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PacificEdge | July 19, 2018

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The Next Big Step for permaculture

The Next Big Step for permaculture
Russ Grayson

Towards Permaculture version 3.0…

A report from Australasian Permaculture Convergence 13, Perth, Western Australia. 2-5 October 2016.

WE WERE AT APC13 (Australasian Permaculture Convergence 13) on the winding banks of the Swan River. There, a small room in a big brick building proved a suitable venue to think about where permaculture now goes as a global design movement. And like the waters in the Swan, ideas flowed smoothly in the little room where around 16 people gathered.

More than 16, actually, if we consider the telepresence Ian Lillington and Ed Walta. Skyping into the meeting from distant Victoria enabled them to familiarise those in the room with the background to an initiative that could coalesce permaculture into a more unified, global movement.

The initiative is called the Next Big Step because that is just what it promises to be — one small step for permaculture practitioners, one big step for the permaculture design system (to paraphrase Neil Armstrong). Ian and Ed brought news of the initiative back to Australia from the international permaculture convergence in London last year.

Ian asked us to consider two questions:

  1. What does the world need from permaculture?
  2. What can we do to make our own contribution?

Presented with the two focus questions, we broke into two groups and ideas flowed.

Permaculture singer-songwriter, Charlie McGee, adds his ideas to the Next Big Step mindmap.

Permaculture singer-songwriter, Charlie McGee, adds his ideas to the Next Big Step mindmap.


What does the world need from permaculture?

This was the first big question. The groups took a sheet of flip chart paper each and set about answering it. Ideas were many:

  • purpose
  • leadership through applied systems thinking
  • leadership and structure
  • alternative structures
  • set of key messages
  • new thinking — whole systems thinking
  • know that permaculture exists and what it is
  • lead the transition — meet energy, housing needs etc
  • collaboration between organisations
  • peer-to-peer development
  • key messages about permaculture
  • tools for a sustainable existence
  • advocacy of the permaculture program
  • equitable distribution of surplus
  • redefining wealth
  • abundance rather than fear
  • more gardens
  • local activism
  • to know we exist and who we are
  • food security
  • balance of power
  • a sense of common humanity, with diversity
  • strengthening community
  • addressing poverty — redefining wealth and happiness
  • moving from fear to abundance
  • resilient food systems — local ownership of food resources
  • best practice
  • right livelihood.
Erin Young, a teacher of the sociocracy approach to group decision-making, presents her groups ideas.

Erin Young, a teacher of the sociocracy approach to group decision-making, presents her groups ideas.

Our contribution

Like water flowing from a drainpipe, ideas flowed when the groups addressed question two: What can we in permaculture do to make our own contribution? Again, mindmaps were made and ideas offered:

  • create open platforms such as an open source database of relevant information
  • an open source database of projects
  • agile structures
  • collaborate
  • communicate
  • a home for projects — easy access to people who could offer support
  • space to dialog
  • lead with ideas
  • accessible messages about permaculture
  • transition for existing material to take it further
  • targeted communications — accessible key messages for different audiences
  • regular social meetings and social media
  • link and share projects
  • drivers — people to make things happen
  • thinktanks
  • celebration
  • collaboration with government
  • support for practitioners
  • establish viable social enterprise with service orientation
  • work with Permaculture Australia
  • constellations model developed at internatipnal permaculture convergence in the UK last year… research, enterprise etc; want people who can contribute.

Graham Bell, the well-known permaculture practitioner from Scotland, participated in the Next Big Step session at APC13.

Why not more?

I wondered why attendance at the session had not attracted a greater number of participants.Two reasons account for this, I think:

  • the first was competition from other sessions running in the same time slot; this was a comment made in reference to other sessions and it is one heard at all convergences — you cannot attend everything of interest
  • the second was that the Next Big Step is a new idea that has not been discussed much in Australian permaculture circles; it is largely unknown and, thus, the session did not attract a lot of people.

I am consoled, though, by what they say in the Open Space meeting format: those people who attend are the right people.

It was good to see Graham Bell, a long-established permaculture educator from Scotland, at the session. Also good to see were younger men and women, something that suggests younger permaculture practitioners have an interest in developing the design system and taking it into new territory. Their presence reminded me of something said earlier at the convergence, that younger people in permaculture are less interested in home gardening and more interested in making changes in the world.

Action already taken

It was either Ian or Ed who mentioned that there already exists two entities created at the London International Permaculture Convergence last year: the Permaculture International Research Institute and an International Permaculture Educators Network. There was the proposal that it might now be time to create an International Permaculture Network.

I don’t know if this will figure in Next Big Step thinking, however what enables something like that to happen and to benefit permaculture practitioners at the global level would be:

  1. a means to communicate with each other
  2. a means to collaborate on works
  3. and an online repository, a database, of permaculture know-how.

A new model

Interesting in the session were comments about the open source model of making knowledge available. The open source idea some time ago escaped its software industry origins to spread as a good idea into other areas. Why I think it relevant is that it well-fits permaculture’s third ethic of share-what’s-spare… the distribution of surplus.

By providing freely-accessible information we can help other people provide their own basic needs. Unlike permaculture’s early decades we now have the internet to make this happen.

The mention of peer-to-peer distribution by one of the participants offers a means of distributing useful information, as would the establishment of an online database of permaculture know-how.

Where now?

I wonder where Next Big step goes from here? People volunteered their emails so they could be kept in touch. It is my experience that once something is started it needs a project, something for people to do, something to maintain their interest and momentum.

The launching of Next Big Step might signify something else: that permaculture practitioners are starting to see that challenges stemming from a global economy, from climate change and other challenges of global dimension can best be met by a global permaculture response that could provide global support for local initiatives. That’s a different sort of globalisation. It is a type of globalisation we want.


Here’e a video of Ian Lillington and Ed Walta introducing the Next Big Step. It was shown at the APC13 session:


  1. Thank you for this session that opened the conversation about the permaculture movement to us at the convergence. Attending showed me, yet again, the power of providing space for people to share and conjure together – thank you for this format. There’s something about allowing ideas and concepts to be collectively consolidated that allows something greater than the sum of it’s parts. I remember in the session thinking about and hearing someone mention the mycelium component we need in the movement – something that connects our nodes, distributes energy and information by efficient and effective means, and allows a greater entity to grow. I dearly hope the Next Big Step gathers all the momentum required to be truly effective in this way. Thank you, once again for sharing, from a young passionate permie in Australia.

  2. “…what enables something like that to happen and to benefit permaculture practitioners at the global level would be: (1) a means to communicate with each other, (2) a means to collaborate on works, (3) and an online repository, a database, of permaculture know-how.”

    I would dare to say that all three exist for quite some time already. What we are missing is relationships between practitioners. or – to be more specific – “long distance” relationships.

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