Liberation Permaculture Course Design
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Survey: What has influenced the design of this course?
Observation followed by thoughtful interaction is a core principle of permaculture practice. In designing this course I have used a number of survey tools in order to best design the flow and contents of the course:
- Of radical social movements and my community organising interests
- Of the permaculture movement
- Many of these have been recorded in my Learning Journal during my time as a Diploma Apprentice
- Reading of literature and resources related to community organising and the interactions with permaculture.
- Researching other projects, such as the Liberation Permaculture Design Course that took place in North America in 2010.
Summary of my observations
Click here to see the full overview of my observations in my Output Packet with Gaia University, which evidences the points below. Find a summary below:
Radical Social Movements & Community Organising
- Problematic that activists are ‘specialists’ in social change. Limitations of activist cultures & self marginalisation.
- Observations of the Not for Profit Industrial Complex – “a set of symbiotic relationships that link political and financial technologies of state and owning class control with surveillance over public political ideology, including and especially emergent progressive and leftist social movements.” – Dylan Rodriguez. Examples of this include unresilient & undemocractic funding strategies, career based organising (vs grassroots organising), organisational management vs movement building, competition vs cooperation and solidarity.
- Movements can’t always reproduce themselves e.g. People can’t feed, house, educate themselves easily, and struggles centred around these factors are necessary for radical social change
- Poor support for self care & community care. Radical movements perpetuate self-exploitation and domination of each other.
- There is no ‘one-way’, we need a multiplicity of strategies.
- Often little long-term thinking/solutions-focused approaches.
- Many campaigns/projects are not thought out well or designed well from the start, organisers lack a basic design toolkit.
- People don’t always learn or recognise the importance of critical reflection in radical organising.
- Many campaigns/projects are anthropocentric.
Common (constructive) criticisms of permaculture
Permaculture & wider social change:
- We must do more than contribute to the spread of permaculture – must locate permaculture within a wider campaign of radical social change
- Fundamental economic, political & cultural change is essential & without these permaculture will be of no significance even if it flourishes.
- Only aiming to spread permaculture knowledge is not sufficient - Most permaculture literature does not reinforce the impression that fundamental change is necessary (rather individual behaviour/lifestyle changes dominate)
From an ‘anti-civilization’ perspective there are further criticisms:
- Permaculture does not encompass a world view change away from civilisation (which is recognised by many as roots of oppression) .
- Still promotes agricultural viewpoint/land management vs relationships with other than humans .
- Permaculture serves as a way of ‘saving civilisation’/ensuring continuation of dominant power structures as it does not explicitly challenge them
Others, including some from my own observations:
- Permaculturalists generally have a relatively privileged position in society & the yields are not often shared beyond a white, middle class bubble. There also seems to be little attempt to challenge this within permaculture organisations.
- There is a strong avoidance of political analysis.
- Many simply want to work on ‘positive projects’ as they do not like confrontation, however this results in a total lack of genuine radical critique.
- Once many are empowered by permaculture design this impact does often not translate further than their own gardens or farms.
- General lack of attention & critique to power relationships in systems & in power structures of societies - Limited exploration to the barriers of why permaculture is not more widely implemented e.g. access to land, inequalities - The invisibility to animal oppression & the perpetuation of speciest/domineering mindsets.
- There also some useful analyses of the transition movement (heavily influenced by permaculture) e.g. transition towns are based on the idea that communities can create different systems, but this is only possible if the malignant forces & entrenched power that people have been struggling ageist for hundreds of years are recognised, challenged, and TTs become a political force for change (2) vs becoming an appendix to the state or preserving pockets of sustainability for the privilege few.
Community Food Movement
- My challenging of permaculture and agroecology has also extended to the vibrant community food movement, which has some wonderful yields while at the same time posing little threat to the corporate food system. The most succicent quote relating to this is from the cookbook, ‘Another Dinner is Possible’: ”Many of these community food projects present us with amazing opportunities to collectively make our lives better, more sustainable, meaningful & interesting. However without a context of explicitly addressing & challenging the global exploitative food system as a whole they are basically reinforcing privilege. The system will not change because a few of us eat better.”
- Will involve a training needs assessment of those applying to participate, as a way of tweaking content to people’s needs.
- Download a copy of the pre-course application form here.
I used the boundaries anchor point to consider:
- The length of the course – what is feasible and realistic for a low/no funded course for people with a huge number of commitments e.g. campaigns
- How to really refine what the course could offer that others do not – what is the niche and how can it be optimised?
- Using the above I decided on three days as a way of offering more than a weekend but still being accessible to people who are extremely busy. In terms of content, boundaries supported me to refine the aims, ‘drop’ elements that are covered in other courses and learning experiences and help me to push the radical content of the course as its niche.
For this anchor point, to help me refine the potential course content, I reviewed my resources. Both in terms of:
- Content – radical community organising, ecosocial design, ecological and social justice struggles
- Process – participatory learning, course design, popular education, creative teaching
I used the evaluation anchor point to support my analysis process. The main process I undertook was using a Systems Thinking approach. This involved:
- Identifying functions – What am I really trying to achieve? What is the function of the course?
