Whakatane Social Sector Forum proposal


Nāndor launches Social Sector Forum idea for Whakatāne

Nāndor Tānczos today launched the third of his ‘great ideas for Whakatāne’, this time focused on community development.

“There are some awesome social sector organisations around Whakatāne, but there is no regular forum for them all to share what they do with each other and talk about how they can work more effectively together. This lack of coordination makes it hard for organisations to create the synergy that comes from strategic coordination”.

“By supporting the different social agencies working in Whakatāne to get together on a regular basis, to share information and coordinate their services, council could do something useful for the community sector without spending a lot of money” said Nāndor.

The idea for the Social Sector Forum came out of discussions with a number of people working in the community, who described the difficulty of any single agency pulling such an initiative together. Yet just as the Halo Project has drawn a number of environmental organisations together around some common themes, the social agencies could benefit from taking a more coordinated approach guided by a broad common vision. The Council is in a prime position to take that role.

“It is not council’s role to do community work. It is a council role to support the community to be its best. This kind of social infrastructure is just as important as roads, drains and pipes but would cost almost nothing – just a venue and some facilitation.” he said

“Having a healthy, connected community is in everyone’s interests. Helping to support that is an investment in our future, in terms of making Whakatāne a more attractive place to visit and to live, increasing social cohesion, building resilience, and reducing crime. Once again Whakatāne has an opportunity to show leadership to the whole country with some fresh thinking and some political leadership”.

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Four Point Solar Plan for Whakatane

Press Release 21/7/2016

Nandor Tanczos today officially confirmed that he is standing for Whakatane District Council with the launch of a Solar Plan for Whakatane.

The four point plan makes use of one of Whakatane District’s biggest natural assets to boost economic activity and cut costs for households and the council.

“We talk alot about Whakatane being the sunshine capital, but we do almost nothing with that” said Nandor.

“We can use the energy of the sun to drive business activity, grow jobs and improve community well-being. It is this kind of ‘bright green’ thinking that will ensure a more prosperous future for Whakatane.”

The four part plan is to:

1. Work with other agencies (eg Eastern Bay Energy Trust, the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority, ethical financial institutions etc) to create a revolving credit fund to pay for solar hot water installations in low to medium income households. The loan will be paid off from all or part of the savings on the household power bill. Once the loan is repaid, all savings will go to the household.

2. Install solar photovoltaic panels and/or solar hot water on public buildings, where these will result in net savings to council. In addition, invest in energy efficiency and conservation measures to cut costs and reduce carbon emissions.

3. Work with local education providers and solar businesses to create a centre of solar excellence in Whakatane District. This will equip locals for sustainable jobs, boost local education providers and drive solar innovation as a catalyst for local business opportunity.

4. Establish a bi-annual solar and kinetic sculpture competition and symposium, working with engineers, electricians and artists to create public art. This has the potential to become an international event, adding to Whakatane’s attraction as a tourist destination and fostering Whakatane’s reputation as a creative place to live and work.

The four part solar plan makes use of the natural cycles of the sun to maximise benefits for different kinds of users. Because the sun shines during the day, when most people are out of the house, solar hot water is a great way for households to store solar energy without having to invest in expensive battery banks. For most commercial and public buildings, however, electricity is being used at the same time as their photovoltaic solar panels are generating it. This means that big battery banks are not needed.

“Being the sunshine capital of NZ is nice, but it is no real achievement. Becoming a solar centre, as a step towards building a diverse and sustainable economy, would be showing leadership to the whole country” said Nandor.

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Speech to Whakatane Grey Power


Many people think they know who I am – that cannabis guy or the skateboarder. Perhaps you even saw something about the work I did as an MP – my clean slate bill to conceal people’s minor offences after 7 years without re-offending, or the Waste Minimisation Act that I introduced to Parliament and shepherded to near unanimous support, to promote less waste and more recycling. But even if you had seen every article written about me as an MP, you would still have a very distorted view of what kind of person I am. That’s the nature of media.

So I thought I’d start today by introducing myself.

Ko Tisza te awa – the Tisza is my river. My fathers ancestors have lived on the banks of the Tisza, in Hungary, for a thousand years and for many hundreds of years we have been boat people, barging goods up and down it and into the Duna, the mighty Danube.

