Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 – Part One: How it came about

This post commences a little intermission from the current inquiry. For, while it is fresh, I’ll pen a report of the four-day Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process workshop David Holmgren and I recently co-presented. I’ll cover the experience with a post for each of seven parts: how it came about, the four days of preparation directly before, each day of the event itself, and some post-event reflections / future plans.

First though, if you’ve not the time or interest to read the full report,1 here’s a short clip of David and I sharing some post-course reflections:

Part One: How it Came to Pass

Not long after Making Permaculture Stronger started, I sent a draft version of this previous post to David, hoping for his feedback. To my delight, a lively email conversation ensued, excerpts of which were posted here. Details aside, I was grateful for David’s interest and participation in a conversation following and building on my earlier claim that design process is a problematically weak link in permaculture.2

During the decade or so in which David grew from acquaintance then teacher into the mentor, senior colleague, and friend he is today, we had never really discussed permaculture design process. I’d been fortunate enough to observe David in process on several rural properties over the years, where I got to read him reading landscape, but we hadn’t much talked about what was going on.

After that email conversation, however, things had shifted. The topic was on both of our radars as a shared interest. Though we enjoyed several face-to-face chats, which for me put some rather deep scratches in the surface of the topic, I was left with the feeling of wanting to break right through the surface, to dive in deep, and see what we found. Of wanting Making Permaculture Stronger to further benefit from David’s 40 years of grounded experience and deep thinking about permaculture design.3

Now if anyone had approached me at this point and said “well why don’t you just ask David whether he’d be up for an eight-day full-time intensive discussion going deep into all this stuff?” I would have laughed. Something like that simply wouldn’t have occurred to me as being within the realms of possibility. David leads a full life and I knew was busy working on getting his latest book project across the line, re-tweaking an upcoming re-release of his permaculture principles, co-managing Melliodora, and so on and so forth. I was more than grateful for the shorter conversations we were able to have, and hoped/trusted our conversation would continue to evolve slowly and opportunistically in small increments over the coming years.

You can imagine, therefore, how low my jaw dropped when in late September 2016, David asked whether I’d be interested in co-facilitating a four-day “advanced permaculture principle and planning” workshop during April of 2017.4

Though I tried to play it cool – “yeah thanks for the thought, let me think about it” sort of thing, my decision to accept the invitation took about three seconds. I was excited at the prospect of an opportunity to co-evolve some of this stuff together, knowing from past experience that co-teaching is about as good as such opportunities get.

I learned after the event that David, though excited, was also somewhat nervous about how it might play out. As he put it in the post-event video I shared above:

I thought going into it the uncertainties of unpacking so many things that I’ve been uncertain about in permaculture design, and the first time directly collaborating on something like this with you, and building on all the stuff you’ve been doing on the making permaculture stronger blog, I was really excited but nervous about how it was going to work and whether we were going to get into runaway, abstract, philosophical discussions that would leave the students, even the more advanced ones, struggling.

From my end, I was telling myself not to set my expectations for the course too high. I know from experience that such events often don’t turn out quite as magnificent as the picture my mind tends to paint in the lead up. I was also conscious that we had no idea who would show up, and how it would work to be exploring the depths of permaculture design process with a bunch of, well, goodness knows who. I also really wasn’t sure to what extent David’s and my own design process understandings would actually gel or complement each other. Finally, I knew David had a relatively well-rehearsed and refined program from his past advanced principles and reading landscape workshops and I half-expected I would end up simply sort of tacking on some of my stuff around that.

So much for expectations!

In the next post I’ll go through the process of preparing for the event.

Endnotes

  1. Which at 10,000 words I kind of got a bit carried away with!
  2. The way I would currently describe this weak link is as follows: The more I look, the more I find a stunningly low correspondence between what the available permaculture literature says should be true of any authentic permaculture design process, and what actually is true when a design process deeply resonates with permaculture ethics and principles to successfully generate deeply adapted systems. I am not the first to make this observation – as an example see this article from the German Institute for Participatory Design.
  3. I assume it goes without saying that David’s experience with permaculture includes the experience of co-originating it alongside Bill Mollison.
  4. The way this all came about was that David had been approached by Dr Kerri Chiveralls about running a version of the advanced courses he’d run previously as part of the fledgling graduate diploma in permaculture being offered through Central Queensland University.

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