Moving from Patterns to Details – part 2

Photo courtesy Victoria Pickering

In an earlier post, Changing our Thinking, I talked about Donella Meadows’ article, Leverage Points, Places to Intervene in a System. The article which is an excerpt from her book, Thinking in Systems,  lists ways to intervene in  from easiest to most difficult; from producing the least impact to producing the greatest impact.

I found these line up quite well with Stewart Brand’s Six S’s of Building from the book, How Buildings Learn.  He lists six elements within a  building and classifies them from the most permanent to easiest to change:

  • site (location and building orientation)
  • structure
  • skin
  • services (functions like heating cooling)
  • space plan
  • stuff

For outdoor design, I make the following correspondences:

  • site (location and orientation )
  • slopes, swales, large trees
  • fences, boundaries and edges
  • functions
  • planting layouts and zones
  • specific plantings, animals or other elements

Lining these up with Donella’s system leverage points gives me a nice way to look at modifying my system from items that are easiest to do (but produce the least impact) to those most difficult to do (and produce the greatest impact).

 Ease of Modification  Natural Environment Indoor Designed Environment Outdoor Designed Environment  Meadow’s Leverage Points
 Easy  Bare ground to grasses  stuff Specific plantings, animals or other elements 12.Change rates of flows, 11.Increase size of stocks
 Herbs and grasses  space plan planting layouts 10.Modify physical arrangement of flows and stocks, 9.Adjust length of delays
 Scrubs, herbs and grasses  services  functions  8.Strengthen balancing feedback loops. 7.Balance (reduce the strength of) reinforcing feedback loops, 6.Increase access to feedback
 Low canopy trees, shrubs and herbs  skin  fences, boundaries zones and edges  5.Change the rules (eliminate constraints to expand or better use the zone or edge)
 Mixed Canopy forest  structure slopes, swales large trees  5.Change the rules (by adding incentives and punishments), 4.Evolve the system structure, 3. Change the  system goals
 Most Difficult  Climax Forest  site  site 2.Change paradigms, 1.Transcend Paradigms

This sets the priorities of the list  I provided previously.

 Priority Ease of Modification Meadow’s Leverage Points Potential Changes
A Easiest 12.Change the rates of flows, Make changes to the system to increase the production rate (of food).Make changes to the system to increase the efficiency of food production.
 A  11.Increase the size of stocks Make changes to the system to reduce decreases in yield due to losses (like the loss of corn due to spoilage).Increase available storage.
B  10.Modify physical layouts of flows and stocks,  Change layouts of planting areas, animal storage areas etc. within each zone.
 B 9.Adjust length of delays
 C 8.Strengthen balancing feedback loops. Increase the number of elements you have in the system producing a yield (from just corn to corn, slugs and rainwater from the roof– these would support  the food/duck system).Increase the  diversity of elements included and products (stocks) created.
 C  7.Balance (reduce
the strength of) reinforcing feedback loops,
 Increase the number of functions provided (from raising food and raising ducks to doing these two things plus creating compost)
 C  6.Increase access to
 Create and check new feedback loops.
 D 5.Change the rules (eliminate constraints to expand or better use zones or the edge) Identifying and configuring the zones.Monitor and reconfigure edges so that transfers can happen more easily and efficiently.
 E 5.Change the rules (by adding incentives and punishments)
 E  4.Evolve the system structure Substitute local producers for non local ones (to conserve energy).Substitute renewable producers for non-renewable ones.Increase stocks over time through successionIntroduce small and slow changes to reduce oscillations.
 E  3. Change the system goals  Change goals for example from producing an ornamental front yard to an edible front yard.  Choose to create a food forest.
 F  2. Change paradigms  Re-consider wastes as “foods” for  other  system elements. (View problems as unfilled niches.)
 F Most difficult 1.Transcend paradigms Choose an entirely new site, one that is more suitable in terms of site location and orientation.

I’m ready to begin to list out my projects. I think as I develop my design I’ll work from F (greatest design impact) to A (least impact).  This way I’ll design from concepts to details.

I’ll then develop a list of projects. There I’ll prioritize the projects probably from A-F (from the easiest to carry out to the most difficult).  I’ll use the evaluation matrix I found here: Evaluating Adaption Projects.

What do you think?   This post will probably get tweaked as I reflect on it a little more. I’m probably also going to create a new projects page to make it easier to find the projects as I move forward.


2 thoughts on “Moving from Patterns to Details – part 2

  1. Pingback: My First Projects List | Explorations into Permaculture

  2. Pingback: The Path of Least Resistance | Explorations into Permaculture

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