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Permaculture Association Britain

Research Strategy 2010 - 2014


Definitions of permaculture


Permaculture is the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability and resilience of natural ecosystems. It is the harmonious integration of landscape and people providing their food, energy, shelter and other material needs in a sustainable way. Permaculture design is a system of assembling conceptual, material and strategic components in a pattern which functions to benefit life in all its forms.”

Bill Mollison

"The philosophy behind permaculture is one of working with, rather than against nature, of looking at systems in all their functions, rather than just asking one yield of them, and of allowing systems to demonstrate their own evolutions."


David Holmgren


Permaculture is a term coined from permanent agriculture, and permanent culture. It may be defined as the conscious design and maintenance of agriculturally productive ecosystems which have the diversity, stability, and resilience of natural ecosystems. Permaculture design aims to produce such systems by specifying and assembling appropriate conceptual, material and strategic components; these include housing, water systems, transport and the like and also invisible structures such as legal and financial systems, and the development of supportive social networks. Permaculture contributes to the conservation of the environment by the harmonious integration of landscape and people so as to benefit people by providing their material and non-material needs in a sustainable way.


From the Association's governing document.


1. Context                                          1


2. Goals                                             3


3. Our current position                    3


4. Our approach to research          4


5. Research activities                      5


6. Research Themes                      7


7. Resources                                    7


8. Review                                           8

1. Context
Why research matters to us

Research is one of the charitable objectives of the Association, together with education. While a good deal of attention has been focussed on promoting education in the past, research has so far played a minor role.

Research into applications and fundamental aspects of permaculture has great potential to improve the permaculture practice of Association members, other permaculturists and their allies. Well-documented research can also help to raise the profile and standing of permaculture in civil society. As the prime networking body for permaculturists in the UK, the Association is in the best position to systematically monitor and review progress of permaculture on a UK-wide scale. By providing an interface with academic research, our own research efforts will also enable us to feed into policy-forming scientific debates, and improve access to relevant academic research for non-academics.

The ultimate purpose of our research is to give people tools to improve their lives and surroundings. Our efforts will reflect this, with an emphasis on research into applications of permaculture and their effectiveness. We will also explore ways of making permaculture education and training as attractive as possible and of the highest quality, giving people the necessary skills to design and implement solutions that address real needs in their personal lives and communities.

The framework for our research

Research carried out by and through the Association will be guided by our organisational Outcomes. Therefore, research results will make sure that:

·         People and groups have better access to advice, support, information and training about the theory and practice of permaculture and related subjects

·         People are better able to share resources and practical solutions, and collaborate on projects.

·         Civil society, specific sectors and professions understand the value of the permaculture design approach in relation to their activities.


Our Strategic Plan envisages that over the next five years, we will carry out projects that

1.    Develop the capacity of the Association and wider network (members, teachers, designers and practitioners) to teach permaculture, engage the public in local projects, and earn a livelihood from their activities.

2.    Create a compelling and practical vision of what is possible, through collating and documenting existing case studies, commissioning new work, and making this easily accessible to the public and a range of organisations and networks within ‘civil society’.

3.    Develop new quality systems for teachers, designers and demonstration projects.

Our research programme will reflect these priorities.


Specific areas of work, as stated in our Strategic Plan are:

·         Support for the Permaculture Projects Network

·         Education and Training

·         Permaculture Livelihoods

·         The Permaculture Farming Initiative

·         The British House and Garden – a permaculture approach to where we live

·         Space between – applying permaculture design to everywhere between the front door and the farm gate

·         Developing the Association website

·         International networking and support work

Our research programme will reflect these priorities, and resources for research will be concentrated in these areas.

Who will we work with and for?

·         Members of the Association, in particular, teachers, designers, project leaders and students working towards the Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design.

·         People interested and/or active in permaculture but not members of the Association.

·         Other permaculture institutions and networks, whether in the UK or abroad

·         Other NGOs, in particular those focused on education and training, and supporting local sustainability. Stage one will be building on work done previously with SPAN partners[1]. Stage two will be to work with Local Food Fund consortium partners[2]. Stage three will extend partnerships to other groups as required.

·         Academic partners, in particular those with an interest in applying science to issues of sustainability.


Geographical focus

We will concentrate on research that leads to solutions relevant for cool temperate climates, and on a scale from the personal to the bioregional/ organisational. We will conduct other research only in exceptions, but will encourage and, where possible, support our members and partners to do so.

2. Goals of this Strategy

The purpose of this strategy is to

a) create a capacity-building network for permaculture research with a broad spread of member-led research themes

b) conduct specific research into areas with high relevance and potential benefit


Making Research Accessible


By creating a vibrant, well used research network, we aim to make both the research process and its results as accessible as possible. In our publications we will encourage people to take part in our research programs, and to access the results.


