Action Learning Pathway

Aim: To develop a flexible and responsive structure to support personal learning and development within my Diploma in Applied Permaculture Design (PD).

Date: Original design was developed in November 2013 then revisited in October 2020

Client: Personal Project

Status: Ongoing

Principles: Holmgren

Framework: SADIMET

Tools: Client Interview, Risk and Aim Analysis, Zoning, Wants / Needs Analysis, Functions Analysis, Aims Analysis, Mind Mapping, Risk Analysis, Flow Charts, PMI

Resources / Support

  • Permaculture – Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability by David Holmgren.
  • Permaculture Design by Aranya
  • Annual Diploma Guild – November 2012 – specific learning around ALP and diploma induction
  • Variety of Permaculture blogs – researching other apprentices ALPs  
  • Permaculture Guild – discussion around developing our ALPs
  • Permaculture Design Forum.

How does the design reflect the Permaculture Ethics?

Earth CareInclusion of land based projects. And where designs focus on people care they will also link back to nature / the natural world where possible.
People CarePeople and community as central to my work so will be key focus of my diploma designs.
Fair Share Community focus will be central to many of the designs, and all designs, and their write ups, will focus on sharing knowledge and ideas in an accessible way.


In this design it was my aim to create my own Diploma Pathway and experience – I originally developed the design in November 2013 then revisited when I restarted my diploma in October 2020. I particularly wanted to use the design to think about how I could make the diploma meaningful and active from a personal perspective.

Survey – Observation

In the first instance, and as I felt this was an important exercise, I analysed what observation meant for me in terms of a Permaculture design process (see appendix 1). I felt it particularly important to clarify this within the development of my ALP in order to have a focused approach to observation and surveying throughout my ten diploma designs. As the client within this project it meant going through this process myself. The structure of observation, including the client interview, can be roughly defined as:

  1. What are the wants and needs that the client expresses? And are there any additional wants and needs that the designer observes?
  2. What are the current features (in this case of the learning context)? Are there any additional features that the designer observes?
  3. What yields are wanted from the design? What yields already exist? And what other yields may be generated as a result of the design?
  4. What are the potential risks as expressed by the client and as observed by the designer?

I also thought about the things that I would like to achieve from the diploma and what my main priorities were. As well as what the risks / obstacles could be that may stop me progressing (see appendix 2 & 3).


Identification of priority areas – I used a simple modification of a zoning tool to consider which elements of my observation were particularly important.  I focused upon the wants and aspired needs as these would have greatest impact on identifying my priority areas. (see appendix 4) From this is became clear to me that the things that were most important for me in my diploma were:

  • Developing my own learning within the structure of the diploma.
  • Finding ways to use Permaculture within my professional creative practice.
  • Increased integration of Permaculture projects in my wider work.
  • Building closer links to the wider Permaculture community.

Identify links between wants and needs – I used the same zoning tool to begin identifying links between my aspirations in order to identify where there were similarities and groupings. It appeared that three main areas of priority were becoming apparent around:

  1. Permaculture design as a foundation for the work that I do.
  2. Building links to the Permaculture community.
  3. Develop learning within diploma framework / structure.

I then used a simple flow diagram to ensure that these personal priorities had a wide enough scope to meet the wider assessment criteria of the diploma (see appendix 5). It should be noted that due to the age of this design which was originally developed in 2012 the activity made use of old diploma criteria.

When I was confident that there was sufficient scope I created a simple flow chart to consider how these primary aims linked to other secondary aspirations and how, together, these groupings and themes may be used to identify the main functions of my ALP (see appendix 6). These groupings seemed to be reflected by three functions:

  1. Structure and practice.
  2. Community and communication.
  3. Knowledge – learning and application.

How will these functions be reflected in the key aims during the ALP?

I felt it was important to consider this and developed a simple mind map to analyse how the functions may manifest themselves as features within the ALP (see appendix 7).

What do the Permaculture Ethics mean to me within the wider context of my ALP?

People Care

  • People centre approach based upon health and wellbeing.
  • Spiritual and emotional needs as most important – physical world as the means of meeting these needs.
  • Reconnection to self, community and place.

Earth Care

  • Reconnection to place and the natural world / systems.
  • Search for natural / wild spaces and states.
  • Observing and learning – nature as a teacher.
  • People as part of nature / natural systems.

Fair Share

  • Equality and sharing as central and crucial.
  • Functioning within limits.
  • Finding balance in our lives.

Risk Analysis

I analysed the risks as observed and expressed during the survey and observation. I created a simple framework to analyse what risk they posed to the progression of my diploma and ALP, and put structures in place to ensure that significant risks and challenges were observed and re-considered throughout the process. (see appendix 8) The key observations from this were:

  • That lack of capacity would limit my ability to complete the diploma therefore setting a clear timeline would be important.
  • That I may lack sufficient relevant knowledge to complete designs so seeking opportunities to develop my wider skills base would be important throughout.
  • That it may be difficult to build links into the local Permaculture community so this is something that I would need to actively engage in.

