Permaculture is a pragmatic activity. It is intended to use present knowledge to accomplish its principles. It recognizes that research and new knowledge are useful but not essential to present sustainable use of the land and building of humane societies. Most problems are caused by failure to apply ideas that are already known and tested.

Such an approach means that the permaculturist will be consciously searching for ideas and trying to integrate them into design thinking. Such a holistic approach makes the role of associated movements and other resources extremely important. These are the sources of inspiration and specific ideas and practices that can be applied to permaculture projects. They broaden our base of knowledge.

One of the biggest criticisms of education is that the holistic world has been divided and subdivided into ever smaller units of study following a scientific model. The practical result of this fracturing of knowledge is that we all tend to see pieces of the picture but no one sees the whole. Each discipline tends to approach problems from its own point-of-view, with its own limited set of tools and never a concern that its concepts and tools may not even be appropriate to the problem or that there might be other ways to do a job.

A prime example of this, with which we are all familiar, is the sewage treatment plant. At some point in the early part of the 20th century, the mechanical/chemical method of treatment was developed. It never was a very satisfactory system. The water at the end of the treatment cycle was only partially purified and carried excessive nutrient loads into waterways. However, no one seriously questioned the technology for decades. Some treatment plants were smaller, some were bigger, but thousands of municipalities had one or more of them. Finally, in the last ten years, expense of treatment plants and water quality concerns led to a search for alternatives. Wetland treatment systems and living machines, using biological rather than mechanical/chemical approaches, have quickly proven to be less costly and more efficient than the older technology that has held on for so long.

Such change took a change in thinking. Engineers had become accustomed to dealing with holding tanks and vats, mechanical mixers, screens, aeration pumps and chemicals. The world of biology as a method of treatment never entered the picture because engineers are usually not trained in biology. And, no public works department would ask a biologist about sewage treatment -- obviously the job of a civil engineer. How many other examples of compartmentalized thinking may be holding back valuable innovations?

An associated movement is defined as a group of people, a profession or a way of thinking that has a general or specific connection to some aspect of permaculture. It is a source from which a permaculturist might draw inspiration or specific practices for incorporation into a design project.

For inspiration and goals there are lessons to be learned from bioregionalism, deep ecology and other similar movements. Our gains here are in the realm of generalist thinking, philosophy or approaches to life. They set the big
framework within which our work takes place.

On another level, organic gardeners, biodynamic farmers, landscape architects, architects and planners have written about their interests in development. These parallel groups are often doing and saying similar things, perhaps with twists or variations reflecting some specific point-of-view or approach to practice. However, each has the ability to inform the others. From organic gardening, we might gain information on biological pest control; from biodynamic farming, schedules and techniques of planting; from landscape architecture and architecture, concepts of design organization and form; and from planning, an appreciation of problems of large scale resource allocation. Almost any associated movement can contribute something to our approach.

As permaculturists we want to be aware of what others are doing and have a basic understanding of their thinking patterns and belief systems. As we need further material for specific use we can draw upon these resources as needed. We want to remain open to new ideas and stay connected to the greater world around us as we pursue our own specific interests. We need to prepare ourselves to think and act holistically.