• A Growing Commons

last modified October 31, 2015 by strypey

This proposal is copyleft (CreativeCommons-BY-SA 3.0 NZ). Please disseminate widely. If you re-mix this proposal, please release the results under your own name, with a link to my original.

Prepared by Danyl Strype: strypey@disintermedia.net.nz/ 021 11 77 578 

A proposal for collaboration potentially involving:

Permaculture in NZ (PINZ) - An incorporated society that organises an annual hui for people in Aotearoa interested in permaculture, as well as providing a website, seasonal newsletters and other information and networking tools.

Permaculture Educators Group (PEG) - a co-ordinating group overseeing the provision of Permaculture Design Certificate (PDC) courses, and the supervision of permaculture diplomas

WikiEducator (WE) - a wiki-style collaborative platform for the sharing of OER materials among professional educators

WikiMedia Foundation - maintainers of Wikipedia. Their WikiVersityand WikiBooks projects have similar methods and aims to WE, but their collaboration style is more 'welcome all comers'

Open Educational Resources Foundation (OERF) - a non-profit entity set up to encourage the creation and re-use of OER materials.

CreativeCommons Aotearoa/ NZ (CCANZ) - While hosted by the Royal Society CC ANZ maintained and promoted local versions of the international CC licenses, customised for the specifics of NZ copyright law. Version 4.0 of the CC licenses were designed to be compatible with all jurisdictions, so the localization effort is no longer needed. CCANZ is now hosted by the OERF, and is focused on workshops and other activities promoting the use of CC in Aotearoa, and mentoring organisations that want to adopt the licenses.


Freely sharing learning materials as Open Educational Resources (OER) fits the core permaculture ethics of 'earth care', 'people care', and 'fair share'. CreativeCommons (CC), a plug-in to existing copyright law, provides standard licenses for OER, governing how they are copied and re-used. Permaculture educators have produced a wide range of learning materials. Some are already shared through photocopying, and remixed through the assembly of course-specific textbooks, while others are already shared online. 

At this stage, the easiest way to share OER globally is though the internet, and the easiest way to maintain, update, remix, combine, and fork existing OER materials is through wiki-style hosts like WikiVersity, WikiBooks, and WikiEducator, which already hosts learning materials for permaculture course taught at Otago Polytechnic. The OERF, which was set up to support WikiEducator, is based at Otago Polytechnic, and could work with PEG/ PINZ to support permaculture educators in the effective use of WikiEducator.

In order to implement this design, a working group could be formed to help educators CC license their existing permaculture learning materials, to upload these materials to WikiEducator, and to discuss the best way to integrate and present them as an OER suite.


Permaculture Ethics: Synergy With Open Educational Resources (OER)

Although good permaculture practice is situational, working with specific environments, and with their human stewards, the core theory of permaculture is that the ecological design principles which emerge from this practice are globally applicable, and can be learned, and taught. Also, even information which is bioregionally specific can be useful in other bioregions which share similar ecological or cultural conditions, either directly, or as a source of inspiration for design ideas.

Freely sharing the knowledge and learning materials generated through permaculture practice and teaching as Open Educational Resources (OER) is a demonstration of the three core ethics of permaculture. To the degree that it helps people to be better stewards of their local ecology than if they had to assemble it by trial and error, such information sharing serves the ethic of 'earth care'. To the degree that it helps people provide for their needs, and generate surplus which can be shared with others, it serves the ethic of 'people care'. The relevance to the third ethic, 'fair share', is pretty obvious. Digital learning materials, once created, cost nothing to replicate. It seems unfair to not share them, leaving other educators and practitioners to reinvent the wheel, especially those from less wealthy communities who often have the added energetic cost of translation into their own language.

An editorial in a recent British Permaculture magazine compared copying without permission to taking produce from someone's garden without permission ie 'stealing'. Perhaps a more appropriate comparison would obtaining that produce legitimately, then propagating plants from the seeds in it without permission. In both cases, the owner of the original is denied an economic rent they may feel they are entitled to, but like copying, such propagation lacks a crucial criteria for 'stealing' - it does not deprive the owner of the use of the original.

This conception of free copying as 'stealing' reflects the recent reframing of copyrights - government-granted monopolies on the copying of information - as "intellectual property". Permaculture practitioners tend to believe that "intellectual property" is a theft of the commons in another context - the patenting of food producing plants - yet when it comes to copyright, there is much confusion. Clearly, this is a current debate in permaculture circles, and it seems timely to introduce and integrate the work done around OER and CreativeCommons (CC).

CC was founded in the USA by Lawrence Lessig. It offers a suite of copyright licenses which encourages sharing, rather than limiting it, while allowing authors to easily give or reserve permission to commercialise and remix shared work. CC Aoteaora/ NZ was developed in 2006/07 to adapt the US-specific legal language of the licenses to integrate with NZ copyright law. A CC license can be used the same way as all-rights-reserved copyright, simply by attaching a notice to the work notifying users of the CC license the author has chosen.