Permaculture Principles

I took time to reflect upon how Holmgren’s Permaculture principles reflected within the design.

Observe and interact – Observation of personal needs and aspirations. Observation of diploma context and how I can make best use of that.  

Catch and store energy – Focus upon ways that I can make use of my own energy and invest it into wider Permaculture networks.

Obtain a yield – Clear yield of ALP as a thing in itself. And a further yield in terms of focus for my learning.  

Apply self regulation and accept feedback -Development of structured pathway. Clear time management plan. Guild development / peer review.

Use and value renewable resources and services – Analysis of how I can use the permaculture community to support learning. And how I can contribute to this community.  

Produce no waste – Explore the development projects that make sensitive use of resources and re-use materials where possible.

Design from patterns to detail – Analysis of wider aspirations to create more focused aims and functions.

Integrate rather than segregate – Look at ways to integrate my designs into wider the Permaculture community.

Use small and slow solutions – Use ALP to take incremental steps in learning.  

Use and value diversity – Including a wide range of focus to the designs within my portfolio.

Use edges and value the marginal – Think about how I can push and develop my practice within the context of the diploma.

Creatively use and respond to change – Evaluation and development framework of ALP to continue throughout diploma.  


How did I choose my designs?

A number of different factors influenced the designs that I have included within my Action Learning Pathway.

  • I used the Holmgren domains as the basis of my designs as I felt this was a good way of reflecting the scope of Permaculture within my ALP – I wanted my diploma to reflect this scope within the designs I include.
  • I am particularly interested in working in urban settings so this is reflected in my designs.
  • I have included a mixture of designs with myself as client and with someone else as a client to challenge my practice as a designer.
  • I am interested in land based designs but these are less likely to be part of my professional practice – for this reason I have made specific effort to ensure a number of land based designs are included in my ALP.
DesignHolmgren Domain
1. Action Learning PathwayCulture and Education
2. Mr Seel’s Garden – Food Heritage ProjectCulture and Education
3. Anne’s Eco GardenLand / Nature Stewardship
4. Dementia Care and StorytellingHealth and Wellbeing
5. Developing a Sustainable BusinessFinance and Economics
6. Allotment Forest GardenLand / Nature Stewardship
7. Garden Shed Green RoofBuilding
8. Bread Oven and Bread MakingTools and Technology
9. Allotment ManagementCommunity Governance
10. Mystery Project??????????


It is my aspiration to complete my diploma within two years. On this basis I develop a diploma timeline as part of my design which is detailed below. The first four designs are already in process and will definitely take place. The other designs are more susceptible to change as opportunities and context change over the two years of my diploma – I want my diploma to be as related to my professional practice as possible so this flexibility is important as new opportunities arise within my work life.

To create this timeline I developed a flexible layout using papers that could be moved around to consider different options and possibilities. This plan can be seen below and is a key element of the ALP implementation and evaluation plan later in this report. The timeline below is flexible and will be revisited and change as necessary during the ALP.

ALP Timeline – December 2013

November 2013#1 Action Learning #2 Mr Seel’s Garden Induction Event
December 2013#1 Action Learning #2 Mr Seel’s Garden  
January 2013#2 Mr Seel’s Garden #3 Anne’s Eco Food Garden  
February 2013#2 Mr Seel’s Garden #3 Anne’s Eco Food GardenPersonal Tutorial (London) 
March 2013#3 Anne’s Eco Food Garden  
April 2013#3 Anne’s Eco Food Garden  
May 2013#4 Dementia & Storytelling  
June 2013#4 Dementia & Storytelling  
July 2013#4 Dementia & StorytellingPersonal Tutorial 
August 2013#5 Developing a Sustainable Business  
September 2013#5 Developing a Sustainable Business  
October 2013#5 Developing a Sustainable Business  
November 2013#6 Forest GardenDesign Tutorial 
December 2013#6 Forest Garden Interim Portfolio Assessment
January 2014#6 Forest Garden #7 Green Roof    
February 2014#6 Forest Garden #7 Green Roof    
March 2014#7 Green Roof #8 Bread OvenPersonal Tutorial 
April 2014#8 Bread Oven #9 Allotment Management  
May 2014#8 Bread Oven #9 Allotment Management  
June 2014#10 Mystery Project  
July 2014#10 Mystery ProjectPersonal Tutorial 
August 2014#10 Mystery Project  
September 2014 Design Tutorial 
October 2014   
November 2014  Portfolio Assessment


This ALP is a flexible design, which is already being implemented now in this design documentation, and in the development of Mr Seel’s Garden, which is my second diploma design. 


With regards the longer-term success of the ALP there are a number of different points that are of particular significance:

  • The “sticky wall” timeline as shown in Appendix 9 will be key to the ongoing implementation and evaluation of the ALP. It will be the first point of call to revisit the ALP and decide if any changes need to be made to the timeline as detailed above.
  • I have developed a simple audit to be completed at the beginning of each design (appendix 10) that is demonstrated in action at the beginning of this document. This is an on going way to ensure that the designs that I am undertaking within my diploma are reflecting the various criteria which are necessary in order to complete my diploma successfully. It should be noted that due to the age of this design which was originally developed in 2012 the activity made use of old diploma criteria.
  • I will revisit my ALP at the beginning of each new design to ensure that it still meets my needs an aspirations within my diploma – if necessary I will make tweaks and adjustments to reflect changes.
  • I will reflect on my ALP within each tutorial.


