actKM Awards 2008

Platinum Award Winner


Knowledge for Regional Natural Resource Management

Land & Water Australia


Background


Improving the natural resource management (NRM) practices in Australia leads to long term benefits for the Australian landscape.  In order to invest in these on ground projects NRM professionals and practitioners need to be able to find, use, manage and share the information and knowledge that is both authoritative and relevant to their decision making.  There is an overabundance of information available and the potential for duplication of effort, loss of productivity through the time taken searching for information, lack of information seeking skills and knowledge and poor knowledge sharing practices has been a major impediment in the NRM sector.

The Knowledge for Regional NRM Program Phase 2 (funded by the Australian Government through the Natural Heritage Trust), which ran from July 2006 to June 2008, had the overarching objective to facilitate better linkages between regional NRM bodies and knowledge providers (research organizations), and to assist regional NRM bodies to better manage their information and knowledge. Phase 1 (early 2005 to June 2006) of the Program investigated and tested ways to improve the adoption and sharing of knowledge by regional NRM bodies and looked for ways to improve connections between regional NRM bodies and research and information (knowledge) providers.  The Program took a broad view of the NRM sector, looking beyond Land & Water Australia’s areas of interest.

The options for Phase 2, documented in the LWA publication Improving the NRM Knowledge System for Regions (available on Land & Water Australia’s web site www.lwa.gov.au/regionalknowledge), endeavoured to:
  • Make better use of existing knowledge and information
  • Improve access to knowledge and information
  • Build capacity of NRM professionals to use knowledge in management decisions
  • Increase sharing of experiential knowledge and lessons between regions
  • Improve two-way knowledge sharing between knowledge providers and regional NRM bodies
  • Make regional knowledge needs (i.e. research needs) more accessible to research providers
  • Facilitate more effective process for the management of knowledge and information
  • Stimulate a culture that values knowledge and information
The approaches used were developed and implemented using contributions from, and collaboration with, regional NRM organisations, knowledge providers, and information derived from successful initiatives from both outside the NRM sector and Australia.  The Program consists of three packages which were comprised of products and services developed based on the documented needs of regional NRM bodies from Phase 1 and have been verified by them.  All products and services were developed based on the importance of behavioural change, skills and knowledge improvement and enabled by an IT/information platform in Package 2 – the NRM Toolbar. The three packages are:

 
Regional Knowledge Resource Kit

Package 1 – Better Practice in Knowledge Management

  • Development of a Regional Knowledge Resource Kit (www.rkrk.net.au) which provides a valuable resource on managing information and knowledge for the NRM sector.  It also provides a step by step guide on developing an Information and Knowledge strategy for every regional NRM organisation. This kit was developed in collaboration with the regional NRM bodies and tested and improved over the period of implementation with the regional NRM bodies. Valuable input was given by our consultants Anecdote Pty Ltd. This site is a wiki and has been built by both the Knowledge for Regional NRM Team and the staff of the regional NRM organisations across Australia. It also includes a comprehensive resource library on information and knowledge management empowering the regional NRM staff to find the information they need quickly and effectively without having to search across the web.
  • Provision of Knowledge strategy training.  This training package has been delivered to 38 of a potential 56 regional NRM organisations and fully implemented in 5 regional NRM organisations across Australia.  This training skills the regional NRM staff to undertake an information and knowledge strategy process within their own organisation without having to reinvent the wheel and enables consistent processes across the NRM sector.
  • This process was piloted in 5 regional NRM organisations across Australia with great success and the RKRK evolved to a very sophisticated process using the contributions of these pilot regions.
  • Training was also undertaken by some of Rural Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) and was also used as a method for forging closer relationships between the regional NRM organisations and the RDCs.
  • Since the end of June 2008 another 3 regional bodies are implementing the RKRK Knowledge strategy and feedback has been extremely positive.
 
