• From Goshen Watts on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 10

    Hi Dan,

    More good reading… cheers! Although – I thought at first you were having a bit of a joke with all those acronyms… but it appears not! Can you please just give them approximate descriptive names?

    Up Front
    …Or whatever.

    Another point, is that on one hand sometimes upfront design is required (eg client, or community project); but on the other hand (eg my own place), there is a high degree of chaos (especially in the early stages), and Emergent / Actualise design… AYG :-).

    Also, when time is very scarce, sometimes a bit of randomness and ‘winging-it’ can generate quite good results – usually depending on the degree to which ‘nature’ can take over and deliver those results. This could be a topic in itself as it depends on the resources used, the time-scale (eg winging it is great for short term planting / design – but long lived trees and infrastructure not so much).


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    2017/05/21 at 2:30 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 10

      Thanks Goshen!

      Sort of was a bit of a joke, but I like long jokes and besides people seemed to be taking them seriously until you, Anthony and Alex just went and spoiled my fun by insinuating things were getting out of hand…

      Yes I’m inclining toward:
      -winging it

      Thanks for your comment re generating and winging it working well together I’d be curious to see what you make of my long reply to Anthony just below? I think your comment about “the degree to which ‘nature’ can take over and deliver those results” is really interesting and yeah right on about being careful where you wing it, if indeed winging it you must ;-).

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      2017/05/22 at 11:57 am
  • From Kazel on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture - Part 3

    mind = blown by your definition of organism/organise.

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    2017/05/22 at 8:30 am
  • From Holger Hieronimi on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 2

    excellent review of different aproaches to PC design

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    2017/06/03 at 7:23 am
  • From Kazel Cass on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part One: How it came about

    Thank you for sharing this, I’m very much looking forward to reading the next installments.

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    2017/06/22 at 8:32 am
  • From Milton Dixon on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Three: The First Day

    Thankyou so much for sharing all this, it’s quite useful!

    I often think of how we’re embedded in the old world, trying to design the new one. The problem is that we have to get through the old world to the new, we can’t just plop ourselves down in that new vision. Your rebuilding the ship as it sails is an excellent way to describe this.

    I feel like there are many aspects of this old world that will need to be shed, like master plans, top down professional organizations, and even the idea of the designer for hire. But when do we shed what? Some things can definitely go now, while others it’s useful to play with. For example: How can the designer use the gift economy to transform their community, or how can a designer play a role as a regional ecological catalyst.

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    2017/06/29 at 8:43 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Three: The First Day

      Hey thanks for commenting Milton – I really appreciate hearing that you found this bit of the report useful – helps me self-justify the time I spent on this little side-series ;-). Great thoughts and questions too – I find my self sitting with some variant of them almost daily. A related aspect to all this is that whilst as you say the new world story must grow out of the old, or we might say that the the new will be birthed from the ashes of the old, it is not always going to be a smooth path from one to the other. If we wait for a clear, well lit path we’ll be waiting a long time. It is important work to be riding on the edge of the old story, bootstrapping our way forward, participating in what feel like healthy attempts to nudge it towards life, beauty, wholeness, sanity, humanity etc (for many permaculture is exactly this), but then sometimes there is a time and place to peek at our inner compass, take a deep breath, and leap ahead into the misty space of the void between stories (hat-tip to Eisenstein here) where we don’t know what awaits, or what will happen, and whether if we don’t like where we end up whether there is any way back. Making Permaculture Stronger as a project is at such a juncture (or maybe it is a continuum?), actually, but more on that in due course!

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      2017/07/01 at 10:57 am
  • From Ronald on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Four: The Second Day

    I’m enjoying your posts. Thanks.

    I have just read a book that I think you may find interesting – “Regenerative Development and Design: A Framework for Evolving Sustainability” by the Regenesis Group ( For example I found the concept of ‘vocation of place’ most interesting. Apologies if you know about the book and the regenerative concept already.

    In terms of Christopher Alexander’s work I found his book the “Oregon Experiment’ the most interesting to read from a design point of view. I notice you have not referenced it in your posts. I suggest you read it or read it again in light of your present enquiries around design processes. In particular I think the concept of ‘diagnosis’ has a lot to offer.

    Besides the book I have not been able to find much more on the Oregon Experiment. Two links I found are:

    For an introduction to diagnosis see:

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    2017/07/08 at 12:24 am
    • From Dan Palmer on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Four: The Second Day

      Many thanks for your comment Ronald,

      I have a copy of “Regenerative Development and Design” and have huge respect for Bill Reed and Joel Glanzburg from Regenesis, who I’ve been lucky enough to meet and learn from directly. I had a lovely skype with Bill a few days back, and when I explained the juncture I feel making permaculture stronger is arriving at, he replied something like “Dan, that is exactly where Regenesis started!” Along with the work of their colleague Carol Sanford and others I feel that these folk are decades ahead of the game in terms of design process innovation, and I look forward to bringing various threads of their work into the evolving fabric of making permaculture stronger. I don’t suppose you’d be up for summarising their “vocation of place” concept here for myself and other readers?

      As for “The Oregon experiment” I appreciate your comment – one reason is that I have never heard anyone mention this book as a design process go-to-book of Alexander’s – usually the spotlight is firmly focused on “the timeless way of building” and “a pattern language”. As you suspect, I have not read the Oregon experiment properly, even though it is sitting on my shelf, having been engrossed in Alexander’s later works, and so your comment has prompted me to make the effort. That said, the material from the link you shared on diagnosis appears to comes straight from the nature of order series (which Alexander spent 30 years writing having found that the pattern language project failed in having the desired affect on architecture). I’ll be curious to track the ideas back to the Oregon experiment.

      Best and thanks again,

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      2017/07/08 at 10:15 am
  • From Pippa on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Four: The Second Day

    I appreciate these posts so much Dan and they are sparking spine quivers and ideas of my own.
    My “formalised” I.e. post PDC journey into permaculture has taken place at the same time as doing academic studies in climate change adaptation planning. I’ve found permaculture, even with its existing cracks, to be a far richer source of process and ideas for supporting large scale strategic and social shifts than formal adaptation approaches. All these things that you are discussing are so on point! Luckily I now have the mental space to properly dive into this stuff (including the Otto Scharmer theory u and presencing threads).

    David’s repeated emphasis on financial system vulnerability is also so important to keep in mind whatever scale we are working on.

    Lots to think about!

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    2017/07/09 at 6:21 pm
  • From Bob Corker on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Four: The Second Day

    Hi Dan, have enjoyed your musing. Coincidently I have found myself immersed in design work again (as well as teaching) here’s a few thoughts I had after reading your posts. I liked your reference to Hakai tossing the coin, and I see that the choice being made around your three or four scenarios (the CD’s), is a little bit similar – maybe no right answer, play the card that sits in front of you. Some clients want a master plan (not too many) some just want inspiration and a bit of knowledge (and everything in between) Some patterns are almost universal, and if your client doesn’t get them, then type one errors abound. Some patterns can be deduced from the joint experience/intuition of client/designer/and some must come out of the interaction of the clients vision and reality of the team implementing some of the major strategies. Thus for me as a designer the focus becomes not on the design process, but the relationship between the ‘designer’/ client/environment which keeps generating the ‘design’/result. I have to admit I have some trouble getting engaged in the analysis of design process method, however i can see that it will support our various paths. Keep going it will improve our abilities. Having watched hundreds of students of ‘graduate’ from design courses, my enduring sense is that most of the ability of good design comes from the life experience of the designer (both materially and emotionally), much of which is either not consciously understood or easily communicated. Yet one of the challenges of ‘teaching’ design courses is how do we work with conscious systems to empower the designer in the person – I don’t have too many answers for that, so i will follow your continued musing with interest to see if I can better my ability to empower others. I too am inspired by Alexanders work, and believe that he has brought consciousness to the understanding he came across out of his own being/observations. There I have started the process.

    regards Bob Corker

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    2017/07/15 at 10:39 am
    • From Dan Palmer on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Four: The Second Day

      Bob! Lovely to hear from you – thanks for chiming in and sharing your reflections (Bob and I used to teach design together some years ago – Bob initially put me onto an earlier version of the pyramid shared in this post). Lots of good thoughts but I’m grateful in particular for your statement:

      …for me as a designer the focus becomes not on the design process, but the relationship between the ‘designer’/ client/environment which keeps generating the ‘design’/result

      Now I find this fascinating because for me, this result-generating relationship, through time, IS the design process. I cannot conceive of anything called design process which is outside of this unfolding relationship, so for me they are one and the same focus. I guess I’d say that the design process (which is really a design-and-creation-process) is the thing that gathers up and co-ordinates the various ingredients (design facilitator, client, space, tools, methods, etc) toward meaningful outcomes.

      That said, the main message I get from what you said before that statement is about not being dogmatic or prescriptive about the methods used within the process. The thing needs to be free to breathe and define and adapt itself as things go along. Right on!

      I’d be really interested to hear how others feel about this? If you happen to be reading this and find yourself on the cusp of chiming in, then consider this sentence a nudge to help get you across the line ;-).

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      2017/07/17 at 12:24 pm
  • From Holger Hieronimi on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Five: The Third Day

    It`s fascinating to see the evolution of this blog, which I follow pretty much since the whole project started –
    The conversation around design process is important, inside & outside PermaCulture movement(s);
    The topics exposed here resonate stongly what I was thinking about durning the last few years, reflecting critically on my personal proceses (as an early PC enthusiast but also sometimes critic) as a teacher & designer – I also know of colegues and fellow activists & designers in Latin America, who are engaged in similar discussions in their projects & networks;
    Soon I share more on my process & projects

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    2017/07/19 at 1:21 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Five: The Third Day

      Que bueno oírte Holger and I’m delighted you’re finding resonance with how this project is evolving. It is affirming, actually, in that my intention is for this project not to be about one person’s obscure ramblings but about tapping into shared issues and experiences permaculturalists are facing around the world. I would love to hear more of your thoughts and processes and projects, as well of some of the themes in conversations you are part of. One thought I’m having is if it would ever be of service to have an español section to this site then let me know – maybe we could figure something out.

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      2017/07/20 at 1:51 pm
  • From Bret on Advanced Permaculture Planning and Design Process 2017 - Part Five: The Third Day

    The real life examples documentation of Melliodora evolving through the implementation process are valuable example. Thanks for sharing this series from your class with David!

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    2017/07/21 at 8:51 am
  • From Paul d'Aoust on The Alex Bayley Podcast, Agile Permaculture, and latest news

    Hi, Dan. I’m excited to see your new podcast; however, I can’t subscribe to it in my favourite podcasting app. Is there some way to turn on RSS feeds in SoundCloud for your channel? I’m not sure how it’s done, but this seems to be the official resource:

    (I’m the guy you asked to review a few articles on agile software and permaculture. Sorry I was so quiet; new baby in the house, I’m sure you understand 😉 )

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    2017/08/03 at 6:22 am
  • From Darren J Doherty on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 11

    Thanks Dan for yet another important piece.

    We developed what we’ve called “Our Works Pattern” in the mid 90’s as we were getting busier and needed a stronger workflow. Perhaps interestingly the biggest influence to us developing this pathway was not from within the design professions but from the great book, “The E-Myth” (Gerber, 1993), as it looked at the franchise prototype and applying a systems based approach to various processes and workflows in any business — using the McDonalds restaurant chain as its main example.

    Since the development of the Regrarians® brand and Regrarians Platform® we’ve since renamed this as follows:

    “Regrarians Works Pattern”

    1. Holistic Context Completion & Boundary Reference – Client Completes – 2+ hours – A. Obtain a copy of the 1. Climate chapter of the Regrarians eHandbook, B. Read sections 1.09—1.11 (pp.25-29), C. Complete the 1. Climate checklist (Appendix 3 pp.68-70) D. Create a boundary map in GoogleEarth of the project area and send it to us as a .kmz file.

    2. RON – Online – 1-2 hours – Through our interactive (& recordable!) Regrarians ONline service we often have a discussion around key issues/needs ahead of any farm visit. RON is also a stand-alone service through which we deliver training and support

    3. Aerial.Topo Map Production – Desktop – 1-3+ hours – Developed & printed ahead of the consultation

    4. Regrarians Platform Checklist – Farm – 2-5+ hours – Following through the 10 topics of this renowned platform to cover most elements/issues on any farm

    5. Farm WalkNTalk – Farm – 2-5+ hours – Walk/Drive/Ride over the property, generating how-to’s, troubleshooting & suggestions for various themes of development and management

    6. Concept Planning – Farm – 2-4+ hours – Sketching of broad concepts for development onto the Aerial.Topo map + designation of broad landscape/management treatment options & processes

    7. Digitisation of Concept/Detail Plan – Desktop – 4-15+ hours – GIS/CAD-based concept plans & 3D render development to varying levels of details according to the client expectations & budget

    8. Reporting – Desktop – 10-15+ hours – Spreadsheet-based ‘Bills of Quantity’ (BOQ) production that provide estimates to design development

    9. RON – Online – 1-2+ hours – Presentation of Concept/Detail plan feedback session ahead of any required revisions

    10. Revision – Desktop – 1+ hours – Develop any revisions as required

    11. FollowUp – Online/Farm – Ongoing – We’re available to our clients for calls & RON meetings/trainings, P2P & B2B sessions OR follow up survey/supervision work on a pro rata basis

    Our current 10 week REX Online Farm Planning Program is based on the ‘Regrarians Works Pattern’ with the intention being that participants are involved in a participatory design process where we facilitate them to develop their own farm plans.

    WK1 – Using the Regrarians Platform® Farm Planning Process

    Since it was incepted in 2012 the Regrarians Platform (‘RP’) has provided a large number of people with a planning process that is holistic, inclusive and thorough. Its 10 layers are based on the 8 factor ’Keyline® Scale of Permanence’ that the renowned P.A. Yeomans outlined in 1958 and forms the basis to all of Regrarians Ltd. trainings, farm planning consultancies and media outreach. A RP farm plan is not just a design on a map — its a detailed and holistic process that brings together the contexts of an individual, their family, their team and their community with that of the climate and the landscape and region they’re operating in.

    WK2 – Holistic Context® for Farm Planning

    “…If you’re not designing your life then someone else is…”

    – Javan K. Bernakevitch

    Striking words from Javan, words that hit the chord of how important it is to establish what Regrarians’ founder, Darren J. Doherty, calls the ‘climate of mind’. The Holistic Context is a potent framework for refining what is truly important in you, your family’s and your teams lives and how that is expressed in the enterprises you work on and the landscapes and communities you work in.

    WK3 – Holistic Context Development

    The development of a Holistic Context is a critical part of the pathway to creating an achievable farm plan. Within the Regrarians Platform it becomes the benchmark against which all land management and enterprise decisions are made. Develop the understanding about what you really stand for, what makes you and your family (and team) happy, how you can work most productively and how you can build a foundation of landscape, enterprise and community wealth.

    WK4 – Farm Map Creation

    The advent of the free Google Earth® software has been a boon for land managers the world over — its become a ‘universal translator’ of sorts between all manner of more sophisticated and expensive software and has democratised the power or geography. Learning how to use it effectively and understanding its limits are important steps in building a farm plan. Its also important to set up your Google Earth folders from the start and Regrarians Platform layers are the natural order of these folders.

    WK5 – Keyline® Geographic Analysis

    “…Water is the principle planning medium. Water comes before roads and fences and everything. If you get the water right, you get the roads right and you plant the trees in the right place, and no-one does that…”

    – P.A. Yeomans, 1979

    A primary step in the Regrarians approach to farm planning is to use Keyline Geographic Analysis to understanding the principal landscape elements. Once established these elements inform the placement of most of the design features that make up the Development layers of the Regrarians Platform. Using the Keyline Geographic Analysis is at once liberating and powerful as the landscape ‘speaks to you’ (P.A. Yeomans), ‘telling’ you where to put different elements such as water, road, tree, building and fencing systems.

    WK6 – Regrarians Platform Checklist Run Through

    The Regrarians Platform (RP) process is holistic and therefore thorough. The RP Checklist that goes provides an ‘A-Z’ list of points to consider when formulating a farm plan that will work for you and puts you and your landscape at the centre of the process.

    WK7 – Site Analysis

    Understanding the ecosystem processes of your landscape and how these interact with the built elements are critical to building an effective farm plan. Using your farm map as a base and applying some simple and yet effective site analysis techniques will help you now and into the future as monitoring landscape function is a key component of holistic land management. We’ll introduce you to the brilliant ‘Bullseye!’ monitoring methodology that our original Holistic Management Certified Educator (HMCE) Kirk Gadzia co-authored. Also to the great work of another experienced HMCE and Regrarians Ltd. associate/mentor in Graeme Hand, who will help you understand landscape function better and is a co-facilitator at this module’s webinar.

    WK8 – Regrarians Platform Concept Planning

    At this stage of the farm planning process you should have a good idea of what development-based elements should be placed on the farm map. From our perspective its a strong case of “less being more” — whereby planning is focussed on what is needed in the short to medium term though with an eye to future plans and capacity. Typically concept plans will focus on the ‘development layers’ of Water, Access, Forestry, Buildings and Fencing. This might involve planning water storages and a network of pipes, designing some farm roads, orchards and shelter belts, placing farm buildings, the homestead grid of fencing.

