Ruth and Liz’s design of our Introduction to Permaculture design courses – 2012

[Criteria 1; SADIM, Homgren principles, stacking, incremental design, brainstorm/mind maps. Criteria 3; education. Criteria 4; leading workshops. Criteria 5; convening courses]

This design began in Jan 2012, the first course ran in Apr 2012, the review and write up took place in Oct 2012.

Having completed our PDC we decided that through providing IPD courses we could both embed our own permaculture knowledge, grow a business and teach others (stacking functions).  The design of the following write up stacks principles, patterns and tools within the text.


We had common aims, diverse experiences and experience of working together on a design  (use and value diversity).

Ruth’s aim:  Grow a business around teaching something beneficial (permaculture) to the world (obtain a yield).

Liz’s aim: Embedding permaculture and create an income stream (obtain a yield).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA



  1. Reinforce our own learning
  2. Income – this came last in our list as it turned out
  3. Desire to diseminate the permaculture way
  4. SCF could do with some permaculture
  5. There is a need for more IPD courses in south london


  • Tomas – support, encouragement and link to the association teaching resources (observe and interact)
  • Teaching resources from Permaculture Association
  • PDC knowledge
  • Ruth’s experience as a teacher (integrate rather than segregate)
  • Liz’s experience – carbon conversations and project management (integrate rather than segregate)
  • Permaculture books
  • Other teacher’s courses – both content (where we could find it) and advertising techniques/strategies
  • Stationery and other ancillary items
  • People in permaculture network
  • Our own enthusiasm

We wanted to catch and store the energy generated by all of our inputs.  We recognise that they are all renewable resources that we could use and value.


Having identified the resources available we decided to use the outline plan from the Permaculture Association – which met our need for a structure – but gave us the confidence to develop it.  We felt that it was good enough, but we need to adapt it to our style and our approach, we needed to own the material and not just feel like we were delivering someone else’s material.  There were a few sessions from the PA plan that really resonated with us (e.g. permaculture gardening) and a few that we really didn’t like (e.g. a 40 min film at the end of day 1).  We also had experience of being taught this material and had seen some sessions delivered that we preferred to the way the PA plan suggested.  And we wanted to play with the timing/flow to make the two days work in a way that seemed to flow with our own rhythms.  The following chart shows the sessions that we used the PA material, where we tweaked it and where we redesigned.

PA agenda Liz and Ruth agenda What we did
Day 1
Introductions Introductions Tweak
Input-output analysis Input-output analysis Redesign
Ethics Ethics Used as is
Principles Principles Used as is
Site tour Site tour Used as is
Observation Observation Tweak
Film Patterns in nature Redesign
QA reflections QA reflections Used as is
Day 2
Opening circle Opening circle Used as is
permaculture gardening permaculture gardening Used as is
Design slide show zones, sectors Redesign
Design process Design; survey Tweak
Client interview
designing on site design projects Tweak
designing on paper design projects Tweak
design presentations design presentations Tweak
Feedback next steps Feedback next steps Tweak



We spent many mondays/many lunches trying to make it our own, thinking through how it would work and how we wanted to make it work. We were continuously revisiting our inputs/resources and using our skills of analysis we remodelled the outline plan into a set of lesson plans that suited us.  This was a cyclical process.  Patterns to detail and creatively use and respond to change and self regulation and feedback and integrate rather than segregate. 

During this process we created a great working atmosphere based around lunch(!), the ready availability of materials that could be used for teaching resources and the maintenance of our own shared enthusiasm for permaculture.  These were important resources that we developed during the design process.  Catch and store, produce no waste (recycled teaching materials)

We set a short term goal to do a practice teach to friends and family – which made the whole thing feel less scary.  This was a small and slow approach.  We didn’t ever do this – the yield was the temporary confidence we needed to carry on.  It gave us an image of potential course participants.

Set up website – an accelerator to the existence of grow south – it made us have some dates set.  Gave us a sense of self respect, gave us an

Flyer for our courses

Flyer for our courses

identity and a presence.  It made it real.  It made it possible to promote courses (PM, PA, London Permaculture) and consider other possibilities.  Obtain a yield – self respect, identity, presence etc

Meanwhile – Liz starts talking to Kingston Environment Centre, there is also a need there for people to learn about permaculture.  We see a pattern of people who want to learn about permaculture emerging – it reinforces our own observation of a need for more IPD in south london, this allowed us to revist – spiral like – our survey phase and needs analysis.

