A bit more context

So I feel that the scene is about set, and that I can nearly launch into some of the substance, the content I have in mind to get the ball rolling here. But first with this post let me scene set just a little more.

In March last year, a little over a year ago, I found myself at an Australasian Permaculture Convergence in Penguin, North-Eastern Tasmania.

Several significant things happened over the several days of the event that were formative in the sense of helping set in motion a sequence, one outcome of which has been this project.

The first thing was during Bob Brown’s opening speech. Great speech, by the way. Great speech from a great man. In effect a rousing urge to environmental activism. One comment was that “the stupid are cocksure, whereas the intelligent are self-doubting.” Anyways, toward the end he said something like “if you lot were running the country, we’d be fine. But unfortunately, you’re not.”

Now of course he was being nice, flattering the crowd, giving permaculture the thumbs up, and all that. But the thought that hit me at this statement was along the lines of “my god, let’s be honest here, if this lot were running the country, we’d be [let’s just keep it clean and say not so fine]” So that was one thing. I’ll get into why I had this thought in due course.

The second thing that happened was that I led a session called “critical self-reflection in permaculture.” Maybe 30 people came along including several elders of Australian permaculture, which I was delighted with. I played the thing by ear and introduced the concept of a weak link analysis, introduced a few of my pet weak links in permaculture, calibrated against the group, and then invited others to submit theirs. I won’t get into the details now, though, but what the heck, I will share this list that came out of the session (we will come back to a lot of these items in more detail in future posts):

  • Neglect of design process
  • Lack of post-PDC pathways
  • Dearth of evidence
  • Lack of stress/focus on implementation and management
  • Permaculture design course evaluation & evolution
  • Conscious decision making/leadership/management skills
  • Doing everything ourselves
  • False confidence
  • Closed shop vibes
  • Permaculture of the inner landscape (this from Professor Stuart Hill)

Details aside the main point is that my feeling from the vibe of the session along with feedback afterwards was that the approach I was suggested resonated with the group. Which was encouraging. I remember actually joking about starting a website like this, not expecting myself to actually do so over a year later.

The final thing that happened was not only an aspect of the convergence but of the two-day advanced permaculture design course I led directly afterwards. With two able assistants and 19 lovely participants, we had a special few days. But where I’m getting to was that I was deeply struck by the number of folk, often younger, sometimes not, that had permaculture design certificates and were earnest, and intelligent, and wanting to take it further, often with a component of professional design work.

These three things (becoming aware of my own perception that the permaculture movement generally doesn’t have its shit together in a lot of basic ways, a positive reception to the topic of critical self-reflection in permaculture, and tuning into a huge wave of interest in taking permaculture design work to a higher level) affected me quite deeply, and are part of how I came to be the me that is having a go at setting this whole thing up.

So, yes, just wanted to acknowledge the contribution of that convergence toward getting this whole thing, whatever it is, exactly, off the ground. Thanks, convergence!

Over and out.

Setting a vision & some themes/rules of play for this project

I thought I’d put a little more thought into articulating the space in which I would like to see this project exist. First, here’s a draft statement of purpose or reason for existing:

Making Permaculture Stronger is a space where permaculture practitioners come together with a spirit of strengthening the design system aspect of permaculture by clarifying its weaknesses and coordinating efforts to address them.

Here are several things I would like to be true of the way in which this purpose is delivered upon:

  • Making Permaculture Stronger is about slowing down, taking stock, and sharing with honesty about where we are at
  • This sharing happens with a positive focus on improving permaculture. We are interested in clarifying what is problematic only to the extent it will assist our subsequent efforts, or the efforts of others, to make it less problematic.
  • Making Permaculture Stronger is a collaborative project open to anyone for whom the project/effort resonates and who is happy to operate within the context of these parameters (i.e., this list)
  • To participate in this project is to give permission for the administrators/s to make any required decisions according to their judgement of whether a decision accords with the above stated purpose and this list
  • All sharings and communication on Making Permaculture Stronger are focused on patterns, trends, gaps, and so on in permaculture and are not focused on the perceived failings of particular individuals.

Okay, that’s it for now. For anyone interested in this approach to defining an approach to something, it comes from something called holistic management decision making, and you can see an article I wrote explaining it here.

Weak Link Analysis – What is it?

I should say a little more about the overall approach that defines making permaculture stronger as a project. I am calling it a weak-link analysis of permaculture in permaculture’s design system sense. It amounts to one way of approaching the way we design the way we practice permaculture design. It is very simple:

  1. Coordinate the identification of weak links in the sense of factors limiting or constraining permaculture as a design system. This is something like a scanning or auditing process.
  2. Assess, coordinate and if necessary initiate efforts to address those weak links

The inevitable result of following these two steps repeatedly is that permaculture gets stronger. I am becoming concerned with the amount of effort in permaculture that goes towards sharing what is already strong. This work is important, but when it takes up the entire stage, then the equally if not more important task of tuning into and strengthening what is not already strong (or was once strong but has become weak) gets neglected.

It is like a bodybuilder who in proudly building and sharing their magnificent biceps, abs, and calves neglects other muscles that are in very poor shape. The result is a funny looking figure that when push comes to shove, and they attempt useful work, they not only have serious deficiencies, they are very likely to injure themselves, and come out of the whole situation with a bruised body and a bruised ego. I fear that if we are honest with ourselves, permaculture in its design system sense is a currently funny looking figure. I get the feeling I’m not alone.