    WK9 – Priorities for Investigation, Management & Development

    Over the course of the last eight weeks you will now have a very sound idea of your Holistic Context and how this is reflected in the development and management of your farm through your concept plan. Now its the time to be ‘Strategic, Pragmatic & Incremental’ — zoom into the planning work you’ve done so far as you look to take the next steps and actualise what you’ve planned. The testing decisions in the ‘Holistic Management Framework’ for decision making will help guide you to what do and what not to do, and when. Does your project need a big ‘D’ development approach or is it a big ‘M’ management approach that’s best for you (or vice versa) ? This is the time to look at deciding which levers you should pull.

    WK10 – Recap

    Our last week! Do you still have more questions than answers or are you completely ready to dive in? Each of you will be at different stages in where you are at right now. We get that. This week is all about you using the time to open right up about what’s holding you back and where to next and how the Regrarians® Workplace can help you. Regenerative Agriculture is not just about building a new farm, its also about building new communities and continued professional development. The Regrarians® Workplace can help you in a lot of ways so that you are not alone out there and that farm by farm, acre by acre we build the world that we all know is possible when we put our minds and hands and hearts to the task.

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    2017/08/08 at 9:29 am
    • From Dan Palmer on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 11

      Thanks Darren and as you know I have huge respect for your work in design process innovation over the last several decades (hence this post) and gratitude for the important (ongoing) contribution it has made to my own. One thing I didn’t know was the role the E-Myth book had on the early development of what has culminated in the Regrarians Platform! Yeomans meets Gerber ;-). Anyways I appreciate your dropping by and I’ll be hassling you soon about probing your thoughts about this stuff for a podcast.

      Go to comment
      2017/08/15 at 3:48 pm
  • From Aaron on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 11

    I wonder if you’ve come across Nikos Salingaros? He’s a close associate with Christopher Alexander. He wrote an interesting series of articles on Christopher Alexander’s design methods in Metropolis magazine that also touch on biophilia and agile and

    He’s also got this weird, often polemical, but very interesting course on youtube here that gets the Nature of Order methods in some detail

    Seems germane to what you are trying to do here. Thought I’d chip in

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    2017/08/11 at 4:37 am
  • From Jason Ross on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 12

    Looking forward to all the dirty nitty gritty stuff Dan. So glad to have seen the place in person, and follow along this inquiry

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    2017/08/14 at 11:53 am
  • From Susan and Keith on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 16

    What a great record of an exciting process with far reaching positive outcomes.
    Well done!

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    2017/09/09 at 5:33 pm
  • From Vidya Singh on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 16

    Really nice to see an ‘iterative’ design process going on, I’ve found that I’ve been doing the same in my urban back garden redesign, my only ‘wish list’ point is that I should have designed a bit better around the wind factor (we get hammered). I didn’t bank on the neighbours clearing quite a few trees from a boundary area before my plantings got established. Any learnings from the design process for you?

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    2017/09/12 at 7:59 am
    • From Dan Palmer on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 16

      Lovely hearing from you Vidya. Yes isn’t breaking wind an important function! Main learning I recall was how pleasant this style of designing is, where one can relax out of the space trying to be a design “expert” responsible for coming up with the answers and simply help the design emerge from its context :-).

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      2017/09/15 at 3:56 pm
      • From Paul d'Aoust on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 16

        Main learning I recall was how pleasant this style of designing is, where one can relax out of the space trying to be a design “expert” responsible for coming up with the answers and simply help the design emerge from its context

        Sounds like a very gracious way of treating yourself and the whole design process. I myself get so hung up on feeling like I did something wrong if there are any contingencies that pop up. Maybe if we clearly reframe the process (for both ourselves and our clients) as an interative, responsive thing that’s dealing with forces way out of our control, that’s all we need. In a way I feel like it’s all we can do, because it acknowledges the reality that we’re small meat-based creatures that are doing our best in a chaotic universe 🙂

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        2017/09/19 at 6:33 am
  • From Paul d'Aoust on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 13

    So when’s the book coming out? 😉 You’ve unpacked so much in this post and the previous; your design process is much more clearly articulated than what I learned in my PDC. But it deserves a more stable and structured medium than a blog! So much good stuff; I want to be able to refer back to it!

    (I realise that you’re using this blog to flesh out your own understanding — in a generative way, no less! So I guess it truly is a good medium. Still, despite the fact that your ideas are still ‘unfolding’ (see what I did there) they seem awfully ready-to-use already.)

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    2017/09/14 at 3:34 pm
  • From Paul d'Aoust on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 8

    Revisiting this scintillating discussion after a seven-month hiatus (welcome to baby number three!) One thing I remember not being able to resolve back in February was the tension between element assembly and unfolding.

    In the software dev world we’re all about elements because we’re not just assembling the elements; we’re also building them. In that sense it’s more like architecture than permaculture. Complex systems can arise from those elements, and we certainly use an ‘unfolding’ process to improve the elements, but at the very core it’s just elements. That’s why I have to agree with Kent Beck that element assembly really is useful in software design.

    Interesting things happen when you start enabling element assembly in this space. Consider the Google Maps mashups of the mid-noughts, where people were combining disparate sources of data onto one map and uncovering very intriguing patterns. This exciting complexity happened because so many services opened up their APIs — interfaces to the raw data — and allowed third parties to connect them in new ways.

    So I think unfolding (we call it ‘refactoring’) must happen if you want to arrive at a natural, humane design for your software, but it happens in the context of creating and assembling elements.

    How does that apply to design in the real world? Well, the creation/generation bit is inapplicable, for the most part. There’s no way we can build a chicken prototype every time we wanted chickens in our design. There are too many complex systems within the chicken itself, but we get that element, ready to go, for free. And it’s a good thing too, because there’s a lot of good stuff in that highly complex system that is a chicken. It just works. (I’d hate to write unit tests for a chicken: “Assert that, given a pyruvate molecule and an oxygen molecule, a mitochondrion will produce an ATP molecule.” How many tests do I have to write again?!)

    Built systems are the exception, I guess — solar panels, buildings, ponds, vehicles, etc. We (or someone) is responsible for making sure all the component systems work properly as we create them.

    Anyhow, on to the part that I think is relevant, and here’s the part that I’m still struggling with re: Alexander’s unequivocal assertion that nature works only by unfolding, not by element assembly. At the end of the day, there are elements in our system, and we assemble them. I think nature does this too: the unfolding of a forest and the assembly of its elements into a network are two facets of the same process.

    How about this? Unfolding is the process that dictates the proper assembly of elements. It’s the set of rules that decide which new elements will be added in an iteration, which existing ones will survive it, and which will be pruned out. In turn, the emergent properties of that element assembly influences the next iteration of the unfolding.

    To me this certainly seems like a useful lens for understanding the creation of complex dynamic systems — including the one you go on to describe at your mum and dad’s property.

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    2017/09/21 at 4:46 am
  • From Paul d'Aoust on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 16

    I really enjoyed the photos of this design unfolding. As I look at these, what strikes me is how playful the process is. It’s like those life-sketching classes where you work quickly to capture the essence of a pose. Something about the speed prevents you from becoming too self-conscious, keeps you a few steps ahead of your rational mind which wants to squash the fun out of everything with its guidelines and procedures.

    When you’re doing BDUF, there’s a tremendous pressure to get everything right because there’s no going back to the drawing board. More rational mind stuff. There’s a time for that — you want to do your engineering due diligence so your retaining wall doesn’t break and send thousands of litres of pond water gushing out over your neighbour’s yard — but it can be quite destructive too. You end up getting quite obsessive over the details, and analysis paralysis can slow you down.

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    2017/09/21 at 2:40 pm
  • From Alexander Olsson on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 20

    Hi Dan, thanks for a great Sunday workshop!

    Since I’m a hands-on kind of guy, this example resonates really well with me. What I still ‘worry’ a lot about though is the dead-end thing that you describe in the footnote. Even though you seem to have worked through every possible way to simulate the implementation, it somehow feels safer to have the whole fabricated design on a piece of paper first…But this might be a cultural bias of mine and has probably nothing to do with how things actually play out.

