Tag Archives: ethics

Iterative Design Process

Iterative Design Process

Simple in it’s form, complex in it’s function. The iterative design process (IDP) works recursively and is best used fractally. Fundamentally it is observation of all interacting parties to find leverage points that move us in the direction of goals, the greater the depth of the observation the more accurate the design.

Goals & Ethics

What should the outcome be? What specific things need to happen? Use the ethics to create and check your goals. Write it down.

Resources & Limits

Your resources and limiting factors are your strengths and weaknesses, your in and out breath. Better make a list.  

Scale of Permanence

Know how much energy you’re committing  and the relative amount of effort and effect. Pick a place to start.

Zone & Sectors

Organize elements by their relative placement and identify incoming or outgoing energy flows. How does your element relate to the whole?

Principles

Use the principles to reveal ways that the resources or  limiting factors might be approached.

Action

I realize I have left out Action from the process. Take what you have learned through this process and put it into action. The larger and complex your change the more time and effort it will take to stabilize. 

Repeat

This may seem too facile but elementary things build up to make the most complex of systems. This process gets the momentum going.

I’m sure it would be useful to see some examples of it’s use, so here is one:

Rhonda Baird, William Faith, and I used a form of the IDP to start a project that would get us, three regionally adjacent permaculture teachers, together teaching a PDC. We’ve ended up forming the GLPDC and running an experiential design course for 6 weekends that has all the lecture frontloaded with short presentations on youtube and some accompanied reading.

Goals & Ethics

A clear and obtainable goal lead to continued forward momentum. Since the goal is guided by the ethics, it has the complexity to cause multiple beneficial effects. We ultimately want to build up the numbers of people who will have the skills, knowledge, and passion to implement high quality designs within our bioregion. 

Resources & Limits

Considering our goals within the context of our resources and limits lead us to use the nature of our lack of proximity as an advantage. We used skype and our recording knowledge to create short lectures, leaving class time as an active experience to increase the student’s momentum. We’ve constructed the course by combining the PINA curriculum with tools from the book “Liberating Structures“, Group Works , and other hands on activities. The experience we have between us gives us the ability to improvise as needed within the framework of our curriculum to give the students the best experience possible.

Scale of Permanence

We know that investing in each of our local bioregions is a long term proposition that can dramatically transform them on a larger time scale. It’s a long hard slog but the result would be worth the effort.

Zone & Sectors

Since the three teachers are up to a day’s drive apart we’re each working in the others zone 5 (the far edge of their influence) but by planning to move each full design course between the three locations we build up a local population of permaculturists, essentially pumping up our combined region with local systems thinkers.

Principles

Leveraging our limited proximity to record lectures is a long term process (small and slow solutions), but provides a new format for our current course (obtain a yield & creatively use & respond to change), and makes them available both for future use (catch and store energy).

Action

We have come together as the GLPDC to put on permaculture courses in each of our locals, benefiting from the strength of our diversity being brought to each of our locations. 

Repeat

As we have proceeded the formalness of the design has softened into something more organic. We continue to progress but new patterns have emerged to continue the momentum rather than get it started.

Balancing the Ethics of Permaculture

In her book People and Permaculture, Looby Macnamara speaks of the way we humans have a penchant for categorizing, compartmentalizing and for creating boundaries between things (where boundaries do not really exist) to facilitate our understanding of the world. This division does allow the human mind to begin to understand complex systems. At the same time, however, there is a danger of losing sight of the bigger picture and therefore our ultimate goals, which can prove counterproductive. “Can’t see the forest for the trees,” as the old adage reminds us.

1280px-The_Scandinavian_Permaculture_festival_of_2013_-_7_HugelcultureOne paradigm informing our current civilization is that humans are separate from nature, an idea reinforced throughout the development of Western religion and philosophy. Because it emerged in the context of this paradigm, the mainstream environmental movement of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has undermined its own intentions. By envisioning humans as separate from the environment, a dichotomy has been created where humans should be “hands-off” and not set foot in nature, lest they “disturb” or “disrupt” natural ecosystems. In reality, we humans are a part of nature, deeply connected to and dependent on all other species for our survival and continuance on this planet. However, it is also apparent that we would not, nor should not, sacrifice ourselves as a species in order to protect nature, since we are inextricably part of this planet’s biome just as is every other species on earth. The paradigm of humans as separate or outside of nature has effectively doomed most environmental action to the status of window dressing, preventing any truly meaningful, long-lasting change toward the end of real sustainability.

Permaculture, a holistic design science which attempts to reintegrate humans into the landscape, was first developed by Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in the 1970s and 1980s. Permaculture’s three ethics – earth care, people care, and future care – are implied to be three aspects of the same concept. Over the years of permaculture’s development and practice in the context of the environmental movement, itself in the context of the human/nature separation paradigm, people have naturally tended to emphasize earth care over the other two ethics. This is evident in the fact that most people today tend to think of permaculture primarily as landscape design or as an agricultural, gardening, or homesteading method.

If one of the three permaculture ethics is missing or deemphasized, then the other two ethics break down. Tim Winton describes an example of this disintegration in this article, which starts with his experiences at Tagari Farm, a permaculture proof-of-concept farm designed and established by Bill Mollison. While all the members of the farm came together in like-mindedness and worked hard at the earth care aspect of permaculture, the farm as a whole eventually suffered because the needs of all the people involved were not being met.  A lack of structure and a prioritization of earth care over people care meant that people burned out on the project, realities fell short of expectations, and that tragically, a member of the Permaculture Institute took their own life.

We as permaculturists too often have overemphasized the earth care aspect and are still viewing the care of the earth/environment as separate from caring for ourselves as human beings. Often when we design with permaculture, the more subtle needs of people are ignored or misunderstood, or the design has unrealistic wishes for what the people will be able to do and when they will be able to do it. If we create designs that don’t take into account all of our personal needs, behaviors, and cultural context, then we are not creating effective, holistic designs that meet all three permaculture ethics.

Human beings, especially those of us living in high material wealth societies, have trouble understanding our own needs a lot of the time. The first step in people care is to identify our needs – observing ourselves as we might observe a landscape to gather information for our design. Increasing our awareness of our true needs in the first place leads to better understanding the needs of the earth, and the needs of future generations of people. Only when we have identified what our needs are will we be able to put them in the appropriate relationships with other elements so that they work for and not against the system.

Ultimately, to achieve permanence, we seek to integrate ourselves into the landscape – as is our rightful place – as functional players in a functioning ecosystem. Permaculture’s holistic view requires the integration of all three ethics: earth care, people care, and future care. Prioritizing one of the three ethics means we “unprioritize” the other two, thereby negating the possibility of a “permanent culture.”  When we balance the meeting of our real human needs with the needs of the earth to sustain itself and with the needs of future generations to provide for themselves, then and only then are we living in an ethical and permanent way.

Where to go from here

  • A simple action that we can take to assess whether our design is balanced is to state explicitly how it fulfills each of the three permaculture ethics – essentially, to use the ethics as a design tool. More about this at liberationecology.org.

  • A lack of design for people care is the inspiration for Looby Macnamara’s book People & Permaculture. This book is an excellent and highly recommended exploration into what people care really means, and a useful tool to begin discovering and designing for our human needs.
  • For more on future care, and why we use that term instead of the more traditional “fair share” or “set limits and redistribute surplus,” see our past post Future Care.

Image Source: Øyvind Holmstad (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons