Echo Earth Care

Project 6: Permaculture Scotland Policy Working Group

Permaculture Scotland is the Permaculture Association's strategic network in Scotland. Our goal is to grow the network in Scotland to be self sustaining and contribute to national health, wealth and happiness, whilst sharing what we have and what we seek with the worldwide permaculture community. Permaculture Scotland has a Policy Working Group that advises other bodies and organisations on topics where we are qualified to do so. This includes participating in governmental, local and council policy consultations and feeding in recommendations from a Permaculture perspective.

The Brief

  • Encourage governing bodies, communities and organisations to adopt permaculture tools and practices by responding to public consultations and advising on them on practices most relevant to their requirements.
  • Helping the Permaculture Scotland Policy Working group to prioritise where to spend their efforts in order to optimise their impact and time.

Survey

What was in place at the start of this design: When I joined the PS Policy Working Group (PSPWG) we were a group of 5 volunteers, each having a lot of other external commitments, who were tasked with responding to consultations and media enquiries. There were several issues in that each individual had different levels of experience and knowledge in different areas and most of us did not feel knowledgeable enough about some topics to be able to discuss the matter confidently and represent the view of PS. There was also an issue in that often we would only find out about consultations at the last minute which would result in a scramble to put together a quality response. There was no formal PS position on any topic.

Action Research

One of the reasons I joined the PSPWG was that, as a member of Nourish, I was very interested in how our food is grown and distributed. I attended a workshop held by Nourish on the subject of the Scottish Governments consultation on the Future of Scottish Agriculture. It was immediately clear to me, and some others in the room, that Permaculture held a lot of solutions to the current crisis. I had the opportunity to talk with the relevant government minister for Agriculture at the event and found him to be dismissive of Permaculture and most progressive practices as he was unable to relate them to large scale farming.

Following this event I contacted PS and asked if we planned to respond to the consultation on the Future of Scottish Agriculture and was invited to join the team and respond on behalf of PS. The details of my design for this consultation response, which is a sub design of this overall project, can be found here. With no guidance or template to follow, I expended a lot of time and energy applying Permaculture ethics to the consultation paper, analysing every detail and wrote a 15 page document of all that was wrong with present day agriculture. When I sent it to the PSPWG for comment I received the very relevant feedback that the document was very large and detailed and it was unlikely that anyone would read it all, far less a government minister or civil servant. With a redefined brief I was able to quickly pull together a more relevant and positive document which can be found here.

The experience of preparing the consultation response for the Future of Scottish Agriculture highlighted the need for a guidance document for preparing consultation responses as well as policy documents stating what the PS policy is for key issues.

Analysis

A SWOC analysis identified useful resources within the PSPWG team and where they could best be applied and captured.

Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Challenges
Diverse team No formal policy on anything Clean slate to develop policies All team members have a lot of other commitments and limited time to spend on policy development
Team members have a range of experience Personalities (e.g. Graham Bell) well known but the organisation not well known Scottish Government and other agencies more open to consultation feedback Short notice to respond to consultations
Use of google Drive to share documents Actions rarely get completed due to time constraints of individuals so feels ineffective Capture knowledge of members (obtain a yield) to provide resilience in case of members leaving the team (succession) Finding a time when everyone is free for meetings
Skype calls - can take 30 minutes to get everyone there
No standard format or guidance for consultation responses and policies

Design

The key principles driving this design were:

Produce no waste & Efficient energy planning
an easily accessible, well researched policy document on a specific topic would allow anyone to refer to that document when preparing a consultation response and avoid each person repeating the research stage whenever a consultation arose (only handle it once).
Catch and store energy & obtain a yield
harvest the knowledge of the participants and capture the information in a document that others can then refer to as the need arises. This also supports a plan for succession should the team members need to leave the team.
Use the edges & value diversity
anyone in the team can contribute to each policy document, harnessing a range of information and experience rather than that of only one individual who is preparing a consultation response.
Use small slow solutions
Permaculture covers a vast range of subjects and it would be impossible to prepare policy documents covering them all in a short space of time, especially by a small team of people working in their limited spare time. It is therefore necessary to develop a process to help prioritise the workload and tackle one or two topics and policy documents at a time.
Design from pattern to detail
A proforma or template (pattern) should be designed for ease in drawing up policy documents. This could then be filled in with content (detail) relevant to the topic.