    I have also been a bit troubled about the initial resemblance between ‘Winging it’ and ‘Generating’ and I think I can safely say that there are a few aspiring permaculture designers who feel the same way. This has become super obvious to me when meeting people with really nice and well-designed home gardens who are too afraid to take on the design of another person’s garden because their fabricated designs (the piece of paper) doesn’t look pretty enough. “Yeah I’d love to do another person’s garden, but I have to work on my design skills first” means “I have to work on my drawing/Photoshop skills”. The physical evidence that they are good designers is right in front of them, literally just outside their door. As I discussed with you on the weekend, I think this fear is a serious bottleneck for more space being conquered by permaculture. A generative design process could at least provide a lot of potential designers with just the tool they need to get started. But as you know, I believe it could do much more than that.

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    2017/10/12 at 4:54 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 20

      Greetings Alexander and so lovely to meet you! – I look forward to meeting again. Yes I think you are right in (very compassionately ;-)) worrying on behalf of a culture that really is most anxious about relaxing into the generative flow too much least something terrible goes wrong. Why take the risk when you can have an expert perfect a masterplan first, make all the mistakes on paper, then simply hand the plan over to the contractors to actualise as drawn ;-).

      Also yes that is a fascinating issue that so many aspiring permaculture designers feel inadequate in terms of their drawing or computer rendering skills when in some cases they do indeed have the goods as evidenced by what they have actually created (in some case much more so than those who have been prioritising drawing ideal gardens rather than creating and managing real ones!). But then as you say moving forward then comes down to appreciating the distinction between authentic generating and merely winging it, where at the end of the day it might even be better to go the design on paper first route if winging it is the alternative…

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      2017/10/16 at 3:20 pm
  • From Linnéa Lindstroem on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 16

    This inspires me to present my portfolio of (a selection of my) designs with focus on the process rather than the result. Thanks Dan!

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    2017/10/16 at 2:14 pm
  • From Richard Cleaver on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 22

    Hi Dan,

    Thank you very much for all your work towards Making Permaculture Stronger. It’s been a great journey so far. Maybe the field-process-model is beckoning 😀

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    2017/10/22 at 6:01 am
  • From Luke Pither on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 22

    Hey Dan

    Thankyou for your exceptional endeavours within your 22 part series.
    Your contribution to the world is an incredible example of openness.

    Permaculture is different because it begins in its simplicity of conjoining terms that are not , and are, limited to design processes that cannot be articulated in any specific context.
    Permanent, which I struggle to understand can exist, Agriculture, which can be applied to anything.

    The base therefore is impossible to base, creating the opportunity, poetry, actuality, physicality and the wonder.

    A tree has long been used as metaphor.
    From systems engineers and high end processes to funerals, with a myriad of experiences in between for design to draw influence from. The basic remains, be it uncertain at times, of presence. Human presence in our world. And trees.

    It possibly means not the design process of a chair or similar, yet the reality of a person needing to sit, not a garden, but a need to eat.

    Design will always need to be articulated, uncertain and propositional.
    Strengthening permaculture onwards will rely upon these sitters and gardeners and their ability to propose new foundations to lay weight upon lightly and heavily. The more we all can be involved, the better the application or integration.

    Designing for this simple difference is not a process that can be overarching or undertaken. It will always be about the weight. And equally the wait.

    Design itself becomes adversarial to this life force and therefore the bane of its own misconduct or its attempts.

    Principles are codes of attempt.

    Practicalities are codes of necessity.

    Permaculture thrives within a domain of integrating this theoretical with actual, not practical.

    The more we can be inclusive of the processes that will result in time, by spending time, the more time we can share. This in the end is the process

    Go to comment
    2017/10/22 at 11:54 am
  • From Holger Hieronimi on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 22

    Thanks for this series of deep inquiries into the field of “design process” – be aware, that quite a few PC designers & activists here in Mexico & Latin America, are in a similar process of re-discovering what design is all about – haven´t commented yet on the series, but following with a lot of interest and (if possible) insight your discussions, resonating with many if not most of your discoveries.

    I´d like to read the series in context – is there a PDF version of the installment available?, for printing some , & to better review them
    saludos desde México

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    2017/10/30 at 9:17 am
    • From Dan Palmer on On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 22

      Hola Holger and I very much look forward to hearing more about the conversations there – it is so wonderful just to know they are happening! One idea would be to record a conversation with you for the podcast? Or you for you and your colleagues there to write a guest post sharing something of your adventures in this territory? I am wanting to edit the journey so far into a PDF e-book yes – maybe I’ll get around to it the next few months once things get to what for me is a kind of important conclusion in bringing the outcomes of the first two inquiries together into one message – but thanks for the additional motivation!

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      2017/10/31 at 7:26 am
  • From Cliff Davis on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

    Great work Dan. As a farmer, designer, educator and ecosystem participant I find the points you are making in what I call Adaptive Design Systems are poignant in permaculture transformation. Thank you for pushing the edge. Great podcast and various articles on this subject.

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    2017/11/02 at 2:03 am
    • From Dan Palmer on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

      Thanks for that Cliff and what with all the various kinds of encouragement I’m getting lately I’m feeling it might be time to start pushing a little harder! I’d love to hear more about Adaptive Systems Design if you have any links to more about it, or would consider writing something – a guest post perhaps? Just took a quick look at your site and I very much liked what I saw. Be great to stay in touch as this wider conversation unfolds and evolves.

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      2017/11/02 at 1:39 pm
  • From Joshua Msika on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

    Hi Dan. Thanks for the podcast.

    I was recently in conversation with someone who critiqued permaculture for being a movement of architects, not of farmers. The insights that you and Ben bring forward in this podcast are helping me work through that.

    But there’s a niggling question: If permacultures can be evolved through the daily application of common sense and skill to a piece of land in a particular context, then how can that be taught? How can one teach common sense? Can common sense be taught separately from skills, or does one need to acquire skill in a particular area (gardening, housebuilding, plumbing, fixing tractors, whatever) in order to develop the common sense necessary to develop a functional system?

    This would suggest that permaculture would have most value for those who already hold a set of relevant skills.

    Anyway, lots of thoughts to keep thinking about – and occasionally doing something about too!

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    2017/11/06 at 10:29 pm
  • From John Carruthers on Darren J. Doherty on Design Process, the Regrarians Approach, and Making Permaculture Stronger (E05)

    Many wisdoms here from the gravel-voiced Darren J. Doherty. Encouraging too to hear that he’s still good from 50m out on the flank. Darren’s encouragement to be strategic, incremental and pragmatic made a lot of sense. Likewise, not flitting onto the next thing before some mastery is obtained doing what you are (a commonly Western malaise it would seem). ‘Do it 1000 times and then you will understand’, I recall my martial arts teacher chiding me. Thanks a lot Dan.

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    2017/11/13 at 10:26 am
  • From Anthony Briggs on Darren J. Doherty on Design Process, the Regrarians Approach, and Making Permaculture Stronger (E05)

    Fantastic interview, especially the parts about the purpose of Permaculture and how it and Regrarians fit into our culture. For me, a lot of the potential of Permaculture is in undoing the damage that we’ve done both to the landscape and ourselves, and putting things back into balance. (Whether we’ll achieve that in the face of the opposition from mainstream culture is another thing entirely though).

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    2017/11/13 at 1:47 pm
  • From Anthony Briggs on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

    A thought: At around 25:00 – 30:00 you and Ben are talking about Alan Savory, Holistic Management, the expense of having multiple rounds of design and leaving clients to “do the work”. Is there an opportunity for a rebrand or pivot and instead of “design”, talk about Permaculture coaching? (or counselling? 😉 ).

    I’m pretty sure you’re already on this path Dan, but it might be a “culturally-legible”* pivot into (eg.) an initial consultation, then a few ongoing hours a month of checking in and feelings stuff.

    * – ie. when you say “coaching”, people will pretty much instantly get it

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    2017/11/13 at 2:46 pm
    • From Paul d'Aoust on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

      Yes, I think ‘coaching’ (also ‘facilitating’) is a good way to brand such a dramatic departure from the ivory tower style of professional design.

      Part of me thinks that this is the only proper way to do permaculture design (and software design, and architecture, and…) I realise that’s a sweeping statement, but I hold that it’s generally true. We bring expertise and really good people skills (e.g., knowing how to coax out deeper motivations, empower clients, balance tensions between stakeholders); the clients bring the vision and the drive.

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      2017/11/23 at 4:06 am
      • From Anthony Briggs on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

        To me, “facilitating” sounds a bit too much like a management-y buzzword bingo phrase, hard to tell from afar whether it’s actually helping.

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        2017/11/27 at 5:20 pm
        • From Paul d'Aoust on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

          Fair enough 🙂 I’m not the hugest fan of the word myself; just trying to think of words that would click with certain clients.

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          2017/11/28 at 4:30 am
          • From Dan Palmer on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

            Will share my thoughts on permaculture “designer” vs “facilitator” vs “coach” vs “trainer” vs “counsellor” in an in-preparation post where I’ll link to these comments – thanks Anthony and Paul!

