Monday, August 17, 2009

Permaculture as a Model for Dealing With Complex Systems

Permaculture Principles

As I have often written on this blog, complex systems (such as ecological and social systems) do not lend themselves to the mechanistic approaches (such as forecasting, cause-and-effect analysis and systems analysis) that work in merely complicated systems. Solutions to complex problems emerge over time, along with a better understanding of the problems, and this takes patience, experimentation, improvisation and resilience. Permaculture is a great model for dealing with complexity (food ecosystems are inherently complex), since it entails lengthy and patient study and learning about the natural local ecosystem and then intervening strategically to help natural succession produce a sustainable, organic, food-nutrient-rich ecology (using the 12 operating principles and 3 ethical principles illustrated above). Chris C suggests these same principles can be applied analogously to other complex environment challenges as well.

Dave Pollard

Reading David Holmgren’s book on Permaculture right now, sitting on my front porch overlooking the garden that we have created using some of his principles. I love the permaculture principles, because they lend themselves so well to all kinds of other endeavours. They are generative principles, rather than proscriptive principles, meaning that they generate creative implementation rather than restricting creativity.

At any rate, reading today about the principle of Design from Patterns to Details and in the opening to that chapter he writes:

Complex systems that work tend to evolve from simple ones that work, so finding the appropriate pattern for that design is more important than understanding all the details of the elements in the system.

That is a good summary of why I work so hard at teaching and hosting important conversations in organizations and communities. Very often the problems that people experience in organizations and communities are complex ones and the correction of these complex problems is best done at the level of simple systemic actions. Conversations are a very powerful simple systemic action, and serve to be a very important foundation for all manner of activities and capacities needed to tackle the increasing scale of issues in a system. Collaboration, dialogue, visioning, possibility and choice creating, innovation, letting go of limiting beliefs, learning, and creative implementation are all dependant on good conversational practice. If we use debate as the primary mode of communicating, we do not come to any of these key capacities; in fact debate may be the reason for these capacities breaking down.

Conversation between people is a simple system that is relatively easy to implement and has massive implications for scaling up to more and more complicated and complex challenges. The ability to sense, converse, harvest and act together depends on good hosting and good conversation.

Chris Corrigan