Posts tagged Theoria

This is the second part of Experimenting with Concepts Related to Theoria and Praxis, focusing this week upon the definition of Praxis System. See part one with an emphasis upon Theoria definitions here

System
A set of connected things, or parts forming a complex whole in particular. Sometimes these sets will be comprised of other subsystems.

Examples of systems: This praxis diagram is a system. A SWOT analysis is a system. A bubble diagram is a system.

Method
A method is a process of doing something systematically through an orderly arrangement of specific techniques. Each method has a process. They are concerned with the “how”, defining “when” things happen, and describe the desired order. Design methods, research methods, and planning methods may have little or nothing to do with each other due to their very distinct natures.

Examples of methods: Interviews, Direct Behavior Rating (DBR), Geospatial Analysis, Visual Preference Surveys (VPS), Cluster Analysis, Post Occupancy Evaluations / Case Studies, Community Facilitation, Focus Groups, SWOT Analysis.

Policy
“A course or principle of action”, but usually one officially approved by a consensus or a body in charge or influential to the decision-making process. Policies are usually externally imposed over the project either by the firm, a client or a reviewing agency. Unlike design and planning guidelines, these are mandatory in the design practice, and must be met in order for the project to move on.

Examples of policies: All construction documents will be subject to a QA/QC review by the project manager and lead designer. All streetscape vegetation should be maintenance-free in terms of watering and pruning.

Principle
A proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief, behavior, or a chain of reasoning. Principles are self-imposed “policies” derived from research, and the approach that the project is taking. Principles are helpful to establish because they help during the decision-making process towards better results.

Examples of principles: Use clear and culturally-inclusive graphic design. Maintain neutral and objective stance language while composing of the document.

Process
A naturally occurring or designed sequence of operations or events over time which produce desired outcomes. Processes contain a series of actions, events, mechanism, or steps containing methods. Processes are everywhere before, during, and after the development of the project, but they become primarily important during the execution of a task. A process is influenced by principles,  techniques, and by technology.

Examples of processes: Rendering, post-production, modeling, data-building.

Procedure
An established or official way of doing something. Procedures are external imposition, rigid with little flexibility.

Examples of procedures: Submitting documents to project box in proper format to a specific folder, using special log-in credentials. Reviewing and redlining plans digitally using Adobe Acrobat, sending them via e-mail, always cc’ing project managers.

Strategies
A plan formulated towards the achievement of a major end, directly related and subordinated to the approach. It is usually written in the form of particular actions.

Examples of strategies: Obtain public approval and a positive perception of the project from the community. Treat the project as a regional pilot case by documenting research and design decisions.

Tactics
A carefully planned action to achieve a specific end. Altogether, these clear and realistic activities help to accomplish goals, objectives, and strategies.

Examples of tactics: Incorporate input from key stakeholders during the schematic design phases through in-person interviews. Compile design guidelines from pertinent literature such as books, journals, articles and other professional works.

Role
The assumed function or part played by a person/thing in relation to a particular situation.

Examples of roles: Drafter, community facilitator, plan checker, designer, visual artist.

Task
A piece of work to be done or undertaken, usually in the form an activity.

Examples of tasks: Uploading a file, prepare meeting materials, draft a conceptual plan.

Tool
A device or implement used to carry out a particular function. Tools take a neutral stance in the project and they do not necessarily aim to be a key element during its development. A tool can just be a means to complete a task, whereas the method is a mean to fulfill a goal or strategy. These are subordinated to the task, varying in their nature: objects, media, computer programs, etc.

Examples of tools: Markers, websites, social media, presentation slides, boards, posters, invitations, tables, diagrams.

Technology
The knowledge of techniques, processes, and the like or the embed of such in machines

Examples of technologies: Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, Real-Time Rendering, Building Information Modeling, Geo-positioning, a total station, a drone, a 3d printer.

Technique
A way of carrying out a particular task, especially the execution/performance of an artistic work or a scientific procedure. Sometimes research and design techniques can be adopted from previous experiments or projects, adopting and/or adapting such workflow into the process.

Examples of techniques: A very ‘visual’ presentation, hand-drawn sketches instead of computer diagrams, parametric modeling, a macro-based workflow as in PowerPoint or Photoshop.

Style
A manner of doing something. Design or make in a particular form.

Examples of styles: Formal formatting, minimalistic graphics, ‘sketchy’ finishing, photo filters and effects, photorealism, themes, color palettes, imitation of artistic currents.

Not being a native English speaker, I find it difficult sometimes to differentiate concepts that in our day to day conversations we use interchangeably. Most of the time I do so myself without even noticing it. However, recently I recognized a need to seek the true and appropriate meaning of some concepts that we often use in the landscape architecture field when writing documents, or preparing presentations, lectures, etc.

I think the main application of these concepts at their objective denotative meanings takes place at the philosophical intersection of a project’s theory and practice. Many times I find it difficult to describe how to deal with a situation in a structured way, one which requires hierarchy in the deliverance of ideas. In this work-in-progress exercise I made sort of a compilation – a personal glossary of sorts – to understand myself better, determining the main difference between these concepts and what do they entail. Of course, this is just an idea and has no validity as formal classification. But I sure found the process helpful as a self-reflection exercise, especially when planning future projects.

