Bringing it all together in just. one. diagram. (Part Ten of Eleven) – If you’re designing for life, Transformation isn’t Optional – But Sometimes Fabricating is Fine

Before I bring this diagram/chart series home and tuck it into bed, there is a subtle nuance I want to try and convey.

It is this. First, in my opinion, once we have a feel for what is meant by transforming, there is no reason to ever devolve back to only assembling or only partitioning. Transforming transcends and includes both these things (read more about this here). As far as I can see it will always support a deeper and more rounded appreciation of the whole being worked within, and thus the uncovering of better, more adapted steps in the design and creation process.

Second, the axis going from fabrication through hybrid to generative is different. Why? Because there are times when you’ll draw concept plans, and there are times when you’ll draw detailed plans. There is nothing in any of this suggesting anything inherently wrong with drawings! Heck, I draw things all the time.

Indeed, I have discovered that generative transformation is almost more an attitude than a specific set of practices to do or not do (such as draw plans up front). Sometimes when I work with generative transformation I use drawings, sometimes I don’t.

In prior posts I have given examples of both hybrid transformation and generative transformation in which drawings played their role (either a concept design or simple a sketch of the next thing to be implemented).

An Example of, err, Generatively Fabricated Transformation

I’ll now give you a different example, one where I consciously fabricated a detailed plan. About three years back I took on a commission (ongoing) to design all the green spaces for a 700-apartment suburban development.1 Rooftops, podiums, streetscapes. I took it on as an experiment in seeing how far I could push my process (in a hyper-conventional context with established protocols) toward generative transformation. I didn’t think I’d get so far as I’ve gotten.

Here, detailed up-front drawings were essential. There was no way I could avoid them. They needed them for their promotional brochures. They needed them so the architects could get them into the formal construction master plans for the builders to quote from. They needed them for getting council approval. There was no way I would have got the job if said “sorry, no plans from me.” Even if my ideal scenario would be to wait till the spaces were built, then mock up and hone in on the first thing to install, install it, decide on the next step, and so on.

Now I hope this isn’t too confusing, but while this was on the surface a clear example of a fabricating transformation or C1 (top left in the chart) process, the first place I used the attitude of generative transformation was in how I went about drawing the detailed plans. I used a specific process where I immersed in the intention or what I call the project DNA and what I could access about the actual physical spaces before unfolding the suggested layouts using Christopher Alexander’s pattern language approach to unfold a particular layout. Where I was consciously transforming the space in my mind, on paper, and by mocking up various areas in real space as best I could, and thereby in a sense I’ll discuss more, actually generating the fabrication. Here is what emerged on one pair of rooftops, excluding plants…

…and with plants…

Where even though it was being drawn and not actually made at this stage, each little detail was unfolding out of my grasp of the whole situation and what had unfolded before (in a carefully laid out unfolding sequence). Which contrasts dramatically with how the prior landscape architects had used full-blown fabricating attitude and reality to come up with…

To me this is a very clear example of what I mean by fabricated assembly or A1 (in this case so blatant that it is perhaps one reason these designers were dismissed before I was brought in). Even though I was clearly fabricating, it is like, as I suggested above, that I was generating the fabrication. It is like there is a whole other order to these ideas, where there can be fabricated fabrications, generated fabrications, fabricated hybrids, generated hybrids, and so on. There may even be fabricated generations! Yes, it is confusing, but as Bill Reed says, life is complex. So dig in!

Back to the plans I developed, here are the construction diagrams…

…and 3D renders for promotional purposes…

I trust all this makes it clear I am not suggesting that detailed plans are inherently bad (I still struggle to use the word master plan, however, and I never saw these plans as masters but as required reference points along the way). I see them as risky, yet sometimes essential.

A big part of what made this different from conventional fabrication (aside from how I created the plans) was that I did not then hand over the plans, take my fee and move on. Nor did I treat the plans as something to blindly impose, as some kind of master. I held them very lightly and I chuckled at how seriously everyone else took them. To me they were a loose guide (in that sense they were a hybrid design in a detailed design’s clothing) that I consciously told myself were full of mistakes that I was going to then do my best to weed out as we went along.

Every step of the way, as further information came to light, as the actual spaces were built and I could go visit them, as I saw samples of soil and mulch and paving options etc, the plans were changed to better fit the emerging reality. I spent countless hours mocking up and imagining different shaped and sized planters when it came time to lock these things in. I injected as much life, as much generation as I could into what happened after I drew the plans (which are now up to something like version 20).

Indeed, a non-negotiable condition of my accepting the job was that the builder and landscaper would be contractually obliged to have me supervise and sign off on each part of the gardens as they were built.

Here is a shot from last week showing these rooftops and another, smaller rooftop where you can see the initial garden planters going in…

Which brings me back to my point. Transformation is a no-brainer, yet sometimes, fabricating is fine. It is all about how you create your fabricated drawings and then the specific role those drawings play in the rest of the process. Indeed, I believe it would be quite possible for a process using detailed upfront plans to more authentically honour the spirit of generative transformation than an approach avoiding any plans and yet doing so from the mindset or attitude of fabricated assembly (and/or winging it).

If you are confused right now, I am sorry. Do ask me questions in the comments below and let’s inch down this rabbit hole a little further together. I trust you can see why I felt I needed to share this.

I should also share that one thing I don’t want this to land as is me saying “actually, I take it back, whatever you are doing with master plans, that’s fine, keep going and maybe just think more about transforming wholes than assembling parts.” That is not what I’m saying. I am still challenging myself and others to ask whether and to what extent upfront plans are required or appropriate. Then, if they are, both how they are created and how they feed into what follows.2

Anyways, this version of the chart shows the zone and the rough sort of allocation of time in each zone that in my opinion befits a permaculture really grabbing ahold of and developing its potential. It is true of how I’m working lately. Always transforming, mostly straight-out generating, sometimes drawing up front concept plans, occasionally up-front detailed plans (though always with a generative attitude).