Many of my cousins still live on its banks, in a city called Szeged. I don’t, of course, because in 1956 my father, who was a marine engineering student, returned to College in Budapest from a break visitng family and when he stepped off the train at midnight he found himself in the middle of an armed uprising. What had begun as a peaceful student demonstration to call for greater freedom had turned into a revolution after the secret police opened fire on the demonstrators and killed a number of them. The Hungarians rose up against the Russian military occupation of their country that had been there since WWII, organised themselves into militias to fight the Russians, formed a revolutionary government and withdrew from the Warsaw Pact.

The Hungarians actually managed to achieve freedom for a few weeks. They set up Workers Councils and Village Councils to run the country. The Russians began talks with the revolutionary government saying they were willing to negotiate a withdrawal of Russian forces, at the same time they began secretly amassing tanks near the border. When they felt the time was ripe they invited the head of the revolutionary army Pal Meleter to talks and kidnapped and executed him. Then they brought in the tanks.

The retribution was brutal. 2500 Hungarians were killed. Denouncements and mass arrests continued for many months. The revolutionary prime minister, Imre Nagy, was also arrested and executed. 200,000 fled across the border into Austria and became refugees, including my father – who ended up being accepted into Britain a year or so later.

I really honour my father. He is a man of principle, of honour and courage. Life is never easy for refugees and he managed to make a good life for himself in England and here in Aotearoa, contribute to society and be a good father to me and my brother.

Ko Hoerikwaggo te maunga – my mountain is Hoerikwaggo – Table Mountain, the Mountain that Floats in the Sea. Before any Bantu tribes came to South Africa, before the Zulu, the Xhosa, the Pondo, Sotho or Ndebele, the original people of South Africa were the different nations of the Khoi Khoi and the Khoi San – the Gorinqua, Koranna, nama etc. What people call the bushmen. The Khoi traded with the Dutch East India Company when they first began to use the Cape as a provisioning stop on the way to their colonies in South East Asia. Soon Dutch demand outstripped their willingness to supply so the Dutch began to steal their cattle. Eventually they took land by force to set up Dutch farmers to supply the ships. At the same time the Zulu and other more northern tribes were expanding south. The khoi were caught between two expanding empires and were crushed. Although remnants of Khoi culture survives in places like the Kalahari Desert, by and large khoi were either assimilated into the Bantu peoples as they moved south or into the settlement at Cape Town, where they formed the core of what was to become the Cape Coloured.

So those are my mother’s people. We are descended from Khoi, Dutch, English, German and no doubt others as well.

My mother is, like my father, courageous. Although she grew up in a small town along the coast, she was well educated for that time. My grandparents were teachers and she had been to boarding school in Cape Town. In the early 1950’s her cousin said she was going to go to London and that my mother should come. She agreed, and even though her cousin pulled out in the end, she decided to go anyway. It was by boat in those days of course. She had a letter of introduction to someone in London and so she went, got herself a job and built a new life or herself in a new land.

She lived in London for a number of years before she met my father and they got married. When my brother was born, my father was still unable to return home for fear of arrest for his part in the uprising, so she took my brother by train to Hungary to meet his grandparents. Travelling behind the Iron Curtain was at that time unheard of for a woman in her position. She spoke no Hungarian and the family spoke no English, yet she went without hesitation.

My older brother and I were both born in England. The family came to Aotearoa in the mid 1970’s and I finished school here. Over my life I have lived in Hungary for a time and in the UK for a number of years. I have been involved in grass-roots political organising all my life. I also have run a number of businesses, got myself a university degree, been an MP for almost 9 years and married a local woman from Murupara. Even before I met her I was drawn to this area, to its beauty, its rich cultural landscape, its raw energy, and we talked about moving here for many years. In 2014 we finally did, and it is everything we hoped.

So now you have a better idea of who I am. If you will allow me, let me also share a little about what interests me the most right now.

I am going to begin by talking about a word I came across when reading a book called “The Way” by Edward Goldsmith. Goldsmith was the founder of The Ecologist magazine and a great thinker. In “The Way” he describes the characteristics of natural ecosystems, which he describes as highly purposive. Healthy natural systems are, he says, homeotelic. It is a word he created to describe something he could find no word for. It comes from the Greek – homeo (the same) and tellus (a goal). In a healthy natural system all parts have the same ultimate purpose, which is to maintain and enhance the integrity of the whole. The default behaviour of any healthy part of the system serves to maintain and enhance the integrity of the whole. So the default behaviour of a single cell serves to maintain and enhance the integrity of the organ of which it is part. And the behaviour of an organ serves to maintain and enhance the integrity of the organism of which it is part. And the organism – let’s say it is a tiger – acts to maintain the integrity of the bioregion that it is part of, perhaps a jungle. The behaviour of the jungle maintains the integrity of the region, and so on until we get to the planetary whole. And the same applies in reverse.

Natural human culture, what Goldsmith calls ‘vernacular culture’, is also homeotelic. Indigenous culture, whether Polynesian, European, African, Asian or American, often after causing massive ecological changes including extinctions, had to find a balance with the ecology that it was now part of, and it did. Over hundreds and thousands of years human culture found a life-enhancing balance with its place. Industrial culture, however, is different. It is heterotelic – that is the default behaviour of human individuals in our system serves to undermine and degrade the integrity of the ecological whole. That is why in our system it takes more effort and cost, in general, to act in a responsible way.

It is that system, in fact, which has brought us to the point where we are approaching or have already exceeded a number of critical ecological thresholds beyond which abrupt and catastrophic changes to the life-support functions of the planet could occur. Human beings rely on wild species for our very survival – they pollinate our crops, purify our air and clean our water, among a host of other things. Yet we stand on the brink of the sixth mass extinction in the planet’s history, an extinction caused by human action.

So this word ‘homeotelic’ was a bit of a revelation for me, because it showed me really clearly what our most important mission is in the world today. To recreate our society and culture as a homeotelic culture. Most importantly to recreate our economic system, which is the biggest driver of this heterotelic impulse, as a homeotelic system. To transform our economic system, which reduces all other values (ecological, social, aesthetic) to the financial, which relies on continued, never-ending growth to balance the books. It is interesting that China has now started talking about becoming an ecological civilisation. I’m not sure how serious they are, but that is essentially what we must all do.

How do we do it?

There are no simple or easy answers to that question. If any of you (and I suspect and hope that many of you have) tried to grapple with what it really means to become even sustainable, never mind to live in a way that maintains and enhances the integrity of life on this planet, then you will appreciate that this is something we are having to figure out as we go along. With all our compromises, inadequacies and paradoxes. And that is ok – I drove a car to get here, but that just means I accept I am not perfect. It doesn’t mean I stop trying. But we must face the reality of the world that we live in and accept that we MUST change, in ways we don’t even understand right now, but that we have to begin and we have to be serious about it. For the sake not just of our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, but for all of life that we share this beautiful planet with.

What’s more, in changing, we have the possibility of creating a far better life than we enjoy right now. One where human well-being rather than money is the measure – because despite what economists will tell us, they are not the same thing. One where community, relationships, helping each other out, a beautiful and healing environment are more valued than how much we have in the bank or in a portfolio.

Having said that there are no simple answers, I think there are many pieces of the puzzle already in our hands.

For me, one of the most important is Permaculture Systems Design. In fact Permaculture is the only approach I have come across that provides real and practical design tools for doing just that, for designing systems that homeotelic. Systems that are sustainable, resilient and regenerative.

Sustainable, meaning systems that are capable of lasting indefinitely. There is a lot of confusion and imprecise thinking around this term ‘sustainable’ but for me it is quite simple. Sustainability just means good economics – spending income not capital, whether we are talking about financial capital, social capital or natural capital. In terms of environmental sustainability, that means harvesting in a way that does not exceed regeneration rates and not emitting wastes beyond the natural assimilation rates of ecosystems.

Resilient. Many people, even so called experts, confuse resilience and robustness. Robust comes from the Latin robus for oak, strength. It is the ability to shrug off threats and withstand shocks. Resilience is from the Latin resilīre to spring back, rebound. It is like grass in the wind, that gets blown over but springs back up. It is about the ability to recover from system shocks, even system failure. Robust systems tend to be highly efficient and specialised. Resilient systems tend to include strategic redundancy. With all the uncertainty in the world today, ensuring a capacity for resilience is IMO one of the most important things we can do.