Approach
“A way of dealing with something or arriving at some destination”. It denotes manner and answers the ‘how’. These approaches in our field work better when being pre-formulated; approaches already out there adopted, perhaps modified to suit our needs. A solid and well-defined approach in a project is the best – a safer and smoother way to transition from the theory to the practice.

Examples of theoretical approaches: multidisciplinary, advocacy planning, inclusive urbanism, civic-pedagogy, public engagement.

Philosophy
The philosophy is the link between the entity and the product. If a firm has goals and ideals reflected in their code of ethics, mission, vision, and statement,  then the project’s philosophy has ability to infuse those motivations and expectations into the project itself. That’s why both need to be aligned. It also must represent realistically the intention of the project. It is a broader umbrella term, a sphere that encloses all the mentioned: values, mission, vision, history, area of expertise, trending currents, and so on. It is complex to identify or define because it happens to be the very ethos of the firm’s culture, subject to space and time, and sometimes even reinforced by art movements, individual mindsets, or currents of thinking. While the philosophy is the internal spirit behind a project, the approach is the way external spirit visibly manifested outwards to others.

Example of philosophies: Sustainability, Identity, Aesthetics, Health, Holism, Spirituality.

Line of Action
The elements of a broader field or discipline. It denotes category and answers the ‘which’. Disciplines are fields of study, and their sub-categories are ‘lines’ of study. If a philosophy is a reality, then the lines of action are the dimensions in which that reality takes place. Lines of action define the character of the general goal and the amount of specific goals to achieve, separating them by areas.

Examples of lines of action: Social, economic, ecological, individual, communal, private, public.

General Goals
Derived from the intention of the project, a good general goal would synthetize the overall purpose of the project, and perhaps also the purpose of all of its areas (see line of action) if they all demand equiparable priorities. The definition of goal is “the result of achievement toward which effort is directed”. Serves as an aspiration statement for the project.

Example of a general goal: The conception of a quality recreational space that brings the community together through diverse program elements and activities.

Specific Goals
Purposely isolated goals that will aid the general goal in terms of opportunities. A more specific level are SMART goals, which help even more to determine future strategies and tactics. But some people argue that SMART goals are more of a blend of goals and objectives, for they are not as abstract as conventional goals might be.

Examples of specific goals: The provision of a new urban landmark to the city. The regional recognition of the firm in alike projects.

General Objectives
The measurable and quantifiable steps required to reach a general goal.

Example of general objective: To design and build a neighborhood park in the City of XXXXX with the help of the non-profits and local government over the next six months.

Specific Objectives
Answers in form of actions to particular challenges, chances, or concerns. Each specific goal could have many specific objectives.

Example of specific objectives: To design and build a large-size iconic sculpture in the entrance of the park ensuring clear visibility from the main streets. To achieve certification from a leading sustainability entity during the management phase.

Methodology
The study of how research is done, how we find out about things, and how knowledge is gained. Methodology is about the principles that guide the research practices, and it explains the methods or tools utilized.

When applied to non-research projects, methodology is the connection between the goals and the approach. Methodology diagnoses why we are doing things in the way we are doing them, and how these actions are going to lead us towards the goal. Methodology is not a statement, a phrase, a slogan nor a word; it is a narrative in which you communicate why and how you are planning to carry out the project. But it goes far beyond a justification, since it also talks about the tools and the philosophy being adhering to.

Example of a methodology narrative fragment: “[…] Previous cited works and articles have shown how projects using Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) design principles are lacking the community participation and engagement elements, since the experts rarely show an interest in delegating planning tasks to the residents. The crime rates in this community seem to suggest to us that in order to deter further criminal activity it is also important to give the community quality infrastructure that they truly own. Just as the ‘Parques-Bibliotecas’ case study we discussed in the previous section, we also consider vital for this project to reinforce the sense of identity and ownership in the community. Thus, we would like to inject into our CPTED design principles the Placemaking approach and we pretend to implement design charrettes, visual preference surveys, joint site visits, and other participatory activities.”

Practice
The actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories about such application or use. It is a process, an activity and a goal that encompasses many other diverse sub-processes and sub-activities to ultimate achieve its very form as goal. Confusing enough? Of course. It’s hard to put in perfect words a practice into a theory in the same way it’s hard to put into perfect words a theory into practice. But practices constitute those activities that projects, fields of work or fields of study involve.

Examples of practices: planning, research, design, communication, construction, management.


Please note the definitions above have been heavily adapted and are only proposed, still undergoing development. I find a need in our field to properly define, classify, and most importantly, exemplify these concepts with tangible scenarios so we can improve familiarity. If you have comments or suggestions to enrich these, I welcome any submissions about your understanding or resources that could further help clarify their meaning. A future second part in this series will aim to discuss the Praxis System diagram, defining concepts like policy, strategies, tactics, roles, methods, tools, techniques, technologies, systems, tasks, processes, procedures, and more.