Goals: getting started with your permaculture design project

How to set goals for your permaculture design project, and why your attitude might be your most useful tool.
permaculture transformation illustration by kt shepherd
“The problem is the solution.” This designer is helping to transform neglected and vandalized waste land into a vertical public garden, producing food and beneficial connections for anyone within the community.  Artwork by KT Shepherd.

The G in GOBRADIME: Goals!

So far in our course, we’ve covered what permaculture is and where it came from, and explored the lexicon of ethics and principles that inform our work. We’ve gotten acquainted with the 4 P’s of Permaculture, and next week we will start reading the land.

Today our focus is on you, the designer, and on setting clear, actionable goals for your permaculture design project.​

Setting goals is super important, but sometimes this task is easier said than done!

Here are some tools to help you:

Tool #1: The Stakeholder Interview

Working through a set of questions and receiving feedback from stakeholders in your project will help you clarify your own goals as well as develop an idea of what you can realistically hope to achieve with the project.

Check out this article about interviewing stakeholders, and use the sample below to create your own, then conduct interviews of yourself and the other people who will be involved in your project.

Sample Interview Questionnaire by Jude Hobbs (she was Heather Jo’s first teacher)

Tool #2: SMARTER Goals

When we start out as permaculture designers, there is a natural urge to rush it. Draw a map, scribble out some interconnected ideas, and start digging!​


Make time to get your goals and priorities crystal clear. Inhale. Study. Refine. Revel. And create a set of SMARTER goals. SMARTER stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound, Ecological, and Rewarding. SMARTER goals are an important strategy for taking your goals and translating them into a plan.

As you refine your goals, you’ll need to refer back to your ethical commitments, and consider the biological, socioeconomic, and personal/emotional costs and benefits, should these goals be accomplished. ​This brings us to tool #3:

Tool #3: Attitudinal Principles

In order to create a permaculture design, we have to become permaculture designers, and that means changing the way we view and interact with the world around us, starting with our attitude. It’s not the only factor to consider; but it’s the easiest one to change.​You’ll see the term, “attitudinal principles” in a lot of the permaculture literature, but it’s a bit of a misnomer; it’s not so much that there are clear lines between biological principles, socioeconomic principles, and attitudinal principles, but more so that all of these layers exist in all of the principles.

Imagine a seed, sprouting into a tiny baby plant. Think of the metamorphosis of your goals, into the planned set of actions (aka your permaculture design project), which transforms your goals into tangible, edible reality. Every action you take has biological, socioeconomic, and emotional impacts and factors to consider.

Permaculture Pies

What happens if you consider each of your goals in life, through this lens? It ends up looking a lot like those permaculture ethics, yes? Biological factors connect to Earth care; socioeconomic factors connect to people care, and emotional factors connect to how adeptly we can share fairly and care for the future.

So, while there are several “permaculture” principles, including but in no way limited to the list below, that are commonly referred to as “attitudinal,” keep in mind the above mentioned factors and see how many ways you can apply ALL the principles towards cultivating the sharpest, most adept designer’s mind you can muster!

Here’s a list of five of the most common “attitudinal principles” in the permaculture lexicon. Without further explanation, how would you interpret these? Can you see how they could help you shift your attitude, and perhaps open up new possibilities in your design?

  • Make the least change for the greatest effect.
  • The designer limits the yield. 
  • Information is a resource.
  • The problem is the solution.
  • Mistakes are tools for learning.


  • Conduct “client” interviews with yourself and the other stakeholders in your project. Use one of the samples included in today’s class, or create your own.
  • Create at least three SMARTER goals for your permaculture design project.
  • Spend a few minutes journaling about each of the five “attitudinal principles” listed above, and then go back through your SMARTER goals and client interview questionnaire. What changed? How does shifting your attitude shift your goals? Do they seem more possible? Are you able to use “attitudinal principles” to help make your goals SMARTER?
SMARTER goals drawing

Relevant Links and Resources​

If you’re interested in how to apply permaculture theory to the design of a healthy, happy emotional life, check out Heather Jo Flores’ free (donations accepted, as always) 3-day Emotional Permaculture workshop.

emotional permaculture principles

If you’re not already subscribed to the permaculture magazines, you should know that they are all excellent and it’s a worthy investment, for sure. This free sample of Permaculture Design Magazine is all about decolonization.

Check it out!

decolonizing permaculture magazine cover image

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