Knowledge Management for NRM. Practical tips and tricks.



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Knowledge management can be equated to making wine. It involves harvesting, distilling, blending (synthesizing), packaging and distribution (sharing) – and it is directed by good market research and needs promotion.

Knowledge management aims to help people organise and share information and expertise. It often uses information technology, but is best when coupled with personal interactions as well. It should never be a ‘one off’, but be built into how organisations do business. The process is very important and requires skill, but the focus must always be on the end-point – sharing knowledge so people can act upon it.

A range of definitions of key terms are available, but I like those of Bellinger, Castro and Mills who describe how:

  • Understanding relationships transforms data to information,
  • Understanding patterns converts information to knowledge, and
  • Understanding principles cultivates knowledge into wisdom.

BellingerPowered by Increased Understanding (after Bellinger et al)


The knowledge management process I often follow for NRM involves:

  • Harvest & Distil – search out and summarise what is known, and record useful sources.
  • Market Research – understand what audiences want to know; and how they would like to access it.
  • Synthesis and Knowledge Map – pull disparate knowledge together for new insights and map out what is known, in a way which tells a coherent and comprehensive story to meet audience needs.
  • Information Products & Packaging – construct the products that meet audience needs (e.g. documents, websites, models, or decision support tools).
  • Distribution and Delivery – promote and share the products with audiences directly, or via trained intermediaries.


Knowledge management achieves several things:

  • Knowledge. It records, and adds to, what is known in an easily accessed and interpreted manner.
  • Knowledge gaps. It highlights where further research or development may be needed.
  • Knowledge sources. It maps out where knowledge, information and data are held.

Ideally, knowledge management recognises people, as well as reports and data-sets, as knowledge resources. The best ‘product’ may be a forum for the exchange of ideas and understandings, or a directory of experts willing to engage in a conversation.

Knowledge management should include feedback, along with periodic review and revitalisation (up-dating). As new data, information and understanding come to hand they should be incorporated in the knowledge tree and existing information products updated – rather than creating brand new products from scratch.

Tips & tricks

The bits that really add value or require special aptitude are:

  • Distill. Topic experts are often not the best equipped for this task. Some are, but many find it difficult to condense immense knowledge down to simple principles without obscuring them in caveats, or to align their knowledge with that of other disciplines. Try using ‘systems thinkers’ for distillation and synthesis, and engage technical experts for strategic input and to review their work.
  • Market Research. Understanding the audiences should focus on their information needs, the form they would like it in (e.g. a document, website or workshop materials) and the preferred delivery (e.g. one-to-one, email, training or a conference). From that a ‘product/delivery matrix’ can be developed. The market research may range from quite simple (e.g. some targeted telephone interviews) to a project by experienced, independent, market researchers.
  • Synthesis and Knowledge Map. How information is pulled together is crucial to success. I like to create a dendritic (tree-like) knowledge framework that starts with a few high-level messages and adds layer upon layer of detail to each. The resultant map can also become a ‘dashboard’, helping people to readily find what they are after. It can also record the location of information sources. Information may be presented in layers of similar detail (e.g. key messages, principles or technical guides), or by themes or topics (moving from overview statements to detailed reports or decision support tools).
  • Information Products & Packaging. It is easy to get caught up with technical solutions to the challenge of storing and sharing information, as they can work very well (e.g. multi-criteria search capacity). However, if the approach is not part of the main-stream technical environment of the organisations and audiences, it can relatively quickly become lost as staff and internal systems change. For the best legacy, integrate knowledge management within existing frameworks. Traditional approaches (e.g. engaging skilled writers, editors and designers) should also be retained, no matter how high-tech the products are.
  • Distribution and Delivery. External experts are often used for the preceding steps, with ‘client’ organisations assuming responsibility for delivery. Senior managers from relevant organisations should be part of the process from the beginning, to improve the likelihood of them committing, and maintaining, the resources required for on-going promotion and delivery of knowledge sharing activities. Even the best bottles of wine need promotion.

