Membership Organisation Design – Full


In Autumn 2012 there was a gathering for the people who were on my PDC. Three of us made it along to Sanna and Ali’s house and we (and the 5 dogs!) had such a wonderful time that we decided the five of us should repeat it regularly!

At the next gathering Jess asked us all whether we would be interested in helping her to do a permaculture design for an organisation she was involved with and they would pay our travel expenses. She had already done a successful design for her own business, but wanted some help and support with this one. I was definitely up for it because I was trying to get all of the permaculture experience that I could. As we did it during our next gathering our designing was a mixture of a social weekend with a few hours focussed designing time and more informal discussion.

The Design

An action from this design was that Jess wrote up the results of our design weekend in a report to present to the rest of the organisation. This report comprehensively covers the content we produced on the design weekend, so in the spirit of reuse and minimum effort for maximum yield, I am providing that report here, but with annotations (the yellow speech bubbles) from me elaborating and reflecting on the process.

 UKAHPP Permaculture Audit Jan 2013

Following on from our design weekend Jess put together the online survey and after testing it on the board it was sent out to all of the members.  Then once the survey results were in she compiled a full report.

Jess circulated the report to the Board and then ran a workshop on it at the Board Strategy meeting at the beginning of February 2013.

In Jess’ words this is what happened:

The weekend kicked off with a meditation about the networks of mycellium and all the forest creatures leading up to the trees and all people being connected. Pretty cosmic.

Then split into pairs to work on ideas for each principle…the energy really built and it continued in that vein all day. All members of the board took on a workshop but the ideas of starting small, make less work really got in.

Some deeply significant decisions were made and people who had resigned changed their minds and recommitted!!!!!!!!

Another great idea of Jess’ worth mentioning was that each of the ideas that came out of considering the principles was assessed in terms of its metaphorical ‘position in the forest’…i.e. some ideas were quick and easy to implement and could be compared to small, abundant pioneer plants that cover large areas quickly. Some ideas are like deep-rooted plants like Daikon, which sends a long taproot deep down into the soil to bring up nutrients. Other ideas were like a fruit tree full of fruit that had not yet been picked and still others were potentially a giant full grown tree that might take years to mature, but which provides sustenance and shelter to others. So the aim was to create a forest garden, starting with the pioneer plants…

They also adopted the idea of the bicycle rack where they captured all the ideas that arose throughout the day.  The ideas ranged from a communications group to a diversity survey and a welcoming committee for new members.

One of the first ideas to be implemented was the eBulletin in early March. The first one can be seen below and included the Permaculture Audit report for all the members to read.

The first UKAHPP eBulletin

The first UKAHPP eBulletin

The ideas from the Board Strategy Weekend and the audit were then presented at the AGM in April 2013 and were enthusiastically received. Out of the many ideas mooted, what actually happened was:

  • The regular eBulletin used to increase communication between members and between members and the board . The board puts in info about important governance things coming up, uses it as a launch pad to consult members and members advertise their workshops, need for rooms, experiences and tips. It has also been used to get urgent help for emergency events and for celebrating sucesses. The membership of UKAHPP is 420. Approximately 52% of membership on average open the eBulletin which is a very high average.
  • A newsletter was started and so far there have been three editions. This is more lengthy articles and academic work.
  • A Regional subgroup has launched in the Nottingham area supported by a volunteer. This is a big achievement as regional groups have been mooted for years but never took off.
  • A diversity survey was conducted using survey monkey. This survey was instrumental in getting UKAHPP through its quinquenial review with UKCP, the governing body, as it was one of the only organisations that had done a proper survey of its members in terms of race, disability, sexuality and other parameters. It has also given UKAHPP useful info for planning for the future.
  • Volunteering rose considerably with 14 volunteers for the Ethics Committee, 14 for the Membership Committee, a HIPC rep (they had been trying to get one for ages) and a volunteer to archive research.
  • Moved to more electronic systems, like invoicing and certificates, which helped save time
  • New members got a better welcome, including being able to interact with the eBulletin
  • Feedback from members say they feel more involved and that it makes UKAHPP more up to date and publicises the work that all the committee members do
  • People got thanked for the work they were putting in
  • The organisation is voting at the 2014 AGM whether to apply for independent accredited status which means it could stand on its own two feet in the field far better.
  • We know of one UKAHPP member, who attended a PDC training as a result of this permaculture audit of UKAHPP.

Jess and Kerry were also invited to do a workshop at the AHP conference in September 2013, which highlighted the success of the permaculture audit and gave participants a few tools and resources they could use to start to apply permaculture themselves.

There were also a few challenges that arose through the process, including elements in the organisation wanting to use the eBulletin to spread misinformation, so the thorny
question of editorial censorship had to be considered. They have decided as a general rule to focus on reporting fact and to aim for a positive message rather than a negative one. Some members of UKAHPP have become disaffected as a result of this, but they were disaffected to begin with, so it probably would not have made a difference.

Overall Evaluation

Design Framework Evaluation: Design Web

We chose to use the design web because we wanted to give it a go and as it is designed for using on people-based designs this seemed a good one to try it on.

I felt that the Design Web worked very well for this design. None of us had experience of using it, but following the process and questions in People and Permaculture really helped to guide and structure our thinking and ensured that we bought permaculture thinking into it.

We only actually completed half of the anchor points on the weekend and a few have been visited subsequently. With more experience of using the Design Web under my belt I can now see how valuable it would have been to visit the rest of the anchor points too.

Tools used Evaluation

Design tools evaluation

Whole Design Evaluation

What went well?

  • We had an enjoyable designing weekend with lots of peoplecare
  • We got to practice using the design web
  • There were lots of positive yields from the design
  • It helped spread/introduce permaculture thinking to a lot of people
  • Having a mixture of designers – some familiar with the situation and some not

What was challenging?

  • Only being involved in the beginning of the process
  • Using the design web for the first time so not understanding the significance of some of the anchor points
  • Only reflecting much later and therefore probably ‘leaked’ some of my potential learnings

What would I do differently next time?

  • I would ask for a second session further down the line to ensure that the rest of the anchor points were visited.
  • I would record my reflections earlier on
  • Identify functions and measurable goals so that success could be measured against the design aims.


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