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            2017/11/28 at 1:00 pm
  • From Goran Christiansson / Netherlands on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

    Thanks for this great interview with the inspiring leader Ben Falk.

    I would like to point in the direction of “agile” instead of “waterfall” methods in project management and product development.

    In the 1970s, the dominating idea was to plan first and then execute (a.k.a. “waterfall”). This works great in automotive industry, where every new car looks more or less like the last one. The plan was detailed, and it was implicitly assumed that all necessary knowledge was present at the outset.
    It does *not* work well when the solution space is large, many things are unclear or unknown, and there are many good solutions. In those cases, learning by iterative development is the key to getting to a good solution at a reasonable cost.

    You can read much more about this in the software field, where it is called “agile” and in the process development field, where it is often a part of the “continuous improvement” aspect of “lean”.

    I am convinced that these metaphors and ideas are useful for a permaculture site evolution. (Sometimes the focus on the word “design” implies that “here comes a clever guy who knows it all and selects the best solution beforehand”.) I think it helps to be humble about all the unknowable things when we start.

    Looking forward to hearing more episodes!

    Go to comment
    2017/11/15 at 1:26 am
    • From Paul d'Aoust on In Dialogue with Ben Falk (E04)

      Oh boy, if you’re interested in Agile/Lean and how it can be applied to permaculture design, you’re in for a real treat! Dan, the author of this blog, is a big fan of Christopher Alexander, who of course was a huge influence on Ward Cunningham and the rest of the early Agile folks. A few months ago, Dan asked the question, “If permaculturists are big fans of Alexander, why have we not benefited from his wisdom in the same way the software profession has?”

      It’s a really engaging read, a rabbit hole. It starts here:

      Here’s a podcast with software developer Alex Bayley about agile permaculture:

      And here’s Alex on her own blog talking about agile permaculture:

      Welcome to the conversation! If you have an idea for an article that further develops the concept of agile permaculture, talk to Dan; he’s looking for authors for this blog.

      (Dan has also registered the domain name, but he hasn’t yet revealed what he’s planning to do with it 🙂 )

      Go to comment
      2017/11/23 at 4:00 am
  • From Milton Dixon on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part One - Introducing

    Very nice! I notice (and like) that there is a subtle shift in the names of the design phases from what I’m used to. Sort of a softening of the control aesthetic into a more emergent one.

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    2017/11/18 at 10:36 pm
  • From John Carruthers on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part One - Introducing

    Dan, Another thought-provoking post (and very generous too of the talented team at Resilio). Struck me that a at least a couple of factors, not fully explicit, could play into the choice of process (e.g. waterfall versus emergent or a hybrid). One of those is “risk” (let’s leave that topic for another time when we have time to walk the lake!). And another is “personality”. Which is when up flashed a Landed Venn diagram with people / land / process. I think the fit between between people and process (and the sweet spot that intrinsic motivation plays) is worthy of a little discourse. Thanks again. John

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    2017/11/20 at 2:11 pm
    • From Gary Marshall on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part One - Introducing

      Thanks for the comment John. Regarding the choice of process, I think there is something in your observation of risk and personality and I would add to that, the related and undeniable pressures of time and money. While in our experience, this can be worked through with garden and landscape designs for residential clients, it isn’t always the case. An example might be useful. In New Zealand when working with architecture there are two basic paths – a consented structure or a non consented structure. Given the time and expense a building takes we find few people are interested in undertaking a large non consented structure (if nothing else, it is likely that it is at least in part, paid for via a loan from the bank, who will not lend for an un-consented building). The waterfall process for designing and building a consented structure is legislated in New Zealand and widely recognised by industry consenting bodies and is pretty well summarised in the following link I came across recently from a local ‘main stream’ practice – .

      While the overall waterfall process is dictated by the statutory context, it doesn’t mean that we can’t use ‘design tools’ more aligned with a generative process – mark the building and layout on site, experiment with different orientations, leave some aspects of the interior (not subject to building consent) until the major build is complete etc. This is where other design tools such as model making (either physical or virtual are also important)

      Another example is designing landscapes in public spaces, which is a good example of the ‘risk’ you referred to. We have spent many years, without any luck, promoting and pitching ‘tactical urbanism’ projects to Auckland Transport (Local council controlled organisation who own and manage all roads and streets that aren’t motorways and other transport infrastructure – rail, ferry terminals etc). Tactical urbanism is essentially an agile methodology applied to public space design – we have previously described Tactical urbanism in this way:

      “Tactical urbanism, often described as the ‘lighter, ‘quicker, cheaper’ approach to placemaking, is a design methodology that involves a number of temporary ‘design experiments’. These ‘experiments’ test the design, programme and arrangement of a public space (such as a street) in a low- cost, low-risk and low-commitment way. The aim is that these experiments are measured for effectiveness and those that work are either left in place, or implemented in a more permanent manner. Tactical Urbanism can be adopted by Council or local boards as a ‘top-down’ strategy, or by citizens and community groups as ‘bottom-up’, grassroots initiatives or a combination of the two, possibly involving others as well.” see also –

      In short – the risks are deemed too high, and the subsequent checks and balances needed to overcome these risks, such as traffic management plans, engineering reviews or any structures in public spaces to ensure no one will get hurt, and no property will be damaged are such that they totally undermine the intent of the agile ‘lighter quicker cheaper’ approach. In saying that, we continue to promote more generative process and are having some success in working in parks and public spaces with less heavy and expensive infrastructure. Some of this may be attributed to people working in this space being more comfortable with working with evolving process like ecosystem management, but this is just speculation.

      Go to comment
      2017/11/21 at 8:37 am
  • From Dan Palmer on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part One - Introducing

    Great comments/insights John and Gary and I get what you’re saying Milton. Wanted to say I made a start on a comment sharing my reflections on the primer but that it has grown. And grown. And grown. Into a post sharing an in-depth review that also pulls in various relevant recent comments too. Will publish when ready (I’m still on the first page!) and look forward to engaging more with your comments then.

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    2017/11/28 at 12:49 pm
  • From Dan Palmer on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part One - Introducing

    Just sharing this message Stephen Bailes left on a facebook reference to this post:

    “A little unclear about ” implement ” . Is this the process of implementation or the outcome of it ? Is implement classed as an event or a series of events . It looks to me that ” initiate ” ought to precede implement in order to produce something for discover to work on . If we knew in advance what the ” problems ” would be then we could prevent them from ever occurring . This would render the whole process invalid . Most of this stuff only becomes apparent with hind -sight , after the event . What we don’t know is whether or not this is a one off event or a series of similar events . We cannot interpret anything from a single event . Any system that learns has to have been subject to , and recovered from an event or set of events for the selection process to work . This would be the refine bit but also encompasses the discover element . Clearly there is a huge range of time scales involved here which may fall way outside of the normal design effort . Only many long term projects and and studies of them will yield a large enough sample size of projects that we could describe as permanent .”

    Go to comment
    2017/11/29 at 3:35 pm
  • From Anthony Briggs on In Dialogue with Dave Jacke (E06)

    Dave’s piece on culture and cultural inhibition (0:52:00 or so) reminds me of one realisation, which is that a lot of the early PDC stuff with Bill Mollison (I have the tapes from one of his PDCs circa 1983) seems to be more about shaking people out of that cultural stasis rather than communicating a particular process.

    eg. “the problem is the solution”, “you can’t do any worse than what’s already being done” and the various stories re. rats and wild rice, ducks vs. snails, having positive attitudes to weeds, even the crazy whale story, all seem to be trying to push people out of the dominant culture, and keep them there for a couple of weeks, after which time you can come up with much more varied solutions, some of which will be better.

    Go to comment
    2017/12/04 at 12:35 pm
  • From John Carruthers on A Delightful Day of Designing with Dave Jacke

    A really granular description of a process made real. Very helpful for those of us just starting the journey. And timely as I walk around Kyoto’s temple gardens. Thanks Dan.

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    2017/12/11 at 11:24 am
  • From Harry on In Dialogue with Dave Jacke (E06)

    Hey Dan,

    I’m really enjoying your podcasts.

    I’m new to permaculture, I’ve watched a bit of Bill Mollisons course on YouTube, read a bit of Gaias garden by Toby hemenway, and listened to some podcasts.

    I’m interested in permaculture design as I want to be able to build sustainable systems on land and also apply it other things like community and even product development.

    If you were taking an 80/20 approach to learning permaculture ( ie the 20% of things that give you 80% of the results) what would suggest?

    From what I can gather it would be broken up into principles and process.

