I have been working for a couple of weeks part-time on documenting an organisational structure for International Permaculture Convergences, I have shared this information with Michael Pilarski in USA, David Curtis (eco-arts conference co-odinator) and Andy Goldring in UK. Here is a summary of my work:
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
One of the biggest challenges with a big one-off international/national event is that the system needs charismatic leaders yet we must also nurture their support team. We must ensure the comfort of delegates and facilitate harmony in the movement internationally. As we do in permaculture design, we can develop systems to encourage feedback during and after the process.
The permaculture international movement can embrace diversity of venues and culture, and pioneer a new conference style and tools (database and planning methods and organisational structure). We can set a clear target, build shared tools, create effective feedback mechanisms and have the skills to create the optimum venue.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email

Here are some recommendations for the Organisational Structure of Permaculture Events…

A Model for International Permaculture Conference and Convergences Organisational Structure

TOP LEVEL involves two parties: The IPC Support Committee IPCSC
and Hosting Organisation

The IPC Support Committee IPCSC

  • IPCSC prepares mission statement outlining the purpose of the Conferences, Tours and Convergences
  • IPCSC outlines and publishes criteria for selection of Hosting Organisation
  • Ensures months of engagement in the process of selection (not just 4 meetings at the convergence) is consultative and transparent about the selection process and final voting procedure.
  • The committee then chooses a suitable Host Organisation, makes the offer in writing and appoints two contact persons (Ambassadors) for communications with the host body.
  • The Host Organisation appoints their IPCSC ambassadors for facilitate discussion. It is important that the IPC Selection Committee remains in regular contact with that host throughout the preparation, the event and the follow-up period.

The Hosting Organisation

  • The Hosting Organisation appoints a Co-ordinator and it is wise to insist that the Co-Ordinator has a mentor/assistant to ask them how things are going and check they stay on target.
  • The Hosting Organisation must communicate their goals, time-frames and conduct meetings with their Co-ordinator to check if targets have been met and if not, why.
  • The Co-ordinator needs to be demonstrate they understand all the roles involved, create and manage a team of key administrators. The Co-ordinator reports to the The Hosting Organisation Board and Ambassadors to establish time-frame and check points and show progress.

TEAM OF 3 Key Administrators:

  • Financial Administration
  • Information Dissemination
  • Program Organisation

1. Financial Administrator

1.0 Registrar:

Handles and tracks registration. Prepares lists of attendees, payments made, etc for use at the gate and spends a lot of time at the gate overseeing on-site registration.

  1. Invite local people involved either in a special day for them before the event, or by telecasting where allowed by the Indian Government include local people in cultural displays and discussions – the talks and walks demonstrating bush tucker/wild medicine etc are always popular).
  2. Regional and International Delegates pay full fee. However, we could offer an Early Bird Discount which could help cover pre-conference costs. Note current IPSC policy states that only people with PDC may attend the Permaculture Convergences.
  3. Keynote speakers may be offered discounted fees where appropriate. This needs to be addressed in budgeting team.
  4. Sponsored Delegates could have their fees offered at a reduced rate or have sponsorship programs where they actively raise part of their own fee through official IPC support programs, this was recommended by past delegate managers.
  5. Permaculture Novices, media respresentatives etc – interested parties wishing to learn new ideas from the hosting region and from keynote speakers and delegates can pay well to attend the dinner, plenary and keynote presentations and tours but will be excluded from convergence.

1.1 Database controller:

Keeps one central Database, keep it current, secure and ensure document control.
1.1.2 Bookkeeper/Accountant:
A CPA or someone experienced in accounting. Set up a system and maintain it.
1.1.3 Provide Transparency
Keep accessible records (maybe financial progress reports online), show where you have spent money and time on projects related to the event.

1.2 Inclusive Catering and Accommodation

1.2.1 Food commissioner who receives food donations, sorts, stores and lets cooks know what is available and where it is. The Kitchen, to demonstrate Permaculture Ideals is perhaps the biggest job of the fair. Keeping people happily fed. The kitchen scene will require a number of coordinators as well as many volunteers and work-traders. A large kitchen is needed to match the size of the event and space to serve hundreds of people at a time. The goal is to have something to please everyone. We will aim for a large percentage of the food to be locally grown.

  • Cultural and other Dietary requests, Various chefs who lead particular meals, in conjunction with speciality cooks who can prepare specific types of food such as raw food, vegan, salads, desserts, meat dishes, etc.
  • Ensure there is access to safe water at all times. Supply life-straws to delegates as part of their registration package. Provide Water Stations will clean, safe water.
  • Serving line coordinator. The larger the crowd the more serving lines are needed. The goal is that lines are not too long, otherwise meals go overtime and people don’t get to workshops on time, etc. What usually works best are long tables with lines going down both sides. Multiple ladles, serving spoons in pots and bowls. Separate condiment tables at the end of the lines speeds things up immensely. Different food options have different lines, eg. meat option table, vegetarian lines, special needs line.

1.2.2 First Aid Stations
1.2.3 Facilities
To Encourage Diversity of participants eg. Family programs and advisors on where young people can participate safely. This also ensures that young parents can participate.
1.2.4 Disability Access
1.2.5 Enable Delegate Self-Help.
Include facilities ie. Tea Kitchen, ‘Corner Store’, nearby coffee shops and restaurants. A action Team can set up a self-serve tea kitchen. Oversee and clean during the event. Dismantle at the end. OR this can be outsourced by coffee van vendors or food stalls.

1.3 Budgeting

1.3.1 Grants, Sponsorships, Permafund, Crowd Sourcing,

  • Sponsors/Fund Raising Action Team solicits sponsors to raise funds and in-kind donations. Sets up crowd-funding mechanisms like Indiegogo. Applies for grants. Solicits donations to fund low-income people which could include inner-city, Native People, refugees, third-world delegates etc.

1.3.2 Commerce and Industry Affiliation policies, Sponsorship, Advertising, Poster/Stall Displays, Pricing Policy Team

  • Trade show/Vendor Coordination Action Team:Solicit appropriate vendors and companies/organisations for the trade show. Register trade show parties and vendors. Trade show/Vendor placement at event. Trade show/Vendor liaison during event

1.3.3 Merchandise and other income.
A lot of people bought T-shirts in Cuba simply because there were no facilities to launder their clothes! Maybe we could sell biodegradable underwear. :>

2. Information Administrator

2.1 Publicity

2.1.1 Webpage, Social media, Media representation, email newsletters Publicity/Outreach/Marketing Action Team
Graphic art, Press releases & ads, Poster development, Poster and handbill distribution, Publicity packets (participants and allies), TV and Radio, General Mailing, Facebook management and other social media, Internet outreach, Liaison to regional pc groups
2.1.2 On-site Information Booth, Regitration Desk with Registration packages containing gifts (handmade soap, stationary, life-straw, Bag etc.) and information
2.1.3 Notice Board, Multilingual Sign-age.
2.1.4 Merchandise Stall, Sample Bags, Sale of some personal hygiene and other travel supplies.
2.1.5 Meeting Places:
Informal Hub, Bar, Participatory Projects, Garden Club, Musicians Club, Tours and pre- Simposium meetings.
2.1.6 Post Event Management:
Publisher Proceedings, Thank you Process, Debriefing Process, Feedback Surveys
2.1.7 Translation Co-ordinator and Team of translators
2.1.8 Business, Telephone and Internet Access Points and Desks, phone charging power points.

2.2 HR [People] Management

2.2.1 Delegate Managers:

  • Cultural Advisor (ie. In Cuba, few people realised that the taking of photographs discouraged Cubans to participate as they are uncomfortable being shot on camera and video.)
  • Sponsored Delegates Manager (writing selection criteria, setting up systems to facilitate sponsorship, building means for sponsors to develop own fund-raising with official support).
  • Women’s Advisor (this is important for places where women are at risk or unsure of customs and procedures).
  • Speakers Manager, (Speakers will want specialised management and will turn to the co-ordinator for assistance, The co-ordinator can delegate this role to a nominated carer.

2.2.3 Meals, Travel & Accommodation communication

  • Head Chef. Handles food ordering. Menu planning. Overseas kitchen. This can be outsourced or part of the Venue choice.

2.2.3 Emergency and Evacuation Co-ordinator
(I have had the personal experience of attending two major events that had life threatening weather events including a cyclone, it is handy to know there is a safety plan and who to turn to for advice).

3. Programming Administrator

3.1 Planning Team handles the event-management and venue control

3.1.1 Event Management

  • Presenter Action Team: Works with the inner ring/core group to set policy and establish time frames. Speakers Selection Team for Plenary & Section Speakers and selection of Symposium co-ordinators, Get their bios and workshop information and needs. Production of an Official Format, Vetting of Papers, Preparation of presentations for Translation co-ordinator, Send official program details to the Information team.
  • Post Conference Proceedings Publication. Establish publication policy before calling for speakers and presentations.
    When we the organisers call for submissions, we can make policies clear eg. that speakers must have the paper ready before the day and they must turn up or their paper will not be published. (Some academics put their name and paper in a conference but not show up to deliver it because they just need the points/kudos for publication.)

