Principle 4: Apply Self-regulation & Accept feedback

This is one is a series of post on the application of the 12 principles of Permaculture [2] to organizations, and other social systems.  The posts are being generated by members of the Organizational Permaculture [1] group on Facebook. If you like this post, consider joining the group and adding to the  conversation with your own blog post on 1 or more of the 12 Principles of Permaculture [2]

Principle #4: Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback

Principle #4, “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback” speaks to self-discipline, psychological safety and being open. It is important to note that these personal and system-level properties are a means to an and, not an end in and of themselves. The principle “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback” mean in part that we intend to tune and tailor our social systems to be highly receptive to feedback. It means we intend for our social systems to be aware.

It also means we work to actively create and then maintain the ability of the entire system to rapidly identify and respond to change.

This is the essence of organizational agility. The agile world uses the slogan “inspect and adapt” to express the importance of accepting feedback and applying self-regulation.

Self Discipline

Collecting observations is essential to responding to change. Observations can be proactive or reactive, active or passive. Reactive observing is what happens after taking an action, such as introducing an experiment.

Proactive observations are observations of the system as it is, without introducing anything new except your own presence.

Feedback as a Resource

Responding to change can be formal or informal, and frequent or infrequent. As a norm, it can even be absent entirely. There is no adapting without inspecting, observing or otherwise experiencing the environment. This plays out in social systems by using any practice that operationalizes the proactive and reactive styles of observation.

Psychological Safety

Technically, Jay Forrester describes social systems as “1st order nonlinear feedback systems” in his paper, Designing the Future. [3] . For an entire social system to become adept at responding to change, a high level of what Amy Edmondson calls ‘psychological safety’ [4] which is the willingness to take ‘interpersonal risk’ during interactions with individuals, in front of the group. Psychological safety in social systems is important for individuals. When the level of psychological safety is low, levels of self-regulation and acceptance of feedback at the level of individual and group will also be low.


I’ve written on Openness previously when discussing the Five Scrum Values [5]. Openness includes accepting the best idea, regardless of source. Discussing ideas is a way to express the identification of changes, and also a way to discuss a rational and well-reasoned set of possible responses to that change.

Practical Steps

Any activities that formalize frequent generation  and inspection of feedback are directly supporting Principle #4 of Permaculture: “Apply Self-Regulation and Accept Feedback.” Scrum [7] and Open Space [8] both define feedback systems with formal structures. Scrum is a complete framework, while Open Space is a meeting format. Both feature explicit loops of feedback with specific guidance on how to best process the feedback generated.









Figure 1. Small Session In Open Space.


Practical patterns and processes that can support this principle have certain common characteristics.

First, they share a formalization of frequent feedback loops. Scrum is a good example; it has a daily feedback loop (the Daily Scrum) and feedback loop (the Sprint Review) at the end of each iteration of work.

Second, they have an opt-in aspect, the people in the system choose to participate in using the pattern or process, and are not compelled to use it. Open Space is a good example; everything about it from the beginning to the end is an exercise in opting in or out.

Another good example is the Core Protocols. The Core Protocols [9] are structured interactions that have mechanisms for sending and collecting feedback. (Perfection Game and Investigate protocols respectively). Open Space is a 100% opt-in meeting. Scrum defined the Daily Scrum and Sprint Review as formal observe & inspect points.



To be self-regulating, there must be feedback. The more frequent, the better. The frequency of sampling the environment for feedback by observing in social systems can be monthly, weekly, daily or continuous. Teams and organizations that focus on identifying sources of feedback (and who also become adept at processing it) are in position to learn much faster than organizations that do not [6]. This learning in social systems is essential if we are to Obtain a Yield [10].



[1] Organizational Permaculture Group on Facebook. (link)

[2] 12 Principles of Permaculture on Wikipedia (link)

[3] Forrester, Jay. Designing the Future at Universidad de Sevilla, Sevilla, Spain 1999 (link)

[4] Edmondson Amy, Harvard University. Paper: Psychological Safety in Work Teams” (link)

[5] Mezick, Daniel J., “Scrum Values”, blog post (link)

[6] Mezick, Daniel J. , “Culture That Learn are Superior”, blog post. (link)

[7] Schwaber Ken and Sutherland, Jeff. The Scrum Guide (link)

[8] Herman, Michael. Essay: About Open Space. (link)

[9] Core Protocols explained (link)

[10] Lloyd, Andreas. “Principle 3, Obtain a Yield”, explained. (link)