And regenerative because it is not enough to simply sustain our highly degraded environment as it is now. We have done so much damage to the intricate web of life that we need to actually start to stitch it back together. Not ripping it further is no longer enough.

Permaculture takes natural systems as the best model of how to do this. It looks at the characteristics of natural systems and asks how we can design those kinds of characteristics into a human centred system? Permaculture design is most usually applied to land management systems, but has also been the organising philosophy behind things like the Transition Towns movement. This is an international grass-roots movement that began in Cornwall in England and seeks to build community resilience and economic resilience in the face of climate change, resource depletion, and social and financial instability. Their guiding principle is that we used extraordinary creativity to power up our current energy intensive civilisation and we will use the same amount of creativity as we (by necessity) power down, to create a more human centred and more enjoyable way of living.

There is also a growing interest in applying permaculture design to business and economic development and you can see it’s influence in things like the 8 principles of Regenerative Capitalism developed by John Fullerton and Hunter Lovins.

So what is Permaculture? It begins with three ethics – Earth care, people care, fair share (or share the surplus). In contrast, neo-liberalism is fundamentally based around the pursuit of self-interest and greed as the highest value. A permaculture economics is not about accumulation and the self but is based on cooperation, reciprocity and sharing. I’d argue that this is more in line with normal human behaviour, and our natural human impulse

A permaculture designer takes many things into account in producing a design and I don’t have time to do a complete survey of how those ideas would apply in permacultural community development, but I wanted to touch on a couple of brief illustrations of how that might look. I thought I’d start by playing with two or three of David Holmgrem’s 12 design principles of permaculture.

The first of those is Observe and Interact. Holmgren says “By taking the time to engage with nature and society we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.” In contrast, neo-liberalism offers a ‘one size fits all’ solution to any problem – less regulation and more private property. The only observation required is the rate of growth.

A permaculture economy would begin with the specifics of a place and a people. It would look at a range of indicators before proposing any solutions – a property designer would look at a range of soils tests, but also make a careful observation of indicator plants, energy flows on site, potential micro-climates. Ideally this observation would be over a full time cycle so as to understand temporal patterns and changes. Similarly an community design would look at a range of social indicators, to understand the local possibilities that a place holds.

If we take a place like Whakatane, for example, it would begin with a real engagement with all the different elements of the community, to provide opportunities for people to share their ideas about what they want their community to look like, how they think things could be improved. It starts with talking to the people affected by decisions – not as a box-ticking exercise but because decisions tend to be better if the people involved get to have a say.

A good example is the recent redesign of the Pak n Save in Kopeopeo. I’d say it was designed by someone in Auckland or Wellington, who has never worked on a supermarket checkout. Probably someone who has barely even been in a supermarket actually. In frustration, I recently asked one of the check-out staff if they had been consulted about the design. She looked at me like I was mad. But honestly, if you were going to redesign a supermarket, wouldn’t the first thing you do be to ask the people who actually work there how to make it work better?

I was listening to a similar thing on National Radio the other morning, about a doctor who had involved the families of children in oncology wards in discussing how to improve things for them. The result – massive improvements not just in terms of pain reduction, but also safer practise, better use of hospital resources, cost savings. It seems obvious, yet this kind of approach is almost revolutionary in these contexts.

So I think this is a general principle. Ask the people affected what they think, and ask early in the process rather than as a box ticking exercise at the end.

Councils of course are required by law to consult the community on their long term plans, but this is usually seen in terms of how council can get the community to endorse what the council already plans to do. I’m not targeting WDC, this is true almost everywhere, but where is the opportunity for the community to really have a say about what its long term vision is for itself? I was in Taranaki a couple of years ago and the NPDC was running a stall at the market, asking people in a very open ended way what they wanted their community to look like in 50 years time. I was really impressed, because to me that is what councils should be doing – genuinely engaging their people in a broad discussion about their vision for their community. And in line with the permaculture principle to value diversity, that needs to include all parts of the community – from Grey Power to Youth groups, from police to gangs.

