The main points
- Permaculture needs an online, global network.
- Improved global networking is needed.
- There is a need for a means of continuing the conversations started at international permaculture convergences.
- Permaculture needs to provide verifiable evidence that its ideas work.
THREE INTERVIEWS one evening, three in succession next morning, a meeting with other interviewers later that day, three interviews a day later, one interview the following day and one the following evening. It has been a busy few days immersed in the global permaculture network.
The interviews were for steward roles in phase two of the Permaculture CoLab project. Phase one was known as Permaculture’s Next Big Step. It started at the international permaculture convergence in Cuba and was further developed at the international convergence in the UK a couple years ago.
The project is moving into its second phase that begins now that the international permaculture convergence in India has finished. CoLab led workshops at the convergence. The first meeting of the stewards is scheduled for mid-December.
The impetus to develop the Permaculture CoLab came from the realisation, as one CoLab practitioner put it, that “permaculture is the only global movement that doesn’t act like one”. Permaculture usually takes the form of local organisations, though sometimes regional and occasionally national entities like Permaculture Association UK and Permaculture Australia. Yet, the problems it seeks to solve are often global.
As it evolves, CoLab will start to offer support to local permaculture initiatives although how it will do that is not yet clear. That will be the task of the stewards and special projects teams. CoLab will not attempt to control local associations or projects.
The limitations of recruiting
The CoLab interviews were conducted by Andy Goldring, chief executive of the Permaculture Association UK, and others including the author in Australia. Sunshine Coast based sociocracy educator, Erin Young, sometimes participated as an interviewer. We were supported by Permaculture Association UK’s exceptionally organised, ever-calm and unfazeable Naomi van der Velden, one of the people employed to work part time on the project thanks to philanthropic funding.
That funding made the Permaculture Association the core location of the Next Big Step/CoLab. The project has already spawned an International Permaculture Educator’s Network whose goal is “to increase the coherence and effectiveness of permaculture education globally”, and in which Australian permaculture educator and editor of the Tropical Permaculture Guidebook (and here), Lachlan McKenzie, is a participant. The Permaculture International Research Network, another initiative, is a global network of over 700 permaculture researchers in 60 countries.
Interviewees for the steward role were based in the UK, France, Africa, the USA and Spitzbergen (the northernmost permaculture presence on the planet, above the Arctic Circle in the Svalbard archipelago of northern Norway). There were no applicants from other regions including Aotearoa-New Zealand and Australia. Australians have played a role in the development of CoLab, including Ian Lillington from Castlemaine in Victoria, Ed Walta in Melbourne, and the author.
The CoLab crew were interested in applications from other regions, however CoLab has limited capacity for translation to other languages and limited time availability. These proved to be a barrier. So too was the lack of global permaculture networking that would have enabled contact to be made with permaculture practitioners in other places.
To speculate, another barrier to contact with permaculture people in countries like China, Russia and some Middle East states may be their governments’ blocking of social media and other online collaborative platforms. This could become a barrier to the international spread of permaculture and to sharing knowledge and news of opportunities.
Feedback identifies the needs of a globalised permaculture
Asked how CoLab could assist the global permaculture milieu, interviewees repeatedly spoke about the need to share knowledge and experience through a global, online permaculture network. This may be something CoLab could eventually help with.
They also spoke about networking as a means to overcome the decline in communication that follows international permaculture convergences. One described as an “abrupt collapse” the falling off of communication following convergences. The same could be said of Australasian permaculture convergences. The buzz and motivation generated at convergences quickly declines once people go home. This goes some way to explain why projects hatched at convergences sometimes fail to eventuate. One media savvy interviewee in the US proposed the development of an online platform where the conversations started at international convergences could be continued.
The other need identified by interviewees was to establish an evidential basis for permaculture’s work. We need to be able so show evidence, to demonstrate, that permaculture ideas are practical and workable, they said. This implies documenting permaculture projects, publishing that and discussing ideas circulating within the design system.
I found participation in CoLab’s interview process rewarding because I was introduced to some motivated, imaginative and knowledgable people, strategic thinkers with their eye on projects both local, global and long term, people making things happen in permaculture. They inspire me and make me confident that there are level-headed, rational people at the leadership, informal that may frequently be, of the permaculture design system.
With the focus of many permaculture organisations being local, some practitioners might not see the need for a global organisation. This attitude ignores the reality that the problems we face are global and that local permaculture organisations may be trying to deal with local manifestations of those global challenges. While localism might improve conditions where projects are based, it may do little to adapt to or ameliorate the larger problem.
CoLab demonstrates the application of two of Bill Mollison’s permaculture design principles: 1) Work where it counts; 2) Work with those who want to learn. In adopting permaculture’s ‘small and slow solutions’ principle to its own development, Permaculture CoLab has deliberately taken its time to get its starting conditions right. Anyone with a knowledge of systems dynamics will know that starting conditions are critically important to future development.
Now, with phase one completed, phase two awaits the work of the new crew of stewards to unfold CoLab’s program and, at the same time, to built a noticeable global presence for our design system.