The Permaculture Podcast

    1607 – Systems Thinking for Personal Transformation and Social Change

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    My guest today is David Peter Stroh, author of System Thinking for Social Change from Chelsea Green Publishing.

    During the conversation we talk about the importance of using systems thinking to reach long-term goals that transform ourselves and society. To accomplish this end we need to create a series of small successes, rather than quick fixes, that are in line with and build towards our larger vision. Along with this we look at the impact that we can have on positive outcomes by taking personal responsibility for ourselves and understand our individual role as part of the problem. We close with David sharing five ways in which human systems differ from natural systems which we should consider as permaculture practitioners.

    If you work with any kind of system involving people, yourself included, this is an episode to kick your feet up, take notes from, and then give me a call so we can talk about it. There’s a technical, heady, yet accessible conversation ahead.

    You can find out more about David and his work at You can find out more about his book there, or at the site for the publisher, Chelsea Green. You’ll find those and other links in the resource section for this episode at

    After speaking with David there were a lot of pieces that struck a chord with me, but two in particular that I keep turning back to are regard governing versus espoused values, and the need for personal responsibility.

    Our governing and espoused values have the space between them, something Ethan Hughes refers to as the integrity gap, and this exists for individuals and organizations as well as systems. On reflection this shouldn’t seem surprising, but how often do we think about that gap? Do you ever consider the impact that that space between desires expressed and actual activity has on your life and the choices you make?

    For a long time, I didn’t. Doing so involves concentrated effort. Thinking this way, seeing the big pictures, requires serious intent initially, until it become a habit. Once normalized into our daily practice it turns from ongoing moment to moment consideration to require periodic re-evaluation to insure that we don’t fallen into a lull once the pressure stops, as Peter mentioned, or allow old habits to creep back in. We become the guard at the gate of our thinking, taking responsibility for how those thoughts lead to action.

    Responsibility is something that Bill Mollison implores us to have in The Designers’ Manual, where he writes:

    “The only ethical decision is to take responsibility for our own existence and that of our children. Make it now.” (Emphsasis in original)

    This Bill calls The Prime Directive of Permaculture. Though it speaks to ethical actions, it is on page 1 of the big black book of permaculture, coming before the ethics that we commonly think of, before discussing any principles. This is what one of the founders of permaculture opens his seminal work with. That we must make this decision now is in bold, and speaks not to just this moment, but also the future. Our children. Though we might fall to individualistic perspectives, I also read this as a collective call to action. To take responsibility for our own existence, but that that our and own reaches out to our community, of our genetic or adopted descendants, but also of those who live in our neighborhoods. The future generations that call a place home with us, in the homes down the street or across town that connect us.

    There is plenty of talk about the other ethical entreatments, such as Earth care, or people care, and debate of what exactly the third ethic is in the current era, but I don’t hear this prime directive in discussion very often. Let’s talk about it more.

    In thinking about responsibility and what taking hold of it for our existence and that of our children would look like, I don’t have an answer for any life but my own. If we start talking about what this looks like for ourselves, we can start to find more answers and more solutions. So, what does personal responsibility mean for you? Have you recognized how you are a part of the problem? What works? What doesn’t?

    Let me know, I’d love to hear from you.

    Give me a call: 717-827-6266.
    Send me an email:

    You can also drop something in the post:

    The Permaculture Podcast
    P.O. Box 16
    Dauphin, PA 17018

    And a few announcements.

    The first, is a reminder that Free the Seeds! is on March 19, 2016 at the Flathead Valley Community College in Kalispell, Montana. Go out and enjoy a day of workshops that includes savings seeds, bee keeping, starting seeds, food preservation, and, as you might expect, permaculture. You’ll find a link in the resource section of the show notes, or you can head directly to the their website at

    The second is that on June 18, 2016, is the Mid-Atlantic Permaculture Convergence at The Riverside Project in Charles Town, West Virginia. Michael Judd is the keynote speaker. I’m hosting an in-person round table recording. Workshops include Living in the Gift with Seppi Garrett from Seppi’s Place, Children and Permaculture with Jen Mendez ofPermieKids, and Broad Acre Agriculture for Permaculture Practitioners with Ethan Strickler.

    Tickets are currently on-sale so pick up your ticket today.

    Mid-Atlantic Permaculture Convergence Tickets
    As we draw this episode to a close, the next interview is Nati Passow of Jewish Farm School, for our first conversation on Judaism and Earth Care, and after that an introduction to The Philadelphia Orchard Project with Robyn Mello.

    Until the next time, take care of Earth, your self, and each other.


    Applied Systems Thinking (David’s Site)
    Systems Thinking for Social Change
    Chelsea Green Publishing

    Free The Seeds
    Mid-Atlantic Permaculture Convergence (Information and Tickets)
    Seppi’s Place

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