Another principle is to Catch and Store Energy. Holmgren says that by developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need. The saying “make hay while the sun shines” reminds us that we have a limited time to catch and store energy, for later use. To put that another way, this principle speaks to the imperative to build up capital stocks for the future.

Permaculture systems are not designed to maximise efficiency or profit. Rather than ‘foot to the floor’ they are designed to find that cruising sweet spot that leaves a bit of acceleration to spare for when it is needed. Its a balance that values all kinds of yields from the system, including profit but also relationships, quality of life, ecological diversity and such. During times of plenty, as the dairy industry experienced until recently, a permacultural approach would be to catch and store financial energy, by using high returns to invest in sustainability and resilience. This might mean reducing debt, improving land management, up-skilling workers or a myriad of other on and off farm investments. Some farmers did indeed take this path and are now in a viable position during the downturn. Under the leadership of Fonterra, and with the encouragement of the Government and the banks, however, many farmers were encouraged to take on debt to expand and grow their operations – an approach that values efficiency but to the detriment of system resilience.

Another form of energy that we waste is that of our young people. We invest enormous energy in raising them, educating them and preparing them for life, and then watch them leave our community because of a lack of social and economic opportunity. The council’s economic development plan seems to consist of building a retirement village, which is not itself a bad idea if we leave aside the question of where they intend to put it, but it is not in itself an answer. My question is, what are we doing for young people in this town? The consultation on the Long Term Community Plan didn’t mention them once that I could see. Keeping young people in our community by creating opportunities for them is critical if we want our community to thrive.

These are just a few introductory thoughts about how permacultural systems design thinking can be applied to community development. What really interests me is how we apply this kind of thinking to this specific locality. As a newcomer to the area I actually think that this could easily become a national and international example of sustainability, resilience and regenerativity. We have an amazing climate, an incredibly rich ecological, social and cultural landscape, creative and innovative people, young people hungry for work and experience, and a community minded population (as evidence by things like this very organisation) – we have all the ingredients we need. What we seem to lack is a compelling vision.


Marriage Celebrant

I have (finally) been approved as a marriage celebrant by the Registrar-General. The previous Registrar-General was unreasonably restrictive and failed to recognise that Rastafari in New Zealand need our own celebrant, rather than having to rely on registrars offices or people of a faith not our own.

I put myself forward for the role because a number of people, both Rastafari and not, had asked me if I could conduct their weddings ceremony. Up until now I have been able to conduct some parts, but people still needed a registrar for the legal elements. This means I am now able to conduct the process from beginning to end.

I intend to cater for Rastafari and non-Rastafari, but of course always bringing a Rastafari vibration, based on my reasoning with Rastafari Elders and youth and including words from Their Majesties Kedamawi Haile Selassie and Empress Menen. The marriage ceremony is a public, sacred event and so needs to reflect that in its proceedings and in the invocation of the divine presence.

Give thanks.

Photos Nicola Sorrell
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Speech to Theories of Change hui

via skype

19 Feb 2016, Auckland

First of all, I am very sorry I cannot be there in person. I know there is an amazing line up of speakers today and great discussions planned, and also it would be great to meet and talk with you all, people gathered together to discuss the important topic of how we create positive change in the world.

I also want to thanks Rowan, Rebecca and Niki for organising this event and all the support team. I think this is an important and timely discussion.

My background in social change begins with my family. I grew up in a house where discussion and debate was part of life. I remember long slow Sunday breakfasts where the family would sit around and talk about things, all kinds of things – personal events, what was happening with family and friends, and what was happening in the world around us.

These discussions were always tempered and underlined by a suspicion of power – the corporate and political elites. My father was a Hungarian revolutionary, forced to flee his homeland after the 1956 uprising. My mother had grown up as a middle class coloured woman in South Africa and had left her country alone to live in a strange land around the time that Apartheid was being constructed. They met in England and I was born there, and came out to Aotearoa in the mid 1970s. My parent were what I’d call ‘progressive’ although I grew up with a very clear awareness of the consequences of both left wing and right wing tyranny.