Over and out, and catch you in the next and final post in this series. It has been fun, though I tell you I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the rather exciting layers of what appears to want to emerge next 🙂

Note – I thank Jason Gerhardt (USA) who in many ways inspired this post. Either in episode 28 or 29 of the podcast you’ll hear Jason and I talking about this stuff – a talk that happened before I wrote this, even though this is coming out first. I also thank Finn Weddle (UK) and Emma Morris (NZ) for helping me decide to pull this chunk out of the upcoming final post in the series which will be much tighter as a result. Huge thanks also to Making Permaculture Stronger’s latest several patrons for supporting this work!


Bill Reed on Aligning around Purpose, Levels of Thought, and Transforming the World (E23)

Hey all. In this episode I share my second conversation with Bill Reed from Regenesis Group and the Regenerative Practitioner Seminar (our first chat is here). It is a conversation I highly recommend in which we look in detail at several aspects of how the rubber hits the road in the regenerative development or living systems approach Bill works with.

I also get a bunch of things off my chest at the start around bumping this whole conversation up a notch and inviting your input into where and how Making Permaculture Stronger evolves from here. Hope to hear from you (whether via a few bucks via our patreon page and/or your reflections and suggestions in the comments below or through the contact page).

I have to say all this focus on the likes of Bill and Joel Glanzberg and Carol Sanford is starting to rub off on me. I have noticed that the language I use is on the move, the thoughts I think are on the move, and even my entire understanding of what the heck Making Permaculture Stronger is and could be about are on the move! Heed this warning my friends: these people are dangerous radicals who consciously mess with minds. As Bill says, they see what they do as a mental technology that is intended to frustrate and destabilise you out of your automatic patterns.

Bill mentions this article by Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker, I mention possibility management, and you can find out more about Regenesis Group here and Carol Sanford here.

Example Purpose Statements including Function, Being, and Will

As promised, here are the function, being, and will based purpose statements Bill shared:

The Yestermorrow design / build school’s purpose is to learn together through shared inquiry and hand-on experience the ways of making human habitat… (function)

…in a way that expands our understanding of who we are and how to live in beneficial interrelationship with the earth and each other… (being)

…so that we all can thrive in a world with limited resources and unlimited potential (will)


I’m going to take raw ingredients and transform them into a meal for my family… (function)

…in a way that we sit down with our children and share our love for each other, or at least our daily events around the table… (being)

…so that our children have the psychological wellbeing and nourishment to grow into responsible adults (will)

As a recap the function aspect is about what are we doing and transforming?

The being aspect is how do we want to be and what do we need to become to do this? Or as Joel Glanzberg has put it to me, what are the capacities to Be you are aiming to develop during this task?

The will aspect is what is the larger field we wish to shift or positively impact? As Bill put it this is like asking what is the purpose of the purpose?

Keep in mind also, if you can handle it at this stage (I barely can!) that Bill talked about paying attention to the so called three lines of work at function, then again at being, then again at will. The three lines of work are the immediate whole you are working with (might be you, or your school garden), the proximate whole (might be your team, or the school community) and the greater whole that you envisage being able to positively impact through your work (might be the farm, or the community the school is nested within).

Here’s a preliminary attempt I made at an upgraded purpose statement for Making Permaculture Stronger:1

Making Permaculture Stronger exists to hold a unique space for intelligent, collegial, and rigorous inquiry and dialogue into the subject of permaculture design process… (function)

…in a way that respectfully honors permaculture’s incredible depth and value and openly explores ways its potential might be more fully and rapidly developed… (being)

…so that it continues to thrive, grow and evolve in its ability to contribute positively to humanity and the earth (will)

After some reflections on this from Joel Glanzberg (thanks Joel!), I tried:

Making Permaculture Stronger holds space for intelligent, respectful, collaborative exploration and dialogue into permaculture as a socio-ecological design science… (function)

…in a way that is alive, authentic, inclusive and yet gently disruptive… (being)

…so that it continues to thrive, grow and evolve in its ability to contribute positively to humanity and the earth (will)

Running this past Joel he came back with what I consider an excellent example of cutting to the chase. This fully resonates with my understanding of why MPS exists, and it is so much more clear, concrete and direct (how much punchier is the ending! YES!):

MPS inspires creative exploration and dialogue around permaculture design… (function)

…in a way that develops our ability to think and act creatively as a community… (being)

…to enable permaculture practitioners to effect the large scale systemic change we need (will)

Here is another example Joel and I worked on after a session with an organic farming co-op:

The purpose of our co-op is to continue to develop and articulate an agro-ecological cooperative system that grows our businesses and the health of the land… (function)

in a way that inspires and enables others to do the same… (being) that we can build the health of the foodshed, food sovereignty and a viable option for the future of aging farmers and their land (will)

Here is an example Joel and I worked on after a session with staff at my kid’s Steiner school where I’m helping facilitate the garden redesign process:

The purpose of the garden is to enable children to experience the magic of elemental alchemy with their heads, hearts and hands… (function)

…in a way that inspires them to use this way of being and learning through their entire lives… (being)

…so that the school community and beyond are imbued with abundant life and health (will)

In this case Joel also suggested a few example principles which then act as guides to decision making:

  • Ensure all four elements are present throughout the garden in transparent ways
  • Inspire mystery through containment, separation and creating intimate spaces
  • Make the gardens places of ease, comfort and excitement
  • Everything is child scale

I sincerely hope these examples help.

Levels of Thought

The levels of thought thing Bill shared was:




Where do you usually start?


Jascha Rohr on the Cocreation Foundation (E22)

Jascha Rohr, Oldenberg, Germany, July 19, 2019

In this episode (recorded July 19) Jascha Rohr returns to catch us up on his recent, current and upcoming adventures in taking healthy generative process and applying it to cocreating new modes of global governance!

Check out the Cocreation Foundation here, our last chat here, and Jascha and Sonia’s amazing article on their field process model here.

You can sign up to the Cocreation Foundation’s e-newsletter here and check out their youtube channel here. In this clip Jascha fleshes out something we discussed during our chat:

Jascha also shared a white paper for the Cocreation Foundation’s Global Resonance Project you can download as a pdf and read here or by clicking the image below.

Here is a link to the book by Hanzi Freinacht’s book The Listening Society that Jasha mentioned.

Oh yes, I make mention in the chat of a few complementary approaches that have been rocking my world lately, namely the work of Carol Sanford (who I interviewed here), Regenesis group (which includes Joel Glanzberg and Bill Reed) along with Possibility Management (created by Clinton Callahan who I interviewed here).