    • Appoint a carer/agent to help each Keynote Presenter to receive calls in preparation, check in and offer on-site assistance. Introduce Keynote speakers to their MC and time keeper. Communicate policies on time keeping and presentation formats.
  • Symposium Co-ordinators (Subject Facilitators could choose and organise their team). We can call for applications for Symposium co-ordinators as a separate category.
  • Translation Co-ordinator (organises translations using prepared papers) Consults with Speakers who will present in a Language other than English and is consulted during the formation of the “Official Format Information for Presentations”. See 1.1.1 Speakers

3.2 Arts Program Co-ordinator:

Entertainment, Decorations, Performances, Music, Opening and Closing Ceremonies

3.3 Practical Demonstrations and Hands On Opportunities:

Workshops, Projects ie. A Participatory Eco-Sculpture, Constructions, Compost Toilets & Showers, Native Foods, Traditional Weaving or paintings. (these were well demonstrated at Karunda QLD)

3.4 Site Enrichment

On site projects that leaves the venue with permaculture enrichment. (In Cuba the beach pollution was actively reduced)

4. Venue Management

2.1 Venue Co-ordinator.

It is useful not to choose a venue until you have a good idea of the program, how many people are participating and what type of events will be involved.
2.1.1 Volunteer/Work Trade coordinator.
Sets up system for people to apply for work trade and for people to volunteer during the event. Vet the work-traders. Assign jobs, keep in touch with them. Oversee work coordination during the event.

  • Tool Coordinator We can expect that there will be a lot of hands-on activities We will need a lot of tools and its nice to have someone help keep them all in one place, organised and functional. Create a tool shed or room as required.

2.2 Event H.R. Co-ordinator

Liases with Speakers and their carer/agent, a team of Time Keepers, a venue Managers of each venue/room (these people keep the rooms clean, comfortable (lights, air flow), manage the sound equipment etc. MC’s
2.2.1 Technical Support Team.

  • Audio/Visual Solicit equipment from host and regional suppliers and supporters. How many projectors and screens will we need? Extension cords, power strips/boards, various adaptors, including overseas power adaptors. Some presenters will bring their own and may be willing to loan them out. Several people are needed at each major workshop period to visit each classroom and troubleshoot as needed. Probably be good to have one A/V person who does the stage set up. Amplification for keynote talks/Plenary presentacions.
  • Lighting, Power and other technical support for kitchen, on-site officie staff, Retail and other facilities.
  • Documentation
    An Official photographer. Audio and video recording. Live streaming where appropriate. Perhaps a skyping center for interviews to be broadcast/online. Arranging skyping presentations from off-site presenters such as David Holmgren. Negotiate with Technical Support Team.
  • convergence-150x150
    • Facebook
    • Twitter
    • Email Emergency Team.
    Extreme weather event plans.
    Emergency Lighting, undercover alternatives, Heating? Cooling?

2.3 Waste Manager and Team of Workers.

Compost, Recycling, Trash Crew Coordinator and several volunteers. Set up systems beforehand. Monitor and upkeep during the conference. Arrange disposal and recycling. Arrange for organic material to be composted or used in hugelkulturs, fed to livestock, etc.
2.3.1 Clean up crew Coordinator and volunteers.
Its really nice to have some dedicated people fresh and raring to go for the clean up.
Disassemble tarps, tents, etc. Litter patrol. Decorations and signs removal. Utilities wrap-up, vendor support, etc.

2.4 Security

Is required for audio/visual equipment, retail stalls (books for sale) and delegates mis-placed property.
2.4.1 Security may needs to be considered for safety of delegates.

  • Gate Coordinator [where required] Shift captains train and manage volunteers. Numerous volunteers needed. Greet vehicles, check them in, Registrar collects their money. Gate has its busy periods and its slow periods and is staffed accordingly. 24 hour staffing. Security can assist at night.
  • Parking Coordinator and volunteers as needed. The parking crew handles traffic before and after people finish registration. Parking areas include: day parking, car camping, tent camping, RVs, and delivery of goods. Parking has its busy periods and its slow periods and is staffed accordingly.
  • Camping Crew [where required] Choose safe camping spaces away from vehicles. Make and install signage at the beginning of the event. Assist campers. Most delegates are busy at the beginning of the event. Keep an eye on the camping area. This is an area of overlap with parking and security.
    • Sanitary Facilities: Co-ordinator Researches best practice, cultural requirements and best suppliers, then makes recommendation to Finance Administration. Organise optimum placement of compost toilets and showers. Monitor cleaning and management. This should be outsourced to professionals.


Be Special. Offer something regional. eg. Have regional food, regional music and best of all have great tour sites and well organised tours. These are the highlight of a convergence for many of us.