Rethinking climate adaptation planning


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All planning is tricky. Planning for adaptation to a changing climate is really tricky.

Planning for climate change must deal with uncertainty and complexity, as must most planning, but there are some additional characteristics to manage as well:

  • Future climates are uncertain, and are further confounded by uncertainty about how mankind will influence them through emissions or mitigation.
  • The consequences of any given future climates for societies, economies and the environment are uncertain and complex.
  • The range of public attitudes, values and beliefs about climate change, and the time-frames involved, further complicate planning and engagement.

New tools help counter those challenges, but we may have been over-using those tools for assessments and analysis, at the expense of planning and action. Effective climate adaptation planning requires a suite of traditional, modified and new approaches.

No matter how climate planning is undertaken, it is important to:

  • Consider a range of different futures and plan a number of alternative pathways,
  • Be clear on what to monitor to determine when key decision points are approaching,
  • Take action now on matters requiring an immediate response and build the capacity to make transformational changes, if and when they are required, and
  • Revise plans regularly (say every five years) to keep them relevant and vital.

More specific advice to assist regional climate adaptation planning includes:


  • Focus on strategic responses for high-priority themes. A triple bottom-line, landscape context is best for regional planning.
  • Given the complexity and uncertainty of climate change, and the long time-frames to be considered, focus on key decision-makers and their advisers as the primary audience for engagement, and get them planning how they will manage for the future.
  • Ensure plans are rooted in the values of regional communities and reflect the things that matter most to them.
  • Complex systems. Landscapes are dynamic, complex systems driven by interactions that are not precisely predictable and which may be influenced but not controlled. Approach climate planning in that context.


  • Climate vulnerability assessments. Focus more on understanding potential consequences and adaptive responses, e.g. by using conceptual models, rather than scoring vulnerability alone.
  • Start with a synthesis of what is already known, not a blank sheet.


  • Style of planning. Adaptation is an agile activity. Adaptation plans must be agile, full of ‘action now’ as well as less prescriptive strategies for how to respond should specified futures unfold.
  • Transformational versus same old, same old. Resilience may rest upon doing basic things very well. Avoid the trap of sticking with ‘business as usual’ by challenging people to contemplate the transformational changes needed for excellent outcomes.
  • Response ready. There will be actions that are needed immediately, others that should occur to build the capacity to respond at a future date, and some that lie ‘dormant’ until situations arise when they may be enacted promptly.
  • Adaptation action. Plan for action and get commitment to it. Bind decision-makers and leaders to their role in instilling adaptation planning throughout organisations and communities, and engage them in driving any necessary cultural change in their organisations.
  • Regular review. Consider the latest science on climate change, how local landscapes are changing, how the adaptation plan is going, and whether community aspirations have changed.

This blog presents information from a publication authored by Peter Day, Prof. Wayne Meyer, and Dr. Mark Siebentritt, reflecting on their collective and individual experiences in adaptation planning. We hope that sharing some thoughts will be useful in stimulating discussion and the further exchange of ideas on how to continually improve how we all plan for the future.

A presentation is available at SA NRM Science Presentations (DEWNR). and the original publication is available upon request.

Lessons from the block


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Managing a small block of remnant native vegetation drives home some basic principles in natural resource management, and highlights the sort of trade-offs that must be made.

Lessons from a semi-urban, residential block also apply to other scales and environments.


The family home is on a small bush block on the outskirts of a city. We love the bush and bush-regeneration is a major objective for our block. So is bushfire prevention and safety. Often the two go hand in hand. Growing beneath a eucalypt over-story, feral olives and watsonia are our main weeds – they obliterate most things trying to grow below them. Clearing them reduces fire risk and gives natives an opportunity to flourish. Sounds like one of those fabled ‘win-win’ results.

