On the Relation between Designing and Implementing in Permaculture – Part 1

In this second Making Permaculture Stronger inquiry, I consider the relationship between designing and implementing within current understandings of permaculture design process. My intention with this inquiry is to:

  • Review contemporary presentations of permaculture design process with a focus on the relation between designing and implementing
  • Explore an issue with the idea of completing a detailed design before commencing implementation
  • Look at how various permaculturalists have previously acknowledged this weakness
  • Look to relevant discussions and developments outside of permaculture for any useful tips or pointers
  • Articulate a way of thinking about design process that helps clarify the issue identified and suggests one pathway toward resolving it
  • share real design process examples to test and attempts toward an improved understanding of how design and implementation might be better related within permaculture design process

As always, the point is not to look critically at basic ideas in permaculture for the sake of it, but towards this project’s goal of strengthening weaknesses toward a stronger permaculture. If this goal resonates with you, I invite your input, comments, corrections, alternative conclusions – all are welcome. One thing I know is that I sure as heck don’t have the answers and that making permaculture stronger will only work if we launch wholeheartedly into such conversations together.1

High-Level Summary of Current Permaculture Understandings of Design Process

In the literature of permaculture, permaculture design process is presented as a specified sequence of generic steps, phases or actions.

I’ve collated nine clear, well-thought out examples in this table (click to enlarge):2

The idea, of course, is that if you are engaging in permaculture design, then running with one of these sequences is a sensible way of going about it.

It seems to me that there are no fundamental differences amongst these various sequences, at least at this top-level summary level. All are variations (some partial, some complete) on a theme in which:

  • In one order or the other, you tune into people and site.
  • You only then come up with a design, working from patterns (concept/schematic) toward details (master plan/detailed or patch design).
  • Design completed to a satisfactory degree of detail, you only then implement the design.
  • You manage/maintain/evaluate the implemented design, going back to tweak or adjust it as necessary.

One sequence implies implementation without listing it explicitly. Though four omit a post-implementation evaluation and feedback phase I either know for a fact or have no doubt the authors would agree on the importance of evaluation and feedback.

In terms of my focus in this inquiry, the upshot of this comparison is this: all these presentations agree that in a sound permaculture design process one completes a detailed design before starting the implementation of that design.

In the next post I’ll examine these nine design process breakdowns in more detail.


  1. more on that later – the I-write-posts-others-write-comments format is fast coming to its use-by date!
  2. I realise I will have missed many treatments – please let me know about them in a comment below – but that said I assume these offerings constitute a satisfactorily representative sample of what is out there.


  1. Im interested in the series of posts to follow this introduction. Consider adding a newsletter signup or post notification signup to the site – I would like to get your posts delivered directly to my inbox.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *