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Story by Russ Grayson, May 2015

WE WROTE… others commented… we edited… the content started to become more clearly defined… we realised we needed to Skype to move forward… John McKenzie set that up… we edited again until we reached the final edit… then participants in this collaborative process agreed that we were ready.
On the evening of the final day, hours before the deadline, Fiona Campbell laid out the submission, applying her communications usability design knowledge… and the designed draft was circulated. Then Fiona noticed something that needed improving (for my own wellbeing I won’t say that she could be… maybe, that is… something of a detail person). She improved it and sent it out again. It was now minutes before the Permaculture Australia (PA) Board of Directors meeting. The Board considered the document. Fern Rainbow, a director, emailed it to the government enquiry not all that long before the midnight deadline ticked around.
It had been an interesting three or so days. In that time, PA had devised its position on the topic of the government enquiry — the House of Representatives Standing Committee Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations — formulated a response, considered and edited that response, designed it as a document, approved it at a Board meeting and electronically delivered it to the government inquiry.
Stimulated by seeking to maintain the flow of donations to PA’s Permafund tax-deductible grants scheme, the production of the submission was a collaboration between permaculture practitioners over vast geographic distances, a collaboration squeezed between the cracks and into the gaps of daily life, a team effort that got the submission to its destination complete, coherent and on time.

Submission or not?

There had been some back-and-forth online, discussing whether PA should make a submission. Opinion drifted to the affirmative and down in Melbourne John McKenzie started the collaboration by writing some preliminary material. In a rainswept Sydney Russ Grayson edited this and added additional content. Along on the southern Victorian coastline Fern Rainbow added more. Others joined the discussion, adding their ideas. An impetus started to build. Through this back-and-forth, to-and-fro process of discussing ideas, writing and editing, the submission began to take shape.
What started it was a federal government inquiry into organisations, like Permaculture Australia, that receive tax-deductible donations and that are listed by the federal government as REOs — Registered Environmental Organisations. This, we thought, was something that deserved a response. Thanks to online digital communications systems without which a response would have been impossible, the process slipped out of the abstraction of an idea and into reality.

What did we learn?

What can we learn from this collaboration?

First, distance is no longer a barrier to getting things done in permaculture. In a general sense it ceased being that when the first email systems were devised. Permaculture practitioners make use of the plethora of online communications technology to get the job done. PA does this too. We are not technophobes. Technology is our tool.
Second, PA can move rapidly on matters of urgency and accomplish them in a collaborative manner, largely through a self-organising process. The precedent for this occurred around a year-and-a-half ago when PA wrote and distributed a media release after Ausveg, the industry organisation, criticised farmers’ markets and community gardens and biosecurity hazards.
Third, supplementing the PA Board of Directors with a self-organising PA Supporters Team has paid off. As it was intended to, this ad-hoc team works with Board members to deliberate ideas and come to decisions by crowdsourcing solutions. The Supporters Team has an informal membership open to all creative,   critical thinkers who are interested.
Fourth, the conversational side trips that emerged from the process of producing the submission were of great value. Although it didn’t figure in the submission, the conversation around permaculture design course (PDC) offerings and graduate numbers demonstrated that a seemingly intractable question like estimating the number of people who have engaged with permaculture training in Australia were in fact solvable. The conversation resulted with a rough estimate of that number. We came to that through discussion, the questions and answers we each made stimulating others until we reached a loose agreement. Doing that was good.

A limited technology

The problem with using email for this type of endeavour is that it is peripheral, unless you sort the email you want to keep into mailboxes or otherwise file it in some accessible place.
Better would be to make use of the PA website’s Buddypress feature. It retains communications as a themed and time-ordered stream. It also has a feature for collaborative writing and editing that would have been of value in producing the submission.

And, thanks

PA, I believe, should feel good about itself in producing this submission. Doing that was a testament to the motivation that comes through permaculture, a confirmation that PA can cast off shackles that would slow it down, that permaculture practitioners scattered across this continent can act together for the collective good.
Sure, the submission was a hurried production. There might be important things unsaid and other things that could have been more clearly explained. But, considering the writing, editing, production and approval process occupied what time people had available in the three or so days before deadline, it is what we could accomplish with the time, information and motivation present.
So, thanks to our fellow-collaborators. We’ve made our position clear to the government and to others who read the submission.
[button_link url=”” target=”blank” style=”blue” title=”” class=”” id=”” onclick=””]Download submission (pdf 1.6MB)[/button_link]  

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