Dan Palmer invites us to discover the design process beyond a rigid set of procedures. And design for highly complex and evolving living systems.
The late Dan palmer sensed a strong distinction between procedure and process.
Evolutionary Design Process Versus Control Thinking
Here is some of what Dan shared “I’m passionately interested in permaculture design and particularly permaculture design process like how is it that we go about realizing permaculture’s potential. How is it that we get from someone arriving on some land that they want to evolve with, and make more productive, to being in the game and having some things growing and letting the system continue to evolve. “
“When we want to do something – we default to a procedure. A procedure is like a recipe or a model it’s a linear sequence of steps. ‘Step one for example – Step one: Observe, Step two: Design. Step three: Implement, Step four: Evaluate … Just like – Step one: mix the banana and the flour, Step two: add the eggs that sort of thing.”
Geared up for Procedural Thinking
“We’re very geared. Actually geared is the right word. Because it’s a mechanical analogy and procedures are kind of mechanical in the way they work. Or mechanistic. And so often when I see people talking about process and design process and giving examples of permaculture design process – that’s not what they’re talking about. To me, what they’re talking about is a procedure.
And there’s nothing wrong with procedures they’re great. Just the other day I tried cooking something I hadn’t cooked before and I needed a procedure right. Yeah if I just launched into I would I’ve got myself in a lot of trouble. So, I was very grateful.
So, there’s a place and a huge value in procedures. There’s also a huge danger, a huge risk if we mistake procedure for process. And what we can do is – ‘here’s my permaculture design procedure and it’s better than yours, and it’s better than theirs and…. we don’t want to jump from step four to step six, we need to do step five.” The risk comes from imposing a procedure.
Design Process Happens in the Now
“Process is adapted to the moment. And it’s like a constant dance that I’ll pull in procedures as appropriate. But I’ll also be very ready to drop them and let them go. And to do whatever is the right thing to do next.
“I came across a beautiful quote about this from Carol Sanford. I’m reading through her book The Regenerative Business. She said “Processes occur in real time within the changing circumstances of the real world. They are not procedures. One of the unfortunate residues of the mechanistic way of thinking is that most organizations (we could say that most of us) try to turn processes, which are alive and based on what is happening in the moment, into procedures which are predetermined. And, I love this bit: Processes require people to be present and awake. Procedures put people to sleep and make them mechanical.
“I love the idea of processes that mean we’re awake and we’re conscious, and we’re aware, and we’re alive. We don’t know what wants to happen next. We’re discovering it.
Process Enables Co-evolution
“One way of thinking about it is getting like helping design or set up processes of co-evolution between human health and ecosystem health these are the kind of processes that humans always stewarded up to… That entails a fundamental transformation of our entire way of being as humans.”
“A lot of the conversation for me [about design process] is first getting that penny to drop that this is not a copy and paste-able bullet point list that you can just take out whatever you’re doing teaching your permaculture design course today drop the list I’ll give you in and do that tomorrow. This is a process that will unfold indefinitely and it will be years before perhaps it really starts to sink in. It’s baby steps. It’s a big process.”
Procedures are timely. Know when to use them.
“I have had a lot of conversations with people who say we need procedure. Yet often the procedures we default to, are… mechanical. They’re starting with fragmented, separate elements.. and gluing them together. As opposed to the idea of transforming whole systems and working with all the energies of a place as a coherent whole.”
“If you’re interested in permaculture you’ve signed up for some tricky stuff. Permaculture is not rocket science. It’s actually a lot more complex. Because it involves soil biota and biology and water flow. And it involves so many different disciplines in a flowing integrated way that it’s hugely complex. When you’re dealing with any kind of complexity you can’t predict it. No one can predict it.”
Planning is Essential. Plans are Useless
“We’re engaged in planning. And we get enough clarity about what makes sense to do for the next one, two or maybe three.. steps. Then, of course, we’ll keep planning. Because the plan (if we had one) would have changed. Things evolve so fast. Particularly when you’re dealing with biological systems, with gardens and all that. It has to be a very dynamic ongoing planning and doing process. No fixed or static plan is ever going to last for that long.
“And the trap, of course, is if you’ve got one (a plan) you can fall in love with it and continue to force it on the situation. Even when the situation’s like “no thanks – this doesn’t work anymore, things have changed: the climate’s changed, the soil has changed, the water cycles changed” That’s a big one, isn’t it? That’s huge.
Co-Evolution Goal of the Design Process
Dan warned “This is closely related to the existential crisis humanity finds itself in. Unless we can shift out of mechanistic procedures into living processes we can’t actually get to the beautiful, heart-stopping possibilities that permaculture is all about: getting back into a co-evolutionary dance with the rest of life.”