    Principles being
    – David holmgrens revised book principals sustainability
    – Christopher Alexander’s book – ‘a timeless way of building’

    Process being
    – a permaculture design course that runs through the process.
    – observation sounds like a big area to focus on.

    Any info from anyone would be great.

    Keep up the great work.


    Fitzroy North

    Go to comment
    2017/12/15 at 2:48 pm
  • From Jason Gerhardt on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Two - The first instalment of Dan's review

    Checking back in with your blog as a colleague wants me to join him on your and David’s design process course coming up this year. You’ve been at it, strong, Dan! I just spent a couple hours reading through many of your posts, quickly albeit. I have many thoughts, but a couple I’ll share. Years ago I found the definition of design in my old Webster Collegiate dictionary as “to have as a purpose in the mind; to intend”. In my courses I describe design as “decision making”, which to me fits the above definition and encompasses conscious and unconscious (which is inescapable), and I add that one of the intentions (or designs) of permaculture is to make decisions more consciously with more information, and thereby shine a light on our unconscious, which is mostly what’s ruining the world. That implies a knowing, which is a life long quest that sets permaculturists on a journey of growing, therefore it is regenerative for us as humans, and therefore eventually regenerative for human culture. My goal as a teacher is to instill in my students that design is a way of being, not doing, but a state of mind/heart that then gets applied to what we do. What we do then becomes a by product of our way of being. I think it’s difficult for western minds to come to terms with that one, but I’m not sure I see anyway around it. At least I haven’t found it. Is there more discussion going on another platform that I should follow, Dan?

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    2018/01/04 at 6:07 am
    • From Dan Palmer on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Two - The first instalment of Dan's review

      So great to hear from you Jason!

      Thanks for reminding me about the upcoming course with David – I’ve been focusing on other things (like this one) and your reminder has me looking forward to finding out what happens in this next round of deep design process explorations with David. A few days after that workshop is the Australian Permaculture Convergence so I’m looking forward to taking the energy of the course into that wider space of sharing and exploring.

      I love what you say about your goal as a teacher – resonates big time :-). Yep our western minds have some work to do (or rather undo or not do ;-))! Re design as decision making I’m simultaneously exploring design process as design process and what I’m calling holistic decision making. But the further I go the harder it is to hold them apart – the both of them revealing themselves as different perspectives on the same thing.

      Re more discussion I’ll shortly post sharing some of the behind-the-scenes private email conversations I’m part of with permaculture practitioners around the world, but apart from that no, nothing much is happening that I’m aware of, as as you’ll have noticed the commentaries on MPS posts have really died off. I seem to remain motivated nonetheless so will be pushing on for quite a while yet though!

      My best,

      Go to comment
      2018/01/09 at 7:24 am
  • From Anthony Briggs on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Two - The first instalment of Dan's review

    If you really want to blow your mind re. “What is design?”, then consider a bare minimum design strategy like evolution. There’s no upfront plan, not even a goal to speak of, other than survival, and the only “plans” created are in the organisms and their DNA. There’s not much that humans would pick as a process, just trying things blindly and keeping what survives. And yet, over hundreds of millions of years, trees, dinosaurs, fungi, mammals, humans and whole ecologies emerge.

    There’s a pretty strong argument to be made that all other design strategies are efforts to mimic the beautiful, elegant forms and patterns of the natural world, but without the massive costs involved in using an evolutionary process – millions of iterations, death, destruction, etc.

    Genetic algorithms are an extreme example: computer processes which generate forms that minimise material, or maximise an effect, given a particular set of constraints like stresses and particular form factors. And they produce very organic-looking forms (eg. Is it designed? Maybe, maybe not. It doesn’t lead to better understanding of the world, for one thing. But it can produce much better designs than people can, and do it extremely cheaply.

    A couple of examples: the original was Tierra, a computer environment used to study evolution that developed parasites, counter parasites and cooperation (short doco here: You can see an evolutionary process in action at, which evolves better and better cars, given an initially random population. Yes, they mostly suck to start with, but leave it running overnight and be amazed 🙂

    Go to comment
    2018/01/04 at 2:37 pm
  • From Adam Shand on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Two - The first instalment of Dan's review

    Hey Dan, there’s a minor typo in your Christopher Alexander quote:

    “in creating an ethos where where buildings”

    Interesting reading!

    Go to comment
    2018/01/05 at 1:58 pm
  • From Greg O'Keefe on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Two - The first instalment of Dan's review

    I’m so pleased that you shared more widely from your reply to my email. Those ideas and your analysis of the Papanek quote lead me to think that ‘design’ can be taken so broadly that it includes all purposeful activity whatsoever, and is therefore a really important idea. The part I like the most is where you suggest that permaculture is “an alternative approach to co-creating the world, or at least some solid and extremely worthwhile preliminary fragments or reachings in that direction.” What a shame you instantly dismiss it as a “rant” that you must “tone the heck down” 🙁 Your humility limits your potential! I say go for it, reformulate permaculture as the mindspace and discipline that will transform humanity from a planetary cancer into the Earth’s custodians and gardeners.

    Go to comment
    2018/01/05 at 3:04 pm
  • From Trevor Lohr on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Two - The first instalment of Dan's review

    Hey Dan,

    I’ve been a lurker for a while here, and I love this dialogue you’ve stirred up. I really appreciate your dedication to presenting Christopher Alexander’s work because I haven’t been able to get into his books yet. You’ve provided so much context to his relevance to permaculture, design and just being a decent human being. It seems to me that there’s a lot in common between Alexander’s concept of wholeness and the worldview espoused by many world religions, specifically the non-duality between subject/object, self/other, body/mind. I really believe that in order for humanity to continue on this planet for the long term, we must change the perspective that man and nature are separate, or that human beings are fundamentally different from each other. Luckily, I see people sharing similar sentiments from all walks of life and corners of the world. The dominant cultural worldview is shifting, and dare I say it even appears to be speeding up as we speak.

    I hope that we can take it even further than just viewing ourselves as stewards or custodians of earth, and treat all creatures, and even the rocks and rain, as we do family. Indigenous peoples around the world related to all things alive and (apparently) inanimate as valuable as a parent or sibling; not only by caring for and loving them, but by allowing themselves to be loved by such things as the wind, or to learn from the mountain, or find one’s purpose from a bear. One step at a time of course, I’d be happy with a cultural transition towards global stewardship in my lifetime.

    Anyway, I’m digressing from my appreciation because I figured you wouldn’t mind if I took your time- I don’t think this will be as long as your post! By applying your perspective to others’ design processes, you’ve condensed much of your work in this blog down to smaller chunks (relatively speaking when you compare this post to your whole body of work). I took a couple pages of notes on your three main points about Design Thinking/Rationality, Creation and Conservation, and Problem Solving because I’m actually starting a college class in design tomorrow.

    Don’t cringe too fast though, I’ll explain a bit about myself and what I’m doing so I can ask a few questions. I went to college like a good little suburban white boy should, starting out in Philosophy and switching to Biology half way through. After 4 years with at least 1-2 remaining years to finish the BS, I took a break because I felt that my heart was not in it, and I didn’t want to keep taking loans for a degree I wasn’t sure I needed. A few years later I attended a PDC and learned a kind of holistic ecological perspective not taught in a typical biology classroom; and though I did know a few outdoorsy permaculture kids then, I didn’t really get the full picture from them.
    Fortunately, a nice little school in Vermont offers a program for students to finish up an undergrad degree from home or any state college courses, and they let me create my own plan of study. I call it Regenerative Development and am taking a variety of classes in: Landscape/Horticulture, Diversified Agriculture, Community Development and Entrepreneurship. None of it is on the frontier of regenerative business or permaculture, it’s just what’s available to me to be able to balance my priorities of finishing my nearly complete degree with classes that teach me some relevant skills and all for a fair price. Meanwhile I’m digesting your blog, Dave Jacke, Christopher Alexander, working in landscaping during the summer, growing a little food and trying to get involved in community where I can.

    So now that you know a little about me, I can get into some relevant thoughts and questions. Naturally, (or rather unnaturally, you might say) this horticulture and landscape design program from which I am cherry picking a few courses requires you take Graphics before Intro to Design. So last semester I got to work on my drawing ability where we just fabricated imaginary landscapes and courtyards, and it drove me a little crazy. I had some okay conversations with the teacher about the difference between fabrication and generative design process, but she didn’t really get it when I suggested that “design process” (quotes are for you because I’m not going to repeat everything you just wrote about those words!) and particularly observational skills be taught before blueprint level drawing. She just insisted that students need to get on board with the “language” of modern design before they can learn to see and draw landscape. So my fellow students are being encouraged from the get go to make decisions without any context, and certainly zero emotion.