After school I went back to England and was living in the North during the great miners strike. I got involved with strike support work, and later become actively involved in the anti-nuclear movement, especially at Molesworth Peace Camp. I joined up with the peace convoy in 1985, where I witnessed vicious police brutality first hand when they smashed the Stonehenge Free Festival.

I returned to Aotearoa in 1987, where I became active in anarchist politics, drug law reform and civil rights education and advocacy. I was also on the fringes of the Unemployed Workers Right movement where I met the fabulous Sue Bradford, who was speaking today. I later became involved with Native Forest Action alongside Steve Abel, who is also here. I co-founded the Hemp Store in 1997 as a platform for activism and in 1998 I joined the Green Party and established the Wild Greens, a direct action group that was involved in a range of activities, including free e-testing at dance parties, critical mass bicycle rides and the anti-GE campaign. I became a Parliamentary activist in 1999 and since leaving Parliament in 2008 I have been mostly trying to work out what it would mean to create an ecological civilisation, in particular how Permaculture Systems Design can be applied to social, economic and political change.

My theory of change is rooted in Non Violent Direct Action. At its simplest, Direct Action is based on the understanding that people do not usually give up power just because you ask them nicely. It can be worth trying that, but Direct Action is about taking power into our own hands to create the change that we want, as far as we are able. To illustrate, climbing up a coal fired power station chimney stack and hanging a banner to protest is communication technique. Occupying the power station and closing it down, even for a few hours, is a Direct Action. An anti GE march is a protest. Uprooting GE crops is a direct action. Petitioning for the regulation of power companies is lobbying. Establishing a community owned power company is Direct Action. The key thing is, that it is directly linked to the un-mediated achievement of your goal.

A good Direct Action, IMO, is one where, if your opponents leave you alone and you get to continue doing what you are doing, you win, and if they try to suppress you, you win, because it galvanises broader support for your campaign. This is important because sometimes we do actions without thinking through – ‘what happens if they just leave us alone?’ The danger of getting what you want.

I want to make it clear that I do not oppose lobbying, marching, protesting or hanging banners. I have done most of those. All of those are tools for social change that can be useful either alone, prior to, or in conjunction, with Direct Action. I am simply making the point that if we do not have an awareness of the value of and the right to do direct action, to take power directly into our own hands, we remain supplicants, begging for change rather than making it ourselves.

So my first principle is that, as fully functioning human beings, we have the right and the power to create change.

My second principle is that in order to do that we need to unite our allies and divide our opponents.

There are so many elements to that simple statement, and it should be a basic consideration when planning any action – essentially doing things that make your movement more attractive and make your opponents more repellent. But I just want to focus on the one element that I think is the most important. In fact I would argue that this is actually the single biggest issue facing us. The most politically attractive thing we can do is articulate a compelling vision for change. Without a clear, if broad, picture of what we wish to create, positive change is impossible. How can we make a better world if we don’t know what it looks like? Why would people join us if we don’t know where we are going? How can we expect people to leave the comfort of what they know unless they think it will be better than where they are now? Because people know things can get a whole lot worse than they are, including under the leadership of idealists who want to change the world.

I am strongly of the view that actually people do want change. I think there is a significant enough number of people (and it doesn’t need to be a majority) who see that we cannot possibly go on like this – ecologically, socially even economically things cannot go on like this – I think there is enough to create a groundswell for change that it could sweep our opposition before it. But change to what. People cannot see what the alternative looks like. And to be honest, neither do we. Perhaps a few do, but most activists are defined more by what we are against than what we are for. More by what we hate than by what we love. And love and hope are what will empower people. Fear and despair are disempowering.

I have recently been running workshops for groups of people – many of them change agents – to begin to envision a positive future. Most of them have never imagined what a positive future might look like. Some find it almost impossible to do so. How can we possibly create a better world when we cannot imagine that there could even be one? How can our actions have energy and power if we cannot imagine that anything good will result from them? On the other hand one of the most interesting insights to come from a workshop was from a man who saw for the first time how close it is – how everything we need is here and within our reach.

So, after many years of political and social activist, I think that this is the most important insight I have. That we need to collectively create a compelling vision for change if we want to build a more powerful and broader movement.

