Social Permaculture & Dynamic Groups

Robin Clayfield
Monday, 13th February 2017

Robin Clayfield explains how permaculture principles can be applied to group work in all situations, and how to engage all participants.

Permaculture teacher, Robin Clayfield, explores social permaculture and dynamic groups.

Applying permaculture principles to group work

By using Permaculture Principles to design group work, we enable the very best in people to emerge. We cease to see and experience monocultures of processes and presentations, and enjoy diverse methods of facilitating and participating in groups.

For example, using ‘Diversity’, we would employ a variety of processes and ways of doing things to suit everyone’s learning access mode – Auditory, Visual and Kinaesthetic. Plus use an array of colours, formats and working environments to engage group members and keep them alert and active.

To use ‘Patterns’ we may see the group sitting in a circle with everyone contributing equally due to a creative or collaborative process that supports a rhythm and flow to people’s contributions.

We’d see the ‘Big Picture’ of the agenda or course program then work through the details. The day or meeting may start and end with familiar or group created activities, supporting people to feel part of the group, start positively together and feel complete at the end.

Common mistakes group leaders make

Often leaders and teachers feel that they need to impart all the information, they feel that they know it all or that they need to tightly control the situation. It can be a challenge to trust the energy of the group and the participants to find their own answers, to let go of the ‘power’ and facilitate the group to come to the best outcome for everyone, not just to achieve what the leader thinks should happen.

Common mistakes would be not asking the group what they need, individually and as a group, not setting goals and agreements in the early stages of a group and assuming a ‘power over’ role with a group. Lining people up in rows and standing up the front talking at people is the opposite of how we would operate if we applied Permaculture Principles.

Breaking down barriers when you first start a group session

It’s important to suit the activity to the group and appropriate time frame. If a group is just together for a day, I like everyone in a circle responding to three questions. For example – name, one word to describe how they’re feeling, one sentence to say how the day’s program will support their life or work.

If it’s a one week course I’d use a longer activity that asks people to draw all the things they are passionate about, then share them with the group. I go first and I ask people to share when they are ready, not go round the circle. Mixing people up and encouraging trust building and sharing of information and experiences is important over the initial group forming period.

Top tip for dealing with challenging behaviour

Building trust between everyone in the group and using creative and interactive methods heads off challenging behaviour before it can get entrenched. If I have to pick one thing though, having sessions on ‘Groups Agreements’ and ‘Goals and Needs’ gives a strong foundation to support everyone to be there and come back to as a reminder if the need arises.

Robin Clayfield is running a one off 'Dynamic Groups' Course in the UK from 15-20 May at the Sustainability Centre in Hampshire. For more details visit: