice, and both could benefit from exchange of ideas and methods.

We were using a modified version of this methodology, which aims to:

To support us in this process, we have used a platform called ILDE (Integrated Learning Design Environment), developed by Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona.

Process applied in Learning Layers

This section describes how the Participatory Pattern Design methodology has been applied in Learning Layers [7]. As the figure below shows, both professional practices collected from co-design sessions and empirical analysis in the workplace; but also Kernel theories were used to develop different design artifacts with the main aim to develop design patterns used to build the Learning Layers tools. The main steps of this design process are described as follows:


Phases of the Participatory Patterns Design Process

Share narratives of practice

A ‘Practice’ (as opposed to just “practice”), or ‘patterned practice’, is a recurring pattern of behaviour manifesting certain intentions in a given context.

Arguably, the aim of (educational) design is to enhance practices: to allow people to revise their intentions and manifest their intentions in more effective and efficient ways.

Before we attempt to enhance practices, we need to understand current practices. After all, as [8] says, design is always re-design.

How do we capture, and make sense of human experience? Bruner [9] argues that our primary instrument for this task is narrative. A narrative provides an account of Someone doing something in some context.

Based on ethnographic data, or any other sources, the aim is to construct a narrative that describes a current practice. In order to do so, we need to:

Use the Practice Narrative template to share your narratives.

Identify patterns of practice

The narratives we collected are thick descriptions of single instantiations of (presumably more general) practices. Next, we need to distill the essence of these narratives in a concise form that can serve us as a building block in our design process. A ‘’pattern of practice’’ is a claim of the form: In a context C, actors of type T have intentions I and perform actions A to satisfy them. For example: Nurses (T) in rural GP clinics (C) need to ensure compliance with NHS regulations (I). To do so, they attend CPD events, take notes, and apply the prescribed procedures in their clinic (A).

Ideally, we should derive such patterns by comparing multiple narratives, noting their overlaps and eliminating idiosyncrasies. However, often our data is too sparse, and we need to generalise from a small number of examples. In such cases, we will attempt to identify the salient features of the narrative and seek circumstantial evidence to support our choices. For example, if we have a narrative of a particular middle-aged Asian nurse attending CPD, we would assume that it is her role that is pertinent to the pattern, rather than her gender, race or age.

Use the Practice Pattern template to share your patterns of practice.

Identify gaps / issues / challenges

Design is always oriented at change. Herbert Simon [10] defines design as “devising courses of action aimed at transforming existing states of the world into desired ones. This is what Latour [8] calls design’s “remedial intent”.

Before we undertake an act of design, we need to specify what is the change we wish to engender. This will be the objective of our design, and the measure of its success. Our focus is not on physical change in the world, but on a change in practice. This may include allowing actors to satisfy intentions that are currently unsatisfied, or allowing them to satisfy their intentions in a more effective and efficient manner.

In Agile software development methodologies, such objectives are often phrased in the form of ‘’user stories’’ (see for instance: . Despite the risk of confusion (stories vs. narratives), we will use this term because of its prevalence.

Use the user stories template to list user stories derived from your narratives and patterns of practice.

Share design narratives

Once we identify a challenge and analyse it, our instinct is usually to confront it and do our best to resolve it. This is almost always a mistake. Any challenge we identify, the chances are that someone tried to resolve it before. If not, there are surely other very similar challenges which have been solved. Hence, before we pick up our glue gun, we should learn from previous attempts.

A design narrative is a semi-structured story that illuminates a particular attempt to address a complex challenge. It can be told from the view (and in the voice) of the designer, or the user (the learner or teacher, in the case of learning design). A design narrative recounts an incident where the designer attempted to bring about a change in the user’s world. It details the context of this incident, the objectives of the design and the user, the actions they took and their result, the obstacles they encountered and how they dealt with them.

Consider the User Stories you collected. Use the design narrative template to describe previous attempts to resolve similar challenges in a similar context.

Identify design patterns

“A design pattern describe a recurring problem, or design challenge, the characteristics of the context in which it occurs, and a possible method of solution.

Each pattern describes a problem that occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without ever doing it the same way twice. [11]

The Design patterns paradigm was proposed by Christopher Alexander as a form of design language within architecture. This was done with the explicit aim of externalizing knowledge to allow the accumulation and generalization of solutions and to allow all members of a community or design group to participate in discussions relating to design. These patterns were organized into coherent systems called pattern languages where patterns are related to each other.”

Use the design pattern template to extract patterns from your design narratives.

Propose Design Principles

Whereas Design Patterns are derived from practice and then explained by theory, Design Principles are derived from theory and then validated by evidence from practice.

use the Design Principle template to propose design principles.

Construct design scenarios (as storyboards)

A Design Scenario is a form of presenting testable design propositions, stating: “if we introduce innovation I in context C, we will achieve objectives O and (possibly) see additional results R”.

A Design Scenario takes the form of a Design Narrative and projects it into the future, i.e. rather than recounting past events, it suggests a possible trajectory of future events.

A Storyboard is a rapid graphical format for presenting Design Scenarios. It is very effective for brainstorming and user validation.

Use the Scenario template or the Storyboard template to construct and share scenarios that address some of the user stories you collected.

Examples of application of the PPW in Learning Layers

Confer Participatory Patterns workshop

In January and February 2015, the Confer team conducted two workshops (Bristol Participatory Patterns workshops) to develop the conceptual basis of the Confer tool. The main objectives were:

Based on the design scenarios we developed a set of design patterns and a set of 3 storyboards (see detail below), which we presented to representatives of the target Healthcare group, to obtain early feedback (March 2015). During this co-design session, our aim was to present and discuss the storyboards with Healthcare staff in order to understand if the stories illustrate successfully (or not) their context, needs and potential solution. We had 4 Healthcare representatives: a Practice Manager representing the Practice Managers’ Network; a Data Quality Lead with links to the Practice Managers’ Network; a Nurse who is the Lead of a CCG Nurse Training Network and a GP representing a GPs’ Network.

The participants discussed with two members of the Confer team the storyboards, and they selected 2 of the 3 storyboards as the most important ones to cover their needs. The 2 key storyboards are accessible from here:

The final collection of Confer design patterns can be accessed from the description of the Confer Learning Scenario here.

More detail can be found in [12] and [7].

UWE Learning Innovation workshop

The Learning Innovation workshop (UWE, 8/03/2016) was a very good opportunity for participants but also for organizers to discuss and exchange ideas about how to innovate in their teaching (or learning related) practices. A total of 16 participants (including: module tutors, area coordinators, museum staff, developers, external professionals, PhD students and an undergraduate student) were involved in the full day workshop. Participants were engaged from the very beginning, sharing ideas and collaborating in groups. In particular they showed an real interest during the Confer & ZoP app demonstration (proposing different questions/scenarios around how to use the tools, proposing new features, and expressing their interest to create their own user account). This behaviour is also shown on the Feedback Questionnaires, where the organization and information provided from the workshop were highly rated good. But in particular, the majority of participants would like to spend more time exploring the tools. Some of them proposed that we reduce the time dedicated to the first part of the morning (Practice Narratives discussion and Personas) and increase the time to explore their scenarios with the tools (Confer and ZoP app). 8/11 participants (who completed the questionnaire) indicated they want to use the tools in their work. We obtained very positive feedback, for example:

I enjoyed hearing other groups’ ideas

Participant of UWE PPW, March 2016

the demos of the 2 tools (Confer and ZoP app) was inspiring

Participant of UWE PPW, March 2016

useful to teaching team members to consider innovative approaches to teaching media culture as well as a research tool for practice-based work

Participant of UWE PPW, March 2016

The application of the PPW method allowed us to identify 4 different examples of Practice Narratives (or scenarios of use of the tools). In addition, 4 initial versions of ‘patterns’ resulted from the discussions with participants. These are: Feedback budget:; Social Ladder:; Gatekeepers:, and also an existing pattern was suggested: ‘Feedback on Feedback’ which can be accessed in the following book: These patterns would need to be discussed further with the participants, and even applied in real contexts, in order to confirm their relevance.

Materials derived from Learning Layers


Contributing Authors

Patricia Santos, Yishay Mor, John Cook


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