Action Learning Pathway – Full

Read the Design Summary first

Background

When I asked Looby Macnamara to be my tutor one of her requirements was that the first design I did was to design my ‘Action Learning Pathway’ through my diploma using the design web. Thankfully she gave me a list of questions for each anchor point to answer before our first tutorial. I can’t say I found this a very easy design to get started with, but I have definitely reaped many yields from it over the last two and a half years and I am very grateful for Looby initiating it.

The Design

First Version

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See the images in big.

First Year Review

Reflections

Review

Review

Letter of Appreciation to myself

Letter of Appreciation to myself

Second Version

See the images in big.

Design Diversity Evaluation

As part of my first version of my learning pathway I created the ‘Design Diversity Analyser’ to allow me to check out as I went how diverse my portfolio was. There were a range of criteria, such as design framework (with symbols) that went in the central window and then there was a card for each design with all of the applicable symbols on it, such as a web for the design web.

Broader diploma patterns

An overview of my diploma journeys themes, patterns and milestones can be found in my Learning Journal Summary.

Overall Evaluation

Design Framework Evaluation: Design Web

Design framework evaluation

Tools used Evaluation

Design tools evaluation

Design Process Evaluation

Design process evaluation

Facilitating the IPCUK Neighbourhoods design process – Full

Read the Design Summary first

Background

At the UK Permaculture Convergence in September 2014 I went along to a workshop about getting involved in making the International Permaculture Convergence happening in London in a years time hugely successful. This is going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wanted to support the small staff team at the Permaculture Association in making it great. Joining a working group seemed to be the way forwards, but I was already feeling quite busy and reluctant to commit to something ongoing. So I got in touch with the Welcome and Wellbeing working group and offered to do a design for an aspect of the convergence. I felt that this would allow me to manage my time more effectively than having to participate in all of the working group activities. Out of the possible options to design I chose the Neighbourhoods as building community is something I am passionate about. It felt a little overwhelming to take individual responsibility for designing an aspect of an event this big and I also wanted as part of the process to ‘pay it forwards’ and share my learnings with others earlier on in the diploma process or with less experience of people-based designing. So I put out an invitation to the working group and on the diploma facebook group and got a very quick enthusiastic response from 5 other people, none of whom had used the design web before. In fact in the midst of all that I moved house and survived Christmas and had quite a long pause where I was kind of avoiding admitting to myself what I had taken on! But the suggested target of a first draft by the beginning of April started to loom large and with only 2 months to go before then and a design team recruited I jumped into action! I quickly realised that there was going to need to be lots of planning of how the designing was actually going to come about – designing the design process. And with one design still to do for my diploma I was immensely grateful when Looby, my tutor, suggested that I did this as my final design.

The Design

With such a sudden start and a short timeline we got things underway before I had a chance to really start the designing and it took a few weeks of short term, reactive designing to catch up with myself! You can click on a picture below to see it bigger or you can zoom in really close to them here.

From this design I produced a pattern design based on my experiences and learning, which can be used in the future for aiding similar designs.

Pattern design – online, collaborative designing with the design web

As a final evaluation step I have looked at whether I have met the SMART goals that I set myself.

  1. Sharing my experience and learnings of the design web and collaborative designing
    1. Everyone in the design team will have experienced a cycle of the design web by Sept 2015 – If they fill out the feedback survey then they will all have had the opportunity to experience the full cycle already, apart from Denise who hasn’t got involved.
    2. I will actively apply my previous learnings to the process and make them explicit where possible – I have definitely actively applied my previous learnings. I haven’t alway made them explicit, I feel that may have been a layer too many in the rest of the design teams learning process.
  2. Produce a successful IPCUK Neighbourhoods design
    1. Produce a first draft of the overall pattern of the design by April 2015 which then goes for feedback – this has been achieved
    2. Pattern and detail (full) design completed by September 2015 – this was mostly achieved
    3. Average rating of at least 8 out of 10 on IPC feedback – not able to know yet
  3. Improve my online group designing and facilitation
    1. The score my design team give me for facilitation has gone up by April 2015 and again by September 2015 – I didn’t do a baseline for this, but I have collected qualitative feedback. Only one person responded but they said that they had learnt a lot and were getting what they had hoped out of it.
    2. My star of facilitation ability has gone up from now by April 2015 and again by September 2015 – I did not get round to creating the star and I am unclear as to what I was intending to include on it. I do feel like I have learnt a lot from this design and therefore my facilitation skills should have improved.
  4. Enjoyable and creative process for everyone
    1. Enjoyment check-in each week for everyone in the design team confirms the overall enjoyment – I did this to a certain extent but I didn’t always ask explicitly. I asked in the April feedback survey, only one person responded but they gave it 8 out of 10.
  5. Produce a template for using the design web for online, collaborative, events design
    1. First draft of design web template produced by June 2015 with a second iteration by October 2015 – I have produced the first draft.

Overall Evaluation

Design Framework Evaluation: Design Web

This design was a system within a system, so I was using the design web to plan using the design web! It took me a while to get those different layers defined in my mind, but once I did it was very straight forwards to go through the anchor points designing the process. My familiarity with using the design web let me work through it efficiently and at the same time making sure I had considered all of the aspects. Using the design web for the neighbourhoods design was intentionally done to share my learnings and to introduce others to it. As such no-one else in the design team was familiar with using it. As one of the beneficial features of the design web is its non-linear nature I was reluctant to just walk through the anchor points one by one, as I wanted to demonstrate this. However, practically looking at one anchor point per week was the most straight forwards approach as people needed some introduction to them. I feel that the design web has been a great framework to use for the neighbourhoods design as it encourages bringing in existing learnings and highlights important areas to consider but is flexible enough to fit to any type of design including this one with both invisible structure and physical layout  designing needed. Introducing others to the design web has definitely improved my understanding of it, especially through having to answer detailed questions as to what we were doing and why. It is, however, challenging for some people who like to understand the whole process at the beginning, as it is dynamic and therefore you cannot say for sure what the steps will be.

Tools used Evaluation

Design tools evaluation

Design Process Evaluation

What went well?

  •  It has met my needs so far and allowed me to manage the process and produce a first draft on schedule
  • On the whole it has been enjoyable and creative
  • It really enabled me to pool and utilise my previous learnings and then pull them all together into a pattern design which can be shared
  • So overall lots of good yields
  • Made connections with many interesting people including the convergence team

What was challenging?

  • I experienced some frustration around not using more interesting tools and techniques in this process design, but it felt a bit unnecessary when the aim was making the neighbourhoods design diverse and I was limited on time
  • Needing to have finished before I began!
  • Vast quantities of information gathering needed at the beginning of the neighbourhoods design
  • Boundaries of the neighbourhoods design and responsibilities not clearly defined
  • Coming up with sensible SMART goals, my attempts to make qualitative information measurable just feel annoying to me and I don’t get round to doing the baselines! I need to find some meaningful ways of measuring.
  • Receiving feedback in a challenging format
  • Keeping clarity on and explaining to others the multiple aspects of the design

What would I do differently next time?

  • I would spend time considering meaningful measurement of my design goals and would make sure that producing the baseline was integral in that process
  • I would think abundantly and give myself at least a week to do the process design before jumping into the content designing, as there would still be abundant time and it would make for a much more enjoyable beginning.
  • Check-in with members of the design team regularly and explicitly on how things are going and whether they are experiencing any challenges
  • Check others understanding of what you are saying/suggesting when communicating online, as it is easy to misinterpret without intonation and body language

Garage design – Full

Read the Design Summary first

Background

On one of the PDCs that I helped out on I met Bill who was passionate about Permaculture and worked not far away from me. He subsequently became part of our ALG.

He owns a successful independent garage near to where I live, he had already integrated a fair amount of permaculture thinking into the way it worked, but he was looking to move towards retirement and reduced work hours and so he wanted to use permaculture design to enable this. As he was not experienced in people-based permcaulture designing he asked for my help in designing it. And as it was part of the business development he kindly offered to pay me for my time.

The Design

Overall Evaluation

Design Framework Evaluation: Design Web

I think the design web worked well for this design. With hindsight and more experience, as normal, I would probably choose to use it slightly differently. I used it quite linearly for this design, moving around the anchor points. This was partly as it was an easy way to introduce Bill to it.

I did however, build in regular reflections, as well as appreciation and pauses, which helped to keep up the momentum and for me to keep a handle on how it was progressing and tweak my approaches.

Tools used Evaluation

Design tools evaluation

Design Process Evaluation

What went well?

  • Lots of good designing
  • Worked well with Bill
  • Built in lots of People care
  • Direct communication through texting!
  • Tried a variety of good techniques
  • Collected and analysed a large amount of information
  • Preparing well for meetings

What was challenging?

  • Adequately responding to feedback from the system
  • Large quantities of information that I wasn’t familiar with
  • Unclear role as the process progressed
  • Identifying other peoples limits
  • Learning and guiding the process simultaneously
  • Trying to work with another consultant with a completely different (and incompatible) approach

What would I do differently next time?

  • Investigate and seek help on identifying other peoples limits who are key to the design
  • Be clear from the beginning what my role in the process is and who I am accountable to
  • Recommend having only one consultant for each aspect of a process, as two conflicting recommendations can be less useful than none

New bedroom design – Full

Read the Design Summary first

Background

This was the first design I actually started after my halfway assessment. I already had 3 designs more on the go and so I knew that I needed a couple more. In the spirit of my Action Learning Pathway design, following my energy and motivation, this design felt very appropriate as I had just decided to move and so I would be designing this anyway. Although I had not done an indoor spatial design before, in itself it did not feel like a big learning edge. I had been interested in trying a different design framework for a while, but had not found the right opportunity. This seemed like a great chance. It took me a while to choose which design framework to use. Appreciative enquiry felt too vague and CEAP also felt very basic and like I would just end up doing the design web, but tied to the ‘order’. REAP MORE and the Australian design cycle were the two I ended up with and REAP MORE was the most different and also had ‘instructions’ with it, so I decided to give it a go.

The instructions for the REAP MORE design framework that I followed

The instructions for the REAP MORE design framework that I followed

The Design

Below is a slideshow of the design, you can pause it on any of the images and you can see all of the handwritten items in bigger here. I have then gone on to documenting and reflecting on the design process as that was my key learning area for this design.

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Reason

ReasonI definitely felt a bit of frustration going back to the ‘beginning’ and the awkward conscious incompetence of using a new framework. I found it challenging to come up with a ‘reason’ I felt satisfied with as they were all very general and therefore I felt not very useful! I did try and generate more specifics by producing a mind map of what my needs are. It was interesting, as well as challenging to decide what was a need and to not just write down everything I already had on my ideas list! I felt it was a bit early on for me to easily identify the functions of the design, but I focused on the ‘why’ of the golden circle as that is often very similar to my functions anyway. I liked bringing in the ethics right at the beginning as a spoken element. I wasn’t entirely sure what I was including in the reality check (plus I had resistance to ‘limiting’ my vision) so I just put the time and money limits like the mind map mentioned.

Explore

ExploreI found the concept of ‘exclude’ interesting and challenging to try and apply to this design beyond the obvious physical boundary of the room itself. I kept writing what I would include rather than exclude. Excluding feels a bit unlimited! I also feel that I don’t know what needs will arise during the design so I kind of want to let it be more organic and not rule things out. It was good to consider what I was actually designing though. I had also already unconsciously excluded aspects, such as the packing up before moving from the design. I was feeling frustrated at the this point as I felt there were lots of important things I hadn’t considered yet, before moving on to the more analysis stage. I then had the realisation that I was letting myself be limited by the framework and as the step was ‘explore’ I could bring in any tools and learnings I wanted that I felt might be applicable to this stage. I was not ‘starting from scratch’ in learning to design again! So I explored the resources that I had available, the limits that I needed to be aware of and also reflected on some of my past patterns of success and erosion in bedrooms. I also drew up the basemap of the room, so I can see what I am working with. I was pleased to find that everything pretty much matched up and my assumption that everything was square was close enough! For the ‘vertical’ aspects I annotated a photograph. I also realised that it was important to include the context on the map and also as a few notes. I then felt satisfied with my ‘observing’ and ‘exploring’ and ready to move on to the next step.

Assess

AssessWhich tools did I want to use? I looked at the tools mindmap I had in my resources, specifically at the analysis, stage and decided on a few tools which felt applicable, although I subsequently realised one of them is more for ‘designing’ than assessing. I liked being reminded not to do too much analysis! But I felt that now was the time to really get the essential functions pinned down as it suggested. At this stage I went back to my vision as I am used to doing, but I got a bit stuck with what ‘level’ of function to include. As part of this I realised that I am kind of doing two linked designs, one for the layout of the room and the other for the decorating of it and moving process. So I started by focussing on the layout aspect. Wanting more specifics than ‘I want to design a room that meets my needs’ (!) I went down the route of looking at the needs I had already come up with, some of these were more general needs, like warmth and light, and then I had also identified the ‘functions’ that I wanted the room to fulfill. Writing it now and looking through it at the time it felt suddenly obvious that these were the functions. So next I decided to look at the ‘characteristics’ of each function. This was useful and interesting. It took me a little more consideration to work out how warmth, light, nature etc fitted in until I realised that they were part of the function of ‘sanctuary’. It took me a while for the realisation that there were two linked designs, with quite distinct designing needs to settle in and for me to feel comfortable with identifying the functions of each. Reflecting in my weekly check-in and working through it helped. Earlier on, before I had started the Assess stage I had felt the need to write down my priority decisions, that needed to be made soon. I had also written a list right at the beginning about tasks that needed to be done/ decisions made. I was feeling like the design was heading more towards the layout and it wasn’t helping me make the decisions on schedule quickly. So having reviewed and written the elements down I did some research (Explore) into different flooring options, including whether I could get secondhand carpet. I then had three conversations in the evening, clarifying limits on timings of various things, getting feedback and inspiration on ideas. I wasn’t sure at this point though whether I was or could actually permaculture design this aspect. In light of realising there were two distinct sections I decided to go back and colour code what I had already done – purple for layout and blue for decorating and moving. Interestingly a lot of the thinking through was for the layout where as the limits were predominantly for the decorating & moving! Resources is half and half. This explained why I was feeling uneasy! So I went back and revisited the stages for the decorating and moving aspect.

Reviewing and mapping out the Decorating and Moving aspects of the design

Reason

This was one of the original functions I identified in the design, which I later clarified to decorating and moving. I had also identified some of the ‘reality checks’ around it. I went back though and elaborated on it, thinking through the yields I wanted from it and also a few more realities, which on reflection are actually the ‘limits’ of the design as I think of them.

Explore

I had already ‘explored’ a lot of this when I went through the process originally. A lot of the resources and limits relate to this. I also wrote a list of the priority decisions, therefore elements, which I then started to explore in more detail. The decorating and moving aspect of the design is more iterative as I need to make one decision before I can properly ‘explore’ the subsequent ones. The exploring so far has involved phone calls and discussions as well as some online research. It does also tie into the other layout aspect, particularly around the platform and whether to do anything to it.

Assess

As part of this I assessed which order the decisions needed to be made in. I pulled the information together to make placing decisions, such as the moving in date, which was decided after talking to my Mum and my Dad, finding out when they were available and how they could help, as well as my gut feeling on wanting to move in sooner. I did an input-output analysis of each of the elements that I need to consider/place, so that I could see how they fit together. I also created a timetable with movable pieces ready for the next stage and so I could see the lie of the land. I also clarified the functions of this aspect of the design, they were fairly similar to the ‘vision’ ones. At the time I was not completely happy with them as ‘functions’ but they definitely captured what I was trying to achieve.

Continuing with the two aspect of the design in parallel

Place

Place Having bought both of the two aspects of the design up to the same place I moved on to the next stage. It says that this is the main time when the principles are applied, so I decided to go with my interpretation on this. I wanted to more consciously consider the ethics in my designing so I did a mind map for each aspect of the design around the permaculture ethics (inspired by Jan), this was interesting, and the main thing it drew out for me was to highlight the need for peoplecare during people coming to help, as I realised that could be easily sidelined. I then looked at the principles and choose 4 to consider for each aspect, I also considered one of Looby Macnamara’s ways of thinking – thinking like nature – as I had decided I wanted to in my previous tutorial. I did a mind map for each of these and discovered I had already planned a lot of it using them, the principles are becoming more integrated into how I think so I consider them automatically. Thinking like nature was interesting, though I found it challenging to know where to start. I began with animal homes, then I did a wonder wander to see what called out to me and what metaphors it could offer, then I remembered the idea I had had of making it multi-sensory and the idea of using all the 5 elements sprung from that. I really enjoyed considering these completely different aspects and how they could be woven into the design. I have noticed a lack of space for collecting ideas in this framework, I seem to have captured them in my head and lots of them came out when considering the ethics and principles. Decorating and Moving I looked at the timetable again in light of further analysis and developments and came up with a provisional timeline. I realised from thoughts that arose in the ethics, principles and ways of thinking that I needed to have plans for the weekends that I was visiting Crabapple to ensure that peoplecare was included as well as the rest of the 8 directions after doing the hard work! I enjoyed being reminded not to wait for perfection! Layout – I started playing around with placings in the room. I identified some potential areas for things, but felt a need to take the ideas to the room the following weekend to see how they ‘felt’ in the different spaces. So whilst visiting briefly I ‘tried out’ some of my ideas to see what the different spaces felt like. This was very valuable as some areas really did not feel right and there are certain things that are very obvious when you are in a room that you forget on a design, like the door being in the way of a hammock. It was useful to talk a few ideas through with  my visitors and they had a really useful suggestion of possible bed position. It was also useful to assess what equipment was available for using for painting the following weekend. I took the opportunity during this weekend of buying some ‘treats’ for enjoying during the following ‘working weekends’ as part of my peoplecare plans.

Refine

RefineI used this first weekend as a chance to pause from designing and to relax and there was a certain celebratory atmosphere although I didn’t specifically spend time on celebrating this design. I didn’t really reflect on the process, but I did discuss some of my room ideas which was useful. It took over a week to find the time to distill my learnings. I think possibly don’t rush it or try and fit too much in is a good one and definitely physically walking through the ideas on site was really useful as was bouncing ideas off of others. Another conversation helped me realise that I can sleep on the sofabed for a while, before I need to decide on getting a bed, which removed a potential limit from the system.

MORE

Decorating and moving – I now definitely shifted into the ‘action’ stage of this aspect, but I found myself cycling round the different steps rather than just following them linearly as it was an evolving process! I spent a weekend painting the room and it was interesting how different it looked and felt once painted. We did not quite finish the painting this weekend, but we planned it so that the bits that were left were fine to do once I had moved in by myself. It was a great opportunity to stack in lots of observations and discussions and it helped me make decisions on the plan for the following moving weekend. The peoplecare planning worked well. Having one night in each home worked well as did the food plans, particularly the tasty snacks I bought went down very well for keeping up morale and energy! The pause to go to the cinema on Friday night, several walks, lunches and a morning shopping in Shrewsbury gave us a good rest, as well as chats with others popping in to see what we were doing. Taking the music player was great as it wasn’t actually so easy to talk and paint as we had thought it would be. I also made some thank you gifts. We celebrated as we went along, appreciating our progress and how lovely it looked and then reflecting on it as we came towards the end which helped me to let go of it. So lots of good peoplecare and yields, many actions I may well not have thought to do if I hadn’t designed it. I then reviewed my plan for the moving weekend to integrate my learnings. Not following the MORE stages linearly made it much more intuitive and when I reviewed them afterwards I had covered most of it anyway.

Placing

LayoutI played around with the cut outs on the basemap, trying out the new ideas with the information gained from visiting. I then decided to go through the areas to see which functions I could stack into them and what elements that involved, this looked similar to the functions table Looby made, but in a slightly different order. Because of the functions that I have chosen for this design it feels a bit different, I cannot merely put it on a map or in a mind map so I have done both. I have also interpreted in this situation the functions maxim as ‘having several spaces where each function can be met and various elements in place to support each function’. I had a bit of resistance to producing this as a drawn design as I knew that I would start tweaking it straight away, but once I recognised this thought pattern, I reframed it as capturing my ideas now and creating a plan I can work to for the initial layout. It doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ as it says in the mindmap. Because there is not very much guidance in the mindmap I have brought in techniques and learnings from previous designs.

Maintain

Maintain Maintenance doesn’t feel particularly applicable for this design, but if it was I feel like there would be a lack of ‘maintenance plan’ as it just talks about maintaining it. Similarly for most of the steps the guidance seems to be primarily on doing and I feel like they almost need two iterations for each, a thinking through, followed by a doing.

Observe

Observe Decorating and moving The final moving weekend went pretty well according to plan. It was a good job I had decided to come over the night before. It did make extra stress for me getting things packed before then, but it gave me time to find my feet, finish painting and cleaning and to get some elements of peoplecare sorted ready for the weekend. My appreciations did not go quite to plan, we did have a little of the food I had bought, but not so much and they bought me champagne and wine as a moving in present so I did not use the wine I had bought. I made a point of trying to thank them through out, but I actually think reflecting now that I should write them a thank you card as they have been wonderful about it all. The schedule also evolved slightly, but one of the best things about having a plan is being able to change it when things evolve! We did not manage so much pausing either, various cups of tea, but they were actually quite keen to keep going and that worked fine. We did kind of have a celebration on the sat eve with the champagne and wine and I took a little time on Sunday evening to reflect and release, but it took me over a fortnight to find the time to do the reflection. Something around a belief that it was going to be hard work/ lot of thinking. Layout – We laid out the furniture as close as possible to my plan and they had also bought lots of other bits and bobs and ideas so quite a few extra things were incorporated in and also there were a few things I do not have yet, such as a proper bed and a wardrobe so those weren’t placed. A wardrobe was created, however, by putting up a rail across the platform beams so I had somewhere to store my clothes, which changed the layout under the platform quite considerably, but was easy to remove if I had changed my mind. A few months after moving in I made the most of my observations so far and did a PMI of my room layout, which was very interesting to reflect on. I definitely identified with the guidance on the framework mind map. Generally it was going well, but I realised that working out where I was going to store everything was my next priority.

Refine

So I made a storage plan. I started by writing a list of the main things I needed to store, identified their characteristics and all the potential place they could be stored. There were lots of different options now that I had moved in and various other furniture items or ideas had turned up. From this I looked at the different storage areas and decided what seemed the most sensible arrangement. It felt great to have a plan, although a lot of it still depended on getting further furniture or putting up shelves, so I couldn’t do much placing at this stage. I appreciate the recognition in the framework that a design is inevitably evolving and that this is to be expected.

Enjoy

EnjoyAs the framework mindmap says ‘End? Of course not!’. My room continues to evolve and will as long as I stay here. I definitely enjoyed this design both in the theoretical and practical stages and I am enjoying the yields now. There does not seem to be a specific evaluative stage in this framework, more scattered throughout MORE. I finished this design cycle by reflecting on the systems within systems questions above and looking at whether I felt I had fulfilled the functions.

Overall Evaluation

Design Framework Evaluation: REAP MORE

It has been really very interesting using the REAP MORE design framework. It has challenged me to stretch my edges and to integrate my learnings from using SADIMET and the design web. I did not have very comprehensive guidance, so I have fairly inevitably taken it my own way and bought in my own ideas and tools. It was interesting to use a framework with a different pattern as the design web evolved from SADIMET so they both have the same underlying structure. It has taken quite a lot of processing to get my head around this different pattern and to see where some of it corresponds with what I am familiar with. I have enjoyed the words of advice on the mind map as they have often been good reminders of lessons I have already learnt during my designing. I would definitely use this design framework again. I would like to try it out for a land-based design as that is what it originated for and I am still not hugely keen on SADIMET. REAP MORE feels much more organic and evolving, in line with the permaculture ethics. What has gone well?

  • Lots of different perspectives and ways of approaching things
  • Bringing in the ethics right at the beginning
  • Lots of great reminders in the mind map, particularly those encouraging not over doing the designing but letting lots of iterations create perfection!
  • Having a whole stage for enjoy!

What was challenging?

  • Trying to get the hang of a different pattern
  • Trying to follow the framework too rigidly
  • I struggled to come up with a ‘reason’, but on reflection this is exactly the why of vision that I normally look to
  • I didn’t like ‘exclude’ as it felt completely infinite. ‘Include’ feels a more manageable question! For me it also links into limits.
  • It doesn’t specify that you have to follow the stages in order, but I assumed you were supposed to go REAP MORE MORE MORE MORE etc. This did not work for me, particularly for the decorating and moving aspect of the design and I found myself going backwards and forwards through the stages as it felt right.
  • I couldn’t really see how either of my design aspects feasibly needed Maintaining. I can see this stage being very useful in other designs, but it didn’t seem applicable in this one.
  • Until I realised that I was designing two different aspects which actually had quite distinct design features it was pretty challenging to get clarity! Once I made this realisation it flowed much more smoothly.
  • There was quite a confusion in the middle of the framework between designing and action, it was not clear when each was supposed to happen

What have I learnt? What would I do differently next time?

  • Treat design frameworks as ingredients, not strict recipes. Do them in a different order and make them your own, trust your designing instinct.
  • Give myself free rein on the Explore stage, not just covering the things in the mind map
  • Recognise two steps within the Assess, Place and Maintain stages, one of thinking and planning that stage and the other of actioning it.
  • Look at what I would include rather than exclude.
  • Consider in the Reason stage whether the functions can constitute one system or whether they need designing in parallel.
  • Incorporate momentum into the maintain stage

Tools used Evaluation

Design tools evaluation

Design Process Evaluation

This is on top of the design framework evaluation already done. What went well?

  • I experimented and played with it
  • I did the bulk of it over a space of a few weeks giving me consistency and focus
  • I enjoyed it  and didn’t try and be too strict about it
  • Building in lots of peoplecare

What was challenging?

  • Having a tight timeframe as I don’t work well under pressure
  • Doing it as a permaculture design gave me a much better result but also took more time and energy to do than just mocking something up! And time was a bit of a limit…

What would I do differently next time?

  • Seek out more examples of designs using REAP MORE and share experiences with others

Veg Patch design – Full

Read the Design Summary first

Background

In early June 2013 I moved house and was given free rein on a large and weedy vegetable patch. Living further out from town I did not have the access to fresh, local, organic food that I was used to and wanted. Growing my own seemed a good solution.

I have dabbled in food growing in the past, but I would not say I am very experienced. I did however, have a lot of enthusiasm and had read a fair few books and articles that had inspired me in different methods I could try. I also wanted to build on my learnings from the allotment design that I did for my mum.

The Design

Survey

As it was already well into the growing season when I started, I decided to use 2013 primarily as observation time and aim for a design for the 2014 growing season. To this end I took some photos and recorded the success of my small scale growing that year.

It was pretty rampant, but my housemate James did a grand job of clearing it all. I did, however, have lots of Earthcare guilt about the exposed and disrupted soil ecosystems.

Houlston Veg Patch 2013 - Houlston Veg Patch 2013

Clearing in progress

Houlston Veg Patch - Growing in 2013

Growing in 2013

Houlston Veg Patch 2013 - Rather a lot of thistles...

Rather a lot of thistles…

Houlston Veg Patch - We discovered some wonderful soft fruit!

We discovered some wonderful soft fruit!

In the meantime I was reading through Aranya’s book Permaculture Design – a step by step guide and reflecting on my previous land-based design. This gave me lots of ideas for taking forwards. So I started by taking measurements to put together a basemap and discovered string and a short tape measure is no substitute for a proper surveying tape measure! Nevertheless I did my best using my smart phone to take bearings too. When it came to drawing it up there was definitely  a bit of inaccuracy, but I concluded that for what I was doing that level of inaccuracy wasn’t a big problem.

Sketch map

Sketch map

I also surveyed the plants already there and rated their frequency with the DAFOR scale. It was really interesting to actually identify all of the ‘weeds’ that were growing. I could not deduce a clear pattern from them though in terms of where they like to grow, apart from disturbed ground! It would have been interesting to have done this before it was cleared too, when the plant communities were more established.

I also did an inventory of all of the seeds that I had gathered from various sources – some donated from my mum, some hanging around in the house and some spare ones of Bills. I sorted them into what time of year they needed planting so it was easy to find. I was introduced to James Wong’s book James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution and I got inspired so I bought some seeds for people for Christmas and to save on postage I bought some for myself as well, but as I did not have a plan by that point it was a little bit random which I chose.

Houlston Veg Patch Journal

Houlston Veg Patch Journal

I did a small amount of growing in 2013, mostly with spare plants that my mum bought up for me. I kept it all in a small patch and tried out a few techniques like mulching with the weeds I had just pulled up. I kept a record of everything that I did in a notebook, my housemate James also created a blog for recording our experiments, but I never got round to writing on it. I had mixed success, but I learnt things such as that mulching can increase the numbers of slugs and also did quite  a lot of unrecorded observation.

This is as far as I had got by the time the year turned and I was starting to get a bit anxious about getting a design together as I knew that I needed to start planting seeds soon.

So I continued with my information gathering by doing some soil tests in a few sites and discovered there was more clay than I had expected, however trying to do a more thorough jam jar soil test just confused me, because there was still so much suspended sediment when I was supposed to mark the boundary between sand and silt that I couldn’t see where the surface of the sediment was and then as the sediment settled over the next few days it ‘sunk’ and so the levels for clay were also inaccurate, although you could quite clearly see the clay layer.

soil testing sheet

Soil testing sheet

Site 1 Soil test

Site 1 Soil test

Site 2 soil test

Site 2 soil test

With this information I drew up my basemap and an overlay of existing plants and soils.

My original basemap

Existing plants overlay - top left

Existing plants overlay – top left

Existing plants overlay - top right

Existing plants overlay – top right

Existing plants overlay - bottom right

Existing plants overlay – bottom right

Existing plants overlay - bottom left

Existing plants overlay – bottom left

Trying to spot frost patternsI then came to sectors… I had a go at spotting frost patterns, where it lingered and where it melted; I went out in the pouring rain to see if water pooled anywhere or drained in any particular pattern; I chose a windy day and put out a load of plastic bags on sticks to try and discern patterns in the winds flow. I could not discern much variation across the patch from any of them, but there were a few site wide discoveries – the hedge provided a little shelter from frost underneath it; there was no pooling of water even during heavy rain, in fact the whole patch was raised up from the road where water did pool; and there was not enough wind at a metre height to blow the bags even when it was quite windy.

Observations of sectors and systems

Observations of sectors and systems

Observations of sectors and systems

Observations of sectors and systems

Now the sector where there was variation across the patch was in shading, but having not thought about it in advance I did not have observations from other times of year to use. So I decided to try out the sun compass. The instructions on it were not that clear, so although I had a go I was not sure whether I had done it right. When I tried to turn it into a sun sector overlay I was skeptical of the results, so I referred back to some photographs I had taken in the summer as well as an aerial photo taken around the autumn equinox and observations at the time which was the spring equinox to try and corroborate it. I concluded that I had too much shadow using the sun compass so I ended up using the accurate information from the photos and observations and then extrapolating and using my recordings to guesstimate the rest.

Sun Sector Overlay

Sun Sector Overlay

I also found the long term weather data for the area.

Consulting the house

Consulting the house

Client Interview

Client Interview

The remainder of the Survey stage was looking at what was wanted. So I did a consultation with everyone else in the house and then a much more detailed Client Interview with myself.

 

 

Analysis

The process of putting together the basemap and looking through the results of all of the surveying started off the analysis in my head. I then considered all of this information and used it to identify the key functions of the design. I also set myself some SMART goals around these functions.

Key functions and SMART goals

Key functions and SMART goals

From these I attempted to start thinking about the systems that I would need to meet the functions, but I found this quite challenging as the space was quite simple and therefore did not need lots of systems in it beyond growing plants. So I ended up starting with a different tack of writing a list of the plants that I wanted to grow. As I did not already have the knowledge of the growing preferences of these plants I decided that I would create a database which I could then use to help me plan which plants I would grow where. So I created a comprehensive database which you can see a sample of below.

Plant Planner database

Plant Planner database

This helped me to see which seeds or plants I did not have and would like. Through this and discussing emerging ideas with other people, I got donations of more seeds as well as a gifts of lots of native wild flower seeds for my birthday.