Making Permaculture visible and transparent


We aim to have people from a wide range of backgrounds, both academic and non-academic, involved in our research and making use of its results. Our emerging network of demonstration projects will be thoroughly documented and widely publicised. We will ensure that our information is available in a variety of formats, to suit different audiences. To maximise transparency, the Association will provide information about its structures and processes in easily accessible ways.


Making Permaculturists effective


The ultimate purpose of our research is to give people tools to improve their lives and surroundings. Our efforts will reflect this, with an emphasis on research into applications of permaculture and their effectiveness. We will also explore ways of making permaculture education as attractive as possible and of the highest quality, giving people the necessary skills to design and implement solutions that address real needs in their personal lives and communities. Where possible, we will use the results of our research to make UK government policy more responsive to the environmental and social challenges of this Century..

3. Our current position

·         The Association has a 26 year track record of linking permaculture in the UK.

·         There is a strong interest in research within the Association membership, including a large percentage of members with an academic background.

·         A limited amount of members’ and other relevant research is archived in the Association office.

·         In the UK there is a strong emphasis on urban permaculture and collaborative working on a local level, compared to many other countries. This is a valuable contribution to the international development of permaculture.

·         Both nationally and internationally, the Association website is a prime site for accessing information about permaculture. This is set to continue with the launch of our new website this year. Our website can be a potent tool for furthering our research efforts.

·         Through the SPAN project and invovement in the Local Food Fund, we have built good relationships with a number of NGOs, some of whom are carrying out their own research programmes.


·         There has not yet been a systematic assessment of research needs and potential within the Association

·         Over the years, several attempts have been made to initiate coordinated research efforts within Association, so far without success.

·         There is very limited worker time allocated to specific research programmes.

·         There is no funding or worker time specifically allocated to coordinate research.

·         Research results are currently not systematically monitored, documented, disseminated or reviewed


4. Our approach to research


For permaculture research to be truly inclusive, it is important that we empower members to do their own research, and share their results. Therefore, we will support efforts to demystify research to encourage engagement on the individual and project level. We will especially encourage research by non-academic members, giving training and advice wherever possible.

Where appropriate, we will facilitate direct links between members and/or academics in relevant subjects. We will also make use of research offers or opportunities coming to us, whether from inside or outside the PAB membership. Access to research methodologies and results will be made as easy as possible. We will use a wide variety of means to disseminate methodologies and results.

Systematic and rigorous

We want permaculture research to be taken seriously by non-permaculturists. We will therefore develop methodologies and processes that stand up to academic scrutiny. In parallel, we will also encourage non-academic methods of enquiry where appropriate and engage in the debate over what constitutes “proper” research. Through our dissemination channels we will aim to provide correct, evidenced information that is easily accessible.

We will encourage people to record permaculture methods and practices that do not appear to work in order to enable them and others to change their practices/ methods if necessary.


As permaculture comes out of its infancy, it is increasingly necessary to integrate knowledge and practices developed in other fields in recent years, and we will support efforts in this direction. We will encourage research into fundamental aspects of permaculture, such as ethics, ecological principles, design principles, processes and tools with the aim of keeping them up-to-date. We will also value playful & experimental ways of doing and presenting research.

Emphasis on applied permaculture

We need to understand how people use permaculture design and what prevents them from using it effectively. The emphasis of our research will be therefore be on applied research, enabling people to improve their own lives and communities. We will also help people to carry out a certain amount of “blue sky” research.


5. Activities of the Research Network

5.1. Capacity Building

We will use the coming five years to create a solid base upon which permaculture research in the UK can build. This means developing our own research infrastructure, and ways of linking with others who are involved in research. To this end, we will undertake the following activities:


Establish baseline data for permaculture research

To establish a starting point for developing our research activities, we will gather evidence of current permaculture practice. This will enable us to record and monitor emerging trends and pattern, to map the different areas of knowledge within Permaculture & their coverage within the network. It will also help us to locate & make visible past and ongoing permaculture research efforts, both in the UK and internationally. On-the-ground research will be complemented by a literature review of research into permaculture and related subjects. To create an effective communication strategy for permaculture research, we will conduct a survey of research outlets and mechanisms for dissemination


Determine the needs, potentials and limits for permaculture research

Initially, we will identify Association members’ research priorities, as well as areas of interest to our partners and allies outside the Association. We will also pinpoint areas of weakness, where there is incomplete or conflicting knowledge about aspects of permaculture. Finally we will uncover current limits to the research capacity of the Association and its members.


Educate, empower and engage people to get involved in research

Based on the needs established beforehand, we will develop resources and training programmes for members research with the aim of making the research process and methodologies as accessible as possible. Research training for Association members will be delivered through design and specialist courses, events covered by the LAND project, the Diploma process and other means we will develop over time. We will also develop an interactive online resource base for researchers, to which members will be able to contribute. The resources created will help permaculture teachers address research within the PDC curriculum, and we will encourage teachers to do so.

Some of the challenges in this area are:

To clarify the place of research in design process models (SADIM, BREDIM etc.)

