Knowledge Management in Conservation

During a discussion on elephant conservation a friend once commented tongue in cheek, “Wouldn’t be interesting to hear what the elephants had to say in an anecdote circle?” This was one of those crazy and provocative comments that quite often act as a stepping stone to an even better proposition. Right now, we need lots of good propositions because the Asian Elephant population which once numbered in the millions is diminishing at a rate of knots and now numbers less than 30,000.

Elephants actually do have their own sophisticated language but we are not quite at the stage of comprehension. However ….. What if we undertook the next best thing? What if we collected the stories and experiences of the people that know the elephants better than anyone else in the world?  The elephant’s Mahouts.

In most instances an elephant and its Mahout are paired together at a young age and spend the remainder of their lives together. Collectively, the mahouts possess a body of knowledge about elephants that no one in academia or research can ever hope to match. Who better then, to provide experiences and insights that may assist in saving this species, which many are now suggesting may not survive beyond this current generation?

To assist the great many already undertaking elephant conservation work worldwide, Think Quick is now working with A Future with Elephants and has developed and commenced implementation of the Elephant Mahout Insight project (EMI) with a view to collecting the stories and experiences of the elephant mahouts across South East Asia and the rest of the world. Cognitive Edge from Singapore will be partnering us in this project by allowing us access to their unique Sensemaker software which we will use to both capture the narrative from the mahouts and to help build deeper insights and understandings about the elephant and its current, and future place in the world.

The insights gained will be shared with elephant stakeholders across South East Asia in a number of workshops where we hope to co-design new experiments, interventions and projects that will make a difference to the long term survival of the species. One of the most important premises of the EMI project is that we make no claims about our knowledge of elephants and how to save them, but rather we will rely upon the distributed intelligence of those that work with elephants on the ground in Asia. Our skill lies in capturing the narrative, helping stakeholders to make sense of the patterns appearing and assisting assisting them to design new ways forward.

It is important to note also that there are many elephant experts across South East Asia who are, and have already undertaken significant research with mahouts and we hope to incorporate as much of this knowledge as possible into the EMI project.

In addition to the opportunity to gain insight and design new interventions in this conservation effort, the narrative collected will also serve as an ongoing knowledge repository which will be made available to interested parties and researchers globally to aid in future conservation efforts. Of course as the numbers of elephants decline so do mahout numbers and their collective knowledge. So another reason this activity is a priority is it will play an important part in capturing the experiences of mahouts while we still have them amongst us.

This approach to knowledge harvesting offers significant opportunity for any group or organisation that is facing the issue of an aging workforce and the subsequent skills shortages that many retirements will bring.

We believe this is one of the more resonant and extensive knowledge management projects being undertaken in the conservation / sustainability space at the moment and we hope to report on significant progress over the coming year.

Anyone seeking more information or would like to contribute to the project in some way, shape or form is very welcome to contact me.

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Frank Connolly

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About the Author

Frank Connolly is the Principal of “Think Quick”, a business that adds value through thinking differently. His work history covers all sectors and includes initiatives that have yielded bottom line benefit in the 10’s of millions of dollars.

Current clients range from Exxon-Mobil to Government Depts within Australia to Global NGO’s.

Much of his working life has been split between Australia, the South Pacific and Asia where he has trained and facilitated Lateral Thinking techniques, and been acknowledged by Edward de Bono as one of the foremost practitioners of the de Bono thinking methods worldwide.

Frank believes strongly that if we can improve the way we think, the actions that follow also improve.

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