Enjoy and catch up with you in episode 22.

Carol Sanford on loving people, seeing their potential and showing them how to do big things…

So I recently conveyed to Carol Sanford some of the (on and offline) reactions to the podcast chat I recently enjoyed with her:

Our podcast chat created a fantastic stir and much interest. Your comment about humans not being part of nature created much confusion/consternation and a few folk have wondered about your choice to work with some of the big companies you’ve worked with

Dan Palmer in personal email to Carol Sanford – July 28, 2019

I’m grateful for Carol’s taking the time to write this characteristically feisty reply, which I hope will stimulate further productive dialogue in the comments below:

Nature: People get very confused by Nature being the preeminent real idea. They don’t understand Living Systems as preeminent and all Life is embedded, nested Life working as nested systems. There are many different living forms nested in Life. Nature is an abstraction. I DARE YOU! Show me IT, nature that is, as a whole. Where is it? Living systems is what I am working with and teaching others to see. There is no Nature you can point to. But Lifesheds (watersheds) you can. Animals (of which we are one also nested in Living Systems) you can. Indigenous people have words for life not for an abstraction called nature. They are very concrete and real. Western Europeans invented the abstraction and exported it. 

Source: Environmentalists produced a lot of passion as well confusion along with it by talking in abstractions without giving any concrete ways to work with it. ‘Don’t touch it, leave it alone to heal and restore.’ We are a working part of living systems and have work to do. We have to learn our work in the system.  Nature does not really exist. But Biota, Soil, Mammals are all real things. Abstractions let us come up with abstract ways to work on things. Like reduce carbon footprint. That is an effect on real things, but an abstraction and people can’t grasp it for that reason.

Plus, most “best practices” to work on sustainability are abstractions, not regenerative approaches based on the working of Living Systems. Start with a real concrete being. Humans are one of those nested in Life, in Living Systems. “Environment” itself is another abstract distortion. Environment is an anthropocentric concept. “Our” Environment! Listeners who said this are listening to me through a paradigm that is filled with abstraction. My work is about the concrete and about building the mind that stops using abstractions and gets real. It starts with Living systems as the preeminent whole and then nested wholes all the way down, as native peoples do. It is always specific place sourced.  Abstract ideas from the Environmentalist Era are slowing down our getting to work on Life being able to live from potential.

Working with Big Business: Get those folks to Look at the results I created in Business. Like leading to the founding of the UN Global Compact with Chad Holliday, Chair/cEO at Dupont. And stopping deep water injection well by writing and lobbying for regulation, and creating Freon replacement as an open source unpatented offering, so no other county created its own Freon when DuPont stopped making it. That is what would happen. People have to see the working of systems and find the node to move it, not protest and shout against it. 

Blind spot: Making some people bad, rather than realising it is a capability that is needed. That is a cognitive bias that slows down our ability to educate the powerful players that need to move. I don’t work with Big Business. I find one leader ready to learn and learn, (Chad Holliday, Jeffrey Hollender, Michiel Bakker at Google)  in a powerful position who wants to do HUGE things and I work with them for decades. Holliday stoped the drilling in the Arctic when he took over as Shell Chairman. He learned to do that at DuPont. He would not have had that capability and mindset without working with the Regenerative Technology for 2 decades and supporting others learning to think that way, across broad swarths of Dupont.

Loving people, seeing their potential and showing them how to do big things is the most important work. Working with the already converted is easy and usually comes from polarized thinking (you choice who is worth helping learn to think systemically and label the others as evil). That is the real stuck spot.  That is no better than those evil guys – by offering their judgmental projections – made by people who think we should shun Big Business. Uneducated leaders in all business sizes will kill us if we don’t educate them. Mission Driven businesses are undermining democracy by how they manage people. Most are gentle command and control. I wrote The Regenerative Business to wake up the well-intended businesses to their disruption of social systems.  Should I not work with them since that is bad? Laws and policy are a slow path. Shifting the mind is the fast path.  Ignoring and judging is arrogance and ineptitude. 

Post that on your site.

Take Risks—Discern Systems Working


Carol Sanford in personal email to Dan Palmer – June 29, 2019

Would love to hear your thoughts about all this. I am finding myself rather partial to Carol’s disruptive style and I am learning things from her and her colleagues that are both disrupting and enriching my work in permaculture design. Yes, I will try and get a post together sharing these things some time soon.

Meantime don’t miss Fraser’s recent review of Carol’s book No More Feedback, I’d recommend checking out Carol’s seven principles of regeneration either here or here, and if anyone else wants to submit a review of any of her books, videos, or podcasts, then please, be my guest!

Go ahead, make a comment, let me know how all this is landing for you. Let me know what is helpful and what isn’t. Let me know what or who you’d like to see more of moving forward. Let me know how you think I could do a better job of making permaculture stronger. I will listen, I promise!

Bill Reed: Staying in the Game of Evolution (E21)

Photo by Peter Casamento

On June 28th, 2019, I recorded this chat with my friend Bill Reed from Regenesis Group. A close colleague of my last two guests Carol Sanford and Joel Glanzberg, Bill is an internationally recognised practitioner, lecturer, and leading authority in sustainability and regenerative planning, design and implementation. You can see a short bio for Bill here (or listen to me read it out in the intro).

Thanks to Bill for passing on the below resources and I will record a second chat with him soon to continue tracking down the intriguing and, well, kinda deep body of work he, Carol and Joel all represent.


Click to download as pdf these articles either by or about Bill’s work:


Knock yourself out!


Find out more about The Regenerative Practitioner training here.

Peter Kopp on the Mapping the Design Process series

Note from Dan: Big thanks to Peter for contributing these great reflections.

So I sent Dan an email with a few diagrams and ideas about my thoughts regarding his ‘Mapping the Design Process’ series. He gave me some generous encouragement to continue along my line of thinking and asked me if I’d like to write a guest blog. I agreed…

… then I crapped myself. 

I mean, unlike other guest bloggers here, or Dan’s podcast guests, I’m a permaculture design nobody. Who on earth would be interested in my ideas. I’m a one client (me) designer with no experience designing for others, and no ambitions to do so. But at least I’ve been involved in one permaculture design. I ain’t never written a blog before though so I don’t know how this is going to go.

