What is the rubric?
For my dissertation research, I developed a quantitative rubric to help compare conventional and permaculture practices and determine permaculture farmers’ level of permaculture practice.
How did I develop the rubric?
I based the rubric on Thornton’s adopter assessment tool that was developed to assess permaculture adoption in Malawi (2008:81–82). I adapted the tool based on the content of observed trainings, the permaculture practices participants used, and how those practices varied from conventional practices.
How did I define permaculture?
For this study, we determined three criteria for permaculture adoption, regardless of scale:
self-identify as practicing permaculture;
exposure to demonstrations or information about permaculture from an organization; and
intentional use of multiple permaculture practices in one place.
What does the rubric measure?
I designed the tool to: (1) distinguish permaculture practices from locally common conventional practices, particularly since most conventional farmers used some sustainable practices, and (2) to assess farmers’ level of permaculture practice relative to other permaculture farmers in the study. The tool does not measure the success of permaculture practices, best practices, or universally applicable practice levels.
I decided on 57 items that assess farmers’ intentional use of the design system, use of permaculture or agroecology farming practices, and changes to conventional farming with the intent to shift to permaculture. A household received one point per item if they met the item criteria . I then added the points to get a permaculture practice score for each household.
How did I use the scores?
I categorized the permaculture farmers’ level of permaculture practice into three groups – low, medium, and high – based on their relative levels of practice. I determined the levels of practice based on the distribution and clustering of the total scores and the score differences per rubric category.
I used the practice level categories to attempt to differentiate between levels of permaculture practice, understand how farmers used permaculture, and what influenced their varying levels of practice.
Download and use the rubric
This rubric (available as an Excel file here) is free for use or adaptation with citation for educational or non-profit uses only.
I think that this rubric could be adapted and used to assess permaculture practice elsewhere. I found it useful to understand how farmers were using permaculture, how if differed from local conventional practices, and what impacted farmers’ level of permaculture adoption. If you adapt this for use elsewhere, note that the criteria for many rubric items are based on data collected from farmers. Therefore, for use outside of Malawi, the rubric item criteria would need to be changed to fit the local context (i.e. the number of crops grown that would count as “high” crop diversity, how permaculture is defined, etc.).
Feel free to contact me if you have questions or would like more information.
 The scale was validated using Cronbach’s alpha test, which measures the internal consistency of scales or the extent to which all items in a test or scale measure the same concept. The permaculture practice scale was found to be highly internally consistent (alpha=0.907). The permaculture practice score was not correlated with physical capital, perceived assistance within their social network, household size, age of household head, or type of land ownership, showing that it does not function as a proxy measure of, or skewed by, these household characteristics and resource access.