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  However, not all old knowledge is obsolete.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.

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Looking for Urban Permaculture?

 If you googled my name and you landed here, you may be looking for information about my permaculture-related work/teaching.  Please visit this Urban Permaculture Resource site. 

Friday, March 27, 2020

Latent Knowledge and Innovation in Times of Crisis

Innovations emerge from a wide range of circumstances. Crises are a very potent trigger for innovation.  Crises give us the motivation and (potentially) something very specific to focus on.  Here is a recent example about shortages of ventilators and the innovation it triggered

On the surface, it's a clear case of general crisis leading to very specific critical challenges that trigger innovative responses by specialists who are able to come together quickly with a solution.

Without knowing the background, it's hard to tell how this exactly happened but I was wondering if they didn't have a curated collection of ventilator designs that they had worked on over the years that, for one reason or another, had not been commercialized.  Did they really create this new ventilator out of thin air in a short amount of time?  Not likely.  They were able to do it because of their accumulated knowledge base and prior experience. They probably recycled a lot of existing knowledge and put together a solution that met the very specific need that was emerging. 

The story (for news purposes and probably for the company's marketing purposes) will be that this was a great innovation that saved lives.  The less glamorous reality may be that this design (or something very close to it) existed but didn't have a market until today.  It was latent knowledge, knowledge that we have but have not yet harnessed.  Perhaps innovation is precisely that, the harnessing of latent knowledge to respond to specific challenges.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Knowledge Management and Critical Thinking

Tara Mohn led a presentation and discussion today at the monthly face-to-face meeting of the KM Community of DC Meetup about mindful KM facilitation.  The discussion reminded me of two related discussions:

1. Words matter in KM conversations and the terms mindful and mindfulness are so often associated with meditation that they may not be appropriate for some workplace cultures.  There are alternatives that can get the same message across.  One such alternative is "critical thinking."

2. Some components of KM, such as the development of job aids, best practices, templates, etc... which are designed to ensure that employees do not unnecessarily reinvent the wheel can go overboard by being too prescriptive.  Equally important, and potentially dangerous within a younger and less experienced workforce, SOPs, templates and similar knowledge management tools can lead to "mindless" cut-and-paste and the absence of critical thinking, which in the end is the opposite of what a knowledge management effort should encourage.

When pressed to deliver under tight schedules, employees are looking for shortcuts.  Knowledge Management efforts need to find the right balance between facilitating access to job aids, templates and SOP on the one hand, and the critical thinking that is required to use those tools effectively, knowing when and how to adapt them to specific needs.