I also did a wider sketch map of the location of the veg patch marking on the zones and the flows of people.

Sketch map of zones and flows

Sketch map of zones and flows

Decisions

This where it started to get a bit mixed up, because the season was progressing and I was aware that I needed to start planting seeds and clearing ground now, but I did not have a design finished and so I tried to split my time between the two! For the ease of understanding I will still write about them as separate stages though.

I then went back to the functions and set about identifying elements that could meet them.

Elements

Elements

These ended up quite process orientated as the key features of water and composting etc were already fixed in location. So although they clarified the approach I would like to take they did not contribute too much to the physical layout, apart from the access side. That is therefore where I focused next, planning the network of paths. With not a great deal of variation across the patch to affect things I designed a network of paths which were visually appealing but gave good access to all beds. I divided the plot into areas so that I could work in small achievable steps. I then used my spreadsheet as well as further internet and book research to put together some polycultures to try out, aiming for a mix of heights and similar planting timings. I then assigned these to each of the areas, depending on how high they grew to minimise shading.

Design layout - whole

Design layout – whole

Design layout - top left

Design layout – top left

Design layout - bottom right

Design layout – bottom right

Design layout - bottom left

Design layout – bottom left

 Implementation

By the time I had  finished my design I had already got so far with actions and into the season that it was too late to put together an implementation plan, let alone a maintenance plan. I was essentially winging it trying to use my emerging design to inform my actions.

Growing seeds indoors

Growing seeds indoors

Planting seeds

Planting seeds

From necessity I created myself an indoor seed growing area with a giant bit of cardboard covered in foil to try and improve the amount of light there. My landlord had thrown away all of the plastic plant pots so I got inventive with recycled containers with mixed success! I did successive sowing of seeds and managed to keep on top of watering and weeding out the unwanted extras from the homemade compost.

board paths

Board paths

I did intend to start small and keep it achievable. I decided to try and think ahead a bit, so I cleared away some vegetation from one area & covered it in cardboard, compost and black plastic. I covered another area with carpet I found in part of the plot without clearing the vegetation. I realised that I had nothing to make paths out of! I found a few wooden planks, which I put to use as some rather more angular paths.

I then slowly started clearing areas, only removing surface growth though, not digging. My intention was to sow and plant the areas as I cleared them so that it would supress the weeds. Unfortunately I don’t think any of the seeds I planted straight into the soil grew! The weeds however, did!

I got a delivery of partially rotted cow poo from the farm which I spread over an area and it definitely stopped any weeds growing as it was quite acidic still. I planted tomatoes though it and they were fine.

I planted some of the plants out and nearly all of them slowly succumbed to slugs…

Weeded, raked and resown

Weeded, raked and resown

Blackcurrants cleared

Blackcurrants cleared & grass left on ground as a mulch

By mid June I was feeling a bit overwhelmed and disheartened. I sat and did a bit of a review and decided to just focus on tending and improving the areas that I had already cleared, giving myself a much more manageable focus.  This immediately gave me a much more positive outlook and so I went back to some of the areas in progress and weeded them and attempted to rake over the soil to make more of a seedbed and planted a salad polyculture. I also planted out all of the mint plants my mum had given me and James cleared all of the vegetation from around the blackcurrants. Collectively this had a big positive psychological impact.

Then at the end of June the context changed as I decided that I would be probably moving house before the next growing season. This vastly reduced my motivation for thinking longterm as I doubted that anyone else would care for any of it when I had left. So I set to encouraging the wildlife and supporting the plants that were already doing well (minimum input for maximum output), foraging from outside of the plot and harvesting my learnings from the process.

Maintain

I never got to this point in either the designing or the doing.

Evaluation

I evaluated this design as an integral part of writing it up, going back through all of the documentation, reminding myself and reliving the process, capturing reflections and learnings as I went. In this section I will focus on the content of the design.

What went well?

  • A few things did well and gave me a yield:
    • I got a reasonable number of tomatoes before the blight got them
    • The spinach and chard survived the winter and then produced lots of seeds which I harvested
    • The mint and salad burnett were happy
    • The herb patch which I didn’t specifically include in my design but which I tended and used as it was outside the backdoor, flourished with my attention
    • I got a good crop of chilli peppers and a couple of little sweet bell peppers
    • A few purple beans!
    • Emergent bittercress and chickweed were great
    • Broad beans
  • Some other things thrived but I didn’t harvest them:
    • the cardoon
    • the jerusalem artichokes (too early)
    • the potatoes (because I left it until after the tops had gone and I couldn’t find them…
    • It got me outside and getting exercise!
    • I have a plant database for using in the future

What was challenging?

  • Having minimal practical growing experience and lots of theory
  • Growing seeds outside straight in the ground
  • Not having someone to ask for advice
  • Slug proofing
  • Keeping on top of weed growth in a large area
  • Fitting it in around everything else in life

What I would do differently next time? And have learnt.

  • Mulching can encourage slugs
  • Seeds like a seedbed, much better germination rate
  • Never underestimate nature, you might think something has died, but it may return!
  • Over winter manure before planting into it
  • Snapped off tomatoes regrow roots if you put them in water, a solution for straggly tomatoes?
  • Actually eat your harvest, don’t ‘save’ it as it will go off
  • Beans don’t like growing down a piece of string, pull it taught and up!
  • Squash loves growing directly into manure
  • Tell people if you are saving a ‘weed’, make sure everyone is clear – saves heart ache when they pull it out!
  • Clearing surface vegetation gets rid of quite a lot of weeds, but the persistent ones like dandelion and dock will be there a long time without digging them out
  • Exposed soil can form a hard crust on top – not great for seeds
  • Start collecting resources well in advance, eg. cardboard
  • I am passionate about foraging and nowhere near as motivated by growing, so maybe foraging could be my focus and supporting and tweaking my local ecosystem

Did I meet my SMART goals?

