Constraints before goals in early design stages

In Permaculture design there exists a chicken and the egg paradox concerning the early design stages. Of course it doesn’t matter which came first, merely that the chicken or egg existed in order to create the other. Goals & Assessment fit snug into this paradox, and it begs the question…which first?

First, analyze yourself.  Actually…do this for your own benefit anyway, often. How well do I work towards accomplishing tasks? Does it help to set goals? Do goals gear me into action to acquire the knowledge I need to start achieving my goals? or Do I need to understand more of the system before I make goals? Do I need to know my constraints to avoid error? Do I have trouble letting go of previously determined goals? What works best for me?

Once you’ve done questioned yourself thoroughly with those and similar questions the answer might be clear as to how you want to approach your goals and assessment. However, I have an argument to make here and this is it…constraints before goals in early design stages.

I have been spending some 4-5 hours a day here at Sun One Organic trying to understand what kinds of systems are here. I do this based on the Scale of Permanence, which is adapted from P.A. Yeomans. There are a couple different adaptations but David Jacke’s had lots of bullet points.  One may question where the information to fill in the blanks of the Scale comes from.  The answer is I don’t know, but I am trying to compile that together, because access is very important. Stay tuned for that post.

I haven’t set any goals yet, partly because I lack equity in this property and partly because I want to know my constraints.  If Permaculture is an ecological design science, then vetting constraints is like effort to disprove hypotheses. Science.

Constraints first is a psychological primer.  It puts imagination on hold and objective observation in pole position.  I focus solely on what is present, and that is where my attention is.  Imagination never stays quiet so that is present, but that is not the primary psychological mode.  Goals first is imagination.  Constraints first is observation.

Constraints are useful in the sense that they provide an absolute no.  ‘No’ is a great word, much better than ‘maybe’.  ‘No’ will discipline your mind, ‘maybe’ will clutter it.  ‘No’ will kiss you goodnight, ‘maybe’ will cause insomnia mixed with anxious love-hurt. Constraints tell me: no I cannot develop this conservation area, no I cannot manage the stony woodlands other than as forests, no I cannot put a permanent greenhouse in more than 2 places in the lower area…and one of those areas is likely to be  a parking lot.  So then what?

Once I have my ‘no’,  I’ll use that to develop goals.  Take the woodlands for example.  There are three separate wooded areas on the property.  These are situated on very stony soils and grade that is too steep for cultivation.  Assessment has provided me with proper constraints in this respect.  I shall keep the land wooded in perpetuity and then set goals as to what I want to accomplish in that particular setting.  Perhaps wildlife sanctuary, perhaps copses, perhaps lumber, perhaps mushrooming, perhaps all of these.  Chances are I’d arrive at this same conclusion regardless of when I set goals, but this is a generic example.

The constraints allow for the goal setting stages to be much more informed, and the direct experience that one is exposed to during the assessment stage leads one to understand the inherent change that accompanies goal setting.  The  inter relatedness one sees during assessment allows one to set goals that have complex flavor.

Essentially the choice is an individual one.  Both methods eventually coalesce into a goal/constraint hybrid.  If you have clients, goals probably come first.  But when it’s your time and your choice, take the time to get to know your constraints.  Even if it takes more than a year, take the time.  When we’re designing multi-decade systems, a year or two taken to understand the realities will prove useful.

“The dirt road in front of me is wide I take it.  But the choice is mine in the direction I pave it.”

-Colin

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