    I piped up every now and then in class to share some of your wisdom because these are potential future designers who are not being given any realistic context about the world and economy that they are [not] being prepared for. Unfortunately, the class really encourages students towards a career in commercial architectural design and big projects for institutions with big funding; a path that likely requires higher credentials than the associates degree from this program. There’s very little specifically about doing useful projects for lower class working people or food production at different scales, and it drives me to speak up when it seems appropriate in or outside of class. Tomorrow, the Intro to Design course begins with the same students and I’m a bit anxious about whether it will continue down the same trajectory. I feel bad for my fellow students and will try to pepper in different perspectives where I can, but I’m not sure many of them are very interested or aware about the different theories and practices behind design (and I don’t expect them to either, being ten years younger than me).
    Do you have any advice for getting the most out of this kind of standard design course which I’m taking for a variety of reasons that do not include submitting to the fabrication ideology? I want to do landscape design/coaching/build and maintenance type work for the people who need it most, but can’t afford it because fewer and fewer working people have discretionary income for things like “landscaping”.

    I’d really like to take what you’re doing to the small town context in Vermont. What do you think about applying such a living process to town planning? I’ll also be taking a course in Land Use Planning this semester, which I suspect will be similarly steeped in the expensive, lengthy, up-front town plan fabrication. I would love to see lower cost, more inclusive and adaptable strategies come into the small community context because many little towns in Vermont are in economic decline for a variety of reasons. I believe the heart of the issue has existed throughout VT history and that’s the impact of global capital markets on local community resilience and resources.

    People in my community have even recently started a conversation on a local online forum about what to do about vacant storefronts in town. A few even liked my proposal to convert the ailing public/private golf course into a cooperatively owned regenerative farm and community hub that can act as a center for education, business incubation, food/fiber/fuel/fodder/fertilizer/”farmaceutical” production, and especially as a space for gathering and celebration.

    Gosh, I don’t want to write a comment longer than your original post. I’ll write more in the future now that I’ve finally broken my silence. Again, I love what you’re doing and saying Dan. Please keep it coming, you’re truly an inspiration!

    Much Love,

    Go to comment
    2018/01/15 at 12:11 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Two - The first instalment of Dan's review

      Okay Trevor – yours is one comment that deserves a proper reply!

      First thanks for coming out into the open where I can see you – may that your doing so encourages other lurkers to do the same :-).

      One step at a time, yes, but I do like your statements about indigenous ways of being where it’s all alive and we feed into the rest of life as it feeds into us.

      I appreciated hearing about your experiences in classes on design – because I lack much direct exposure to the mainstream of design education it is good (if demoralising) to be reminded that people really do still think, teach, and practice this way. Fabricating masterplans with deadlines, some of these words themselves carrying clues to their own impotence…

      I don’t know about advice, but one thing I’d mention is that I’ve found it helpful when engaging in certain projects to have the ability to draw up pretty scaled diagrams on computer etc etc in terms of not being intimidated with all that stuff (or belittled and pushed aside due to its absence). It can be useful to know the standard practice approach in terms of being most informed toward where the nodal intervention points are when it comes to disrupting it. Sometimes a little stealth may be in order – “yes, here I am the expert who can whip you up a masterplan! But now I am in the door, here’s what we’re really going to do, and why it is going to serve you better…”

      Applying living process to town planning sounds like a bit of fun to me! Alexander does give several examples of this kind of thing in Book Three of the Nature of Order, though I personally have not applied it in this context. I’d be keen if the opportunity comes up though, my word.

      Please do keep chiming in Trevor and yes, I’ll keep it coming to, don’t worry about that! I’m just getting warmed up here!

      Go to comment
      2018/01/28 at 10:47 am
  • From Dan Palmer on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's review

    Huge thanks to you Finn and Gary for penning Making Permaculture Stronger’s first guest post! I’m loving the feeling of relaxing my grip on the reigns here and am happy to report that several guest posts from others are already in the release queue. Now I can’t resist a few comments on your lovely and much-appreciated reply to the first part of my review of your primer.

    Alexander and form

    You write: “Christopher Alexander’s design process which, in our judgement, assumes ‘form’ as the inevitable outcome of design… …For us (and in a fair bit of our work) ‘design’ outcomes are not focused on ‘form’. If permaculture design is about more than physical form (which we feel it definitely is) we need a broader conception of design and design process than we feel Alexander provides…”

    I have three points to make here:

    Point One
    While Alexander emphasised form as the object of design process in his 1964 book Notes on the Synthesis of Form (which was a thesis he wrote as a student in his twenties), he to my knowledge gave it less emphasis in the huge collection of books he subsequently authored (not to mention his marked decrease of emphasis on design at all). For the bulk of his career as a practicing architect, he instead emphasised what he called the quality without a name, wholeness or living structure as the outcomes of what he called living process (as opposed to design process).

    What I’m getting at here is that it feels a little unfair to me to judge someone’s work by extrapolating from one tiny, early bit of it (especially when he explicitly rejected many of the ideas therein once he starting practicing as an architect and discovered their limitations).

    Point Two
    That said, he did continue to use the term form here and there, and I myself have become quite partial to it, perhaps more partial than he was. But here’s the thing. Though Alexander was an architect interested in how we go about creating buildings and other solid objects (among much else), I have never sensed any block or barrier in using his conception of living process to generate other kinds of form in the dictionary definition of “the shape and structure of something.” To me a book, or a dance, prayer, or poem, or a day has a form, in the sense of a format, shape, configuration, arrangement, etc.

    When you say “For us (and in a fair bit of our work) ‘design’ outcomes are not focused on ‘form’” – I am therefore left scratching my head trying to imagine a design process outcome that is completely formless. In my experience all design process starts with a whole-and-its-parts, which is another way of saying a form or format (in the sense of something with preexisting internal differentiation), and further transforms or differentiates it in one direction or another.

    What I’m getting at here is that I’d be cautious about equating “form” with “solid static physical three-dimensional object” and using this as an argument for writing off words like “form” prematurely. If something is formless, as in completely homogenous, then, well, I’m not sure it even is a something any more. It is a no-thing, and it would feel strange to say that the objective of a design process is nothing!

    Point Three
    I’m sure this is not the place to get into this matter, but I also think we need to be careful here not to uncritically accept a dualism between the physical and non-physical worlds. This is kind of hard to do, given the deeply buried dominant narratives of our culture, and in Alexander’s case (not to mention other thinkers such as David Bohm) required an attempt at an non-mechanistic alternative cosmology.

    The upshot is that I think these matters are more nuanced than they might seem at first, and that unless some comprehension of Alexander’s later and more central concepts of life, wholeness and beauty are evident I’m not sure how fruitful this line of thought is (though I am curious to learn more about Herbert Simon and Victor Papenek’s work in terms of what they have to offer and for the record while I can hardly overstate the extent of Alexander’s work on my own, I do see him as one of many true-but-partial influences as opposed to someone I want to dogmatically imitate or impose on others.).

    Design Thinking as being about much more than Design Thinking

    Good to know – again look forward to learning more about these “mode-of-being” and “collaborative practice” aspects to design thinking. Got some links to any concise online summaries or introductions (or, if not, books) for me?

    “exploring unreleased opportunities” – lovely phrase! I”d like to see it in your primer! I also think this adaptive cycle concept has much value to offer – thanks for mentioning.

    Just a quick comment to share that I’m personally drifting away from the word “vision” or “shared vision” toward “intention” and “joint intention.” Be interested to have other’s thoughts on this but I’m finding the word vision too caught up with where it came from – the verb “to see” where in this image driven and hungry culture of ours I don’t want to know what people want to see as a first step. I want to hone in on how they want to feel which equally involves all the other senses too.

    Design process as journey
    I really like what you say here and rather than commenting now will work this into the second instalment of my review, which is well under way, and in which I look in detail at your actual process diagram.

    Finally – I like your concluding misquote – much better!

    Cheers guys for this interchange and for the contributions you are making toward a stronger permaculture, and I look forward to where our dialogue evolves to from here (at least I hope it deserves to be called a dialogue – I am certainly finding myself in new places including some significant new insights I’ll share in my next review instalment!).

    Go to comment
    2018/02/01 at 12:47 pm
  • From Gary Marshall on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's review

    A couple of thoughts on your response to design as form in particular these to sentences:

    “What I’m getting at here is that it feels a little unfair to me to judge someone’s work by extrapolating from one tiny, early bit of it (especially when he explicitly rejected many of the ideas therein once he starting practicing as an architect and discovered their limitations).”


