1. Understanding permaculture and financial permaculture:
I think an ideal group would include some people who are familiar with permaculture and some people who are familiar with business concepts and a few entrepreneurs who may fall in one category, both, or neither. Regardless, it's good to have everyone get on the same page in terms of permaculture principles.
This is a great place to bring in outside expertise if that's right for your community. If your participants are interested in hearing experts speak, there are a bunch of great folks out there: Jennifer English, Eric Toensmeier, Mario Yanez, Judy Wicks, Haile Johnston, and Elizabeth U come initially to mind. It's always inspiring to hear from our permie heros.
However, equally powerful can be having someone from your own community present the principles and brainstorm together ways in which they apply to finance and business. As we strive to democratize business understanding and know-how, it's great to remember that we don't have to be published experts and that we're figuring it out together.
2. Using the design process for experiential learning:
There is an undeniable magic in sitting around a table with a big piece of paper and three or four minds in a creative problem-solving context. Stepping into the design paradigm, whether for the first time or not, is an immensely powerful and transformational act.
The best way to teach a design process is to guide people through it. So you'll need a client or a few, depending on your group's size. When selecting a client, remember that you're providing a service that will undoubtedly benefit the client. Be sure and ask potential clients about their values and why they do what they do. They don't have to be perfectly aligned with permaculture values, or running biodiesel trucks or fully bike-powered, but a general values consistency will help things flow smoothly. This exercise could help a design client realize potential in terms of sustainability, but they have to 'get it' to begin with. Your design team can also come up with a totally new project, like a community park or garden, but it will help the process to have one person who can speak as the client (even if they are not ultimately in charge of the site.)
3. Understanding the client’s goals and needs, doing the site assessment and analysis and laying out the base mapping:
Your client's business structure and their systems are your site. Now is the time to dig in, sniffing the soil of your clients' business plan and looking for patterns. What's the ecosystem within the business and how does the business fit into the larger context? What are the business' challenges? Now is the time to look at numbers. What systems are in place? You are responsible to keep personal financial information confidential and be respectful of sensitivity. This is your duty as a designer.
Please note: For clients, all of these conversations will be extremely personal and deep. It's important to create a really safe space from the get go. Do this with regular check-ins and opportunities to connect on a human level. I really like the practice of beginning everything with a gratitude sharing in some way- it really takes people to a deeper place and helps us to contextualize ourselves as pieces of a whole. Invite participants to take off their shoes or sit on the floor, meet their needs in a way that makes them comfortable. All of these factors will facilitate safety and comfort so that if the conversation becomes difficult, participants will have trust already in place.
Articulating goals: It's important to articulate goals all of the time. Financial Viability will be a big goal, but your client will have other priorities and goals about how to be viable. Your design team will have things they're looking for from the process, too. Get them all on paper.
Designing from pattern to detail (big systems): Now we have our direction. At this point it may be good for the client to step away. If you have multiple clients, it can be great to have each client join a group that's designing for one of the other clients. This helps keep objectivity and keeps us from falling into “things-have-to-be-this-way-because-they-are-this-way” thinking. So, in a big picture way, how are we going to move the client towards their goals? What's the overarching pattern? It could be to grow deeper before wider. It could be to cast a really wide net and then cultivate the five most promising leads. It could have to do with making outposts that each serves a circle of reach before coming back to the hub in an umbrella pattern. Figure out what it needs to be and make it that.
More specific design solutions (smaller systems): Now that a basic pattern is in place, it's time to start thinking with more detail. This is the time to throw around terms for specific businesses practices, funding sources, strategies. If your pattern involves local investors, think about how to get them together, whether it's a website, a big community event, or something else. Maybe you’re stretching the CSA model to a new context. Maybe you’re making a system for how to track and prioritize potential clients and customers. Designing the team system, we can focus on how to encourage trust: 'ownership' and 'buy-in' (literally or figuratively) and help everyone work efficiently, healthily and happily with time tracking, regular reviews and vision focus, opportunities for process improvement. Designing financial systems, it's great to just focus on one or two easy 'products' like cash flow worksheets or cost benefit analysis- things that can really help entrepreneurs come to their next place of mastery in business understanding.
Designing for feedback and the design loops: How do your systems self-regulate? How do you get check in with customers, staff, and the planet? How do your processes ensure the integrity of your business?
Debriefing, unpacking, and sharing: Present and share. Leave time for questions. Take a break. Then circle up and check in. This is a great time for folks to share their experience with the process. As a facilitator, listen for their feedback, and look for opportunities to push the conversation a little deeper. Chances are, without noticing, everyone's been doing inner work shifting their ideas of their gifts, abilities, and what's possible in this world. This is a great time for some of that Zone 0 observation and inner tracking.
There is in immense power in realizing our potential as designers for everyday people. Chances are, folks will be leaving your program feeling inspired and empowered. Talk about ways to harness that energy. Encourage folks to write down 'bright mind' moments of inspiration and action items to bring home with them- maybe even provide a special piece of paper just for this purpose. Sometimes when we get back to our messy desks, it's hard to remember the ideas we had in that empowered space of design thinking. But we owe it to the world to carry those bright mind ideas and bring them forward into the world.
I wish you luck in your community as your launch this conversation. Ultimately it's about your community’s landscape and strengths, so just start there.
Kate Hopkins serves Valley Conservation Council, by way of the Allegheny Mountain School, in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. Her thoughts here reflect her experience at the 2014 Financial permaculture convergence in Miami, sponsored by Earth Learning, Gaia University, and the Financial Permaculture Institute.