Permaculture is as much about culture and communities as it is about landscapes. Where the social and ecological interacts is where we need to look for sustainability. We live in such a technical world, so far advanced, yet so behind when it comes to creating solid and healthy communities. Rather our world seems to create fragmented cultures and communities.

I have thought a lot about what social permaculture would look like, here are some thoughts related to my experiences as a facilitator working with communities and community projects.

So, what would social permaculture principles look like? In permaculture we are taught to first of all observe, to read our landscape and understand the sectors and wild energies that influences it.  The same thing applies to working with groups or communities.  Actively observing and being attentive to cultural differences, gender, power, skills, capacity and knowledge informs how to work with the group and ensures that any work is participatory and inclusive. In our multicultural world it also implies being respectful of cultural differences and embracing different ways of knowing and being. This observation is intimately linked with self-awareness and mindfulness of our own speech and interactions.

Being observant and aware is also linked in with the idea of self regulation and feedback and being observant of emergent processes that might change the group process. When working with groups and communities you often find that things do not always go the way you had planned. Typically you find yourself desperately swimming upstream in order to keep to the agenda you had set, rather than just allowing the group to explore something that might be important to them and a key part of their learning progress.  Often new ground is broken by allowing the group to be momentarily ‘sidetracked’.  By responding creatively to change we can turn an unexpected turn of events into a new opportunity, turning the problem into a solution. What initially was perceived as a distraction might turn into a very fruitful discussion that can inform your future work.

The idea of flexibility also applies to allowing every group and community to define their own rules of interaction and their own moral codes so that they feel ownership over them.  The idea of designing from pattern to detail in the social context points out the importance of starting with a broad framework to work from and then allowing the group or the community to fill in the details themselves. In the spirit of participation we need to ask what applies to them and respect their local knowledge, letting them fill in the colours on the rough map we have drawn.

Just like in land management, embracing diversity is the key to creating flourishing and resilient communities.  There is enormous creative potential in diversity and difference and just like the meeting of two eco systems create a fertile edge, the meeting of different cultures, races, classes, opinions, genders, belief systems and socio economic backgrounds create fertile breeding grounds for new creative thoughts and ideas.  As someone once said, one plus one equals three- the meeting of two individuals creates a third space which is the combination of the thoughts and ideas of the two separate individuals. Emphasizing the value in the meetings of difference and encouraging diversity is also linked with the idea of integrating rather than segregating.

Finally, the concept of using slow and small solutions applies equally to situations of land use management as to processes of social change. The idea that one needs to carefully observe and implement solutions taking one step at the time was born out of a concern for the addiction that the industrialized world has developed for factory style production and broad scale solutions, based on the motto that the more, the bigger and the faster the better. The same type of thinking has been applied to work in the social sector, one size fits all solutions are often applied with the conviction that what has worked in one place will work everywhere. The social ecology is however complex, like the ecology of nature it is made up of complex relationship in a dynamic state of constant change. Again this brings us back to the importance of observation, adaptability and flexibility in our work.

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