  • By the end of September 2014 food grown in the Veg patch will have replaced our veg box – I did not reach this SMART goal. Looking back it does not seem particularly realistic! I am not sure that I comprehended the time and effort it takes to establish & maintain a system that productive.
  • From June 2014 there will be salad leaves and fresh produce available year round – I had a year round supply of salad burnett and herbs! I did not really meet this SMART goal either.
  • The veg patch will be maintainable on half a day per week – I did not get to this stage, but I was not managing to give half a day to implementation so I am not sure if I would have been able to give half a day to maintenance even if I had achieved this. 
  • In Summer 2014 there will be over 15 species of insect in the Veg patch – I did not measure this.
  • By May 2014 rain water will be being captured and used – I did not manage to identify somewhere to capture it from. I was also aware that I was not planning on staying around and so I was less motivated towards longer term actions.
  • The Veg Patch will require watering less than once a week in summer 2014 – Well it got watered less than once a week, but I am not sure that that is the same thing!

I am surprised that I don’t have a SMART goal around my learning and experimenting as that was definitely one of my main reasons for doing the design and it had a big influence on the way I did things. I definitely got a substantial yield of learnings.

Overall Evaluation

Design Framework Evaluation: SADIMET

I am not sure that I fully did this design framework justice as I did not really get to the Implementation and maintenance plans, which I can see on reflection would have been very valuable. However, with the much more comprehensive guidance from Aranya’s book I felt that the SAD parts worked well for this land-based design and I feel like I have got much more of a feel for and understanding of it as a framework. The really comprehensive surveying was very useful, although I underestimated how long it would take!

A minor frustration I have come across before was the lack of capturing of ideas as you go along. I did in fact make myself an ideas sheet, but I still do not see a space for this in the framework before the Decisions stage and as I find that the process of Surveying and Analysis generates lots of ideas this is an energy leak in the framework.

I also did not follow the process very linearly, mainly this was due to time pressures meaning I needed to make decisions before I had finished surveying. However, there are also some aspects which I felt contributed to several of the stages, such as the plant planning database which although I have included it in Decisions it contributed to surveying, analysis and decisions. Having used the design web quite a lot I am used to a less fixed process and I am happy that as my confidence as a permaculture designer grows I am happy to make frameworks suit my designing style, by tweaking and adapting them. I also constantly tweaked the design as I was implementing it and doing further observation of the current context.

Tools used Evaluation

Design tools evaluation

Design Process Evaluation

What went well?

  • Trying lots of different tools and techniques that I was interested in
  • Really taking the time to observe and survey everything thoroughly, there was so much I discovered
  • Going through the design process really thoroughly, I now know what is involved and so will be able to be better prepared next time
  • Reviewing and tweaking the design as I went along
  • Lots of learning and observing throughout that has contributed a lot to my understanding

What was challenging?

  • Not having the right tools for the job, eg. not having a surveying tape
  • Working out shade mapping without proper observation
  • Trying to use tools out of a book, not having someone with practical experience with them to demonstrate
  • Not leaving enough time to do all the surveying and designing before implementing needed to begin
  • Not having the experience in growing to input into the design process
  • Trying to manage the entire Veg Patch

What would I do differently next time?

  • Really observing through the seasons, recording sectors, plants etc
  • Aim to finish the design in the autumn before,  so mulching etc can be done.
  • Go for quality rather than quantity focus on a small area and do it well, then build on that foundation
  • It is okay for you to have worked some things out in your head, it doesn’t all have to be a really thorough, conscious decision, your brain can be more powerful at solving complex situations than logical thought is!
  • Have regular check-ins on progress and vision, to allow for tweaking and momentum
  • Make sure I leave time to do the Implementation and Maintenance plans, they are important
  • Get more practical experience in growing to input into designing
  • Be honest about limits, it is better to assume you have less time to give than over burden yourself
  • Now I have a greater understanding of the tools I might need, trying to get hold of them for when I need them
  • Find a demonstration of someone using a sun compass

Learnings update

Since moving house I have had a few opportunities to move forwards from this design. I am lucky now to be in a situation where I live with lots of people growing food, which allows me to join in and learn without having overall responsibility for making it work.

We also have Anni Kelsey, author of Edible Perennial Gardening, who is going to be doing a couple of experimental beds on our land, which is a wonderful opportunity for me to get involved and learn about polycultures and perennials in a practical situation. I was also able to bring a bit of my experience to the situation in terms of suggesting that we put a ground cover over the whole beds to begin with so that we can put in the polycultures at our own pace. Also I am going to design the pathways for one of the beds using the same principles and ideas I used in this design, but this time we will properly wood chip them and be able to test them out properly. I also shared my plant database with Anni and others involved and as a result of this it has been used as a resource in an Intro to Permaculture course.

Finally I have done a mini design for the window box outside my bedroom window, really making use of my learning to keep it small and manageable! You can see the design in the mindmap below.

Window box design - SurveyWindow box design - AnalysisWindow box design - decisions, implementation and maintenance

Window box harvest

Window box harvest

Window box in August 2015

Window box in August 2015