In December 2018, I was interviewed by Marco Matera of Italy's Permacultura & Transizione. an independent online magazine regarding permaculture, sustainability, resilience, communities in transition and changes in life.
Marco participated in an online Sociocracy Foundations training I co-facilitated with Oregon's John Schinnerer, for volunteers involved in the emerging Permaculture CoLab project.
It was a treat to be interviewed by an international online magazine - the original in Italian can be viewed here. Below are my responses in English. Enjoy!
Hi Erin, nice to meet you and have learned so much from you and John. The first question I would like to ask you is "who are you"?
Born & bred in sub-tropical Australia through the 80's and 90's, I emerged into the 21st century with an education in Environmental Engineering. Aware of the corporate reality was not for me, a self-determined divergence was inevitable; seeking pro-active ways beyond the world of compliance, bandaid solutions & shareholder profit.
Core life learnings were gathered through years of international travel & volunteering - starting in Nepal, India & SE Asia, later to North America, Africa & Europe, with stints in the Pacific Islands & the Middle East. The diversity of worldly insights & observations of humans in nature around the world provide a unique & clarified perspective of people's core needs. Connecting with groups committing themselves to grassroots social & environmental change taught me so much about the capability of people with clear will.
In 2010, I was drawn to study a Permaculture Design Course while at the same time discovering the art & science of astrology. Through these two lens' for understanding Life's meta-narratives, I was captivated by the articulation of patterns & core archetypes for living in resonance & abundance. I came to know both Social Permaculture and sociocracy in 2012 as my key expression for these insights, and have since been experiencing, learning, fumbling & evolving in literacy of the tools & patterns supporting humans in groups to be effective & powerful.
A burning question. What do you answer when people ask you: what’s your job?
It depends on who asks. If they have an understanding of permaculture, I share that I work with the social technologies of sociocracy and social permaculture design to help coach change-makers achieve their mission and visions in a generative and effective way.
If someone asks who doesn’t know about permaculture and whole systems, I tend to say I support organisations to work with collaborative decision-making to support them to achieve their visions for the world in a functional and healthy way.
In Permaculture, as in Transition Networks, there some catchy, emotional trigger words, although very few people know the meaning. One of these is "resilience". Would you like to say what "resilience" means to you? Would you give us concrete examples?
Resilience, to me, is about having elegant, simple and powerful patterns and systems that help humans and ecology to adapt and operate with clarity amongst disturbance and dynamic change. Because I work with people systems, I’ll share a concrete example from that realm.
I facilitate a monthly women’s circle in my local regional area. Oriented around the new moon, the pattern/rhythm of the moon cycle is like a drum beat that helps our women know when to expect the circle. We learn about the archetypes of the human experience (using the pattern of the astrological zodiac) - and most month’s, there are big aha(!) moments where someone realises something about themselves that they hadn’t considered, or they feel a sense of being understood after feeling they weren’t. We have a sharing circle around these themes, where the women are able to express themselves and be witnessed in their expression, without interruption or input. Doing this each month gives us all opportunity to share what’s happening in our lives, connect with ourselves, and connect with each other.
The monthly circle uses patterns (such as astrological archetypes, and sharing circle practice) that offer feedback loops to help us understand more about ourselves and each other, and gives a regular opportunity (slow and small solutions) to setting intentions about how we want to live our lives (self regulation). We all harvest from the collective wisdom of the circle sharing which integrates the diversity of our live experiences. This supports the overall health and wellness of our lives, individually and collectively - the basis of the adaptation and operating with clarity involved in resilience.
Yet another word: Sociocracy! Last week I was with some friends and when I pronounced this word the reactions was: What the hell does it mean? And why is it important to learn the s o c i o c r a c y?
Sociocracy is a framework for collaborative decision-making that spreads the leadership to everyone involved for designing and operating their organisation to achieve their mission in ways that are effective, transparent and gives equal value to members.
In a sense, sociocracy is permaculture for people - integrating principles and patterns, similar to those in nature, supporting organisations to operate in a deeply collaborative (power-with) way (rather than power-over, authoritative way).
Importantly, sociocracy provides space for a diversity of perspectives to appropriately contribute to making collective agreements in working towards shared goals.
You recently taught an online course of Foundations of Sociocracy. I had the chance to be part of the learning community and I really enjoy it. Can you tell us how it went from your side?
The Foundations of Sociocracy Online training for the Permaculture CoLab was a wonderful experience. The training program has been creatively refined to be effective in supporting clear foundational understanding of sociocracy through using and practicing sociocracy’s core processes. People get first-hand experience in the baby steps of using sociocracy, supported by coaching from experienced practitioners over a six week period. This time-frame really allows the learning to root-in in a substantial way.
And training experienced permaculture people in the processes of sociocracy was really fulfilling. There’s already a strong level of understanding whole systems design from permaculture practice, so our participants were able to understand the elegance of sociocracy concepts quite smoothly, and play with them more quickly.
One or more songs you have in mind these days? And why?
History by Thievery Corporation is my most recent favourite song. It reminds us that we are sovereign individuals in this family of life on earth. We each have a role to play in this system that is unique to us, despite the disconnection and separation that is so often promoted in modern times.
"You got the soul. Live with it every day
You got the role, that everybody gotta play.
Break out the rows. Learn your history
You got the soul. Live with it every day"
At P&T we like to laugh and joke. Many of our interviews take place at dinner in a very joyful situation. But just when we are folded in two, the serious question comes up. What hope do we have for the future?
My contribution is that we humans realise that we are ecology, that we are part of the greater whole of life. This connects us to all our relations - plant, animal, mineral - and compels us to take care of our family, and ultimately ourselves (in the greater sense).
Along with this, my hope is that humans realise how powerful we are in creating our reality - it’s happening whether or not we realise. By realising the choices we have, we will understand the responsibility to create a reality that is generative, rather than degenerative.
Some of our readers reproach us that the term "sustainability" is obsolete and that we need to get rid of it as soon as possible. Small steps: where do we start?
Sustainability has been an essential part of the journey of humans realising the responsibility we have as creators on earth. We humans lost touch with the simple concept of sustaining life, so focussing on sustainability has been important. And now we must continue on with the succession our understanding and move deeper into regenerative ways. A simple step is to integrate our learning journey - honouring the path of sustainability, accepting it’s limits, and going beyond it in more sophisticated and substantial ways.
Sociocracy and Permaculture. Two worlds that seem to be in synergy. What relationship is there?
Both are design systems. Both use patterns rooted in nature-systems to organise our understanding and design processes. Both sociocracy and permaculture understand the whole system, and work symbiotically with its component parts. We can see all of the permaculture principles at play in sociocracy in some way.
One simple example is ‘observe and interact’ from permaculture happens through sociocracy in circle rounds, and more broadly by measuring and reviewing policies within a clearly defined timeframe.
We also see the permaculture principles of ‘designing from patterns to details’ in the circle set-up of organisational structure, of ‘small and slow solutions’ through defined timeframes for policy decisions, ‘creatively use and respond to change’ with picture-forming and proposal generation, and importantly, ‘obtain a yield’ through the consent process for decisions in meeting collective aims.
We at Permaculture & Transition dream that after every article, after each published interview, a small change process or a small revolution starts in Italy. Do you want to dream with us? What will happen after the publication of this interview?
People will continue to realise the power and responsibility they have in creating their reality. And that this will happen using the nature intelligence of deep collaboration so that human and nature systems can be symbiotic and life-enhancing.
And what will happen after your next course?
Continuing to cultivate the understanding amongst people of humans as ecology!
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