I created a simple survey to evaluate the design at the point that I revisited it in 2020. It is my intention to evaluate again when I complete my Diploma.

What did you aim to achieve with this design?To develop a flexible and responsive structure for my Diploma.

To create a structure to support personal learning and development within my Diploma.
Which elements of the aim do you feel were achieved by the design?I feel that the structure that I have created for my Diploma is flexible and responsive – this is demonstrated by the way that I have been able to add and take away elements when I have revisited the design in October 2020.

The design gives a good sense of the form that I hoped my diploma would take – I particularly appreciated the personal learning objectives that were created as a result of the design which I feel give a good foundation to the Diploma as a whole
Were there any elements which were not achieved by the design?When working on the design at the beginning of the diploma it felt hard to get a grip of what I was aiming towards in a real sense – at that stage the design felt hypothetical and unclear so it was difficult to get a sense of how the aim would be manifested in reality.

Did you achieve anything additional as a result of the design that was unexpected?It will be hard to get a true sense of how successful the design actually is until my Diploma is finished.


In October 2020 I revisited the design. This was a point when I had picked up my Diploma again after many years away from it. During this time I had lost my first tutor so the design was revisted at the point when I had found a new tutor and when I was beginning to focus upon my Diploma again, at least in part because changes to the structure meant that I had to complete my Diploma by 2022 in order to continue in its current form. I took this moment as a motivation to work towards its completion.

In order to tweak my design I read through it in detail. I made a note of where there were changes / additions and also of actions that I was putting in place in order to complete my Diploma.

Observations / Modifications:

  • The priority areas that I observed in the original design remain but the commuication of my design work to a wider audience through my diploma now also feels important.
  • I will no longer focus on the Holmgren Domains to choose my ten designs – it feels too rigid as a foundation and is not the best way to reflect the range of designs that I would like to include.
  • The ten diploma designs will be different from the original design and I am not going to try and anticipate or plan in advance what they will be. Instead I will complete and include as they come along.
  • The timeline is now clearly no longer relevant! The change of system means that I need to complete my diploma by 2022. I have set the target to complete my diploma by summer 2021. Beyond this deadline I am not going to set a more rigid timetable – instead I will used my tutorials as key points to set targets and milestones.
  • I will no longer create a project audit at the beginning of each design – it no longer feels like a relevant activity to undertake and the information that it provides will be provided by the frameworks and tools that I use.
  • On revisiting my Action Learning Pathway it became clear to me that sharing my designs in a way which is accessible to a wider audience beyond the Permaculture Community feels really important to me and is something that I will explore in the presentation of future designs.

Additional Actions

  • I would like to complete my diploma by summer 2021.
  • I will be working with Carla Moss as my tutor.
  • I intend to join a new guild in order to support my diploma learning.
  • I will work towards a less rigid timetable but with clear focus and targets.
  • I will use tutorials as key milestones within my schedule and will book them as and when to reflect my progress rather than scheduling them going forward.


October 2020

At this point I used PMI to reflect upon the design within the context of my Diploma as a whole.


This is a design that I had started to feel negative about – I had lost sense of its purpose. In reality it was a really good exercise to revisit it and to get a sense of its purpose and value within my diploma as a whole.

The SADIMET framework worked well for the design – it was methodical and gave form to the plan that was created.

Looking at the design again I feel that the form is actually good and it is reassuring to see that fundamentally the aspirations that I have got within my Diploma remain the same.

I feel that at this point I have got a much stronger sense of purpose for my Diploma and I feel that purpose is particulalry important for the Action Learning Pathway. Without purpose it is very hard to get to grips with!

The revisit itself added a further sense of motivation and momentum to my Diploma which is a good thing!

Looking back at this design is really interesting because it gives a good sense of how complex an Action Learning Pathway actually is, which probably explains why it felt quite daunting to tackle at the beginning of my Diploma journey.

I really enjoyed using the zoning tool in relation to ideas rather than things! It worked really well and gave clarity to my thinking.

It is good to revisit this design and I would like to revisit again but I think it is important not to get too fixated with it. I don’t want to fiddle too much – doing so could potentially divert energy from working on other aspects of the Diploma which probably more purposeful at this point.

It is interesting to see how elements of the design have changed but it is also reassuring to how much has stayed the same!

Putting ideas onto paper within the design process helped to start to give clarity to the diploma process.

My sense of purpose for my Diploma as a whole now feels much stronger therefore my Action Learning Person feels so much more purposeful as a design.

The client interview is an interesting process when you are the client for a project! It would be good to think of ways to invigorate this process for future designs where I am also client so that I can esnure that the process remains useful and active.