Best Practices & Conventional Wisdom

An article in New Scientist titled Planting trees may create deserts reveals some startling facts that challenge conventional wisdom about afforestation. The article discusses a report which has summarised studies commissioned over the past four years by the Forestry Research Programme, funded by the UK government’s Department for International Development.The article says : “Planting trees can create deserts, lower water tables and drain rivers, rather than filling them, claims a new report supported by the UK government.”

I was surprised when I read this – All along I have believed that more trees were always better. This seems to be relevant from a KM & Best Practices perspective as well.

  • I have been grappling with a couple of other colleagues on how to keep “Best practices” current and “best” as circumstances change. The key challenge with Best Practices is that blind adherance to known and hopefully the most effective way of solving problems does not always yield expected results. A mismanaged Best Practices initiative might stifle the need to question conventional wisdom. We have started experimenting with a process that prevents a ritualistic adherance to “Best Practices”. Any employee can at any point of time challenge a known “Best Practice”. This is then validated by the community which either updates the existing Best Practice with the new suggestion or if need be scrap the existing one and replace it. This prevents Best Practices from degenerating into a static repository of “conventional wisdom”. Creating Best Practices repositories in vaccum would not lead us to the results we expect. Augmenting such initiatives with a community does the trick of keeping these Best practices fresh. Community members challenge status quo as they build the practice and gain new insight. The community acts as a conduit for changes that need to be incorporated into a known Best Practice.
  • Quoting from the article : “It agrees that, in some places, the environmental nostrum works: trees trap moisture from the air and bind soils that prevent floods, store water and nourish the environment. But it says that in other places, trees suck up moisture from the soil, evaporate water from their leaves, lower water tables, empty rivers and create deserts.” This in a way stresses the need to understand context before trying to replicate a Best practice(in this case growing trees to retain moisture). A bias towards conventional wisdom contributes in a way to our failure to understand context or perhaps even make an attempt to do so.

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