• Permaculture Open Educational Resources

last modified March 30, 2017 by strypey

Proposal to Develop More Permaculture OER 


Imagine we could invent a machine that could instantly print a copy of a permaculture book, using no paper, no ink, and a relatively tiny amount of electricity compared to the energy used in modern printing presses. Imagine that machine also had a teleporter that could instantly send a copy, at the same time as printing it, to almost any place in the world (with more destinations becoming possible all the time), using no trucks, ships, planes, or fossil fuels. Imagine that machine also had a magical ability to update every copy of the book it had printed, any time the author came up with corrections and improvements, without having to print a new copy and transport it to wherever the current copy is. Finally, imagine that the machine could print the book in any language, as long as one person, somewhere in the world, was willing to translate the book into that language.

Let's say we invented this machine tomorrow. Would we immediately start putting permaculture books into as many people's hands as possible, in as many parts of the world as possible? Would we marvel at our newfound ability to improve every copy out there, and translate our books to make them accessible to more people? Or would we immediately start thinking of ways to uninvent or cripple the machine, in the hopes of "protecting" the income we're used to getting from selling individual copies of our books to people who can afford to buy them?

The good news is, this machine has been invented! It's called the internet, and it can be used to do all of the things described above and more. The bad news is that too many people in the permaculture movement are still conceptualizing the gratis distribution of permaculture knowledge over the internet as a threat to the book-selling part of their business, rather than an infinitely more effective and more efficient way of spreading permaculture theory and practice around the world than books could ever be.

' A Growing Commons ' is a discussion document by Danyl Strype that proposes the collaborative development of a high quality suite of permaculture OER (Open Educational Resources). In a nutshell, A Growing Commons sets out to explain how the free online distribution of knowledge about permaculture design practice, and its associated techniques, enacts the permaculture ethics; earth care, people care, fair share (avoid waste and share surplus).

A similar proposal for pooling our efforts has been assembled by the people behind Appropedia.org, along with an overview of the various permaculture wiki projects out there. Many of these are projects that have been started and abandoned (see Learning from Past Failures below), but as with an abandoned food forest, the fruit of their information-gathering labour is often still there to be harvested. The key to bringing the learning materials created by all these projects together, is the use of free and open licensing systems like CreativeCommons (CC). As long as a permie website of any kind is CC-licensed, its contents can be freely copied and re-used by others. This makes it easier to aggregate larger pools of useful knowledge, which are easier for newbies to find and navigate. As pointed out by Chris Watkins of Appropedia, the use of more permissive licenses like CC-BY-SA or (CC-BY) makes it easier to cross-pollinate between various permaculture knowledge projects.

A Quick List of Existing Permaculture Projects That Use (or Have Used) CreativeCommons Licenses

Other CC Licensed Works on Related Topics


Learning from Past Failures

  • Open Source Permaculture - In 2012, Sophie Novack (Permaculture Media Blog) and Evan Schoepke, ran a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo for a permaculture eBook, and agreed to host the contents on the Appropedia wiki. The crowdfunding was successful, but unfortunately, Novack went incommunicado almost straight after the money was paid out, and the work was never delivered. Her Permaculture Media Blog disappeared from the web about the same time. Lesson learned: when it comes to growing commons on the web, many people putting in a small amount of unpaid time, because they are passionate about creating permaculture resources, is probably more reliable and sustainable than one person doing it as a fulltime paid job. If funds are raised to create paid roles, they funds should be received from the crowdfunding platform by a credible organisation, not the individual proposing to take up the paid role. That way, the organisation can ensure delivery of the proposed work before making full payment.
  • Kai.org.nz - started by a web design company, with a small grant from COGS community funding, but after a few years, it was infected in places with spam, and then dropped of the web (see Useful Plants ). No plans seem to have been made for ongoing stewardship of the site. Lesson learned: funders giving grants for web projects need to realise that websites are not stone sculptures which will last indefinitely once built. They are more like light sculptures, needing constant care and maintenance, and proposals for funding should include the costs and plans not only for the initial build, but for ongoing stewardship. Fortunately PiNZ has taken over stewardship of Kai.org.nz.
  • The plethora of short-lived permaculture wiki demonstrates that as with open source software projects, shared knowledge commons can't be created sustainably just by dumping materials on a website. There needs to be a critical mass of regular contributors to develop initial work into well-researched, useful articles. Where online permaculture materials is licensed under CreativeCommons-BY-SA (or CC-BY), in the worst-case scenario when sites are abandoned (as with Kai.org.nz), the contents can be migrated to and integrated into another wiki or database, without any fear of later legal action by copyright trolls.