To demystify the process of research and academic language

Translation/explanation of scientific terms

Run “covert” research programmes with non-experts


Link people interested in research

We will link researchers with the users of their results to make researchers more effective and their results more relevant to users, by offering feedback from users to researchers.

Our main tool for linking researchers and users will be the Association website. A dedicated research section will include profiles of members doing or interested in research, self-organised themed research clusters, downloadable resources and training material, reports on projects and calls for contributions. Using these and other methods, we will enable people with similar interests to connect with each other and develop their own research projects and disseminate them through Association outlets. Similarly, we will provide a meeting place for academics and non-professional researchers for mutually beneficial interaction.


Maximise research benefits of Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design

“Introduction to permaculture research” modules for diploma students

Archive and disseminate students’ best designs


Use research results to widely promote permaculture

Part of the Association’s future work will be to develop the infrastructure to provide information about research process and results.

Members will be encouraged to share information, advice and support through the Association website, at training and networking events and in other ways. We will also disseminate relevant existing research.

5.2. Specific Research Projects

Association-lead Research


Within our research strategy, we will initiate a number of specific research programmes within the remit set by our Strategic Plan.

Two research programmes that are already underway or scheduled are:

Network Analysis

This programme is ongoing and aims at the continuing improvement of the Association’s work. Within the timeframe of this strategy, we will conduct a stock take of permaculture projects within the Association through the LAND programme, and of resources available for research within the Association and the wider permaculture network. This combined with an analysis of needs, potentials and limits of the network will enable us to improve the work of the network and its members.

We will also investigate where the Association has received complaints or messages of malfunctioning systems. This will help us find key themes, to set up Error Reporting and complaints systems.

New Era Farming

In our 2008 Local Food Survey, the majority of our members identified farming as the area with the greatest need for development. In response to this, the New Era Farming initiative is brining together farmers, research institutions and organisations involved in sustainable farming approaches. Within this initiative, we are now developing a wide-ranging joint sustainable farming research programme.


Member-lead Research


We will encourage Association members and their allies to develop and conduct research of their own, and share their results through our network of dissemination. Where possible, we will provide support and advice to these projects. In particular we will support Diploma students to carry out research projects as part of their two year portfolio of work.


Research Partnerships


Collaboration with academic partners will help us to make permaculture more widely known and accepted in the scientific debate. Knowledge exchange between Permaculture and related disciplines will expose a wider section of society to a permaculture approach and increase our ability to adopt new relevant knowledge.

We will try to link up with academic members of the Association as well as other academic researchers. To this end we will build up a “bank” of relevant research questions that can be taken up by under-and postgraduate students.

We will collaborate on specific research projects with partners from civil society where appropriate and within the parameters of our strategic plan. Occasionally we will commission research to influence developments in specific sectors of society, where permaculture has a valuable role to play.


6. Research themes

            Ethics and Principles
            Ecosystem models

            Terrain Evaluation and Design Strategies

            Definitions of 'sustainable'

            Sustainable ecosystems and human habitats

            Practical and technical elements

            Social processes, livelihoods and lifestyles


            Legal issues, planning decisions and precedents

7. Resources

Our main tool for co-ordinating and disseminating research will be the Association website.

Phase 1 of the new website will be launched in winter 2009 and will incorporate:

·         Space for people/projects to upload personal information, including designs, their own research results and articles.

·         An FAQ section which can be added to by staff and trustees (at this stage)

·         A section on Research (within “ Association work areas”) including an introduction to the Research Network – will be maintained by DJ at this stage

Phase 2 will incorporate an interactive Research section. The features and of content of the site will be developed by the Association office in collaboration with the membership.


We will build up a database of research contacts, both within the Association and beyond. Where appropriate, we will make this information available to members and the public.


As much as possible, capacity building measures will be integrated into existing Association programmes. If resources allow further resources will be made available, and we will try to increase the amount allocated to such measures.

Individual research programmes will have a dedicated budget.


We will seek funding for a dedicated post of Research Coordinator, which we aim to establish within the next 12 months.

8. Reviews

This being our first Research Strategy, we expect to find much that can be improved upon and many new avenues to explore. We will collect feedback from our members and collaborators, as well as information on the uptake and use of our published results. The information gathered will be reviewed annually.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Please send comments and suggestions to:

Andy Goldring

BCM Permaculture Association, London, WC1N 3XX

or email [email protected]

Notes and potential revisions.

In light of meeting with Peter Reason:

·                     consider adding in specific reference to Action Research (and note links to existing pc design process) and 'community of enquiry'.

Sustainable ecosystems and human habitats – this may need to be re-phrased as 'Sustainable cultivated ecosystems and human habitats.'

[1]               Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, Womens Environment Network, Garden Organic, Community Composting Network

[2]               SPAN partners, plus Black Environment Network, BTCV, FareShare, GreenSpace, Groundwork UK, Learning through Landscapes, National Allotment Gardens Trust, Soil Association, Sustain, Thrive

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