Action Learning...

Graham Burnett gb0063551 at
Fri Jun 15 07:22:05 EDT 2001


I've copied and pasted this in as part of a conversation that is going on at
the alt.permaculture newsgroup that I thought might be of general interest
to the PC community. I've put it in without any editing, but I'm sure you'll
all catch the drift of the conversation that's been unfolding...

If this isn't relevant or doesn't interest you, please delete


>Thanks lawrence-

This message had disapeared from my server as well, so it was nice to be
reminded of it- my reason for raising this in the first place was that it
seems that there are as many definitions of permaculture as there are
permaculturists- this is a good and healthy thing in my opinion- I'm very
interested in therefore finding out what these definitions and
understandings are for different people, as one thing that is very important
to me is that permaculture is a living, evolving and changing body of
thought, not a dead and static set of rules and prescriptions (in fact in
one sense 'Permaculture' is anything but 'Permanent'!!!).

Another important thing is that permaculture isn't either 'all theory' or
'all practice', but is in fact a holistic synthesis of the two (another
thing that perhaps sets permaculture apart from many other disciplines which
tend to be divided into 'academics' and 'doers', thus reflecting the
artificial compartmentalisation and fragmentation of our present day
dominant culture, as well as our tendancy to seperate left and right brain
thinking). The 'Action Learning' cycle (Research-Plan-Act-Reflect) is
therefore an important tool in building permaculture competence. I suspect
that most of us to some extent do this all the time anyway on a
subconscious/instinctive level and maybe don't feel a need to write it down
and record it, although for people like me, who tend to have quite
disorganised and cluttered thought processes it can be helpful to go through
the cycle on a conscious/delibarate level from time to time.

This doesn't have to be some heavy, rigorous process- one example might be
the cherry plums thread elsewhere, lets briefly apply it;

RESEARCH; 6 or 7 years ago I read somewhere that cherry plums are quite
tasty and I'd like to grow some in my garden

PLAN; I spotted a place in the garden which I thought might be suitable for
a cherry plum

ACT; I planted a 6 inch tall cherry plum seedling that a friend gave me

REFLECT; 6 years later it's 20 ft tall and still going, so it's clear that
I've planted it in an inappropriate place.

So now I'm on the second round of the cycle;

RESEARCH; I'm asking questions on this list and elsewhere about cherry
plums, getting different views and opinions, reading about them, etc

PLAN; Now I'm thinking about what to do next- shall I coppice it? Grub it
out? Leave it alone and just hope that it will stop growing? Shall I plant
cherry plums in my forest garden? As standards, coppiced or as a 'fedge'?

ACT; Hopefully I'll make the best decisions possible with the information I
now have and the assesments I'm thus able to make.

REFLECT; This is where I probably realise that I've got it wrong again and
go back to the beginning of the cycle once more...

Maybe the above is just too painfully obvious and like common sense for many
subscribers out there, but all I'm trying to do is make the point that the
'theory' in permaculture isn't really that big a deal, it's what we are
doing all the time, but the diploma process perhaps formalises things a
little more.

And how many of us DON'T actually participate in the action learning cycle
but just go through life making the same mistakes over and over again? If my
response to the above were to say, "oh well, that cherry plum was a bit big
for my garden, still, I'll cut it down and put another one in the same spot
and with a bit of luck it won't grow so big this time", then clearly I
wouldn't have been in an action learning cycle, wouldn't have learned from
my mistakes... That may be a laughable example, who'd be that daft, yet how
many of us (I mean in the wider world here, not just on this newsgroup) are
just like that with the things that are really important, like the patterns
we get into in our lives, relationships, behaviours, etc? Last year I made
myself ill through my behaviour patterns, always taking on more work, never
resting properly, not making enough time and space for the people around me
that I care about and love, never saying 'no', constantly active and 'doing
stuff'... The 'reflection' period was the 3 months that I was off sick from
work with stress, too depressed to even go down to my allotment or out in
the garden... So I know the consequences of the way I was behaving, but even
now still have great difficulties in breaking out of those patterns, it
takes tremendous conscious efforts for me... A couple of days ago I was
asked to design a leaflet for the local LETS group- I was so proud that I
was able to say "NO, I don't have the time", and not be apologetic about it-
a breakthough for me!

Magnify this to a macro/global level, and it doesn't take much to see that
we are living in a society/culture/world where we are clearly NOT
participating in an action learning cycle; we KNOW greenhouse gasses,
pollution, soil erosion, industrialised agriculture, BSE/foot & mouth, car
culture, consumerism, etc, are fucking us up and killing us, but are we as a
species observing, absorbing the lessons and amending our behaviours?
Doesn't look like it from where I'm standing at the moment...

I do see that this newsgroup could have a very useful and valid function as
a tool both for it's members to explore their own 'action learning cycles'
by sharing their research, planning and reflections on their actions, and
for developing the wider body of thought/philosophy that is 'Permaculture'
('theory' if you like). The 'chat', socilaising and banter (rows??) also
have their place and purpose, but I'd hate to see false divisions emerge
between the 'interleckchewals' and the 'roll up sleeves and get on with it'
camps on the list- as I say i suspect we are all actually a bit of both :-)

Look after each other, cos we're all we've got...

Graham Burnett

NOW AVAILABLE; 'PERMACULTURE- A Beginner's Guide' £5.00 inc P&P
go to for info...

Land & Liberty
My artwork
Our Garden
South East Essex Organic Gardeners
Permaculture- a Beginner's Guide
South East Essex LETS
Robert Hart's Forest Garden
South East Essex Green Party

<lflondon at> wrote in message
news:rbsiito378m70eb2neca40b7tff13go40p at
> On Thu, 14 Jun 2001 22:57:56 GMT, "Holly" <holly1 at>
> wrote:
> >
> >Permacltur  wrote in message ...
> >>
> >>
> >> OK, I'll just send one post on this discussion.
> >
> >That is a shame, when you have so much knowledge and experience which it
> >would be good if you to be able to share with us.
> >
> >> Folks, it would help if everyone tried to find our what
> >> permaculture is about before trying to define it.
> >
> >and elsewhere
> >
> >> this appears to be a discussion amongst newbees
> >
> >There are sometimes criticisms that we do not discuss pc theory enough
> >here, that we discuss day to day developments and problems on the ground
> >and this turns into chat. This is a valid point, and I enjoy the
> >theoretical discussions because of what I can learn from them, but don't
> >tend to join them because of my limited knowledge. In this instance,
> >AFAIR (posts have now disappeared so I might have this wrong) the thread
> >began along the lines of  'here are my thoughts on permaculture, what
> >does it mean to you?'. Even then people were reluctant to join in, and
> >those that did are now being criticised for getting it wrong!!  Damned
> >if we do and damned if we don't :-)
> Here it is again:
> From: "Graham Burnett" <gb0063551 at>
> Newsgroups: alt.permaculture
> Subject: Permaculture Ethics, Principles & Design
> Date: Sun, 20 May 2001 22:20:52 GMT
> I was talking to Andy Goldring of UKPC Assoc- He summed up
> Permaculture as Ethics + Principles + Design- so wasat mean?
> Your interpretation-
> What are the ethics of permaculture and what do they mean to you?
> What are the principles of permaculture and what do they mean to you?
> What is permaculture design? What does it mean to you?
> Lets go.....
> Graham
> L.F.London ICQ#27930345 lflondon at
>  london at

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