I think we all have bits and pieces of it, but not in a coherent or explicit way. Of course some people are doing things, organising discussions and forums around new economics, social justice issues, environment but we spend a lot more time rehearsing how bad things are getting, than we do talking about how things might be if we succeed in this struggle to reclaim our world. I think this is a critical task for us, to keep our eye on what we want, to build energy and enthusiasm and engagement around the new world that we are making, and especially to connect that vision with our work as activists and change agents. By doing this, we become capable of taking the initiative rather than just reacting. And the time is right – the anti-TPPA campaign (and massive respect to the organisers all over the country and supporters) has brought into question in many people’s minds the whole neo-liberal project. To benefit from that, we need to articulate something better, that resonates with people’s basic values and which they can see themselves in.

The danger of this approach is that it can become too idealistic. History has many examples of the lofty ideals of social movements being co-opted and betrayed by so called friends, or crushed by their enemies. Open mindedness, generosity of spirit, visionary thinking does not mean to become naive or unaware. Our vision must be grounded in our work and in the structures we create to make it real – in our creative direct action.

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Permaculture research methodology

This is an excerpt from my research proposal for a Masters thesis on applying permaculture design to business. It is an initial, if inadequate, attempt to sketch out what a permaculture research methodology means:


Permaculture Systems Design (PSD) offers its own research methodology, which can help to inform the research design and interpretation of the results. In PSD, the starting point is always the ethics – earth care, people care, fair share (share the surplus). This becomes the ground from which a permacultural system is evaluated, somewhat akin to the Triple Bottom Line of environmental, social and economic sustainability. Following from this, the first part of the design process begins with a social and physical site analysis, to examine the larger context within which the system operates, the social and physical energy flows that intercept the system and the location and proximity of zones of activity within the system. Various social and physical indicators can inform this analysis, to gain a sense of the underlying conditions. Following a contextual analysis, the 12 design principles can be applied (after Holmgren, 2002):

1. Observe and interact
The beginning of good design is understanding. Permaculture supports a process of interaction as well as observation. “A process of continuous observation in order to recognise patterns and appreciate details is the foundation of all understanding… there is little value in continuous observation and interpretation unless we interaction with the subject of our observations. Interaction reveals new and dynamic aspects to our subject and draws attention to our own beliefs and behaviours as instrumental to understanding” (Holmgren, 2002, pp 13 – 14).

2. Catch and store energy
Energy is the driving force behind all natural and human systems, and tends to come periodically. If we understand the temporal and spacial patterns of different forms of physical and social energy, we can harvest and store it when it is abundant for use when it is scarce. Permaculture also has a strong focus on using existing wealth to build high value stores of natural, human and economic capital for the future, including future generations.

In a research context, data is the main form of energy in question. How it is gathered and stored is of critical importance, including efficient mechanisms for its retrieval. Obviously the very process of gathering information about how to successfully design sustainable organisations is building an asset for the future, but it also requires a focus on how that knowledge will be made available for others to use. Open source research and creative commons licensing of research results are considerations here.

3. Obtain a yield
We need to use captured energy to maintain the system before we can build stocks for the future, however we also need to think creatively about what kinds of yields are available to us. As mentioned above, rethinking value is a critical element of building sustainable systems. Evidence from agricultural studies suggests that some of the most productive systems are not necessarily the most profitable (Sial, Iqbal, & Sheikh, 2012) and so a consideration of the many different yields that can be obtained from the system and how those can be used to generate value of different kinds, apart from simple profit, is important

As a researcher, the question of yield is challenging. Support for research students is not generous, especially since the Government ended student support for postgraduate study. Financial yields as well as conceptual, family and community support are all important elements of a successful research project.

4. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback
It is important to develop feedback systems that discourage inappropriate behaviour within a system, as is common in natural systems. This principle speaks to the need for good supervision, constant self reflection and openness to feedback from the subjects of the research about the conduct and direction of the study. Indigenous and Kaupapa Maori methodologies have well developed thinking around placing the agency of the subjects of research at the centre of the research design (eg Smith, 2012; Murphy, 2013)

5. Use and value renewable resources and services
Permaculture places a priority on the use of renewable services (the non-consuming use of natural systems), as well as renewable products (sustainable consumption of products derived from regenerative living systems). As a sustainability researcher it is important to ‘walk the talk’, by critically examining my own resource consumption in order reduce the ecological impact of the research. In addition, it is worth bearing in mind that the social capital that research often relies on is a renewable resource in the sense that it regenerates and tends to grow with use, but which can be exploited in an unsustainable way.

