Saturday, September 24, 2022

Regenerative Knowledge Management

Listening to Shifting Mindsets:  A regenerative future, an event this past summer organized by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, I was initially struck by a question asked at the very beginning of the conference:  What have you done today that has had a regenerative impact on nature?  I can think of a few things I do in my own backyard that go beyond composting kitchen wastes.  I've done a lot over the past 15 years to regenerate the soil, on a very limited scale, turning a small urban plot into a very healthy food forest.  However, putting my Knowledge Management hat on, I asked myself, what have I done today that has had a regenerative impact on knowledge? 

And then I was further inspired to write on this topic while coming across another blog:  The Case for Regenerative Knowledge and Leadership, from Aiko Schaefer of Just Solutions Collective. 

What does it mean to manage knowledge in a regenerative way?  How can knowledge be managed in a regenerative way?

Simply put, a regenerative approach to knowledge management pays attention to the full cycle of knowledge generation and knowledge use rather than focus on the extraction of knowledge, its harvesting, capture, and storage.  There is nothing new in saying that we need to pay attention to knowledge flows (dynamic) rather than just knowledge stocks (static), yet a regenerative approach would go further.  After all, knowledge flows that constantly recycle the same knowledge stocks would not help us address the challenges of today's very rapidly changing world.  The obvious answer might be innovation  -- the generation of new knowledge.  In that sense, knowledge is "regenerated" with the addition of new knowledge.  And yet that would be a partial "regeneration" of knowledge. Another common answer from a knowledge management perspective would be that our knowledge stocks must be adequately curated so that obsolete knowledge is removed from our knowledge stocks.  However, not all old knowledge is obsolete.  In fact, some old knowledge should be recovered and revived to regenerate our knowledge.  Nowhere is this more true than in the way we address climate change and our relationship to nature and our knowledge and understanding of nature. 

Therefore, regenerative knowledge management would encompass the following:

  • Revisiting assumptions behind what is considered valid knowledge, and opening ourselves up to more inclusive approaches, more sources of knowledge.  For example, as some donors (USAID in particular) are re-emphasizing the need to support and empower local organizations via "localization", there is a need to re-emphasize the value of "local knowledge", the deep knowledge of the place, culture, history, people. For more on this issue, see The Politics of Knowledge:  Understanding the Evidence for Agroecology, Regenerative Approaches, and Indigenous Foodways.

  • Opening our minds to new ideas to "refresh" our knowledge bases; being more proactive in testing new approaches, intentional learning from new approaches.  While I would not recommend constantly reinventing the wheel, a reasonable case can be made for revisiting assumptions about why this or that approach is considered "good practice" and regularly, proactively testing for "better practices" and creating new, "emerging practices". 

  • Acknowledging the potential value of old, neglected or lost knowledge that may help us address today's challenges.  For example, there are ancient techniques in natural resources management that can help regenerate degraded landscapes and help local communities around the world adapt to some of the devastating impacts of climate change.  Local adaptation is key, but old techniques can sometimes do more good than modern technological innovations.  For more on this, see for example this post: Why Indigenous Traditional Knowledge is Key to Adopting Regenerative Agriculture.