Erasmus + Course on Natural Design Frameworks in Lisbon

As many people is aware of, Permaculture in Portugal is growing strong. You might have heard of Tamera a really cool ecovillage with a system of lakes designed by Sepp Holzer. That one is the most famous one, but there is actually many more ecovillages and permaculture projects going on from North to South Portugal, and the interest in permaculture it is not only in the grass roots movement trying to live differently. Lisbon university is actually in the far edge of nature based solutions for climate change adaptation strategies. Hidden behind this kind of long names we find beautiful people working with permaculture and doing their best to introduce it into the academia.
Gil and Hugo are two of them. They hold a week long course on “Natural Design Frameworks” for Phd students and any one else interested. The course took place in a big old building within Lisbon’s Botanical Garden. An absolutely magical place full of tropical plants, many of them, brought from Brazil.

A glimpse of Lisbon Magical Botanical Garden

Me and my good friend Luis went to this course to enrich our knowledge on design and connect with the Portuguese network. In this articles we will explain some of the key insights we gained during the course.

Some of the most relevant insights we learned were on the 5 nature based design frameworks. Biomimicry, Biophilic, Regenerative, Resilient and Permaculture design. Luis will deepen more on them. So I will focus on the ground base knowledge, the building blocks to understand how to do effective collaborative planning.
So one of the initial and key concepts are comprehending “Integral Theory”.

Integral theory is a revolutionary framework for understanding ourselves and the world we live in. It is based on a “medicine wheel” of four directions. In horizontal it goes from interior to exterior and in vertical from Individual to collective. Creating four quadrants that represent the four dimensions that can be describe as: “I”- everything inside you that makes you you, our on other words what you perceive, your experiences; “We” – your relationship with others, and your communication with them, it is the space for the cultures we are part of; “It” – your physical body and your behaviors; and “Its” – your membership and participation in the many systems in which your life is embedded. This simple diagram of Integral theory develops into very deep and profound argumentations and processes to ensure success and harmony within your personal life and the life of any project.

Integral Theory 4 quadrants

This was put into practice in different ways, but the sublime one was on how we were guided for the final design challenge. In my opinion it was presented using a truly innovative collaborative design tool. The “WeLand”. It is a tool developed mainly by Hugo Oliveira with the Orla Design Project for collaborative design of sustainable communities and projects in real life scenarios.
The idea is to use an essential pattern of life “The Torus” to guide the group of designers and stakeholders together through the design process. Anyhow, we were doing just a one day design exercise so to balance the participants and the interest of study that we had we divided in two groups, each working with an specific design project. The two chosen ones where on “Preventing Fires Risk through Conservation and Agroforestry Practices” guided by a couple of Phd students working on that issues.
The other one was on “Designing a Local Economy for the region of Vale de Lama” to be implemented by the key holder of the topic on that local community. Vale de Lama is a Portuguese ecovillage, but the local currency intends to work on the hole region.

I found “The WeLand” fascinating, because in a game like easygoing style, the group goes through different phases to ensure a truly collaborative design process.
Moving through the form of a torus that has no beginning or end, and represents a dynamic process of communication within the stakeholder groups, the landscape and time showing processes of expansion and contraction; exploration, creativity, design and decision taking.
In the original version there is clusters of cards and which tools to use in each phase can be selected from the bulk by what feels appropriate at the moment. For the sake of the exercise, Hugo made a list of printed guided questions from the ones the person of the group with the highest dice score will choose. The reflections of how a community process could be where also present on the dices. Everyone will throw a dice, the dice will the lowest score will define the speed of the group, and the person with the highest score will choose the question to answer.

The Weland board and the questions to follow it through

As we say the form of a torus is a never ending flow, but of course for us it has to start somewhere, so the first phase is represented starting in the broadest diameter of the Torus and moving towards the bottom vortex. In the very starting point we found “The Seed”. So we could define the context of our inquiry.
The flow started with the process of “What we are” for landscape integrity inquiry. So we could define our ecosystem, the natural patterns present in it and the symbolic meaning it has for us.
After moving through some of this questions, going deep into the vortex we get to “Who We are” This brings community engagement, as we empathize with the backgrounds and experience of the group, the participants assets, cultural stories, traditions or tendencies in the ecosystem.

The forest fires prevention group working on their design

Then we enter the center of the torus, in this phase we had to define what we wish to become. Create a clear identity, vision, guiding principles, or anything else that shapes the direction of the group.
After this we go out of the center by spiraling up through a parallel vortex to the one that brought us there. Here we identify the processes for how to become what we already know we want to be. So here we explore how to create community engagement and how to ensure co-design processes and express them in practice. As well as creating a clear timeline for the project. Best through backcasting processes, were we first think of the last thing we will be doing before completion and going backwards from there.
The last part was the Becoming. Represented graphically in our torus by the top part of the sphere expanding from the vortex. Here is the most practical part of implement the plan, monitor the impact of your project and always think about what could be done differently to ensure that through the process we are creating truly regenerative livelihoods.

Forest Fire Final Design,
Represents the timescale of action for the different targeted issues while shaping a valley and the water retention figures that will be introduce in it. Super artistic!

At the end of the “WeLand design game” we reached a tree. That invited the whole group to make a presentation our projects. Considering the short time we had for designing, approximately 8 hour work, I can ensure that this are very useful tools because the originality and depth of the designs was astonishing. Gil and Hugo gave very positive feedback to both groups and all members especially the core members got lots of good ideas and inspiration for getting out in the field and making the projects a reality. For the local economy group the next step is to use the “WeLand” with the other real stakeholders to design the local currency together.

The Local Economy group making their presentation.
They also used my Values web tool in their project!

For me this course has been an eye opening to the power of “gamizing” the collaborative design processes. It really helps people get engaged, find it fun to design and to not forget to go through any of the essential steps to take in consideration for a holistic and collaborative design.

We went for a nice organic vegetarian meal as a celebration at the end of the course