Yep – that’s me on a [small] tractor, in the rain, trying to lug very sodden clay-rich soil from one place to another, while getting rained on and getting a bit too short tempered with Abi. It wasn’t quite how I envisaged that particular day going. It was one of those days when I’d said to myself “yeah, I reckon that’ll take a day”, and by the middle of the day, I thought perhaps I had underestimated the job and it was looking more like a month’s work.
Things don’t always go according to plan.
And so it went that my Client Interviews and feedback didn’t quite go according to how I originally intended either. I had envisaged them as being quite a formal process. The survey questionnaire that I had sent out was ‘typical formal me’ – I like methodological approaches, stats and graphs and spreadsheets – SurveyMonkey seemed an obvious choice for this bit of the process.
But the more interesting stuff started to happen when I followed up the questionnaire with face to face interviews. In every case, what I observed was that people gave much better and fuller answers face to face that allowed some of the comments from the questionnaires to be tempered or expanded on and become much clearer.
I’d thought I would arrange a Skype or sit-down interview with each client, and perhaps have Abi asking me the same questions back. What I found though, was that the answers I’d got back on the questionnaires meant I wanted to ask different questions to each client in face to face. I also found my own ‘client views’ changing in response to the info coming back and after each face to face interview, and this also affected my perspective as a designer. So the lines between client and designer were completely blurred for myself.
To be fair, Abi’s sister in America was the only client I set up a proper interview with via Skype. That was interesting because there’s little chance she’ll be back in the UK and so her and her husband’s concerns around the field were coming from a very different perspective – although there were some [surprising?] commonalities. They were interested that the field wasn’t over intensively used in any way. They didn’t know too much about permaculture, but they intrinsically felt that doing any singular intensive activity on the land would not be a good thing and might affect the future value of the land. It was great that this just fit in with my values.
Abi’s Mum’s interview was much less formal – in fact she didn’t really know it was going on! It was more chats and questions over cups of tea, but still managing to touch on the responses to the questionnaire. I learned that the idea of creating access to the field by removing the shed on her land blocking any vehicle access currently, was quite probable, and that in principle she was OK with this idea in the medium term. We talked through possible future developments. I think it strengthened my view that it was really important in any design, to ensure she maintains privacy even though we need to cross her garden to get to the field. Ideas around community groups having access really need to be taken off the agenda for the moment. There are more pressing things to consider.
Interview with Abi was also less formal – we live together and talk about field plans all the time so I’m getting pretty continual client feedback from her. I think the most important bit of learning was that Abi felt that some elements of her client questionnaire didn’t quite reflect how she felt – they were useful as a snapshot but thoughts and ideas are developing all the time. She didn’t feel so strongly about community groups and building permanent structures now, as might have come across in the questionnaire responses. More that because they were options, she was enthusiastic about them – but they weren’t a high priority – for the moment for her, the Yurt is number one and the orchard comes a close second.
This was the biggest bit of learning for me – everyone who completed a survey, myself included, had ‘moved away’ a certain number of degrees from their original answers by the time I caught up with them in person. It just goes to show that these things are iterative and prone to change – in any design, there has to be some element of ‘review’ for clients both at the design and during the implementation and maintenance stages, and it should be cyclical.
This theme is often talked about in project management systems – but the interesting thing with PM design is that usually, once the outputs and deliverables are set and the quality measures agreed, it’s then very difficult to ‘change’ or feed in new thoughts and requirements. I feel that this Permaculture design process is much more flowing. New things can come into the process or out of the process without necessarily having been specified at the start. This demonstrates and evidences the principle of “Creatively Use & Respond to Change“. I don’t think Prince 2 methodology is as effective at this – I find it’s too linear and restrictive.
The other learning was through talking to neighbours. From spending more time there recently, we were able to get some views. Most exciting was the fact that one set of neighbours could really remember when the field used to be an orchard, way back when. They were overjoyed to hear that the field was coming back into use – and the’ve probably got one of the most direct views of the field. I spoke to two other neighbours who were very pleased to hear about the plans, with no one raising objections.
So – final points from client surveys and analysis which are requirements and limitations of the design:
- Most important elements for people are maintaining a beautiful view and a connection to nature
- Bringing the land back into use – obtaining a yield of food and a place to relax and unwind are important
- Maintaining the meadow and having sheep able to graze, at least in the short term, is important
- Nothing should be done to or in the field that would reduce it’s medium to long term financial value e.g. intensive farming or food crops (that’s easy to avoid!)
- Design must not intensively exploit the land and must be sympathetic to it (work with nature)
- Privacy is maintained for Abi’s Mum, with reference to the access issues (small and slow solutions)
You know, we’re pretty much at design stage… how exciting!