In dialogue with permaculture designer Scott Gallant on the practical and professional realities of a more living design process – Part One of Two (e41)

I was delighted when Scott Gallant from Porvenir Design emailed me earlier in the year:

Hi Dan,

I wanted to reach out and introduce myself after having (finally!) stumbled upon the MPS project. I just wrapped up listening to the Phase 2 podcast and I am all in!

A quick jot about myself, my name is Scott Gallant and I am a permaculture designer and educator based in Costa Rica. I’ve been deep in this field for 10 years, 8 of which were spent managing a farm and building out my curriculum at a well regarded site called Rancho Mastatal. In the last few years I’ve been full time in the design/install business here in Latin America with my firm, Porvenir Design. Tropical agroforestry and permaculture education are really my burgeoning areas of expertise. I’ve had the chance to lead or co-teach 14 PDCs and countless short courses, and have been fortunate enough to be interviewed for a number of podcasts over the last few years. I set this scene to let you know that I am all in, although I resonate deeply with your message of approaching permaculture from a skeptics background.

For the last few years I’ve been obsessed with the pedagogy of teaching PDCs and the process of design in my client based work. Incrementally, and sometimes abruptly, I tweak these process. I’ve also felt quite surprised by the lack of conversations around these topics and have constantly been pulled toward constructive critiques of permaculture. Clearly, the bubble of permaculture in Central America and perhaps to some degree North America has not been invaded by the MPS project.

So, first, thank you for your work. It is essential to, well, making permaculture stronger. Second, I’m interested in getting more involved. I’m slowly making my way through some past posts and will continue to do so over the weeks ahead. If you have any suggestions for involvement they are much appreciated. And third, I am quite interested in mentorship in the field of professional design and education. At the full peak age of 33, I find myself seeking mentorship in order to continue helping students and clients truly dive into the permaculture domain with confidence. In this community that you’ve formed, are there any obvious routes for some form of mentorhsip?

Apologies for the long message. Love the work and looking forward to dipping in.
Scott Gallant

In his second email Scott continued:

As I’ve been listening I am really quite curious to learn more about how folks actually implement these ideas with clients, how this changes the teaching within a PDC for inspired instructors, etc. I have a client visit in Puerto Rico soon; outcome will be a concept plan for bringing back to life the family farm and converting an old church on the property into some public facing bar/restaurant/distillery.  The outcome is far from a detailed master plan, but rather will involve a day of visioning/goal setting with stakeholders, two days on the site, and then creating a planning document that provides broad patterns for access, land use suitability, water/soil/plant systems, and recommendations on phasing, species, further resources, etc. I give you this context, because I am most interested in using this project to trial out some of these new ideas from MPS, BUT the actual action of, say, “unfolding the potential of a site’s essence” or “starting from a whole” alludes me a bit. Part of me believe this deeper ability can only be brought forth through years of practice/mentorship and such. Part of me wonders if this is more or less what I already do with clients.

I would love to brainstorm how to take what others and myself do now as professional designers/installers and apply these ideas to go from good to great. When I read the comments I don’t see too much where others are saying, “Wow, I’ve been doing this upside down and need to completely change my practice.” It seems like folks are on the same page theoretically, but for professional permaculture designers and educators, how should this exploration of knowledge change our work on the ground, our conversations with clients, our teaching lessons, our contract deliverables, the physical landscapes we manage?

Nothing more needed to be said. This is exactly the kind of energy I want to be engaging with so I invited Scott to join me for a recorded conversation, the first instalment of which I share here.

Now before our chat, Scott emailed me some of his questions. As well as speaking to those he asked live during our chat, I thought I’d have a go at writing a comment on (if not an answer proper) to some of his emailed ones here too.

SG: How do you put the theory of everything your podcast has explored into practice with actual paying clients? What process do you use for “essence reveal,” “story of place”, realizing potential etc. Basically what has it meant to put this theory into practice for you? 

DP: That’s a big question! I’m actually writing a book right now attempting to answer it (watch this space!). One comment is that I had found and am continuing to evolve ways of doing this prior to learning about the Living Systems Thinking concepts of revealing essence, story of place (which is one way of going about revealing essence), and developing potential. These newer-for-me concepts are increasingly infusing my work, however, and sort of strengthening, focusing and deepening aspects of what I was already doing.

SG: I am very curious about the shift toward “mentorship” style design work with clients. How have clients responded to this versus you directing them what to do? Do you find that this process is more challenging/more expensive/less accessible for clients? How has it changed your deliverables/pricing/types of clients?

DP: If this isn’t what a prospective client wants then with very few exceptions I don’t accept the job, meaning that the people I do work with love it in that even if they didn’t know it, and thought they wanted something more conventional, this turns out to be exactly what they really wanted. As in being supported and empowered to be in control of their own design and creation processes, which is one of the most fulfilling things I reckon you can do in life.

There are ways my approach is more challenging, given that part of what I’m doing is consciously challenging them to steer their own ship and gently disrupting their habitual patterns toward a more living process. There are ways that in the medium to long term that it is less challenging, given that they are in control and have complete ownership over what is happening, where what is happening is gradually revealing a form to the project that is beautifully adapted to them and their setting, avoiding the common challenges of trying to understand and implement some external expert’s cleverly imposed ideas that even if successfully realised typically turn out a less-than-great fit.

As for expense and accessibility, it depends :-). I would say that on average, however, my approach is significantly cheaper and more accessible for clients.

Re deliverables I am selling a facilitation service not a design product, re pricing I have moved to an hourly rate rather than a lump sum for a certain class of plan, and re clients they have all changed into the kinds of folk I really want to be working with and they pretty much always end up becoming good friends.

SG: Given the last year(s) of learning and insights from the MPS work how has your design work AND PDC teaching changed the most?

DP: Far out Scott you are asking great questions that make me stop and think! There are so many changes but what what floats to the top for design work is moving from being an expert consulting designer to resourcing the design and creation processes of others. As for PDC teaching I have only really approached PDC’s in the new (for me) way, though one shift is moving away from having participants present a pretty-looking design to having them present the story of their experience of moving through a sound design process.

That’ll do for now – hope you enjoy this episode as much as I did and I am delighted to have Scott as a conversation partner and colleague the work of consciously evolving the ways we practice permaculture design on the ground, which of course is the only place it really matters.


  1. Hi Dan and Scott!
    I loved listening in on your conversation – thanks for sharing this with us!
    My favourite bit was the idea of a “specting prism” (if I heard correctly?); a multidimensional scanner for seeing things in system: inspecting, aspecting, sidespecting, retrospecting and prospecting. I can already see so many contexts in which I’ll be making use of these words and concepts. Brilliant!

    I can’t wait for part 2!

    1. Thanks Sarah-May – I’m delighted you enjoyed the specting prism which you heard correctly!

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