How To Host a Permaculture Event

A great Permaculture convergence is mindful of it’s impact, well-designed and has the potential to set high standards and be inspiring.

“Just Add People”

The Permaculture movement is growing. After 40 years it continuing to attract a lot of interest. Conferences and convergences are a rich intellectual exchange and have unique needs with a local cultural experience.

A great Permaculture convergence is sensitive of it’s impact on the host site and the host team. Permaculture delegates have left their own sites and usually want to help. Give them a way to assist with the host team and site by building good water management systems, minimise energy use, compost waster, contain rubbish, and harvest from wild foods. And enable delegates to assist with chores.  A permaculture convergence has the potential to set high environmental standards.

Charismatic and Practical Leaders

PEOPLE CARE is essential. One of the biggest challenges with a big one-off international or national event is that the system needs charismatic leaders. However, often it is the support team that needs our nurture. WORLD PEACE begins within the individual. When we ensure dependability, flexibility, self-determination and comfort of delegates we can facilitate harmony in the movement internationally. As we do in permaculture design, we can develop systems to encourage feedback during and after the process, we can pass the outcomes on to the next team and build a good set of protocols and processes.

The permaculture movement embraces diversity and flexibility. Diversity can be demonstrated in the venues and culture, pioneering of conference styles and tools (database, planning methods and organisational structure). We can set a clear targets, build shared tools, create effective feedback mechanisms and have the skills to create the optimum venue. Flexibility can be activated when we offer choices such as practical experiments (e.g. demonstrations or workshops on bio-char, native foods, pruning, grafting, building with bamboo, seed winnowing etc) in one of the concurrent streams.

