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Observing Flow [Agriculture
Posted on April 13, 2018 @ 09:42:00 AM by Paul Meagher

This blog is a continuation of my recent blogs on rivers and flow patterns (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

I didn't have a chance to go for my river walk for a few days so was restricted to only thinking about flow. The last couple of days I have resumed my walks and vividly observed an interesting feature of water flow called backflow.

If you watch the water in a river go past you, you probably noticed areas in the stream where water seemed to swirl away from the main body of the river flow and go backwards. It can be difficult to visualize what is going on in these areas just from observing the water ripples. Fortunately, the last couple of days there have been ice plates floating on the river that can be used to help visualize these backflow forces. In this video, you can observe the ice plates whirling back into the eddy pool.

An observation is not really an observation until you make a statement about that observation that you believe to be true. For example:

The residence time of water in a stream is increased in backflow sections of a stream.

Water stays in the river longer where there is backflow because it cannot escape the backflow forces. This seems to be what is going on based on seeing the release and continued recruitment of ice plates into the backflow section of the river.

The art of observing is also the art of making observation statements that have some generality and importance. I could formulate the observation statement "there is a yellow rock protruding from the stream" but who cares about that observation statement? It is, however, important to make mundane observations in certain contexts. If you are designing a garden or landscape for a client, it would be important to note things like "ditch is overflowing", "client has 2 dogs", "sun at noon is over the bird feeder from center of deck", etc... In the case of my backflow statement, it is a useful reminder that water does not flow at a uniform pace down a stream, the residence time of water may differ in different sections of the stream.

In Lean Startup Theory the goal is to learn about your market as quickly as you can by interacting systematically with it. There are some specific recommendations from lean startup theory about how to measure this learning progress, but one simple metric might be how many significant observation statements you are able to come up with about your market and the running of your business.

These observation statements do not have to lead to immediate benefits in performance but the idea is that as you build up observation statements, and a truer picture of the world, that there would eventually be benefits in terms of better design or better running of your business.

We are not passive observers of nature and the observations that we make are often to see what effect various manipulations might have. These active observations are also an important part of the observations statements you might generate.

One way I intend to learn more about rivers to by making more observation statements. The backflow observation statement is a starting point. It leads me to wonder if I would be more likely to catch trout in backflow sections of a river than in other sections. If true, this could be regarded as the payoff for making these observations, but the payoff for me is to enjoy my river walks more by observing and learning from nature. A more general point is to suggest that a good way to measure learning (business or otherwise) is through the number and quality of observation statements generated from passive and active observation contexts.

Bill Mollison's 1983 Permaculture Design Course offers a good discussion on observation and making observation statements. Alot of his course consisted of making observation statements, debating them, relating them to other observations and to theories, and making design suggestions based on the observation statements. Bill advised new landowners to spend some time observing and making observation statements about their property (e.g., 15 Things to Observe Before Starting Your Permaculture Design) prior to making any design changes to it as this is likely to generate better designs.

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