Collaborative Ecosystem Emergence: Growing coherence and effectiveness in decentralised permaculture networks

Conference paper presented at International Social Innovation Research Conference 2020 (ISIRC) at the University of Sheffield, 1-3 September 2020, co-authored by Dr Philipp Grunewald (Kings College London), Dr Naomi van der Velden (Permaculture UK), and Dr Benjamin Habib (La Trobe University).


Visioning workshop for Permaculture’s Next Big Step at 2017 International Permaculture Convergence in Hyderabad, India. PNBS would later evolve into Permaculture CoLab.


As a holistic design system based on complex systems, ecological principles and energy literacy, permaculture has the potential to have a transformative impact on social, economic and agricultural systems for climate change mitigation and adaptation. As a community of practice, permaculture practitioners are horizontally networked around the world, with self-identifying permaculturists in over 150 countries. The Permaculture CoLab project has emerged from this global network to foster greater coordination internationally to facilitate linkages, education opportunities, and resource sharing across the movement. The challenge for the Permaculture CoLab has been to bring coherence and collaboration to a diverse, anti-hierarchical and globally dispersed community of practice whose advocates tend towards pioneering grassroots approaches to sustainability transition. Specifically, the Permaculture CoLab has worked on (1) developing a shared vision incorporating both coherence and diversity; (2) developing a horizontal governance model at international scale as a negotiated, iterative process; and (3) facilitating international decentralised collaboration using appropriate online digital technologies. In our critical reflection as participant-researchers in the Permaculture CoLab project, we find that decision-making about online technology adoption needs to co-evolve consciously with (a) the existing working patterns of group members and (b) the governance processes adopted by distributed teams. Spaces like the CoLab allow for social innovation of organisational models and bring to the fore conflicts between linear project management approaches (familiar to traditional hierarchical organisations) and more lean and agile approaches to project delivery (more familiar to horizontal decentralised collectives).

Further Information

Permaculture CoLab: The International Permaculture Hub