So that’s the expectation management taken care of, now let’s get on with it.

I got excited by this:

Yes Finn. YES!!!

As soon as I saw Finn’s diagram positioning nature way off the limits of the chart I felt that it was correct. It just feels right. It also presents a problem to those of us who hope to design systems in alignment with nature because the closest we can hope to get, based on what we have so far articulated on the axes of the chart – what we currently comprehend – is the extreme top right of the generative transformation box (C3). And that is a long way short of where we hope to get to. So how do we continue to progress beyond the current limits?

One way is to continue exploring both our understanding of whole-part relations, and design-implementation relations. To expand each of the axes. Discover new ways of understanding, thinking and doing. By doing this we move the extreme limits of the chart closer to nature and give ourselves room to progress further in nature’s direction. These new ways must exist, because even where Finn has placed nature it still has an x-y coordinate on the chart – out at Z26 or beyond. From where I sit even getting to D4 seems remote. I’m still struggling to fully come to terms with the idea of Transforming – I’m at best a generative partitioner  – and I can’t imagine what on earth increment 4 on the x-axis (beyond Generating) and point D on the y-axis (beyond Transforming) would be. But I do think they exist. D4 exists, E5 exists, and so it goes. There may already be those who have expanded the boundaries of the chart, and eventually more and more of us will move there. As we develop new understandings we will almost certainly have to develop new language to describe them, because our current language represents our current understanding and may not be adequate to articulate new fields of understanding, thinking, and doing.

I also believe there is a limit to how far we can go. I don’t think that we can ever understand – fully, partially, or even at all – each of the steps needed to extend the axes of the chart out to nature’s coordinates. Maybe it is because we are merely a whole within a whole within a whole etc. all the way out to Nature – the ultimate whole. Nature has the full understanding, and each of the wholes within only a portion of the understanding. Or only their own form of the understanding. But despite our ignorance we can still look at Finn’s diagram and feel that it is right. We can see where nature lies despite the blank spaces along the x and y axes. The feeling of how to get there, if not the specific understanding, is in us. Here is how I have tried to draw that feeling – the forces/signposts/vibes that lead us to nature’s way:

I was initially thinking of force fields that push/pull us towards nature and the lines in my diagrams were intended to depict lines of force. But I started to think of them more as signposts, which don’t directly impose a force on us but indicate – to those who care to look – the path we need to take. More of a passive signal than an active force, or maybe a combination of the two. For now I’ve decided to call it Nature’s Vibe. Whatever it is, I was thinking that it is the required direction of travel that they indicate/exert that is the key, so I was excited to see the comments Dan made about direction of travel and velocity in his post: ‘Mapping the Design Process – Part Nine’. We can understand certain aspects of how to move in the right direction and can’t understand others, but we can relatively easily understand the direction itself because it is a part of us, just as we are a part of it.

The nine part ‘Mapping the Design Process’ conversation represents where we have got to in terms of our understanding of design process. We can do better, but there are limits to our understanding. To move further towards nature’s design process we need to let go of understanding, we need to connect, we need to observe & interact our brains out, we need to become the design, we need to feel the vibe. If we can do that then maybe we can get a bit of this action going on:

I’m a big fan of Jascha Rohr and Sonja Horster’s Field-Process-Model. I believe the ‘Mapping the Design Process’ conversation is leading towards a Field-Process event horizon where who knows what will emerge. We may be closer than I’ve depicted on the above diagram. We may already be there at C3, but my hunch is that we still have at least one more step to take to achieve ‘immergence’. And I don’t think it will be a deliberate, logical, thoughtful step. I believe it will be something different. Something spiritual? Something very hard to put a finger on. That’s the vibe I’m getting.

Thanks Dan for allowing me to contribute. I’ll see you all in the emergence.

On the topic of a practical, commercially viable permaculture design process with Artūrs Freijs

Hey all. A month or two back I was written by Artūrs Freijis from Latvia:


I have been reading your blog and trying to figure out a replicable permaculture design process that would fit the new understanding you are writing about as well as the current reality of customer expectations as well as finding the most effective way to reach sustainability related design goals. 

My current process that is somehow predictable and commercially viable looks like this: 

1) checking for a good fit of owner’s values, ambitions and resources,
2) sending the owner client interview and asking a number of questions about goals, expectations, needed outcomes regarding yields etc. Asking to draw a simple vision of the land on top of a plan from Google maps. 
3) visiting the site, observing and clarifying the questions,
4) drawing a conceptual zone map of the site and discussing with owners
5) analyzing the sectors and influences on the site
6) creating the map of possibilities (vision that can be realized in 4 years) with my view on optimal placement of all desired elements
7) discussing the possibilities and selecting priorities of design elements to be implemented
8) creating the final vision for the next 4 years

What would be your thoughts on this process? How would you improve it?

Best regards,
Artūrs Freijs

Artūrs was happy for me to reply as a blog post given I’m sure this topic is of interest to fellow permaculture designers out there. So, let us take a look, where I’m hoping other readers will contribute their insights and explorations in the comments too.

First up, it is a great question, right? How do we work professionally as permaculture designers in a way that is true to our best understanding of what permaculture can be and is compatible with client expectations and is commercially viable?

Clarifying Artūrs’ Process

Before replying in this post right here I emailed Artūrs back with a few questions just to clarify which he then responded to:

1) checking for a good fit of owner’s values, ambitions and resources

DP: I think I get you here – checking to make sure they are not entertaining a complete fantasy and that what they are asking for your help with is something that resonates with your own values and is something you feel you can indeed deliver on.

AF: Yes. And it is also important to check if the owner will value the end result enough. I mean, I have had some cases when they want just somebody to come over and suggest a better looking bed of roses. Or something like that – too small or too unambitious for me. Which also means that they are not going to value the end result so much and so are not ready to pay enough for the design service. I definitely need to improve at this point and learn to have a set of questions that can easily diagnose the case and filter the leads. Price is one of the aspects that can filter out those not valuing the service…

2) sending the owner client interview and asking a number of questions about goals, expectations, needed outcomes regarding yields etc. Asking to draw a simple vision of the land on top of a plan from Google maps.