    “I have never sensed any block or barrier in using his conception of living process to generate other kinds of form in the dictionary definition of “the shape and structure of something.” To me a book, or a dance, prayer, or poem, or a day has a form, in the sense of a format, shape, configuration, arrangement, etc.”

    Finn actually challenged me on your first point and I should own this and it might be worth sharing a summary of some of the points that were raised through our conversation.

    While I understand it is “a little unfair” to use a quote from the first sentence of Mr Alexander’s first book his subsequent works are overwhelming focused on the built environment – objects and space – “The Timeless Way of Building”, “The New Theory of Urban Design”, “The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and The Nature of the Universe” (actually four very substantial books – not what I’d call an essay) to name a couple of title off the top of my head.

    I also appreciate the that Mr Alexander’s work is profound and many of his deeper messages are probably beyond my capacity to engage with meaningfully, and I have not yet given these ideas the time they deserve – particularly his “more central concepts of life, wholeness and beauty” (you have motivated me to get my copies of the Nature of Order back off of the shelf and get back into them). However, my current understanding is that while Mr Alexander has made profound observations of a very wide range of phenomena outside of the built environment to explore his conception of “wholeness” and the “Living Process” and there is no block or barrier to using this conception to generate other kinds of forms – as far as I am aware, Mr Alexander’s concepts on the “Nature of the Order / Universe” are predominantly filtered through the lens of the built environment and his completed works have only ever been applied to built form. If this is not the case I would love to be pointed in this direction, if not, I can see value in expanding Mr Alexander’s works and applying it to non-physical form. In the meantime, I have four very large books to reacquaint myself with.

    PS – As a somewhat humorous side note – we too quite like the phrase “exploring unreleased opportunities”, however it was meant to read as the much less poetic “exploring unrealised opportunities” 🙂 Not sure which phrasing we will use from now.

    Go to comment
    2018/02/02 at 7:51 am
  • From David Ing on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's review

    I’m responding here to a question raised in the Pattern Science Community at .

    Dan writes:
    > For us (and in a fair bit of our work) ‘design’ outcomes are not focused on ‘form’. If permaculture design is about more than physical form (which we feel it definitely is) we need a broader conception of design and design process than we feel Alexander provides…”

    From the comment of Gary Marshall:
    > Mr Alexander’s concepts on the “Nature of the Order / Universe” are predominantly filtered through the lens of the built environment and his completed works have only ever been applied to built form. If this is not the case I would love to be pointed in this direction, if not, I can see value in expanding Mr Alexander’s works and applying it to non-physical form.

    In my opinion, a lot of the questions on applicability of Christopher Alexander’s ideas go to philosophical roots. If permaculture is seen as a human activity, then it not only has material aspects, but also non-material aspects. The systems sciences open up design in this way, e.g. “Social Systems and Design” | Gary S. Metcalf (ed) | 2014 | Springer at .

    Christopher Alexander himself worked on the built physical environment, and declined to extend his work to other domains — in particular, with the 1996 OOPSLA speech at — except to exhort software developers to use pattern language not just to write code, but to improve the world.

    Some of my research has been on the design and pattern language, in particular towards a service systems orientation (i.e. customer/consumer oriented, related to outcome) over a production orientation (i.e. output). The fullest description of that, to date, is presentation of a paper at the PUARL 2016 conference, see .

    In a footnote to The Nature Order, Book 4, The Luminous Ground (p. 336), Christopher Alexander recalls that Bohm “declared that in his view this material was the most interesting. … somehow he though the conception of matter contained here was the most significant aspect of these books. It came closer, perhaps, to providing a complement to his own views”, in his meeting over 2 days in 1986. This, to me, indicates the orientation of Alexander’s worldview towards physics.

    The direction that I’ve been encouraging, for a generative pattern language on services systems, suggests an alternative view compatible with the ecological epistemology of Gregory Bateson. This steps outside Alexander’s work within a single paradigm, towards a multiparadigm inquiry, see . I’ve only gained a deeper appreciation of this perspective through the ecological anthropology of Tim Ingold, e.g. .

    In the domain of design, Susu Nousala (Tongji U., Shanghai), Peter H. Jones (OCADU Toronto) and I have a paper in final review for FORMakademisk following through from a RSD5 workshop described at . Since the focus of this blog is on permaculture, and this blog entry on the intersection with design, there are some deeper philosophical questions that could be worked out.

    Go to comment
    2018/02/04 at 12:58 am
    • From Gary Marshall on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's review

      Thanks David – the links you sent through look great – I’ll get back with any questions etc once I’ve had a chance to delve into them.

      As a side note, since writing the response Dan I remembered that William Ophuls has applied Christophers Alexander’s pattern language to politics in his book ‘Sane Polity’ which I thoroughly enjoyed (but think it needs to read in conjunction with his book ‘Plato’s Revenge’ which plug some of the wholes noted in this review:

      Go to comment
      2018/02/05 at 9:44 am
    • From Dan Palmer on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's review

      Huge thanks for your comment David. I’ll reply properly when I’ve followed up some of your links. I have one burning question though- do you know if the Alexander-Bohm dialogue was recorded in any way? I would kill to get access to it!

      Go to comment
      2018/02/04 at 11:37 am
      • From David Ing on The Resilio Studio Design Process Primer: Part Three - Finn and Gary's reply to the first instalment of Dan's review

        @Dan, the most that I’ve found on Christopher Alexander visiting David Bohm was the description in the footnote in The Luminous Ground (p. 336).

        Alexander cites very few references in his writings. My critical appreciation of the foundations of generative pattern language have had the benefit of conversations with Alexander’s graduate students (Hiroshi Nakano, Max Jacobson, Howard Davis) at PUARL conferences. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had the opportunity to fully process the audio recording of the workshop that is described at . I’m launching a book in a few weeks, so that the blog post with the audio recording may be more than a month before it turns up at .

        Go to comment
        2018/02/07 at 1:14 pm
  • From Kyle Smith on David Hursthouse's Presentation at the International Permaculture Convergence in India

    Thanks a lot for this post, and for creating this blog. I resonate with many of the things that Davids says, and have had many discussions with my friends and colleagues involved in Permaculture how we can address some of these weaklings as he puts it..

    It would be really great if we could write a list of the weak links he mentions and create some dialogue around it.

    Thanks again for creating this platform and I am looking forward to being immersed in the discussions and insights that come out..

    Go to comment
    2018/02/11 at 10:10 pm
  • From Sharn on Some Recent Email Conversations

    “ can’t deny that we are often accused of being the contemporary equivalent of hippies – as in we are deluded with dreams of grandure and imbued with an aura of self-righteous epiphany fueled by cannabis, magic mushrooms and ayahuasca.” Haha, gold 🙂

    So much interesting perspective from around the globe. Its hard to know where to start in a comment, but its so heartening and thrilling to feel the ripple of deep thinking resonance. So I’ll just say thanks for sharing these conversations Dan.

    Go to comment
    2018/02/17 at 3:28 pm
  • From Lorenzo Costa on Some Recent Email Conversations

    Been passing by often. I have to get into reading all the posts again…. lots if inspiration.
    Can I ask what article you refer to by David Holmgren? The one you refer to speaking with Jacke

    Go to comment
    2018/02/17 at 4:29 pm
    • From Dan Palmer on Some Recent Email Conversations

      Thanks Lorenzo – that article was:


      “We can take a permaculture approach in any (reasonable) job or profession but to jump to the conclusion that permaculture IS a job, career or profession is false. There is nothing wrong with people using permaculture design as a short hand way of saying they are garden or farm designers who use permaculture principles in their work. But when people suggest we need to make permaculture a design profession which can sit alongside other design professions and so achieve credibility in the wider society they are making several mistakes” (David Holmgren, 1993)

      Go to comment
      2018/02/18 at 12:34 pm
  • From lilian on Some Recent Email Conversations

    interesting but lot of text to scan through.

    Was wondering if you could use a pattern to highlight “golden nuggets” (specific things that made think twice, surprised you, great insights, themes, questions …) without diminishing the value of the original mails from the various authors ?

    Go to comment
    2018/02/18 at 3:12 am
    • From Dan Palmer on Some Recent Email Conversations

      Always great to hear from you Lilian!

      You are asking me to catch the fish, prepare them, and lay them out on a nice plate for you? 🙂

      My invitation, for anyone interested in such nuggets, is to wet a line yourself.

      Take in the whole scene: water, trees, clouds. See which fish leap up and grab your line.

      Along the way, should anyone find it “heartening and thrilling to feel the ripple of deep thinking resonance” (like at the least Sharn and myself do) – then please consider sharing in a comment or otherwise!

      Go to comment
      2018/02/18 at 11:46 am