Community Building Conscious Living Club Permaculture

Pandemic Permaculture: Observation and Mapping

Written by Learn Permaculture

It is clearly a worrying time for many of us, but with crisis come opportunities – and there are plenty of ways to use permaculture design to create holistic solutions for ourselves and our communities. Permaculture is good at cultivating abundance, diversity and cooperation, exactly what is needed now.

Over the past week we’ve already seen people across the UK springing into action. Community groups have formed across the country and there are noticeable positive changes in how people are interacting with each other in the streets – the kind of community environment many of us have been trying to cultivate for a long time.

While permaculture may have been created to address the climate and nature emergencies we face, it can also be easily applied to the current situation we find ourselves in. The scale and diversity of solutions that will be needed to ensure the pandemic is managed in the best way possible is huge.

Conscious Observation

In crisis situations it’s all too easy to jump straight into action mode and get straight down to implementing solutions. However, as all permaculturists know, observation is the first key step to creating a resilient design. In a situation that inevitably requires quicker reactions the 80/20 rule (spending around 80% of time in observation and 20% of time in action)  will be harder to follow but it’s still important.

You may spend less time in the initial observation stage, but you will be moving round the design cycle more quickly. This is where continual observation and the principle, apply-self regulation and accept feedback become even more essential. If you can make a conscious effort to make some space each time you come back to observation, as time goes on you will begin to build up to the 80/20 ratio.

So what tools can we use to start the observation process in our homes and communities?

Community Mapping

The fantastic thing about organising in communities is the wealth of connections, skills and experience that people have to give. It’s worth mapping these skills, as well as the time and resources people might have to help. Also mapping the people that may need help, where they’re located and how urgent their needs are. Contours – obstacles – will define how these elements are accessed; these could be physical or psychological. Continual observation is extremely important here as needs will likely change quickly. It’s also important to think about the services that already exist in your area.

Zoning the Elements

Once you’ve mapped all of the elements and the contours you can begin zoning them. This will help to identify which elements might be out of reach and which will be easily accessible. In a personal or community zoning map, yourself or the people are zone 0. How far are you between different elements that you might need or want to access?

These zones are likely to change as the situation changes, so it might be worth making your design adaptable for future situations, for example, having cut-out elements that can be re-arranged on a page. This would also be useful if you wanted to map future scenarios.


It is likely that the situation will change quickly in the coming days and weeks, before we eventually settle into a new rhythm. Sectors are all about incoming energies, again these could be physical or psychological, but also political. It will be hard to forecast what all of these sectors might bring and the political opportunities and restrictions are changing on a daily basis. It therefore might be wise to map only what you know, and revisit this when the situation changes.

If you use any ideas from this blog to create a design to help your community, we’d love to see it. Also, in a time of increased social distance and self-isolation, digital communication is more important than ever. So, if you’ve any more ideas of how we can use permaculture observation and mapping tools and techniques or there are any topics you’d like to read about, do get in touch.


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