Recommendations for Organisational Structure

Model for International Permaculture Conference and Convergences
TOP LEVEL involves two parties: 1. The International Committee or the national Permaculture body and 2. The Host  Organisation
The IPC Support Committee IPCSC
IPCSC prepares mission statement outlining the purpose of the Conferences, Tours and Convergences
IPCSC outlines and publishes criteria for selection of Hosting Organisation
Ensures months of engagement in the process of selection (not just 4 meetings at the convergence) is consultative and transparent about the selection process and final voting procedure.
The committee then chooses a suitable Host Organisation, makes the offer in writing and appoints two contact persons (Ambassadors) for communications with the host body.
The Host Organisation appoints their IPCSC ambassadors for facilitate discussion. It is important that the IPC Selection Committee remains in regular contact with that host throughout the preparation, the event and the follow-up period.
The Hosting Organisation
The Hosting Organisation appoints a Co-ordinator and it is wise to insist that the Co-Ordinator has a mentor/assistant to ask them how things are going and check they stay on target.
The Hosting Organisation must communicate their goals, time-frames and conduct meetings with their Co-ordinator to check if targets have been met and if not, why.
The Co-ordinator needs to be demonstrate they understand all the roles involved, create and manage a team of key administrators. The Co-ordinator reports to the The Hosting Organisation Board and Ambassadors to establish time-frame and check points and show progress.
Critical Teams Required: TEAM OF 3 Key Administrators:
Financial Administration
Information Dissemination
Program Organisation
1. Financial Administrator
1.1.1 Registrar: Handles and tracks registration. Prepares lists of attendees, payments made, etc for use at the gate and spends a lot of time at the gate overseeing on-site registration. The reception space needs to accommodate everyone undercover out of the sun and rain whilst they are waiting to be processed. The dining hall or main hall is usually a good space. Have several tables to process delegates entries at the same time.
a. Invite local people involved either in a special day for them before the event, or by telecasting where allowed by the Indian Government include local people in cultural displays and discussions – the talks and walks demonstrating bush tucker/wild medicine etc are always popular). b. Regional and International Delegates pay full fee. However, we could offer an Early Bird Discount which could help cover pre-conference costs. Note current IPSC policy states that only people with PDC may attend the Permaculture Convergences. c. Keynote speakers may be offered discounted fees where appropriate. This needs to be addressed in budgeting team. d. Sponsored Delegates could have their fees offered at a reduced rate or have sponsorship programs where they actively raise part of their own fee through official IPC support programs, this was recommended by past delegate managers. c. Permaculture Novices, media respresentatives etc – interested parties wishing to learn new ideas from the hosting region and from keynote speakers and delegates can pay well to attend the dinner, plenary and keynote presentations and tours but will be excluded from convergence.
1.1 Database controller: Keeps one central Database, keep it current, secure and ensure document control.
1.1.2 Bookkeeper/Accountant: A CPA or someone experienced in accounting. Set up a system and maintain it.
1.1.3 Provide Transparency – Keep accessible records (maybe financial progress reports online), show where you have spent money and time on projects related to the event.
1.2 Inclusive Catering and Accommodation
1.2.1 Food commissioner who receives food donations, sorts, stores and lets cooks know what is available and where it is. The Kitchen is to demonstrate Permaculture Ideals. It is perhaps the biggest demonstration of our ideals.  Aim to keep people happily fed. The kitchen scene will require a number of coordinators as well as many volunteers and work-traders. A large kitchen is needed to match the size of the event and space to serve hundreds of people at a time. The goal is to have something to please everyone. We will aim for a large percentage of the food to be locally grown. The Food commissioner ensures that local growers have advance orders so they can grow food for the event. Cultural and other Dietary requests, Various chefs who lead particular meals, in conjunction with specialty cooks who can prepare specific types of food such as raw food, vegan, salads, desserts, meat dishes, etc. Cultural issues to be aware of: e.g. inform delegates of drugs that are illegal in UK, observe different practices for photography etc. Ensure there is access to clean drinking water at all times. Supply life-straws for delegates could be provided as part of their registration package. Provide Water Stations will clean, safe water away from quiet speaking areas. Serving line coordinator. The larger the crowd the more serving lines are needed. The goal is that lines are not too long, otherwise meals go overtime and people don’t get to workshops on time, etc. What usually works best are long tables with lines going down both sides. Multiple ladles, serving spoons in pots and bowls. Separate condiment tables at the end of the lines speeds things up immensely. Different food options have different lines, eg. meat option table, vegetarian lines, special needs line.
1.2.2 First Aid Stations
1.2.3 Facilities To Encourage Diversity of participants eg. Family programs and advisors on where young people can participate safely. This also ensures that young parents can participate.