There was a moment when we realised that we should evaluate our design process so far  using permaculture principles – and dedicated a Monday afternoon to it.

Midway principles review - poor quality image only available

Midway principles review – poor quality image only available

We continued to develop course material. The whole course, individual sessions, back to the whole course etc (patterns to details).  Continuously redeveloping the material in light of an ever growing body of information – taking the form of a spiral patternObserve and interact

One person said yes in response to our advertising – so we were excited and therefore in that yes we had a commitment to make the course happen. Catch and store energy of the ‘yes’We caught the wave of energy

Our advertising was a targeted scatter to permaculture publications (web/printed etc) and local growing projects.  The yield wasn’t as high as we had hoped – as most of our participants were linked to the teaching venue in some way, mined through our existing contacts and networks – but not all! Minimum input to maximum effect.


Teaching at SCF – 8 people attended – brrrrrrrrrr it was freezing!!!!  2 paying – 6 vols from sutton farmOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last minute design addition – Seeta offers to do people care – so important, so helpful, a design element we had up to then overlooked.    Creatively use and respond to change

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe observed the ebb and flow of energy throughout the day – observation of wave pattern and the impact of people outside the course coming into the space during breaks and lunch time.  There was a real mix of positive and negative energy that arose and we needed to integrate into our management of the group and our management of our own emotions.  Observation of random pattern

Feedback from course participants

Feedback from course participants

Outcomes of the course – YIELDS

  • Two designs for the farm
  • Two groups of very engaged designers
  • Course participation was high – lots of energy – and lots of goodwill to help make us succeed.
  • The people who came were what made the course be what it is – our work was the enabler, we provided the opportunity for an enriching exchange.  We learnt about an important formula: US (ourselves, structure, information and space) + THEM (themselves and their stories) = course!
  • Really specific useful feedback on the course – which reinforced our own observations. Apply self regulation and accept feedback
  • The need to review and tweak
  • ££ £130
  • Observing others using the tools – 4 q’s, SADIM, PASE, observation
  • We used PMI ourselves and as a teaching tool
  • Desire to do it better – it didn’t feel like an unmitigated success
  • Buzz at the farm
  • Volunteers at the farm ‘got it’
  • Demonstration of the farm as a course venue
  • Experience of the growing edge – and our own growing edge
  • Celebration – delicious dinner at Ruth’s!!!


We did PMI at the end of each day, we had course feedback and we did the 4 q’s for ourselves all of which fed into the next 6 weeks of redesign before the next course at Kingston Environment Centre.

Additional resources now available to us:

  1. Feedback from course (we have written up all feedback recieved from all our courses here)

    This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  2. Patterns talk at Permaculture Picture House
  3. Experience of teaching the course
  4. Observations of ourselves and each other teaching
  5. Another venue with new opportunities for designs and teaching spaces

New analysis for this phase:

  • How to integrate the new resources into the course?
  • Use edges and value the marginal – we had the edge of what happened and what we wanted to happen and this made a highly productive focussed period of time to prepare for the next course, and a highly productive second course.
  • Creative use and respond to change – tweak the course in response to feedback

New design

  • These were the changes we made in response to the additional resources available to us:
    • Made the spiral – which provided us with a central focus, a structure, a thread for the two days – a way that we could explain the story of permaculture to our participants
      Our course structure - the spiral

      Our course structure – the spiral


    • Added in stories; parable of the chicken, apple, make tooting into the zone case studies
    • Condensed one and half days into one day.
    • Add a different zones practice because it resonated with us
    • Extend the design time and made more of the final session which was about action.
    • Refined principles and patterns sessions – patterns particularly enables us to get more clarity on how to explain
    • Turned ethics into a world cafe
    • Try and improve the inevitable ebb and flow of the day so that we can pace the surges and the lulls. We learned the lesson that we should appreciate the value of the slow times (the lulls) as well as the fast times and not be scared of them and not to try and change them – just let them be.  wave patterns.  Observe and interact
      Agenda May 2012 KCE

      Agenda May 2012 KCE

Outcomes after Kingston – YIELDS

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe experienced all the same yields as for the first sutton course, in addition:

Feeling like we had met a real and perceived need – they needed an alternative vision to move the group on.

Outcomes after Sutton course 2 – YIELDS

Further yields after the second Sutton course was the identification of our need to connect as a teaching unit – to nurture each other before, during and after. Zone 00 work required.

Planned tweaks for 2013

Review June 2012 2

This is our review after the first two courses which informed this write up

A new way of implementing the design phase – to account for people who are complete beginners in terms of both gardening and land based design.  And in response to our lack of experience in gardening and growing stuff.  Use more props that will give specific plant based knowledge.  Do something small that would be implementable within the course.

We have now realised that we didn’t conciously use any zoning in our design.  So we will try and conciously think about how zoning applies to our teaching work and see if any patterns emerge.

Ruth has a fantasy to revisit this document stacking in more principles (if it is possible) as they emerge to her.

A note on how the ethics were incorporated into all of our work, we always kept them close to our heart and used them in our review work and tried to reflect on both ethics and principles individually and together at many of our design sessions:

Earth Care

  • Encourage people to travel by train by providing a shared lift from the train station (it’s too far and complicated to walk)
  • Specify a shared vegetarian lunch, this also meant we wasted less food as there was always food left over for the second day
  • Make our teaching resources reuseable as much as possible, we didn’t print out paper handouts but instead sent an email with all of the course materials after the course.
  • Show people around and get them excited about the farm, local veg box schemes and generally looking after the land

People Care

  • Look after ourselves during our prep time, nurture our relationship with eachother, plan our work loads and teaching around our commitments, don’t take on too much, be mindful of eachother
  • Look after ourselves whilst teaching; brief check ins during the days, a longer debrief session at the end of each day, understand and accept that all groups are different and will respond to our material in different ways – that is ok
  • Look after our course participants – we worked extremely hard on this and believe that is vital to ensure a successful course; where possible have a people care person to get the tea and lunch ready, if not design our sessions to allow one of us to do this.  We also designed the layout of the day to ensure that there were adequate breaks.  Be very explicit at the start of the course about people looking after themselves and taking breaks if/when they needed them, showing them round so they felt comfortable with the site and how to get to the toilet etc.  We also worked hard to design our exercises to allow for many different learning styles with whole group discussions, pair work, individual work and small group work – we had no expectation for contributions but allowed time and space for people to contribute, we were mindful of dominant voices in the group and worked to ensure that they were integrated appropriately to the groups needs.  We used flip charts, short films, role play and talking so that people could access the material in different ways.  We included practical work as another method of learning.  Communicate clearly and concisely before the course.

Fair Shares

  • All tea and coffee and biscuits we provide are fair trade
  • Vegetarian lunch (encourages people to consider their diets and stay closer to an ecologically fair level of consumption)
  • Include stories and examples in our teaching material of fair shares (e.g. the earth apple analogy to show the scale of the issues facing us, Hornbeam cafe, workers co-ops, fair share at the farm etc)


Overall lessons learnt and observations

The whole endeavour – we expected to be more rapid, but we allowed it to take its course – a small and slow approach.  Each course itself was the right size for us to deal with, and bigger would be unwealdy, and potentially demotivating.

This was a high energy process – depending on what we define as our outcome – we hope and anticipate that the work we put in will continue and we will teach more, but this will become apparent over time.  We would like to produce no waste – so we need to ensure that we allow all our energy to not be wasted.

We used a lot of different tools, I really enjoyed using PMI both for our course analysis and for our attendees.  I love zoning as a tool, but in this application was unable to find a space for zoning. Zones, PASE and PMI are some of my favourite to teach.

Given that I have been the client, this design process has worked very well for me, it has played to each of our individual strengths and together we provide a cohesive and complimentary teaching team.  The design process at times seemed to take forever, but the time was invaluable in building our skills, confidence and team work.  This review process has made me feel much more confident about teaching more in the future.

Sept 2014 update It was hard to even begin to think about how to write all of this down – until we had 2 brains.  Then it was easier!

Ruth and I are still teaching Intro courses in south London, we have had 69 people join us so far.  We continue to use tools and design to review and improve our course each time we teach, PMI is still our favourite review tool.  We ensure that we allow time for us to connect with eachother (zone 00 work) before we embark on a course as it may have been a few months since we have worked together.  We are still enjoying teaching together, and have both had opportunities to teach separately in the last year too which has brought new materials and methods into our work.  Our key area of improvement is our marketing, as we have lost the direct connection to the farm (Ruth no longer works there) it is harder to find course participants and we need to improve our ability to get the word out.

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