NRM Toolbar

Package 2 – the NRM Toolbar (www.nrmtoolbar.net.au)

  • The NRM Toolbar started off as a design for a Toolbar much like the Google Toolbar.  However, it has become obvious that a Toolbar is not sustainable and is now being developed into a web page with many widgets built in to give the same (and sometimes better) functionality than the original Toolbar design as well as being able to be used on various hand held devices.  Some of the most important features of this web site are:
    • Development of an NRM specific search engine – this search engine has meant that regional NRM staff are no longer spending many fruitless hours search the Internet while attempting to find Australian NRM specific information.  It searches across multiple major databases – Australian Agriculture and Natural Resources Online (AANRO), The Australian Spatial Data Directory, Libraries Australia, e-Livestock Library and over 150 selected NRM web sites, the regional Evidence bases and the NRM Toolbar databases listed below.
    • Provision of a number of NRM specific databases which are built based on the requested needs of the Australian NRM sector – they include the Decision Support Tools (DSTs) database, list of Professional bodies and Events, database of NRM knowledge brokers, and an incentives/funding database.
    • The most significant has been the development of an Evidence base software, all on an open source platform, for regional NRM organisations and others in the NRM sector to build their own database of publications.  This has potentially saved many thousands of dollars across the sector as it mitigated the risk of all regional NRM bodies purchasing separate software and then not being able to get the software platforms to be interoperable. The latest enhancement to this software allows the regional NRM bodies to link their Evidence bases to the Program Logic processes the regional NRM organizations must undertake when making investment decisions and thus contributing to the Monitoring Evaluation Research and Improvement (MERI) process.  MERI is a mandatory process for all regional NRM organisations for reporting to the Australian Government. There are currently 20 evidence bases being populated by regional NRM bodies.

Package 3 – Supporting Knowledge Brokering in the NRM Sector

  • Initiation of communities of practice for knowledge sharing, mentoring, and collaboration across the NRM sector
  • Provision of the Gotta Question service to assist regional NRM practitioners find answers to their research questions
  • Trialing the Decision Support Advisory service to build the capacity of regional NRM staff to use Decision Support Tools more effectively – also to be able to wade through the plethora of DSTs and select those which are most relevant to their problem.
  • Trialing the Systematic Review process in NRM for Australia.  This represented two out of the three first attempts to do this in Australia and contributes directly to ameliorating the information overload issue for NRM professionals in Australia.  Systematic Reviews are used in medicine in a process called the Cochrane Collaboration.  The Centre for Evidence Based Conservation in the UK has developed a similar process for the NRM Sector.  The Knowledge for Regional NRM Program has funded 2 reviews for Australia to test the model for dealing with information overload in the NRM sector.

All products have been developed using Open Source software.  This has meant that the regional NRM bodies are not impacted with the additional costs of software licenses and the software has been built with the same collaborative philosophy as the rest of the products and services from the Knowledge for Regional NRM Program.

All these products and services have been developed and delivered by a team of 5 staff with a range of skills in natural resource management, science communication, information and knowledge management and ecology.  The full Program was developed and delivered within the 24 months of Natural Heritage Trust funding between July 2006 and 30 June 2008.

Outcomes

1.  How well did the initiative achieve the objective (must relate/contribute to delivery of organisational outcomes in terms of core business)

Overall, the Program delivered all the expectations of the contract with the NHT through the Australian Government and a substantial number of projects over and above these requirements.  Under the original contract we were expected to deliver 2 training workshops for skilling NRM staff to develop a knowledge strategy.  We delivered 12 training workshops and trained staff from 38 of the 56 regional NRM organizations across Australia.  We ran 5 pilots knowledge strategy processes in 5 States and since June 2008 another 3 regional NRM organizations have commenced the knowledge strategy process as documented in the RKRK (www.rkrk.net.au).  We worked with around 95% of the regional NRM bodies on a one to one basis and have made significant changes in the sector for dealing with both information and knowledge issues.  Feedback can be found on our website and in the RKRK – see www.rkrk.net.au