Weak-link analysis is a kind of quiet background capacity building effort that ultimately gives the set proclaiming permaculture’s strengths (myself included) more to share.

I think permaculture design has more than enough good stuff going on to maintain morale sufficiently for the odd excursion into the stuff that isn’t so good (where the whole point is trying to then make it good!).

The First Post

About six months back I had a dream in which I was talking to my friend and colleague Adam Grubb. I was telling him I had some things I wanted to get off my chest with respect to the topic of permaculture, and that I was thinking about doing so via a website called Dan’s Permaculture Ramblings. We looked at each other in the mutual realisation that this was not a good name for a website. So I said, “well, what about Making Permaculture Stronger?”

That is as much as I can remember from the dream. But the next day, wide-awake, I happened to be talking to Adam on the phone and so I told him about the dream. He liked the idea of the website – under the latter name suggestion – and said he’d contribute. I rather liked it too, so after our call I registed the url. That evening I wrote this very first post. And now I’m getting around to posting it.

So, let me give a feel for what I intend this website to be about, and my motivation for bringing it into existence.

I have been studying and practicing permaculture for a little over ten years. Over this time I have seen permaculture become a lot more mainstream in both Australia, where I have lived for most of the last ten years, and New Zealand, where I am now based. Along the way I helped start the now global permablitz movement, a well-respected permaculture design, implementation and education company, and several overseas permaculture projects in India and Africa. I’ve taught or co-taught perhaps a dozen permaculture design certificate courses, read and written a lot about permaculture, and learned from many senior designers and teachers within permaculture and in related fields.

In the last year I have started running what I call Advanced Permaculture Design courses, in which I get to work with folks that already have some training and experience in permaculture (and want to take it to the next level). I also continue to design, with several hundred professional design projects behind me (most in collaboration with Adam), and three currently on the go.

Obviously, given after ten years I’m still at it, I like it. There is no two ways about it. I’m a fan, and if I had to come up with a short, snappy description of my profession I’d probably say permaculture designer and educator.

That said, as well as being an insider to the permaculture movement, scene, whatever you want to call it, I am also a critic. Though my journey with permaculture is relatively young, I have been around long enough to be able to proclaim, with confidence, that permaculture well and truly needs a good injection of critical self-reflection. From within.

Why? In order to make it stronger. You see I not only like permaculture, I’d like to see it get stronger. I’d like to see permaculture become more and more mainstream, but in a way where it is a shape to offer solid, holistic solutions in a world flying headlong over a cliff where shit is about to get even more out of control.

The best way I know of strengthening something is to identify weak links and then to direct energy toward making them less weak. This approach seems blindly obvious to me, and yet for some odd reason seems to me not to be a significant part of the culture of permaculture. In so much permaculture literature, education, presentation, online media, and so on, the focus is on links that are already strong, and in some cases on making them even stronger. I would like to contribute to the bucking of that trend.

Yes, permaculture is amazing. Gobsmackingly relevant. Awe-inspiringly solution-packed. But let’s be honest about the fact it sucks at some things, that it lacks or neglects other things, that it has had an embarrassing amount of failures & causalities. Furthermore, if it barrels on oblivious to all this, then when push comes to shove, at the very moment when it needs to shine and get its gallop on, one or more of these neglected gaps or weak spots will see it fall flat on its face, or at the least, failing to shine as brightly as it might have.

Now no one really knows what permaculture is, really, in the sense that it is not only continuing to evolve, but that it is a lot of different things all at once. My interest here is not in defining permaculture. Go figure out what permaculture is some place else, then come back here and see if what this site has to say about it rings true for you. As Bill Mollison often proclaimed on my first permaculture course ten years ago, “google it.”

I will say this though. However permaculture is understood or defined, there is something fundamental to all permaculture that involves design. Conscious design. Functional design. Integrative design. Holistic design. Ethical design. Principled design. Permaculture is almost always defined, in part, as a particularly flavoured design system, approach, or method.

It is this aspect of permaculture that I am interested in making stronger. Permaculture as design. I declare that it is this aspect of permaculture that this project is about strengthening. The rest, I believe, will follow.

I don’t know how this site will evolve. Perhaps I won’t even get around to uploading this post. Perhaps I will, and then two friends will see the site before it sinks into obscurity. I’m not fussed. The main thing is that I’ll have a chance to get those things I hinted at earlier off my chest, post-by-sweet-cathartic-post, in a way that develops and sharpens my thinking about them.

Beyond that, I am starting to get some inklings about how wonderful this project could be as a collaboration amongst permaculture practitioners for whom it resonates. Together we’d get clear firstly on identifying what permaculture design’s weak links are, and secondly on finding out what, who, where or if anything is being done about it (and possibly even coordinate efforts to do something about it ourselves – imagine that!).

So, there it, is, post numero uno. I will post again as the urge takes me, and at some point I’ll let others know the site exists, and perhaps figure out ways of enticing others to start contributing. Maybe I’ll pester a few senior colleagues for their two-cents worth. And from there we’ll just have to see what happens, won’t we!

A good day to you.