Living beings assess all the time: from worms and ants to elephants and humans, we are in a continue “assessment” mode, even trees do it!
Assessment allows us to anticipate risks and recognize hazards and potential challenges, but also allows us to see the strengths and helps in any given situation, place, element or interaction.
Assessment allows us to make decisions: the way we perceive something, someone, etc. is partially given by observation of what is in front of us, what we already know about it and our own cultural socialization about similar events, beings, etc. In many ways, assessment is completely unconscious and we respond to things quickly, usually well.
The difference this time is in the mindfulness and conscious intention we add to this process, and that instead of trusting the short-term assessment for the decisions we need to make now, we will incorporate long term assessment and situations of what I like to call “what if” scenarios.
It is completely normal that we take certain things for granted: where our primary needs are met and how and for some, where the non-essential needs and wants as well.
It is when things we take for granted suddenly disappear or fail to deliver as expected that we realize we have been living a temporary fantasy or a privilege not everyone gets to enjoy.
There are many examples of this: for most people in the Western and “civilized” world, water runs from taps and pipes and it is usually clean, in some cases, even drinkable. Same happens with the power that feeds our heating, cooking, cooling, lighting, communications, and so many other things we do every day without thinking: we just flip the switch in the wall or plug the appliance and it works!
How many other things do we take for granted? Do we know that many of those things are “normal” for only a percentage of the world population, that for many access to water, food, electricity and so on is a daily struggle? Do we know that 100 or 150 years ago those things either didn’t exist or were enjoyed only by very rich people?
The good news is that humans have lived without those things (being delivered to them as they are today) for centuries, and in many cases, life was more enjoyable without them.
The bad news is that we have made systems so complicated, that it won’t be easy for many to just live without them: the adaptation will be painful and in some cases, impossible.
Example: the townhouse I live in is all electric powered from “the grid”, there is no gas and no way to switch to wood if electricity fails. The entire neighbourhood is that way. Townhouses are regulated by strata by-laws and in our case, they dictate that things such as solar panels, rain water harvesting, composting, growing food, chopping wood, raising chickens and so on are banned…this may change in an emergency or collapse, but if not changed now, the adaptation may be too complex.
So, what and how to assess?
There are many assessment tools already designed that can be applied to each one of the systems and patterns you observed (took note, audited) last week.
The first one is the SWOT analysis
Another technique is called HRVAC or HRVAR, that may also add a second R for “Resilience” or a C for “capabilities”
Or you can use a permaculture lenses to assess each important need and apply the different principles that create resilience in a system (whole systems approach)
I personally like the four “R’s suggested by Jem Bendell in his Deep Adaptation paper and subsequent blogs.
There are many ways you can do any of these (or all, depending on your time and energy), and to be honest, a week is a very short time to complete a thorough assessment, so please take this as a suggestion and use the momentum to create your own patterns whenever and however fits you best.
No matter what method you decide to adopt, my suggestion is that you do this assessment first on your own, then invite your significant other/s, household, family and eventually include your community.
What to assess?
The same areas you observed last week:
SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. There are many explanations you can check online about how to do that, but the most basic one is to approach a place, a system, process or relationship and apply this table to it.
Listing all the current strengths of a system (example of my townhouse may be that we do have some (now unused) land and trees, there is a clean and safe stream only four blocks away and we have many ways to get out if a disaster strikes. We are high enough to avoid floods and while the neighbourhood is not “united”, people are in general friendly, so there is potential.
If you decide to apply the HRVAC, you would do the same, the letters stand for: hazards, risks, vulnerabilities, while the “a” while means “assessment” I like to use it as “assets” and finally the C for capabilities.
An example with my townhouse, some of the hazards may be fires (all the houses are made of wood), earthquake (we live in a prone zone), food shortages (BC imports 95% of all the fruits and vegetables we eat) and unemployment (this is a very suburban area, highly depending on fossil fuels for transportation and people working in the cities).
The risks are measured by the combination of the likelihood and the impact of each one of those hazards: how likely is that an earthquake happens? How much impact (destruction, chaos) would it possibly bring? And so on…the riskier a hazard is, the most urgent is to start preparing or changing the elements to reduce the risk or eliminate the hazard (example: start growing local food to eliminate or reduce the risk of food shortages.
Vulnerabilities may include anything from vulnerable people (the elder, small children, pregnant women, etc.) to vulnerable structures (buildings, roads, water system, etc.). Similar to above, understanding who and what are vulnerable help us to reduce this by empowering people through skilling and relationship building and by creating resilient systems.
Those two approaches (explained here with simple examples, you can find much more online) are encouraged to get a picture of how things are in your life, household and community.
I have run many workshops that guide people to do just that: observe and assess, to discover the areas that may benefit from re-design to reduce or eliminate hazards, minimize risks and turn vulnerabilities into strengths. One of the ways to do this is by not only focusing on the “negative” or “weak” but also looking into the already existing assets and strengths, as well as the potential.
In Deep Adaptation, there is also another approach, the four “R’s” approach. It asks us to apply some questions not so much at what we are or have but going forth on what we plan to do with what we are and have.
While the “going forth” is part of a later challenge, the four “R’s” questions also have the potential to help us with the assessment:
Resilience: ask the question about what we want to keep and protect (we cannot answer this question unless we have done enough observation and assessment). This can include anything, from people to behaviours, from tools to patterns, from physical structures to processes or relationships.
Relinquishment asks the question about what we are willing to relinquish, to say no to, to let go: may be the delusion of certainty, the attachment to comfort, a job, a relationship, a dream, the consumption of certain foods, and so on…
Restoration is an inquire into what we may need or want to bring back from the past: maybe a skill, a behavior long time forgotten, a relationship, a way to be or do things.
Finally, Reconciliation invites us to consider the things, beings, behaviours, memories, etc., with what we may need to reconcile. From forgiving our settler ancestors to forgiving those who are hurting us or are “different” to forgiving ourselves and all the mistakes and regrets.
Can you see the connection? With a mainstream worldview, the outcomes of a SWOT or HRVAC assessment may be very different than what would happen if we use the four “R’s” lenses…when the things and behaviours we want or need to preserve (in order to build resilience and live in a more regenerative and ethical way) are radically different, the risks, vulnerabilities and even the hazards change or even disappear and we suddenly open our eyes to a new way to go forth.