Be Savy. Given that most people listen at more than twice the speed at which the presenters can talk, then the presentations need to be clean, smart and substantiated. A lot of people complain that they felt they were a. being lectured at and b. being treated as children. We shudder when people say things like ‘trust me’.
Personally, I find the notion of hosting a bunch of pioneering, highly observant and politically motivated people a little bit alarming. How do we create a space that makes us all feel able to participate, all valued and all heard??
Here’s an idea – if someone is going to present in Spanish – ask them to have their image text in English and vice versa because not everyone had access to the translation earpiece. Self determination another powerful tool. Search for venues where people can choose to visit other shops/cafes if they need water or food. We wouldn’t put animals in such confined quarters and expect them to be productive.


Structure versus Flexibility. There seems to be a struggle in some of the elders thinking that they want the process to be organic and flexible and informal and yet, it needs to be functional, efficient and supportive to the delegates. So my idea is it can have the structure of a tree – it is responsive to the environment but strong, branched and including open space.
Have a timetable and stick to it. It costs everyone a lot of money to attend the an international event. The small players matter. They are innovators and deserve respect.
Accept venue limits and and be firm. It would be pure greed and lunacy to expect the event-management and other participants to cope with an influx.

Managing Numbers:

There is an International Women’s Music festival in the UK where the queues are made fun by entertainers. Women stand and chat and get entertained as they pass through. The entertainers are given priority, they get to ‘jump the queue’ when they are needing to be served, and the general participants respect that.
As for queuing, yes, a queue is efficient for the kitchen staff but simply not possible for all participants. Some people burn very quickly (especially my red-headed family and friends). Also, some people need to sit because they have injured a leg, feeling poorly or simply elderly.
Being inclusive means we need to devise systems that accommodate all walks of life (excuse the bad pun). Also, some people of different cultures and different degrees of social ability ignore the etiquette of queues. There are always going to be people who push in and this creates a feeling of disharmony. Australians would rather starve than queue and so, they go hungry and then complain or simply walk off. Many Asians will indeed starve rather than loose face. Londoners, in particular have a culture of immensely quiet tolerance and willingness to be polite as long as the system seems to be working. Boisterous behaviour in some ill-content delegates could get your valuable volunteers in a fractious mindset.
So, ensuring that there is an efficient system is essential and bonuses can be supplied eg. most people can be entertained and distracted even if they think the distraction is quaint, or silly. Shaded seats can be arranged to the side of the queuing area. light refreshment can be offered while people wait. Luggage and other heavy items can be accommodated by lockers. Wheel chairs can be supplied.
For meals, everyone can be allowed in and seated and wait at their table. If there are more people than there are seats, allow a set in and tell the next group to return for the next sitting in 30mins. We don’t have to leave people standing and waiting. Food can be brought in platters to share out at the tables or table-by-table people are invited to the buffet. This reduces waste (people rarely serve themselves food they don’t eat and if a table doesn’t eat all their food, then it can be offered to another table without fear of contamination).


Expect the unexpected, expect disasters with the money system, bad weather, thieves (my artwork for the Indian bid was stolen within 10minutes of my presentation), sickness (have emergency medical aid just as we do at rock festivals) and give people plenty of choices – include activities where they can get their hands dirty or make stuff or interact, give them the chance to get in and help and most of all, remember to say thanks.


Many conferences disappoint when the organisers try to keep adapting the schedule to solve errors or accommodate requests.
If you need to change things, find a way that does not involve the delegates having to change their program. Ie. Move equipment around rather than change the speakers from an advertised time-slot and venue. “who moved the goal posts?” is a constant despair of delegates at the poorly organised events. In terms of people hours: wasting the time of one hundred delegates is more costly than spending the time of one good program manager and a small team of strict time keepers.
Adhere to The Program
Program errors will snow-ball. One error by a time keeper will be felt throughout the whole day and across all the streams. Some details are essential for the smooth running of a convergence.
Treat the program with great respect and care. Spend time with the team to analyse the program and check it works. Role playing could help in determining movements of delegates, speakers and volunteers.
The program, once in place, is like a delicate web of events – moving one strand may have far-reaching effects. There could be a presenter who raised money, left his farm and family, caught a plane at midnight searched for a bus, couldn’t afford a taxi, had his wallet stolen and phone goes flat but runs to the venue in time for his special opportunity, only to discover it was moved to an earlier time slot or is now cancelled. What price do we put on disappointment? (who notices?). The permaculture community as a whole suffers when people are disappointment, even they don’t voice disappointment. It is highly likely that we will loose their positive energy because they will turn their efforts to other projects where they feel valued and can make a difference.
In Permaculture, the international community must strive to be as dependable and as resilient as a forest. The convergence is the structure from which we can develop ideas, we can voice concerns, find solutions and grow in the comfort of good ethics and like-minds. The best convergences are inclusive and fill us with inspiration.
Thank you

Michael Pilarski, Andy Golding, Narsanna Koppula, David Curtis (Co-ordinator of Eco-Arts Conference in Australia)

This is a document for discussion prepared by April Sampson-Kelly

Share This

Share this post with your friends!