- Identifying systems – How can I achieve these functions and aims? What are the mechanisms to do that in a learning environment e.g. talk & chalks, group exercises and so forth?
- Identifying elements – What are the different parts of the course (without worrying about placement)? For example this could be an element in terms of content e.g. I want to cover the permaculture principles, or campaign design, as well as elements such as breaks and lunches which also need to be designed in to the program.
You can see an over of this analysis process in the Xmind Map below. Click on full screen to get the best view to navigate.
I also quite heavily refined my own thinking in relationship to permaculture and radical social change through my output work with Gaia University. If you are interested you can read my Output 3: Liberation Permaculture body of work here.
When designing the course, my Tutor Aranya, highlighted what you leave out of a short course is almost as important as what you leave in. Below is a list of what I took out from my ideas (from my wild design).
Communication & Conflict transformation skills
Self care & personal resilience
Aboveground & underground organising
What is civilisation?
Inidigenous communities & solidarity
Using permaculture to design & rebuild just, sustainable & autonomous communities
Solidarity & social & ecological justice struggles
Local group organising
Organising national gatherings
Power relations in systems
Collective & cooperative systems of organising
Appropriate technology & the resistance of extreme energy
Strategy & tactics
Media production skills
Permaculture & support structures: sustainable local food systems, alternative healthcare, off grid energy, alternative economics, intentional communities etc
Symbolic actions & protest
Antioppression analysis & training
Basic history of resistance
Basic grounding in resistance organisational styles & strategies
Physical training & selfdefence
Creating safe spaces
Applying permaculture principles to resistance
antioppression analysis & training
group facilitation, decisions making, conflict resolution, crisis intervention
history of resistance/struggles
organisational styles & strategies
offgrid & survival skills
physical training & self defence
communications incl. security
feminism, rape awareness, abuse dynamics
direct action techniques
how toos e.g. tech knowledge
social justices, poverty & discrimination
physical disabilities/fair shares
active & reflective listening skills
physical, emotional & social health
conception of relationships, self interest, power & organising
The key factors that influenced my decision making of what remained were:
- The most inaccessible elements e.g. Design knowledge is quite hard to find/self-educate about effectively (in comparison to reading about anarchist history or consensus decision making).
- Understanding the design process could be one of the most useful ‘take-aways’ from the course, that will benefit people’s lives and projects.
- Which areas illuminated the power of permaculture and design.
- Which sessions support participants to bring their existing knowledge.
- Which sessions are most useful to as many different people with different backgrounds and struggles they are involved with, which is why I kept it ‘bigger picture’ and focused on design methods.
Following the extremely useful functions, systems and elements analysis process, I now had a number of elements in which to place. To apply permaculture design to this process I aimed to:
- Ensure each element serves multiple functions e.g. a group discussion talking about community organising experiences could also double up as a facilitation practice session for someone to build skills, or a group observation exercise of the meeting process.
- Ensure each function is served by multiple elements e.g. If my function is to support people to apply design tools to their lives and projects then a number of elements could support this during the course e.g. a Zone 00 design exercise as well as a campaign design activity.
- I also had to design a course with maximum output and minimum output e.g. how can people learn effectively with least effort? This ensured I followed the accelerated learning principles and designed a course that met different people’s learning styles in a way that was building conscientization through the participants own knowledge.
I therefore aimed to place the elements into a three day timetable and below is my course design in more detail.
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I also had to make design decisions for the practical logistics and learning environment. For this process I looked at:
- People Care – Where would people be most comfortable? Where was convenient for people to get to? Where would be nourishing and relaxing and create a positive learning environment? Where would be an example of permaculture (and ideally radical politics) in practice?
- Earth Care – Where would be a convenient location that could be accessed by public transport? What would be the most low impact option e.g. camping while still supporting people? Where could we access food and resources used on the course?
- Fair Shares – Where would be accessible for people? Is there disabled access? Would there be support for childcare? What would the application process involve? How could practical jobs be shared over the three days?
With the ethics of permaculture as the lens in which to make decisions, I decided that Brook End, where I live would be the most appropriate location because it is accessible by public transport, is an example of permaculture in action, is low cost & low impact, has some indoor accommodation for those that cannot or do not desire to camp and has a wide variety of options for outdoor workshop spaces that can support a nourishing learning environment.
The course is taking place in July 2014. Below is the poster I designed to advertise the course and click here to see more information including about how to book.
In terms of costings I have designed it at a sliding scale rate with a maximum of 16 participants. This will cover the cost of food & preparation, materials and a small donation towards my time. If successful I may apply for grant funding for further courses however income generation is not the primary function of this design, therefore I wish to make more financially accessible.
I used the maintenance anchor point to help me identify the cycles of feedback that will influence the re-design of the course. These include:
- Feedback from Diploma Tutors before running the course
- Feedback from mentors before running the course e.g. Gaia University Advisors
- Feedback from potential participants before the course e.g. friends and contacts I have who have expressed an interest
- Feedback from participants and co-facilitators during the course – I intend to capture my observations through a journal during the experience
- Feedback from participants at the end of the course e.g. an evaluation form and session
- Feedback from participants post-course, for example six months later to see if they are applying what they had learnt & if it was useful