DP: So I get the questions thing but as regards the vision you are asking them to sketch a very rough design layout across the land, is that right?

AF: Yes. I haven’t tried that step with real customers yet though, but will try in the future, because I believe that such a rough sketch can give some input that would otherwise be lost if there is only written or verbal exchange of ideas.

3) visiting the site, observing and clarifying the questions,

DP: You mean clarifying the client’s answers to the questions you already sent is that right?

AF: Yes.

4) drawing a conceptual zone map of the site and discussing with owners

DP: I’d like to know what you mean here – maybe you sharing an example would help? My main question is are you here drawing a draft layout of zones across the property in the sense of zone 1, zone 2, zone 3, zone 4, zone 5? Is that right?

AF: Yes. It is permaculture zones 1-5. Actually I make two maps: the existing situation and the more optimal zoning according to my opinion.

5) analyzing the sectors and influences on the site

DP: got it!

6) creating the map of possibilities (vision that can be realized in 4 years) with my view on optimal placement of all desired elements

DP: got it!

7) discussing the possibilities and selecting priorities of design elements to be implemented

DP: got it!

8) creating the final vision for the next 4 years

DP: got it!

DP: Now before I answer your question about finding a replicable permaculture design process that fits with the stuff I’ve been exploring as well working for clients and being commercially viable I have a question for you: how does this process you’ve described feel to you currently? How is it working out for you and the clients? Are there any issues, or tensions, or particular bits you feel could be better and if so what are they? If you were going to change anything, what would it be?

AF: For me the process feels good, but it will be tweaked for sure as I acquire more experience and cases. The only problem so far has been the difficulty to sell the process. I mean, to explain to the prospective clients that it is needed and will benefit them. Otherwise usually clients ask for certain element like food forest without taking the whole into account. I know, I have to work on that. It will come with the experience I guess. 

Another Question from Dan

One thing I want to be up front about here is the process I am using to inform my comments on Artūrs description of his process approach. The process is what I call generative transformation :-). What this means for me is that I am:

  1. trying to get a feel for the whole of where Artūrs you are in your journey as a permaculture designer as well as for how you’re thinking about what you do or would ideally do, then
  2. sort of gently hone in on any sweet spots or nodal intervention points where a transformation could be made – edges you could experiment with in terms of continuing to evolve toward a way of doing this work that is fulfilling for you, is aligned with your values while adding value to your customers and providing you with a viable livelihood.

Which makes me realise straight away that I’m gong to struggle to offer any meaningful and non-generic suggestions1 until I have a clearer image of your intention, purpose or vision for your work Artūrs. Can you tell me a little about why you are doing this work, about what drives you and most excites you about this stuff? Maybe even if you could tell me what it might look and feel like if this work was truly flowing for you, and feeling as great as you can imagine it feeling. What kinds of projects would you be taking on? What kinds of people would you be working with? How much of your time would you be investing in this? What percentage of your income would you ideally want to be deriving from this work? Are you interested in being part of implementing as well as designing? And so on. You give me something more to go on with this kind of thing and then I’ll a means of assessing whether any suggestions I might make are consistent with where you actually want to go!

Replied Artūrs:

Yes, so, I aim to support a physical transition of the current city and suburban environmental reality to a nicer and greener one. I believe that the way of doing this is to inspire the wealthy land owners in cities and suburbs by providing a quality permaculture landscape designs that are both functional and visually pleasing. There are a few trends that can be used like local and slow food, zero waste or the slowly raising awareness of dry summers (in Riga).

The tricky part might be to distinguish my work from the usual landscape architect work. Especially when it comes to addressing the wealthiest landowners, who are typically more interested in lawns and fountains than permaculture landscapes. The ideal situation would be to establish trust and rank within the wealthy class to provide the permaculture designing. And then it could generate all the income needed for my minimalist lifestyle. At the moment I design as a side hustle, but would love to do it all the time.

Although I would love to implement all my designs, from a strategic point of view it is better to not do that (I have heard). But I would be happy to at least supervise the implementation process. Normally permaculture gardens are being implemented by landowners, but it could be different working with the wealthy class, so some supervision would make even more sense. 

You might wonder why I am so focused on the wealthy? Because I believe that the strong and influential should lead the way for a wider society. And in addition to flying private jets and driving big cars, they should at least start a nice permaculture garden as the first step.  That would also leave a bigger impact on surrounding society in my opinion. In the ideal workflow, I could easily communicate the rather untraditional and ambitious design solutions with the client. And the whole process should be like a well designed discussion so that the possible misunderstandings are being addressed in a timely way without asking too much of effort from the landowner. The process should also stretch the imagination of landowner and help to arrive at an ambitious but doable goal. 

Finally, Some Actual Reflections from Dan

Thanks for bearing with me Artūrs. So you want to

  • make your living by helping to transform city and suburban environments in permaculture directions in a way that uses the least effort for the greatest effect, where…
  • …right now you see providing permaculture design services to wealthy private clients as a way of realising the above because
    • they have money by definition meaning you can charge them reasonably well towards making your living from this, and
    • you see the wealthy as a nodal intervention (acupuncture) point in that if they weave permaculture in amongst their lawns and fountains, others will be inspired to follow
  • where your greatest difficulty is selling the process as in communicating its value to potential customers

Fair enough.2 So what I’ll do now is make a few comments based on my understanding of the design process framework you’re proposing to use, and the goal you are striving toward. Then we’ll see if anyone else out there has anything to add, what your thoughts are, and we’ll take it from there.

Okay let me look at your process description again:

1) checking for a good fit of owner’s values, ambitions and resources,
2) sending the owner client interview and asking a number of questions about goals, expectations, needed outcomes regarding yields etc. Asking to draw a simple vision of the land on top of a plan from Google maps. 
3) visiting the site, observing and clarifying the questions,
4) drawing a conceptual zone map of the site and discussing with owners
5) analyzing the sectors and influences on the site
6) creating the map of possibilities (vision that can be realized in 4 years) with my view on optimal placement of all desired elements
7) discussing the possibilities and selecting priorities of design elements to be implemented
8) creating the final vision for the next 4 years

What would be your thoughts on this process? How would you improve it?

I’ll pull out steps that I have something to say about then share some things that pop into my mind:

2) sending the owner client interview and asking a number of questions about goals, expectations, needed outcomes regarding yields etc. Asking to draw a simple vision of the land on top of a plan from Google maps.

One thing that jumps out as a possible risk for me is the idea of inviting the owners to draw a “simple vision of the land on top of a plan from Google maps” before you even get there. In my experience this is especially true of clients who, when they happen to be very wealthy, also tend to be very used to coming up with ideas on the spot then throwing money at someone to make them happen.

The risk in asking them to start designing is that they have some ideas they get attached to where this becomes all they want to talk about when you show up. Where you are then setting yourself up to potentially expend a lot of effort trying to politely tell them that their idea sucks and won’t work and will be a waste of money. In my experience, the longer you can hold yourself and the clients back from starting to draw out a design on paper, the better.3

While I have colleagues who send out a questionnaire in advance I never do this any more. I want to ask them questions face-to-face and watch their body language as well as what they say. I want to see how organised their space is, what they like to have around them in their home, what books they have on their book shelf. I want to get to know them as well as I can toward customising whatever happens with their place to their unique individuality. You could always take the checklist with you and go through it with them rather than sending it out first?

Something else I’ll mention here is striving to get as deep as feasible into what they are really after, then helping them articulate that in a compelling way that excites them. Which is exactly what you’re getting at when you speak of “stretching the imagination of landowner and help to arrive at an ambitious but doable goal.” Indeed, I prefer to meet clients away from the property the first time to focus on this. Unless you can get to something that really fires them up the risk is they lose motivation moving forward as the novelty of this new permaculture ‘hobby’ wears off.

A huge part of this phase of the process going well comes down to your own self confidence, by the way. The clients need to feel safe in being able to trust that you know what you’re doing and are not going to screw their perfectly nice lawn and fountains up (such that their friends make fun of them for relying on a hair-brained permaculture hippie :-)). Where your authentic confidence is in turn fed by your demonstrated competence, as in the demonstrated ability to be able to do the sort of thing you’re proposing to them. Which makes me think about the possibility of doing whatever it takes to get a project going, even if as a volunteer, or where you say “pay me whatever it is worth to you when we’re done” or something like that. Once this is behind you, your issue of selling the process may just well evaporate in a puff of all the neighbours yelling “hey, we want you to do for us what you did for them!”

4) analyzing the sectors and influences on the site

First up I’d suggest it makes more sense to do this before the next bit, so I’ve reversed your 4 & 5. Second this step4 flashed by a bit quick for me. I feel like I want to add something like immerse deeply in the site and really get to know it as a whole.

5) drawing a conceptual zone map of the site and discussing with owners

I think the idea of zones has its place, for sure. So think of it more as a food for thought item when I share that I never map zones in the design and development processes I am part of. There just always seems to be something more relevant and useful to do instead I guess. Sure, in the process the things that need attention the oftenest end up the nearest to the energy centre (I like someone’s summary of the zoning idea as “oftenest nearest”).5

I guess I should say something to the question this might prompt of “then what the heck do you do then, Palmer?” Well, one alternative heuristic is Yeoman’s Scale of Permanence. I customise this to fit the situation but it does often work out that we focus (after climate and landform) on water then access then trees. So this would be something to consider trying instead here – drawing a concept plan ordered around a project-appropriate scale of permanence. You may already know that Darren Doherty is probably the global authority on this approach what with his Regrarians Platform.

6) creating a map of possibilities (vision that can be realized in 4 years) with my view on optimal placement of all desired elements

A quick note here is not forgetting to simultaneously zoom out and make sure that the fabric or flow or texture of the site as a whole is unfolding in a beautiful, harmonic way. Often times in our obsessive focus on getting the elements assembled right we neglect the shape and feel of the whole. Where it is the shape of the whole and the negative spaces between the elements that largely how good a place looks and feels. And the better it looks and feels, then the happy your customer, and the more enthusiasticall they’ll recommend you to their friends!

8) creating the final vision for the next 4 years

So this is where I starting getting nervous Artūrs. As you’ll know if you’ve read pretty much any of posts in the last year or so, I don’t like the idea of a final vision. First, it is never final. Second, when we focus on drawing then realising a vision, we too quickly lose track of the underlying intention the vision is supposed to be in service of, and we almost inevitably fall into one of two traps. Either we:

  • Realise the vision (which is a trap because if we somehow were able to impose a vision that was finalised four years ago we definitely missed the multiple times that reality suggested a better next step to take and we ignored it in favour of the vision).
  • Don’t realise the vision (which means we potentially wasted a lot of time creating it)

So I would suggest, Artūrs, the possibility of deleting this step and replacing it with something like “helping identify the best next step based on the concept plan and the current reality of the site and the people, then supervising its implementation.” Just an idea – take it with a grain of salt. Though I can’t count how many designers who have told me of the disillusionment they feel when after years of selling final visions / master plans they realise that the clients never got around to implementing them or tried and completely stuffed them up.6


Okay Artūrs you asked my opinion and you got it. Based on my own experience working as a professional permaculture designer and my understanding of where you are at and where you are heading I’d throw this suggested transformation of your existing process description at you:

1) checking for a good fit of owner’s values, ambitions and resources,
2) interviewing the client and asking a number of questions about goals, expectations, needed outcomes regarding yields etc.
3) visiting the site, observing and clarifying the questions,
4) immerse deeply in the site and really get to know it as a whole including analyzing the sectors and influences on the site
5) drawing a concept plan (whether zonal or organised around the scale of permanence) of the site and discussing with owners
6) creating a map of possibilities (vision that can be realized in 4 years) with my view on optimal placement of all desired elements and a coherent, harmonious patterning to the site as a whole
7) discussing the possibilities and selecting priorities of design elements to be implemented
8) supervising the implementation of the highest design priority, then circling back to 7, and so on, round and round…

All the best, hope has been something of use in this for your design process adventures Artūrs, and thanks so much for catalysing then co-creating this post together with me.


Adventures in Generative Transformation: Trying to Break Client’s Design Ideas

Hey all. I’m liking the rhythm of a post at least once a week currently, I must say. However, in the lead up to a workshop on Holistic Decision Making in the middle of nowhere that started yesterday, I’m not going to be making the time to see through either of a few longer posts-in-preparation. I’ll instead keep the ball rolling by sharing a recent short video of a fun moment on a design consult with my clients-become-friends Luke, Christy and Tully who are developing their 30 acres in Clunes, Victoria with a bit of help here and there from myself.

I trust this won’t come across the wrong way, but an essential aspect of an living process where generative transformation is at play is that you thoroughly interview incoming ideas before you give them a role in the system being developed. Here is how Christopher Alexander puts it in Volume Two of his The Nature of Order series.

We should therefore be extremely skeptical about the first possibilities that present themselves to our minds. We should run through the possibilities first, and reject most of them. If we do accept it, reluctantly, only when we finally find something that for which no good reason presents itself to reject it, which appears genuinely wonderful to us, and which demonstrably makes the feeling of the whole become more profound.

But of course, if one merely jumps at the image that presents itself, and if one carries a self-deluded idea that it must be good because it came up in one’s own brain — the chances are good that this first or second, or third ‘inspiration’ is something not good, but more likely something bad (p. 258)

It was in this spirit that I tried to politely destroy Christy and Luke’s idea during this design session…

Bringing it all together in one diagram (Part Nine) – Mapping the design process centre of gravity of permaculture, culture, and even of nature herself (My turn!)

Okay, as promised, this post is my turn to complete the little exercise I invited others to complete in the last post. Mega thanks to Finn, Pete and Ryan who contributed their own take on this.

Mission 1.1: Where is Permaculture in General At?

When I do this exercise, as per the slightly disturbing above image, my little green smoothie blob lands here:1


Let me explain, taking the two axes one at a time. Let’s start with the x-axis which runs from fabricating (detailed master planning before implementing) through hybrid (concept planning before implementing) to generating (no up-front planning – concept and details emerge inside creating process).

Here I have permaculture’s centre of gravity in the fabricating space, with a little bloblet (my name for a pseudopod)) edging into hybrid. This is accurate to my previous in-depth inquiries into this very matter. In a previous post I shared this table, for instance, in which fabricating an up-front detailed master plan is very much the common theme.

As for the y axis, you’ll see from my perspective permaculture’s centre of gravity is in the assembling space but again with a little bloblet edging into partitioning. Again, I have gone deep into this previously where the idea of assembling or integrating elements into whole systems dominates most existing discussions I have seen or heard around the nuts and bolts (ha!) of permaculture design process.

Mission 1.2: Where is Permaculture’s Cutting Edge At?

Here I agree with Finn, Peter and Ryan in placing permaculture’s cutting edge up in the four spaces in the top-right of the chart.

Permaculture’s cutting edge

As shown in posts such as this, there have been and continue to be a scattering of design process innovators out in the hybrid space or even edging into the generative space.2 My friend and colleague Meg McGowan just recently wrote on how she is arriving in the hybrid or concept design space as her happy place when supporting others to develop their properties.

As for the y axis I recall comments like the late Toby Hemenway’s:

I think Alexander’s concept is much closer to how permaculturists actually design, by starting with something that is already a whole and then differentiating and integrating additional factors into it. The issue is mostly that our language has not caught up to our practice… Thinking in terms of relationships and organic wholes rather than collections of parts is foreign to our culture and not easy for anyone from Western culture to do. 

I think this is an important point. Any permaculture project that has been around for a while is in the transformation game, without exception. Regardless of what game the folk involved say they are in. You cannot get away with only assembly or partitioning without things falling over pretty quick. That said, my experience is that what is possible on the ground does shift to a different level in terms of the quality of outcomes when things are being explicitly approached through the frame of transformation. What I’m getting at is that I don’t think it is a matter of saying “oh well, if that is what we are doing anyway then who cares how we talk about it.” The way we frame things in our language matters (go listen to Carol Sanford on this point if you need convincing). So for me the cutting edge of permaculture design practice involves transformation both at the language/understanding and the practice levels.

These days I fairly regularly get emails from followers of this blog sharing their adventures in hybrid transformation and other of these top-right four spaces that are outside permaculture-in-general’s centre of gravity. Jason Gerhardt and Finn Weddle are two examples.

Mission 2: Where is Modern Culture At?

Like Finn, I see the centre of gravity of modern culture as a whole as hovering between the lower left corner and off the chart all together (or off the rails, as it were). Where things are either master planned (fabricated) as assemblies (A1) or things aren’t designed at all meaning they happen randomly, haphazardly, winging-it style.

Modern culture

Mission 3: Where is the Rest of Nature At?

What of the rest of the natural world we are inseparably embedded or enmeshed within? In which of the nine spaces does it play? For me there is nothing non-generative and nothing non-transformative in this domain. There are certainly no upfront plans,3 and it’s all the ongoing transformation of holons or whole-parts or nested wholes.

The rest of nature

That said, Finn’s take on this really hits the spot (as well as tickles my funny bone) for me:

“screw your chart, Dan!”

It’s like C3 (generative transformation) is this puny little window that nature explodes out of and blows to smithereens. Or better that C3 is this puny little window that gives us a tiny bit of insight into one tiny little aspect of nature’s modus operandi.

In contemplating Finn’s diagram this image emerged from some hidden recess in my mind. Yes it is a bit weird but it’s my blog so I’ll do what I like, you hear me?

…if you’re an optimist, you could say permaculture is an attempt to actually create a Garden of Eden” – Bill Mollison
“I’m an optimist” – Dan Palmer

The Upshot

Upshot is that Peter and Finn’s take correlates extremely highly with my own. Ryan’s to a slightly lesser extent but the gist is the same. Synchronisation exercise complete!

Pete’s take

Position Aside, what direction are we heading? And at what velocity?

As discussed in my previous posts about process signatures (and anticipated by Finn in his chartings), position in the nine spaces is one thing. But even more interesting, perhaps, is a) what direction we are heading in and b) at what velocity?

It seems clear to me, as corroborated by Peter and Finn, that permaculture-in-general’s design process centre of gravity is moving upward and toward the right in the nine-space chart. Further, my sense is that this movement is slowly accelerating.

