Widening Participation – Course Formats

When designing a Permaculture course we have to consider many aspects, one of the most crucial being “Widening Participation”.

The main consideration is our target market. Different target groups will require a differently formatted course. Mentally and physically challenged students may need different approaches and the use of different pedagogies. People also learn in different ways, some prefer self-directed learning, others need a  driven group.

The constraints of money, time and availability are other points for consideration. There is a need to tailor courses for the needs of the potential participants. For example weekend courses are ideal for time constrained situations, or courses offered for local teachers to keep the cost down.

On the other hand,  motivation for participation in a Permaculture course should be considered. Permaculture is a completely new word to many people, therefore how we title and format a course is vital when aiming to widen participation. “Permaculture” may not mean anything to the people we want to reach and is only attractive to those with some prior knowledge.  In this case perhaps the phrases “Ecological design”, or “Strategies for low impact living”, might be more useful.

People that can not afford the cost of a course, due a marginal situation, could be reached through NGOs or other organisations that are already working with and providing services for these marginalised groups, like volunteer agencies or food banks.

The more removed the target market is from the existing Permaculture community, the higher the satisfaction levels that can be achieved.

As samples of different course formats we can highlight these from Ireland:

  • 1 day “taster” workshop. Urban, low cost, low commitment, designed for people with no prior knowledge.
  • 3 weekend FETAC (Quality and Qualifications Ireland Agency) accredited course. Job seekers, domestic market, people working full time with only weekend availability.
  • 10 day intensive PDC. International market, transient, people at crossroads in their lifes.