Existing Permaculture Learning Materials

Three good examples of the learning materials produced by permaculture educators are; the print textbook produced by Earthcare Educators (EE) for their PDC course at Tui; the practical journals produced by Pig In The Mud Permaculture; and the GaiaCraft materials, available online.

The Tui textbook has been compiled over many years, by binding photocopies of information pages produced by various educators (including EE themselves). The textbook is not available in digital form, although some of the individual pages may be found online, as part of sites put up by their creators. The licensing situation is
unclear, as educators working in a pre-digital teaching environment have traditionally relied on informal, collegial sharing of materials, embodying the key permaculture principle of reciprocity.

The Permaculture Journals were the Permaculture Diploma project of Tim Packer. Each journal discusses Tim's experiences with one flexible design element, such as the Tagasaste tree. Tim has made the journals available on his website, at his own expense, under a CreativeCommons license.

The GaiaCraft materials are a more recent innovation, reflecting the discovery of the potential of the internet for the propagation of permaculture. Much work has been put into both the content and the visual presentation, and the website is licensed under CreativeCommoms.

These learning materials, like stored seeds, reflect a significant store of energy, and the current practices of sharing surplus educational seeds is a great start. However, these learning materials could be more effective if they were embedded in an integrated suite of materials; course plans, teaching aides, instructions for learning exercises. This suite would arguably be most effective if it was being continually used, and improvements suggested, by a collegial network of fellow educators.

WikiWiki Means Quick

One way to maintain such a suite a OER teaching materials would be to use online collaboration platforms like WikiEducator, and WikiVersity. 

Most people who have spent time using the internet will be familiar with Wikipedia, the collaboratively created online encyclopaedia. Wikipedia is the best known example of a technology called a 'wiki', named after a Hawaiian word meaning 'quick'. A wiki allows multiple users, with little technical knowledge, to collaboratively edit and update a website. The WikiMedia Foundation, which maintains the technical and editorial infrastructure behind Wikipedia, also hosts a number of other projects including WikiBooks - a project to create collaboratively edited text books - and WikiVersity - a project to collaborate on other OER materials, which already has a "Department of Permaculture".

WikiEducator is a wiki project specifically aimed at professional educators, whose needs are shaped by the institutional environments they are employed in, WikiEducator already hosts some permaculture OER, from a course offered at Otago Polytechnic.

The potential benefits of developing permaculture OER on one or both of these projects are numerous. Firstly, the not-for-profit organisations which maintain these projects fundraise for all hosting costs. Secondly, they take responsibility for maintenance of servers and back-ups of all hosted content. Thirdly, the wiki records all changes, and all previous versions, allowing any editing mistakes to be easily reversed. Most importantly, hosting OER on these projects connects permaculture educators with others around the world who share OER values, who can share ideas on how to plan and present materials, and who can support permaculture educators in the best use of the hosting tools.

Open Educational Resource Foundation

The OERF was founded by Dr Wayne Macintosh, as an institutional home for WikiEducator. They organise 'webinars' on best practice around the creation and reuse of OER in general, and the use of WikiEducator. They are also involved in ongoing organising work around getting existing learning institutions involved in OER practice.

Since the OERF are based at Otago Polytechnic, it seems natural that they work with PEG/ PINZ to build on the kernel of OER already hosted on WikiEducator. Such a collaboration may initially develop a body of OER that reflect the needs and priorities of one country and one language group. However, permaculture educators from other countries and language groups could be informed of the project through active engagement with the social movement around permaculture, and invited to become part of the project; customising materials for their local needs, and contributing their own locally-developed materials if they choose. The sharing of content with the WikiVersity permaculture project could open up further channels of collaboration. Supporting permaculture educators in developing OER could be a useful pilot project for the OERF - a chance to test strategies for finding consensus on content and presentation among a diverse group of professional educators, many of whom choose to work outside formal learning institutions.

Let's Share!

The Australasian Permaculture Convergence is Aotearoa this April is a unique chance to offer a teach-in on CC and OER to hundreds of permaculture educators from across Te Moana-Nui-a-Kiwa (the Oceania region), and to present this proposal for discussion. If there is general support for the design, a decision could be made on whether it should become the project of an existing working group (eg PEG/ PINZ), or a new one formed. Those present could be invited to volunteers for ongoing tasks; asking permaculture educators for their permission to digitize and CC license existing materials; performing digitization and uploading to WikiEducator/ WikiBooks/ WikiVersity; and updating and improving materials, in collaboration with the original authors and other users.

As the converging crises of peak energy, climate change, and the contraction and fragmentation of the global economy, diverse communities around the world will need a set of flexible learning tools to help them transition, and help them to help each other. It's never too early to put this toolbox together. Let's share!