Success comes as native seedlings emerge, but having to spot and skirt seedlings makes it harder to slash prior to summer, and some plants want to grow in passive fire-break areas where we don’t want anything apart from very low vegetation. The trade-offs are more time and effort in slashing or hand-weeding and, close to the house, fire-protection outweighs biodiversity.

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Tussock grasses thrive once olive thickets are removed.

Change can be slow.

Areas once covered by weeds are now supporting wattle seedlings, the occasional eucalypt, and native fan-flowers, while existing native grasses thrive. It has taken four or five years for seedlings to emerge. We hope other species will eventually appear as the new plants grow and alter their environment. A range of lag-times have to be factored into environmental management. Riparian managers, especially, understand this.

Native fan-flowers are emerging where watsonia and olives grew.

Native fan-flowers are emerging where watsonia and olives grew.

It can get worse first.

Not all change following the removal of major weeds is positive. There is now a wider range of weed species present, which are mostly annual. We hope that, with weeding, judicial spraying, and slashing before flowering, they will eventually be overtaken by more preferred species – but it can sometimes be ‘one step forward, two steps back’.

Removing weeds like feral olives also removes habitat that some native animals rely upon. We’ve learnt that blue wrens seem to love olives. As soon as we removed a thicket of young olives near the house, the wrens stopped calling and retreated to neighbouring blocks further down the valley. When I was about to fell a tall olive tree, a ring-tail possum appeared from its camouflaged drey to watch. It was close to the property boundary, so that weedy tree was allowed to remain. We hope that native regrowth will eventually provide better opportunities for the animals losing out through our weed removal program.

Some changes are reversible.

From their age and height, it is apparent that feral olives had previously been removed from part of the block, but been allowed to regrow. It is a good reminder that some changes in the environment are reversible, and some are not. Working in modified systems takes ongoing effort to support the changes we’ve elected to pursue. The fundamentals like weed control are not once-off events. We are lucky in not having any rabbits here to kill off the native seedlings.

Patches can’t be divorced from landscapes.

Our small block is on the side of a valley, and most neighbouring blocks are similarly mainly remnant eucalypt, with olives dominating the mid-story and a mixed understory of native and weed species. The odd block is mostly cleared, and slashed or grazed to contain fire risk. Foxes live in the valley.

The mosaic of management approaches means we are vigilant about the re-introduction of weeds we’re controlling, but thankful those differences mean fauna dis-advantaged by our efforts have a chance to retreat nearby. Fox control is beyond our individual means, and thankfully rabbit control is not needed, as pest control is a big challenge for individuals on small blocks in a semi-urban area. Some things can be managed at a ‘property’ scale, but others need neighbourhood (or ‘landscape’) approaches – necessitating a much greater degree of community engagement and social challenge.

One step at a time.

We didn’t have a grand plan when starting to clear the block of dominant weeds – just a need to reduce fire risk near the house and a desire to get some native re-growth. That worked, and over successive years we have progressively pushed the ‘weed-line’ further down the valley. Natural resource management is often like that – the most important step is the first one. You don’t have to hold-off trying to amass resources to beat a big problem in one go. Be content to whittle away at big challenges while operating within your capability, and accept the inherent compromises in return for some progress. Make a start – you never know where you’ll end up once you get going.

We won’t own the land for ever, and there is no guarantee future owners will have the same management goals as us. Weed re-infestation could easily occur. That’s a risk we’re happy to take. The satisfaction of seeing the block slowly becoming ‘more native’, while also reducing fire risk, makes the effort worthwhile. Our actions aren’t always motivated by rational, economic thinking alone.


In summary, the management lessons illustrated on the block are:

  • Natural resource managers often have to make trade-offs.
  • Change in resource condition may be slow – and things might get worse before they get better.
  • Some changes are reversible, some are not. Ongoing commitment can be needed to maintain ‘improvements’.
  • Patches can’t be divorced from landscapes – there are implications for both from the management of each.
  • The best thing a manager can do, is to make a start – have a go and learn from that.


Measuring Sustainability – Six Capitals


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If sustainability is a journey not a destination, how do we know we’re on the right track?

What should be measured, at what scale, and in which time-frame?

What to measure

In broad terms, an early answer to the question of ‘is it sustainable,’ was to look at the ‘triple bottom line’ – assessing environmental, economic and social features. Those ‘three capitals’ have since been expanded into:

  • ‘Five capitals’ – natural, human, social, manufactured, and financial, then
  • ‘Seven capitals’ – natural, human, social, cultural, political, built and financial.

Frameworks help in consistently and logically exploring ‘sustainability’, but the five and seven capitals frameworks only expand the social and economic considerations, as illustrated below.


It has the subsequent effect of down-playing the environment (one out seven instead of one out of three features). It could imply that thinking about environmental sustainability hasn’t advanced in step with that about economic and social sustainability. We may be failing to adequately consider environmental factors. I doubt that the latter is true, but perhaps there has been a failure to record, share and analyse the thinking which has occurred about environmental sustainability.

A web-search will quickly reveal a plethora of environmental scorecards or report cards; and an equally wide array of parameters reported in them. They tend to report either environmental condition, or consumption and/or emissions. There is often little justification of the parameters used. Some report on the degree of adoption of recommended management practices as a surrogate for environmental condition. That’s a fair approach, but should probably be reported as an aspect of human capital, rather than environmental.

A logically structured approach to environmental sustainability would consider both resource condition and resource efficiency (or throughput).

  • Resource condition is well understood. It is based on the extent (or distribution), abundance (or quantity), condition (or quality), and trend of natural assets. It covers soils, water, vegetation, fauna and the atmosphere. Landform may also be considered.
  • Resource efficiency or through-put requires explanation. In many environments it is a measure of ‘flows and sinks’ – how much comes in, how much is retained or converted, and how much is emitted or flows through. Water use efficiency, nutrient efficiency, energy efficiency are easy examples, as are parameters such as energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions or outputs of contaminants. In terms of biodiversity it is about population dynamics – how births, recruitment and death affect the population (which is recorded under resource condition).

Some efforts have also been made to assess sustainability by considering ecosystem services or contributions to major cycles, such as water and nutrients cycles. An ecosystems services framework can be very useful in analysing the consequences of changes in resource condition, but resource condition and efficiency determine how sustainable the service provision is. Similarly, condition and throughput dictate the contributions being made to major cycles.

What scale and time-frame

There is no one right geographic or temporal scale for assessing sustainability, but it is important to be conscious of both. Working at several scales is often enlightening as different insights are gained.

  • Geographic scale. An inefficiency at one scale (e.g. water-use efficiency on an irrigation farm) can disappear at another (e.g. an irrigation district with a regional drainage and re-use scheme). Or, a resource use may be benign at one scale (e.g. property) but be impacting resource condition at another scale (e.g. catchment).
  • Temporal scale. Similar things occur when using a range of time scales. If seasonal and annual variations in climate have implications, then one time-scale should be long enough to balance out their impact on the parameters being measured. As examples, energy use for cooling will increase during excessively long, hot summers and ground-water levels may rise during a run of exceptionally wet years, but those changes may not reflect changes in sustainability.

Narrative – Six Capitals

Being clear about environmental condition and efficiency enables better reporting and better integration with social and economic considerations. It becomes possible to make statements such as, ‘We’re using X to produce Y, at an efficiency of Z and changing resource condition to B, while contributing C profit and D social benefit.’ Trade-offs become clearer, making rational assessments of sustainability – and rational management decisions – more feasible.

It is the integration of environmental, social and economic factors and understanding the interplay between them which lies at the heart of sustainability. Being clear that ‘environment’ has condition and efficiency aspects to consider should help toward that end.

Perhaps we should be thinking about Six Capitals.


