On Knowledge Management and Biodiversity

Knowledge about biodiversity is becoming available very quickly. We need fast, smart systems to collect, store, analyse and communicate that knowledge. Keith Wheeler reflects on the knowledge management discussions at the 2010 CEC Steering Committee Meeting.

A park interpreter shares her knowledge about the Insh Marshes in Scotland

On Knowledge Management and Biodiversity

IUCN is a leading source of knowledge about biodiversity – and that knowledge needs to be made widely available so it can be used to develop and implement policy, laws and best practice.  CEC put knowledge management on the agenda of our annual Steering Committee Meeting, held 14-16 April in Aviemore, Scotland. Challenges range from enabling a new member to apply online to larger issues like our global conservation network’s need to freely exchange content and make connections. Solutions will benefit IUCN staff and Commission volunteers alike – all in support of the IUCN One Programme.

Knowledge about biodiversity is becoming available very quickly, reflecting the rapid pace of change in society and technology. Farmers can draw on satellite and on ground information to assess water and fertilizer needs for their crops. Mining companies can draw on local biodiversity knowledge to plan where they do their excavations and how they regenerate the land. 

We need fast, smart systems to collect, store, analyse and communicate relevant knowledge. This is fundamental to having biodiversity mainstreamed in business strategy, all of government practice, and community action.  Action to preserve biodiversity depends on people sharing data, information, knowledge and experience. It is critical to have your best knowledge available in an open and transparent manner as you communicate to your constituencies. 

Knowledge management in the 21st century must respond to the myriad of global interconnected problems that influence people and nature.  New thinking is needed to grapple with the interconnectedness, complexity, uncertainty and risk assessments – whether it is to counter biodiversity loss, address climate change, promote renewable energy or alleviate poverty.

What’s happening at IUCN

IUCN is beginning to take the steps necessary to manage its scientific conservation knowledge in a way that befits the advances in knowledge management around the world. That means providing an integrated system that can store, deliver and analyse conservation knowledge that helps businesses, NGOs, communities and governments take decisions. There is still a long way to go to move into a leadership position for the 21st century.

In the 2004 report on knowledge management at IUCN prepared by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, "knowledge mobilization" was identified as one of the key outcomes for IUCN's knowledge strategy. 

Great investment is required to manage knowledge amongst IUCN – a democratic membership union with more than 1,000 government and NGO member organizations, and almost 11,000 volunteer scientists in more than 160 countries.

Members of IUCN’s six commissions provide "on the ground"  knowledge from their individual work in monitoring, research, and practical expertise of the status and management of biodiversity. They provide a wider scope than the IUCN Secretariat can through its projects and (sub) programmes. Similarly, IUCN Member’s prorgrammes embody a diverse range of practical policy and decision making knowledge from every region.

Combining all this expertise into one integrated form for policy advice, decision making and practice is a real challenge. It demands an understanding of what questions are being asked in various sectors of society, and this understanding is what enables us to organize conservation knowledge so it can be used in practical ways. While the "network models" are efforts to manage knowledge, they have still to be realised and integrated with a transparent knowledge infrastructure.   

CEC is bringing into its membership those individuals from around the globe who are experts in managing knowledge. We anticipate our commission membership to grow significantly in this area so that the best and the brightest can be drawn upon to guide IUCN moves to managing knowledge. Without current computer systems and the Internet, much of the communication that conveys knowledge could not occur. IUCN needs to enter into the new dynamic global ‘cloud computing environment’, which is  a shift from client-server mainframes to IT services based on the Internet, now easy to access from remote computing sites. This changes the way information is delivered and consumed and managed.

CEC will continue to bring together the four corners of its value proposition to IUCN – expertise in strategic communication, learning, change management and knowledge management. It is very frustrating to Commissions that the expertise of this organization is not marshaled as effectively as it could be. We cannot afford any longer to trade on tools and paradigms of the past. We need to embrace the new tools and thinking that are leading edge in each of our discipline areas. CEC would welcome a commitment in IUCN to integrate this new expertise across the One Programme.

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