1.2.4 Disability Access
1.2.5 Enable Delegate Self-Help.
Include facilities ie. Tea Kitchen, ‘Corner Store’, nearby coffee shops and restaurants. A action Team can set up a self-serve tea kitchen. Oversee and clean during the event. Dismantle at the end. OR this can be outsourced by coffee van vendors or food stalls.
1.3 Budgeting
1.3.1 Grants, Sponsorships, Permafund, Crowd Sourcing, Sponsors/Fund Raising Action Team solicits sponsors to raise funds and in-kind donations. Sets up crowd-funding mechanisms like Indiegogo. Applies for grants. Solicits donations to fund low-income people which could include inner-city, Native People, refugees, third-world delegates etc.
1.3.2 Commerce and Industry Affiliation policies, Sponsorship, Advertising, Poster/Stall Displays, Pricing Policy Team. Make sure there is a clear area of exhibitions and posters at both conferences and convergences. Commercial ventures can pay poster spaces. Trade show/Vendor Coordination Action Team: Solicit appropriate vendors and companies/organisations for the trade show. Register trade show parties and vendors. Trade show/Vendor placement at event. Trade show/Vendor liaison during event
1.3.3 Merchandise and other income. A lot of people bought T-shirts in Cuba simply because there were no facilities to launder their clothes! Maybe we could sell biodegradable underwear. :>
2. Information Administrator
2.1 Publicity
2.1.1 Webpage, Social media, Media representation, email newsletters Publicity/Outreach/Marketing Action Team Graphic art, Press releases & ads, Poster development, Poster and handbill distribution, Publicity packets (participants and allies), TV and Radio, General Mailing, Facebook management and other social media, Internet outreach, Liaison to regional pc groups
2.1.2 Registration Desk with Registration packages containing gifts (handmade soap, stationary, life-straw, Bag etc.)  Provide cultural [see] and contextual information on ‘How to have a great time in this area on a small budget”. On-site 24 hours Information Booth with clear direction to Emergency information, a communication board for delegates to post requests and answers, lost property processing copies of programs and the board with notices and updates.see 2.1.3 Information team members and venue managers need to have visible badges and/or vests/team T-shirts. By making the program clear to all participants this enables them to offer help and will reduce questions. Communicate clearly and treat people as the intelligent and creative beings that they are.
2.1.3 Notice Board at Info Desk, Multilingual Sign-age at key points around the site.
2.1.4 Merchandise Stall, Sample Bags, Sale of some personal hygiene and other travel supplies.
2.1.5 Meeting Places: Informal Hub, Bar, Participatory Projects, Garden Club, Musicians Club, Tours and pre- Simposium meetings.
2.1.6 Post Event Management: Publisher Proceedings, Thank you Process, Debriefing Process, Feedback Surveys
2.1.7 Translation Co-ordinator and Team of translators
2.1.8 Business, Telephone and Internet Access Points and Desks, phone charging power points.
2.2 HR [People] Management
2.2.1 Delegate Managers: Cultural Advisor (ie. In Cuba, few people realised that the taking of photographs discouraged Cubans to participate as they are uncomfortable being shot on camera and video.) Sponsored Delegates Manager (writing selection criteria, setting up systems to facilitate sponsorship, building means for sponsors to develop own fund-raising with official support). Women’s Advisor (this is important for places where women are at risk or unsure of customs and procedures). Speakers Manager, (Speakers will want specialised management and will turn to the co-ordinator for assistance, The co-ordinator can delegate this role to a nominated carer.
2.2.3 Meals, Travel & Accommodation communication Head Chef. Handles food ordering. Menu planning. Overseas kitchen. This can be outsourced or part of the Venue choice.
2.2.3 Emergency and Evacuation Co-ordinator (I have had the personal experience of attending two major events that had life threatening weather events including a cyclone, it is handy to know there is a safety plan and who to turn to for advice).
3. Programming Administrator
3.1 Planning Team handles the event-management and venue control Choose a Theme for the Conference. Establish criteria for selection of keynote and other speakers, appoint effective chairperson or drop panel discussions. Allow delegates to post questions during the conference by supplying a notice board.
3.1.1 Event Management Presenter Action Team: Works with the inner ring/core group to set policy and establish time frames. Speakers Selection Team for Plenary & Section Speakers and selection of Symposium co-ordinators, Get their bios ( and workshop information and needs. Production of an Official Format (research and evaluate suitable International formats), Vetting of Papers, Preparation of presentations for Translation co-ordinator,  Send official program details when complete to the Information team. Ensure the presentations have a balance between problems and solutions. Keep it focused and relevant to the conference theme. For convergence papers aim to deliver sessions people couldn’t read or watch at home. Remind speakers not to speak to quickly. Many people in the audience have English as a second language. Collation of Speaker information. The speaker’s biography would be great with a photo. The presentation needs summary, links, photo, and information for on hand materials. Will the presenter provide own equipment ie laptop. Post Conference Proceedings Publication. Establish publication policy before calling for speakers and presentations. When we the organisers call for submissions, we can make policies clear eg. that speakers must have the paper ready before the day and they must turn up or their paper will not be published. (Some academics put their name and paper in a conference but not show up to deliver it because they just need the points/kudos for publication.) Appoint a carer/agent to help each Keynote Presenter to receive calls in preparation, check in and offer on-site assistance. Introduce Keynote speakers to their MC and time keeper. Communicate policies on time keeping and presentation formats. Symposium Co-ordinators (Subject Facilitators could choose and organise their team). We can call for applications for Symposium co-ordinators as a separate category. Translation Co-ordinator (organises translations using prepared papers) Consults with Speakers who will present in a Language other than English and is consulted during the formation of the “Official Format Information for Presentations”. See 1.1.1 Speakers
3.2 Arts Program Co-ordinator: Entertainment, Decorations, Performances, Music, Opening and Closing Ceremonies
3.3 Practical Demonstrations and Hands On Opportunities: Workshops, Projects ie. A Participatory Eco-Sculpture, Constructions, Compost Toilets & Showers, Native Foods, Traditional Weaving or paintings. (these were well demonstrated at Karunda QLD).  Include songs, musical pieces, poems, movement, etc between talks. Display artworks in the rooms. Vary the talk styles. afternoons are a good time to do practical workshops.
3.4 Site Enrichment – On site projects that leaves the venue with permaculture enrichment. (In Cuba the beach pollution was actively reduced)
2. Venue Management
2.1 Venue Co-ordinator. It is useful not to choose a venue until you have a good idea of the program, how many people are participating and what type of events will be involved. Ensure the venue is quiet so people can hear.
2.1.1 Volunteer/Work Trade coordinator. Sets up system for people to apply for work trade and for people to volunteer during the event. Vet the work-traders. Assign jobs, keep in touch with them. Oversee work coordination during the event. Tool Coordinator We can expect that there will be a lot of hands-on activities We will need a lot of tools and its nice to have someone help keep them all in one place, organised and functional. Create a tool shed or room as required.
2.2 Event H.R. Cor-ordinator liases with Speakers and their carer/agent, a team of Time Keepers, a venue Managers of each venue/room (these people keep the rooms clean, comfortable (lights, air flow), manage the sound equipment etc. MC’s
2.2.1 Technical Support Team. Audio/Visual Solicit equipment from host and regional suppliers and supporters. How many projectors and screens will we need? Extension cords, power strips/boards, various adaptors, including overseas power adaptors. Some presenters will bring their own and may be willing to loan them out. Several people are needed at each major workshop period to visit each classroom and troubleshoot as needed. Probably be good to have one A/V person who does the stage set up. Amplification for keynote talks/Plenary presentacions. Lighting, Power and other technical support for kitchen, on-site officie staff, Retail and other facilities. Documentation
Provide an Official photographer. Audio and video recording. Live streaming where appropriate. Perhaps a skyping center for interviews to be broadcast/online. Arranging skyping presentations from off-site presenters such as David Holmgren. Negotiate with Technical Support Team. Emergency Team. Extreme weather event plans. EmergencyLighting, undercover alternatives, Heating? Cooling?
2.3 Waste Manager and Team of Workers. Compost, Recycling, Trash Crew Coordinator and several volunteers. Set up systems beforehand. Monitor and upkeep during the conference. Arrange disposal and recycling. Arrange for organic material to be composted or used in hugelkultur, fed to livestock, etc.
2.3.1 Clean up crew Coordinator and volunteers. Its really nice to have some dedicated people fresh and raring to go for the clean up.
Disassemble tarps, tents, etc. Litter patrol. Decorations and signs removal. Utilities wrap-up, vendor support, etc.
2.4 Security is required for audio/visual equipment, retail stalls (books for sale) and delegates mis-placed property.
2.4.1 Security may needs to be considered for safety of delegates. Gate Coordinator [where required]
Shift captains train and manage volunteers. Numerous volunteers needed. Greet vehicles, check them in, Registrar collects their money. Gate has its busy periods and its slow periods and is staffed accordingly. 24 hour staffing. Security can assist at night. Parking Coordinator and volunteers as needed.
The parking crew handles traffic before and after people finish registration. Parking areas include: day parking, car camping, tent camping, RVs, and delivery of goods. Parking has its busy periods and its slow periods and is staffed accordingly. Camping Crew [where required]
Choose safe camping spaces away from vehicles. Make and install signage at the beginning of the event. Assist campers. Most delegates are busy at the beginning of the event. Keep an eye on the camping area. This is an area of overlap with parking and security. Sanitary Facilities: Co-ordinator Researches best practice, cultural requirements and best suppliers, then makes recommendation to Finance Administration. Organise optimum placement of compost toilets and showers. Monitor cleaning and management. This should be outsourced to professionals.
[Model for international convergences created in consultation with previous hosts and committee members]

Show Unique Bio-regional Colours

Be special by offering regional experiences. eg. Have regional food, regional music and best of all have great tour sites and well organised tours. These are the highlight of a convergence for many of us. Include Tours at the end of the convergence to highlight regional best practice.


Be savy. Given that most people listen at more than twice the speed at which the presenters can talk, then the presentations need to be clean, smart and substantiated. A lot of people complain that they felt they were a. being lectured at and b. being treated as children. We shudder when people say things like “trust me”.
Personally, I find the notion of hosting a bunch of pioneering, highly observant and politically motivated people a little bit alarming. How do we create a space that makes us all feel able to participate, all valued and all heard??
Here’s an idea – if someone is going to present in Spanish – ask them to have their image text in English and vice versa because not everyone had access to the translation earpiece.  Self determination another powerful tool. Search for venues where people can choose to visit other shops/cafes if they need water or food. We wouldn’t put animals in such confined quarters and expect them to be productive.


Structure versus Flexibility. There seems to be a struggle in some of the elders thinking that they want the process to be organic and flexible and informal and yet, it needs to be functional, efficient and supportive to the delegates. So, it can have the structure of a tree. This way, the framework is responsive to the environment. And so, the framework is strong with traditions, branching with new ideas and embraces open spaces.
Have a timetable and stick to it. It costs everyone a lot of money to attend the an international event. The small players matter. They are innovators  and deserve respect.

Accept venue limits and  and be firm.  It would be pure greed and lunacy to expect the event-management and other participants to cope with an influx.

Managing Numbers:

There is an International Women’s Music festival in the UK where the queues are made fun by entertainers. Women stand and chat to one another and get entertained as they pass through. The entertainers are given priority. And they get to ‘jump the queue’ when they are needing to be served, and the other participants respect and support that.

Queue efficiently

As for queuing, yes, a queue is efficient for the kitchen staff but simply not possible for all participants. Some people burn very quickly (especially my red-headed family and friends). Also, some people need to sit because they have injured a leg, feeling poorly or simply elderly.


Being inclusive means we need to devise systems that accommodate all walks of life (excuse the bad pun). Also, some people of different cultures and different degrees of social ability ignore the etiquette of queues. There are always going to be people who push in and this creates a feeling of disharmony. Australians would rather starve than queue and so, they go hungry and then complain or simply walk off. Many Asians will indeed starve rather than loose face. Londoners, in particular have a culture of immensely quiet tolerance and willingness to be polite as long as the system seems to be working. Boisterous behaviour in some ill-content delegates could get your valuable volunteers in a fractious mindset.

So, ensuring that there is an efficient system is essential and bonuses can be supplied eg. most people can be entertained and distracted even if they think the distraction is quaint, or silly. Shaded seats can be arranged to the side of the queuing area. light refreshment can be offered while people wait. Luggage and other heavy items can be accommodated by lockers. Wheel chairs can be supplied.

Managing numbers

For meals, everyone can be allowed in and seated and wait at their table. If there are more people than there are seats, allow each group a time slot. We don’t have to leave people standing and waiting. Food can be offered in shared platters or each group of people can be invited to the buffet. This reduces waste (Permaculture people rarely serve themselves food they don’t eat and if a table doesn’t eat all their platters of food, then it can be shared with others table).


Expect the unexpected. Small disasters occur with ticketing systems, bad weather, occasional thieves, and sickness. Ensure there is first-aid. Giving participants choices. The program builds resilience and flexibility by including a variety of activities. Especially ones where people can get their hands dirty and make stuff. Encourage interaction. Give participants a chance to get in and help. And most of all, remember to thank everyone.


Many conferences disappoint when the organisers try to keep adapting the schedule to solve errors or accommodate requests.

If you need to change things, find a way that does not involve the delegates having to change their program. Ie. Move equipment around rather than change the speakers from an advertised time-slot and venue. “who moved the goal posts?” is a constant despair of delegates at the poorly organised events. In terms of people hours: wasting the time of one hundred delegates is more costly than spending the time of one good program manager and a small team of strict time keepers.

Adhere to The Program

Program errors will snow-ball. One error by a time keeper will be felt throughout the whole day and across all the streams. Some details are essential for the smooth running of a convergence.

Treat the program with great respect and care. Spend time with the team to analyse the program and check it works.

The program, once in place, is like a delicate web of events – moving one strand may have far-reaching effects. If you have to change a presenter’s time avoid moving there time slot earlier, put it later. Then, if the information was not received by the interested parties, the change is still able to be communicated and acted upon. There could be a presenter who raised money, left his farm and family, caught a plane at midnight searched for a bus, couldn’t afford a taxi, had his wallet stolen and phone goes flat but runs to the venue in time for his special opportunity, only to discover it was moved to an earlier time slot or is now cancelled.

The permaculture community as a whole suffers when people are disappointed. Even if they don’t voice their disappointment. It is highly likely that we will loose valuable energy because everyone wants to feel valued and able to make a difference.


In Permaculture, the international community must strive to be as dependable and as resilient as a forest. The convergence is the structure from which we can develop ideas, we can voice concerns, find solutions and grow in the comfort of good ethics and like-minds. The best convergences are inclusive and fill us with inspiration.

Thank you

Michael Pilarski, Andy Golding, Narsanna Koppula, David Curtis (Co-ordinator of Eco-Arts Conference in Australia), Dr Naomi Van Der Velden, Prof Stuart Hill.

This is a document for discussion was prepared by April Sampson-Kelly