11 Essential Elements for NRM Programs


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NRM Programs tackle complexity

NRM (natural resource management) is complex, and complex problems usually require complex solutions – but they needn’t be complicated.

Simple frameworks or models can be very effective in managing complexity; as long as they are built on rock solid logic and well-considered principles. Designing programs, beginning with an integrated portfolio of projects, is an example.

Individual projects can foster change in how we manage natural resources, and they can improve the condition of the environment. But, even a very good portfolio of individual projects can only go so far – for two main reasons:

  • Different approaches. A number of interlinked projects and initiatives are often needed, each tackling a different facet of the challenge in a different, yet consistent and supportive, manner. Programs may be as simple as a series of projects working as a team, in a planned and coordinated manner and contributing to, or complementing, each other.
  • Different people. The full gambit of resources needed for comprehensive approaches are rarely found in a single group – research, extension, regulation and communications people are often in different units for a start. Partnerships are needed to plan and organise the collaboration necessary for effective outcomes – and programs are a good way to form and manage partnerships for a common purpose.

NRM Program Framework – essential elements

Observing and helping to design, build and manage programs has led me to develop a simple framework to assist. Many of the programs I have dealt with have involved changing resource use or management to better sustain our environment, whilst also being profitable in terms of personal and financial well-being.

The framework has several uses. It is:

  • A checklist of components – prompts to review if all relevant facets have been considered. Not all elements are needed in every program, but it is worth the effort of considering them and asking if they are needed or can be sourced completely independent of the program.
  • A neat way to summarise and explain a multi-faceted program. The summary can be brief notes or even a simple chart; as a graphic or in tabular format.
  • A tool to map out and plan the partnerships required for success – illustrating how different players are contributing to an overall outcome. A simple graphic summary can help partners see immediately where they fit, how they contribute, and who else is involved.

The eleven elements of the framework fall under six broad themes:

  • Understanding the resources, their use and management, and subsequent issues.
    • Resource Data – extent, condition and trend.
    • Knowledge – research, reports, models, principles and guidelines.
  • Working out what to do, and who to involve.
    • Planning – priorities, risks, plans, policies and frameworks.
    • Partnerships – facilitation, collaboration and coordination.
  • Sharing information, understanding and motivational ideas.
    • Communication – consultation, events, media, publications and web-sites.
    • Extension – trials, demonstration, training, workshops and field days.
  • Helping resource managers to get started or to maintain commitment.
    • Incentives & Assistance – funds, equipment, technical advice, services, materials and labour.
  • Statutory oversight or action by authorities and/or community organisations in times of emergency.
    • Direct Response – dealing with incursions or emergencies such as bushfires or floods.
    • Regulation – inspections, codes of practice and enforcement.
  • Program management and review.
    • Monitoring – surveys, monitoring, analysis and reporting.
    • Improving – evaluation, revision and revival.


Design Tips for NRM Programs

The above is probably more than enough for most readers – but if you would like more information, please read on for some tips on how to pull the elements together.

The essential ingredients for a NRM program are:

  • Resource Data – extent, condition and trend. Perhaps even more important than having sound data on the resources under management is being clear on the information needed for management or decision making. Begin with the uses of data or questions to be answered and work back to determine the minimal data requirements.
  • Knowledge – research, reports, models, principles and guidelines. Conducting research and converting data, information and observations into knowledge is a first step, prior to processing it for greater understanding; which can be applied by developing models, guidelines or key principles for management. Knowledge management – the mining, development, integration and sharing of insights from different sources may need special attention, especially to determine what people want to know and to synthesise knowledge for them.
  • Planning – priorities, risks, plans, policies and frameworks. Working out what should be done, and how to go about it, must be undertaken to meet goals of technical robustness and stakeholder commitment. The ‘what’ is easier if there is good technical understanding and engaged resource managers. The ‘who and how’ can be more problematic at the operational and resource management levels.
  • Partnerships – facilitation, collaboration and coordination. Very little can be achieved in NRM by working in isolation, yet the opposite, engaging with EVERYONE, may be equally unproductive. Choose partnerships carefully and put effort into managing them. Documentation can help; e.g. memorandums of understanding or signed commitment to a program plan.
  • Communication – consultation, events, media, publications and web-sites. Wherever possible, make communication a two-way affair. Programs trying to drive change can focus too much on giving information and overlook the often more difficult challenge of continuing to listen and learn.
  • Extension – trials, demonstration, training, workshops and field days. Helping people to understand and accept that a problem exists can be a starting point for NRM extension, before sharing information and knowledge so managers may own the issue and develop their solutions.
  • Incentives & Assistance – funds, equipment, technical advice, services, materials and labour. Changes often begin with a small step. It can be crucial to help managers determine how they will proceed and to help them take that first step. Some desired practices may not be financially viable without ongoing support or incentives.
  • Direct Response – dealing with incursions or emergencies such as bushfires or floods. Risk management planning should result in resources and protocols being in place to deal with incidents, be they pest or weed outbreaks or related to major climatic/weather events.
  • Regulation – inspections, codes of practice and enforcement. Involving resource managers in the development of codes of practice and regulations can help shift the regulatory effort to inspections or audit activities, instead of enforcement.
  • Monitoring – surveys, monitoring, analysis and reporting. Monitoring program performance should provide ‘real time’ feedback to help program managers make prompt adjustments for smooth implementation; as well as long term monitoring to see if planned outcomes eventuate.
  • Improving – evaluation, revision and revival. Program investors and managers can reflect upon evaluation reports and determine what, if any, changes to make for subsequent operations.


For ease of discussion, the elements are presented as separate topics but, in reality, the boundaries are often not clear and activities may be a blend of different elements. Sometimes a single action may align with different elements – e.g. environmental monitoring could fit under resource data, research or monitoring. The purpose, or purposes, of the activity will guide where it is best assigned under the framework.

The ideas in the framework have come from working with research and NRM organisations across Australia. My thanks to all those who have helped along the way. There is nothing new in the activities the framework describes, just the structure used to analyse them. I find it useful and hope others may as well. If you have any thoughts, suggested enhancements or queries, or perhaps some feedback after having applied it, please get in touch.

Assessing climate change



Ever tried putting numbers into an assessment of climate vulnerability? A standard approach starts with scoring Exposure, Sensitivity and Adaptive Capacity.This blog is about assessing Exposure to climate change.

Exposure is the change in climate that may be experienced. Armed with modeled projections of climate change, it sounds fairly straight forward – but that isn’t always the case. Exposure can be considered in three ways:

  • Absolute level – e.g. the baseline mean annual temperature was ‘a’ and the projected change is to ‘b’. This works well if there are known sensitivity thresholds; e.g. alpine species don’t persist if mean summer temperatures are above a certain level, or certain vegetation types won’t be found in areas with a mean annual rainfall below a certain level. However, we often don’t know what those threshold levels are.
  • Amount of change – i.e. the difference between projected and baseline measures (‘b ‘ less ‘a’); such as a 5 C increase in average temperature. These metrics give us a feel for how much change is likely, allowing initial contemplation of the likely impacts. However, the approach can suggest that a set amount of change has uniform consequence across a region, which may not be so – especially if the starting points are not uniform.
  • Percentage change – i.e. the relative difference (‘b-a / a’ X 100). This approach requires more computing but considers the starting point, giving a better appreciation of the comparative change. However, problems arise in computing percentages when some baseline points (‘a’) are zero.

The challenges outlined above are particularly evident when making assessments across a landscape where baseline measures are different to begin with and changes are not spatially uniform either. It seems that the approach taken to measuring change may rest on the level of understanding of the system being assessed (e.g. threshold levels), the data (e.g. the presence of zero baseline levels), and on the computing power, and time, available.

I’m interested to hear how others have worked through these options and any ‘tips for young players’ they may have.