Implementation

Priority setting

A survey was designed as a priority setting tool to identify which topics should be addressed first. This survey also acted as a recruitment tool to involve more interested parties in writing the policies. The survey is a sub-design of this project and more information on the design, implementation and analysis of the survey can be found on the Priority Setting Tool Page.

The results of the survey consistently indicated that the priorities for the PSPWG team should be Land Reform, Food Sovereignty, climate resilience, community empowerment and nature stewardship.

Process for developing policies

I designed a process for developing policies based on a revised version of SADIMET (SADIETM).

Design template; Survey; Prepare draft; Consult stakeholders; Final draft
  1. Design template (Pattern): review if other like minded organisations have a good template could be used (least change for greatest possible effect)
  2. Agree content for each policy (Detail)
    • Each team member volunteer to take the lead on a chosen topic (prioritised by the survey).
    • Survey rest of team for ideas via brainstorm session (value diversity) and survey relevant policies from other organisations.
    • Analyse the data
    • Design content to reflect Permaculture approach to the topic
    • Implement - Topic lead to prepare first draft and circulate to rest of policy working group for comment.
    • Evaluate - send comments back to topic leader for inclusion in policy.
    • Tweak - finalise policy with comments and publish on PS website
    • Maintain - topic lead to review policy every 3 years and update where necessary.

Implementation - Actual

The PSPWG agreed that this was a good start for a process and work was started on some policies. However, some of the team members took a break from the PSPWG (myself included) due to family and other work commitments. This piece of work was therefore left unfinished and the Permaculture Scotland board subsequently underwent a reorganisation and the PSPWG was disbanded.

Reflection

Consultations

This was one of my earliest designs for my diploma and was a useful and steep, if somewhat frustrating, learning curve. At the start of this design the only design process I was familiar with was SADIMET and I applied it enthusiastically, and perhaps inappropriately, to all designs, including the Scottish Government consultation on the Future of Scottish Agriculture. Having applied SADIMET and produced a massive document that was not fit for purpose and it was evident that more discretion was necessary and that choosing the right tool for the job was a key part of the design process. Similarly it became clear that having a very clearly defined brief was key to successful design.

Whilst we don't have guidance on completing consultations I have since completed many more on behalf of Permaculture Scotland, including A Good Food Nation, Land Reform and Fife Councils strategy to be carbon free. Having learned the art of being succinct I found these much easier than the Scottish Agriculture consultation. In this regard I continue to fulfil the objectives of the brief in responding to consultations and promoting Permaculture practices. However, there is no standard for this task and everyone will complete them in their own style and their chosen length. If I ever get any free time then perhaps I will endeavour to try to provide written guidance on consultation responses.

Survey for priority setting

Having learned that SADIMET is not always required I feel that the design of the survey was significantly more successful as I combined my scientific research background with permaculture principles to design a highly useful survey, which not only generated consistent results but also recruited volunteers to help with policy writing. The results of the survey were well received throughout PS and PAB and I think was a very worthwhile exercise. I definitely feel that I met this objective of the brief.

Policy writing

It is unfortunate that this piece of work was not completed but it is understandable given that most people involved in the PS board and other teams all work for PS in their spare time and there are very few paid positions. I do think that a light touch SADIMET (or SADIETM in this case) was relevant as a framework for preparing policies that could be referred to for consultations and media responses.

Bigger picture

I think it would be advantageous for PS to have guidance for responding to consultations and policies that state our position on the relevant topics as set out in Holmgren's flower, I also think it would be highly valuable to have sort of knowledge base to capture the immense knowledge of Permaculture Scotland community. Given the age of some of the experience members, and their stated wish to retire, we are at a great risk of losing a valuable resource in terms of their advice and knowledge.

Whilst SADIMET may have been applicable purely for designing a database of policies, looking forward now at the issue of knowledge capture and succession, which is a much bigger organisational issue, I would now be inclined to use the design web if I were to try to tackle this.