Holistic Decision Making: 5 Things with Dan Palmer

| Permaculture, Permaculture Design | comments | Author :

Making great decisions. Who doesn’t want to learn how to do that? In our permaculture designs, in our families, our projects, and for ourselves on a deeply personal level. Enter Holistic Decision Making.

Following on from hosting training in Holistic Management (HM) with folks like Kirk Gadzia, and also Allan Savory, we’ve incorporated various aspects for HM into the permaculture design process that we teach on PDCs for quite a few years now. The Holistic Decision Making framework provides an extra, and valuable, step.

We’ve been using Holistic Decision Making at Milkwood for the last 6 months or so, and we’ve also been working with David Holmgren and Su Dennet on Holistic Decision Making for Melliodora, the permaculture homestead where we all live. It’s been truly useful, revealing and clarifying. David included a rundown of the process in his new book Retrosuburbia as a result.

We’ve been going through this process with the lovely Dan Palmer of Holistic Decision Making. Dan is one part of the fab Melbourne permaculture design team VEG, when he’s not busy doing his many other projects. And we want to share this approach with you! So we’ve decided to run a course on Holistic Decision Making with Dan in Sydney in May – for designers and doers of all types.

By way of introduction, here’s 5 things about Holistic Decision Making, with Dan Palmer…

Hi Dan! Firstly – can you give us a potted rundown of what Holistic Decision Making is?

Holistic Decision Making (HDM) is a holistic or whole-oriented approach to making decisions. There are three levels to its application. The first level helps you be present in both head and heart to the whole situation you are in right now, the whole of the situation you’d like to be in, and the whole suite of things you’d better be doing if you’ve any hope of moving the one toward the other.

The next level is reacting to what life throws at you in a way that honours all this, and in a way that deeply and authentically serves the thing you are making decisions about (such as yourself, your family or a business). This includes saying YES to the right things, NO to the wrong things, getting rid of what is holding you back, and strengthening what isn’t. This is no small achievement!

Yet there is a third level. The highest expression of HDM is to be consciously and continually making decisions proactively. Decisions that boost quality of life, make you more whole, and minimise (if not eliminate) negative unintended social, ecological and financial consequences.

What sorts of things can HDM be applied to? What’s the scope?

You can apply it to any of the big things you make decisions about, including yourself, your marriage, your family, your business. You can equally apply it to littler things inside these bigger things, such as your days and weeks, a wedding or trip or conference or other event.

You can apply HDM to any of these things in a way that is as lean, agile, and simple or as committed, in depth and involved as you like. The entry barrier is low, but the scope of how far you take it is very, very high.

A lot of our network reading this will already be using permaculture design or thinking in their current design projects, both big and small. How can HDM intersect and enhance these projects?

Permaculture projects are sometimes weak on solid, transparent decision making that honours everyone involved and that doesn’t result in social tensions (including burnout) along the way. HDM powerfully fills this gap. Personally, as an active permaculture designer, I never start any design project without at least some HDM.

HDM includes ways for deeply tapping into what clients really want, as in how they really want their life to look and feel. This is no easy thing to do, and HDM helps. A lot.

When you’re helping people get their head around this stuff, what’s a few of the most common tricky bits? 

One obstacle is appreciating that HDM is not about goal setting. We very often pursue goals in a way that detracts from our quality of life. Until you deeply get the difference between a goal and a quality of life statement you will struggle. I do this with lots of games and examples – it doesn’t take too long to sink in.

It can also sometimes be a real head f^&* to acknowledge that we don’t have good ways of making decisions, and how different life might have been if we had. The trick here is to turn one’s focus to what becomes possible from now on in, to get excited, and to get on with it.

After two days of HDM training with you, what can students hope to leave with, and what should they do next?

I am committed to bring people to a point where they are already applying HDM at at least levels one and two before they leave. This means they don’t have to start applying it afterward, they simply need to continue. Participants leave having drafted a context for themselves (or their whatever) and having already tested at least one or two decisions toward this context.

I strive to bring people to a point where there is no turning back, and I’m (slowly) getting better at this. We usually set up ways to stay in touch and support one-another’s growth in using HDM, where we can give each other feedback as we all start applying it to different things we do.

Our Holistic Decision Making weekend with Dan Palmer will be happening at Pocket City Farms on May 12-13. We’d love to see you there.

Sound interesting? Intrigued? Here’s some practical resources and reading to go on with…

  1. Introduction to Holistic Decision Making: Part One – Clarifying the Whole
  2. Introduction to Holistic Decision Making: Part Two – Articulating a Context
  3. Introduction to Holistic Decision Making: Part Three – Putting your Context to Work
  4. A few example contexts

Thanks Dan! Can’t wait. Here’s to great decision making, and happier humans and ecosystems as a result.

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