What is permaculture? - 'competencies'

John Schinnerer eco_living at yahoo.com
Wed Dec 19 05:46:29 EST 2001


> 'Design a swale' is simple but then why is the
> swale there and how does it relate to other elements in the system.
> 'Build a banana circle' - well to me the permaculture of the banana
> circle is the though process behind it, the observations that were
> made which led to the invention of this particular system. How do we
> develop tangible competencies for thought processes and not reduce
> permaculture to a simple series of action formulas?

Very important question.  I think we can do so and not fall into common
traps of "outcome-based" competencies (such as losing relations between
elements/actions).  I'm gonna ramble for a bit...

A starting point might be answers from experienced PC teachers to the
same essential question(s).  

I assume that experienced teachers look for these very "outcomes" when
evaluating student learning, designs, etc. in PDCs and other courses
where formalized credentials of some kind are granted.  So - how do
those of you with this teaching/certifying experience "see," evaluate,
and qualify/quantify to your satisfaction in order to award
certificates, provide relevant feedback, and so on?

Words/phrases that come to mind:
systemic thinking; operating (acting) holistically;
awareness/application of relevant/appropriate relations/patterns;
design judgement; ...?

I'm thinking that the competencies are one level "up" from the "action
formulas."  That is, "build a swale" or "build a banana circle" is a
step below what is relevant - it is an element, but elements are not
central to competency.  Relatings are central.  So competencies are
demonstrated in relatings and patternings of elements, *in context*.  

This is most important in *assessment*, which is where the initial
context arises.  It is easy to create some PC elements and think it's
PC design when the relatings are not appropriate and it's not; it's
just a swale or banana circle out of context.  It's also possible to
get caught in imposing relatings and patternings of elements on a
site/landscape in inappropriate ways (inadequate assessment, most
likely...?).  One can point to the elements and their appropriate
relatings and patternings and say "see, it's PC design," but the
relatings and patternings with the site are not appropriate and it's
not PC design.  And each of these possibilities happens on multiple
scales within a design as well.

It might always be possible to improve a design, so there's a gray area
where patternings and relatings amongst elements and with site are
appropriate "enough" but could be refined - so "enough" competency is
demonstrated.  Then there will be a line somehwhere where designing is
"not good enough."

A while back I was excited about working towards a "pattern language"
for PC along the general model of Alexander et. al.'s examples for
buildings/communities.  Haven't given it time since then but I imagine
it to be at the level of relatings and patternings rather than
elements, as theirs is.  Might be some more clues in keyline...

Depending on who the accreditation is with, there might be a need to
educate the accreditors so they understand what constitute
"competencies" in PC design, and why.  I see potential to raise the
level of accreditation in general this way...

John Schinnerer, MA
- Eco-Living -
Cultural & Ecological Designing
Food - Shelter - Community
john at eco-living.net

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