6. Produce no waste
This principle relates to traditional notions of frugality, as well as the understanding that wastes are simply outputs that are not being used productively – and have the potential to become feedstocks for another process. As a research method, it speaks to the need for well considered survey and interview questions, maximising the use of the data generated (including multiple publications out of a single research project if possible), and thinking creatively about how to disseminate the research findings beyond the academic milieu.

7. Design from patterns to details
Many permaculture principles take a bottom up approach, and so this principle reminds us to keep the big picture in view as we design. Permaculturalists such as Mollison (1992) have developed extensive teachings around the recognition, interpretation and emulation of natural and social patterns. In research methodology terms, this can be interpreted, among other things, as a reminder to understand the process of theory development and understand and design the individual research project to fit within that broader pattern (eg. Eisenhardt, 1989)

8. Integrate rather than segregate
Integration and building connections is a key component of PSD. A permaculture aphorism is that ‘each element of a design should support many system functions, and each important function should be supported by multiple elements’ and this built-in redundency is part of building system resilience. Within a research design this principle could be interpreted as, for example, the use of multiple methods to generate data, including the use of deliberative techniques that bring together research participants to build shared understanding and a deeper analysis of their practise, where feasible. It also speaks to a holistic rather than reductionist approach to data interpretation.

9. Use small and slow solutions
PSD encourages a nuanced, situation specific and responsive approach to problem solving. As such it tends to align with constructivist and inductive approaches. It warns against biting off more than one can chew in any individual research project and prematurely leaping to grand theories and assumptions that miss important details.

10. Use and value diversity
In developing an understanding of how PSD applies to business organisations, it is important to involve a diversity of business types in order to build a picture of both the commonalities and the differences in how the principles and general design approach can be interpreted. Similarly it is useful to involve a variety of participants at different locations within the organisations, where possible, as their different perspectives will offer different kinds of insights.

11. Use edges and value the marginal
In ecology, the margin between two systems is characterised by high productivity, as part of what is known as the ‘edge effect’ (Park & Allaby, 2013). This principle relates to the last to some degree – people in what might be considered marginal roles may have particularly interesting perceptions that more ‘central’ informants may not have. Certainly my own observations in doing strategic planning in an education context was that it was the ones who had been marginalised by the education system that had the most interesting observations and suggestions for improving it. A second insight around this principle relates to those on the boundaries between different social groups – the people who straddle social milieus and so provide access points and information channels between them, and can help both to recruit participants and offer deep insights of their own.

12. Creatively use and respond to change
This principle reminds us that change is a fact of life and that we need to remain flexible and responsive as researchers. By allowing the research to develop its own trajectory, we can creatively adapt to changing circumstances and make the most use of what we find rather than missing important insights in our attempts to force the research to meet our own assumptions and expectations. This again aligns with a constructivist approach to research.


Eisenhardt, K. M. (1989). Building Theories from Case Study Research. The Academy of Management Review, 14(4), 532–550.

Holmgren, D. (2002). Permaculture: principles and pathways beyond sustainability. Hepburn, Vic: Holmgren Design Services.

Murphy, N. (2013). Te Awa Atua =: Menstruation in the pre-colonial Māori world: an examination of stories, ceremonies and practices regarding menstruation in the pre-colonial Māori world: based on a Masters thesis. Ngaruawahia: He Puna Manawa Ltd.

Park, C. C., & Allaby, M. (2013). A dictionary of environment and conservation (Second edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sial, M. H., Iqbal, S., & Sheikh, A. D. (2012). “FARM SIZE – PRODUCTIVITY” RELATIONSHIP: Recent Evidence from Central Punjab. Pakistan Economic and Social Review, 50(2), 139–162.

Smith, L. T. (2012). Decolonizing methodologies: research and indigenous peoples (Second edition). London: Zed Books.

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