No state of success

“you can’t manage knowledge but you can create a knowledge ecology”

Dave Snowden at last weeks KMUK 2011 keynote

A busy week last week running sessions at KMUK and the Cambridge Conservation Forum. I intend to blog on the highlights of each but foremost in my mind an intriguing piece of parallel thinking that is emerging and another example of ‘having a foot in both camps’.

At the Cambridge Conservation Forum Summer symposium Dr Francine Hughes of the Anglia Ruskin University gave us a talk on the Wicken Fen Vision that will see them (a very big team) restoring a landscape of wetland, marsh and other habitats in a mosaic of 53 squre km. I have heard about the project many times before, even ran a storytelling workshop in the Rothchild thatched cottage but this time it was both the language and approach that was really exciting.

Francine told us that this was to be an “open ended project” that “facilitated the landscape dynamics” and attempted to reduce/remove human influence. She said (and this is where I started scribbling furiously) there will be :

no ‘correct state’ for the system.

We will accept what comes.

It will involve ‘limited’ management, but we do not aim to remove uncertainty

“Philosophically”, she told us “this means there is:

No state of success.

Then in a real nod to the Cognitive Edge ideal of anticipatory awareness, Francine explained that subsequent monitoring of the new nature reserve would be:

  • open ended
  • not against targets
  • what has been achieved
  • what happened
  • impacts
Then a final statement that I believe shows the most mature grasp of complex thinking I have heard:
The aspects monitored will not be indicators of success.
They intend to track changes over a long time.
They accept that this monitoring will not necessarily inform future management.
That’s a massive paradigm shift in those three sentences alone. The detailed monitoring report can be downloaded here.
In the Conference summary there was the hint that ecological projects like this cannot be managed without targets, which is the identical argument we are having in the Knowledge Management arena. Whether it is easier for an organisation to live with complexity (which interestingly as a term was never ever mentioned) than a habitat restoration project I cannot be certain (sic) but I am excited that the language used by Francine and the approach she describes is so aware of and acknowledging of uncertainty.
The metaphorical and practical ideas of ecology may yet save both Knowledge Management and prepare the way for nature conservation in the face of climate change. Inspiring stuff.

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