If so, this would mean permaculture is not only moving toward its cutting edge (which makes sense) but toward greater alignment and resonance with how the rest of nature rolls (which also makes sense). Not to mention moving directly away from the mainstream cultural process signature (to which permaculture as initially proposed was a radical alternative, let us not be forgetting).

In the next post, which will be the last of this little series on the chart, I’ll explain why this excites me. To give you a hint, it excites me because I believe it represents permaculture’s coming back home.


Joel Glanzberg: Continuing the conversation about permaculture and working to regenerate whole living systems (E20)

Joel Glanzberg – the sequel

I was fully stoked to have this second chat with Joel Glanzberg where we continue exploring his journey with living systems thinking and working within a regenerative paradigm (after first talking in episode twelve). Same topic yet very different energy as the previous episode with Joel’s long-term colleague Carol Sanford.

As we discuss Joel is heading to Melbourne in July 2019, where in addition to running some Regenerative Practitioner training he’ll be giving a free talk July 17 and a one-day workshop on Regenerating Place July 27 – both in Brunswick, Melbourne. He’ll also be tagging along with me to some of my current projects so I look forward to reporting back on those adventures and conversations in due course :-).

Check out Regenisis Group here, the Regenerative Practitioner training here, and Joel’s personal site Pattern Mind here.

Here is the full text from Joel’s open letter to the permaculture movement (please share any thoughts you have about this or the episode in a comment – I always so appreciate hearing how this stuff is landing out there):

First of all, I want to thank you, not only for your good efforts, time, and energy but for your caring…your caring not only for this living earth but for the people and the beauty of life. Thank you.

Many of you may know of my work from the example of Flowering Tree in Toby Hemenway’s excellent book Gaia’s Garden and the video 30 Years of Greening the Desert, others from my regenerative community development work with Regenesis. In any case I know that you share my concerns for the degrading condition of the ecological and human communities of our biosphere and I am writing to you to ask for your help.

We are at a crisis point, a crossroads and if we are to turn the corner we need to use everything at our disposal to its greatest effect. My concern is that we are not using the very powerful perspective of permaculture to its greatest potential and that we need to up our game. We know that the living world is calling for this from us.

I often feel that permaculture design is like a fine Japanese chisel that is mostly used like a garden trowel, for transplanting seedlings. It can of course be used for this purpose, but is certainly not its highest use.

Permaculture Design has often been compared to a martial art such as Aikido because at its heart it is about observing the forces at play to find the “least change for the greatest effect”; a small move that changes entire systems. This is how nature works and is precisely the sort of shortcut we desperately need.

The lowest level of any martial art is learning to take a hit well. Yet this is where so much of our energy seems to be directed: setting ourselves and our communities up to be resilient in the face of the impacts of climate change and the breakdown of current food, water, energy, and financial systems.

The next level is to avoid the blow, either through dodging, blocking or redirecting it. Much of the carbon farming and other efforts directed toward pulling carbon out of the atmosphere and developing non-carbon sources of energy fall into this category.

At their highest expression practitioners track patterns to their source, shifting them before they take form, redirecting them in regenerative directions. This is what is behind principles like “obtain a yield” or “the problem is the solution” and the reason for protracted and thoughtful observation. We learn to read energies and to find the acupuncture-like inoculation or disturbance that changes the manifestation by changing the underlying pattern. Problems are turned into solutions and provide us with yields if we can stop trying to stop or block them. This is the pattern of Regeneration.

Every permaculture technique is a small disturbance that shifts the underlying pattern and hence the system. Water-harvesting structures, rotational grazing, chicken tractors, mulching, spreading seed-balls, setting cool ground fires in rank meadows or forests, transforming spoiling milk into creamy cheese, revolving loan funds, libraries, and even the design course itself all follow this pattern. The point is to disturb brittle senescent systems to allow the emergence of the next level of evolution, even if the system is our preconceptions and habits of thought. This is at the heart of self-organizing systems and the key to effective change efforts.

In a changing world it does no good to teach a man to fish. What happens when currents or climate or communities change? It is essential to teach how to think about fishing, whatever can be fished with whatever is at hand. This is why it is called permaculture DESIGN.

In its highest form permaculture is not about designing anything. It is a pattern-based approach to designing systemic change efforts. This is the point of the PDC as well as all that time spent in the forest or garden. It is to learn how living systems work and how to observe them to find the effective change so that we can apply those skills to shifting the living systems most in need of shifting: human systems including how we think about the world.

Changing paradigm tops systems thinker Donella Meadows list of the most effective places to intervene in systems. To effectively change the systems that are causing global degeneration we need to change the human paradigm and we need to start by shifting our paradigm of what permaculture is. If we do not shift these larger human systems our lovely gardens and beautiful hand built homes don’t have a chance.

Although the PDC contains many techniques and ways of doing, it is about changing how we think about the world primarily. It is meant to crack our certainties about everything from agriculture to economics and how the world works. This is why so many of the principles are like a whack on the side of the head. “What do you mean the problem is the solution? Or that yield is limited only by my mind?”

If the PDC is designed to shift our paradigm, then it shows us the pattern of shifting people’s paradigms. And this is the greatest use of our skills. Not to create gardens or to train gardeners, but to shift the thinking of folks who understand business and economics, laws and governance, so that they can all be re-thought and re-worked to follow the patterns of living systems.

We have been warned that “the map is not the territory” and then have mistaken the map of permaculture as the territory of permaculture. Living in a materialistic and mechanistic culture we have grabbed onto the stuff and mechanisms of permaculture rather than the essential patterns. Just because we learn about living systems through gardens, forests, and fields, does not mean that is where our art is most fruitfully applied.

So what am I asking of you? Please just think about this. Let it burn out the choked underbrush of your certainty. Watch how it effects how you think, and teach, design, and work. Let it open room to let something new emerge in the sunlit space. While cracks in structures need to be fixed, in nature from splitting seed coats, hatching chicks, or birthing babies or ideas, cracks are the doorways to new life.

Please forward this around your networks. Debate it. Trash it. Try it on and try it out. If you would like to know more or let me know your thoughts please go to

Many thanks for your open hearts and minds,

Joel Glanzberg

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