2. How was the knowledge project implemented (strategies, methodology, innovation, and communications)

The project was implemented through the three packages.  Package 1 and 3 concentrated on the human side of KM while Package 2 was our IT/IM enabler.  Given the broad range of skills in the team we all used our personal networks and opportunistically used already scheduled meetings, conferences, workshops and other networks to connect with our stakeholders.  This was the most effective method in the end as the team had an almost 100% staff turnover from Phase 1 to Phase 2.  We also spent quite a bit of time training and learning from each other.  We recognised the value of the diverse backgrounds of the team members and took every opportunity we could to broker new relationships for each other.  This was extremely effective as we built on existing trust networks and consequently found we had a large number of new relationships from which to build again.  We also spent quite a bit of time on what the team called the ‘treasure hunt’ as we searched for a suitable IT platform.  We eventually came across a company called EducationAU which is located in South Australia.  They built the NRM Toolbar based on our specifications and we have now forged a new relationship with the education sector through this part of the project.  The goal was to ‘not reinvent the wheel’ but to learn from every other sector that might have similar issues to the NRM sector.

3. What is the organisational improvement realised (capability improvement, savings, service improvement, efficiencies, business growth)

As this Program has involved more than one organisation we will refer to improvement in the NRM sector.  To quote some of our pilot regions and what the Program has meant to them:

Avon Catchment Council

  • Actions identified by ACC in the development of their Regional Knowledge Strategy (RKS) were reflected in the ACC Board’s risk management strategy
  • The CEO stated their RKS value-added to what Avon wanted to do in their NRM region

NRM North

  • Provided a strategy for dealing with information overload: “The development of a RKS began the process of defining what’s important and what’s not in the avalanche of NRM information. The process gave the ability to focus on what they needed and what they could afford NOT to spend time on. And what’s important to share internally and externally.” James McKee
  • The Program provided a suite of tools adaptable for their needs. e.g. anecdote circles now being used in their State Of Region report where hard data not available. This tool accepted to provide good information to fill gaps in hard data

Evidence bases

  • Integrating a range of existing databases and information sources into a single evidence base to plug information into, search and provide an evidence trail for decisions.

Corangamite CMA

The engagement with the K4RNRM team helped us to examine how as an organisation, we manage our knowledge and information: to make it accessible to a wide range of people both internal as a CMA, and to external people” Peter Codd. Specific instances include:
  • Improve transfer of knowledge to and from stakeholders
  • Reduce impact of information overload (the process made us think about where? And how? We store, share and make information accessible
  • Build on the momentum of Corangamite Knowledge Base and make other regions in South West Victoria aware of the work CCMA is doing – Corangamite has now joined with two adjacent Catchment Management Authorities to build one large Evidence Base that they can all share.

4. What were the risk and challenges and how were they managed

The major challenges included:
  • Time constraints of engaging in regional NRM sector: reporting requirements, Caring for Our Country announcement, time needed for cultural change – we had to take our opportunities as we found them – this meant 3 of the team spent 5 months travelling with only 4 working days in Canberra during that time – this meant we were very reliant on mobile technology.
  • NRM has not engaged in the knowledge management space before. Concepts and ideas were new and a there was a steep learning curve – this was addressed in every meeting with an introduction to the information and knowledge management area.  Once we did this we usually found we had a very positive reception – the NRM sector is highly aware of the the need for evidence based decision making and we were there to make their lives easier.
  • Wide geographical spread of clients engaged by a small team based in Canberra. 35 workshops – again much travel and taking every opportunity we could to engage with our stakeholders.
  • Huge diversity in levels of maturity of regional NRM bodies to engage in information and knowledge – the ability to be very flexible and treat every organization as unique was critical.
  • Getting regional bodies to identify knowledge needs has been a challenge. Program Logic is now providing a means for regions to ask the right questions for their knowledge needs. There is a significant opportunity to use them as an adoption pathway for research to underpin them
  • NHT1 transition to NHT2 pain still evident in engagement with regional NRM bodies – this was one issue we had to work around.  The pressure exerted by the Australian Government when moving from NHT1 to NHT2 was deeply entrenched in the memories of the staff in the NRM sector.

5. What is the extent of stakeholder satisfaction (internal and external, customers, partners, etc.)

The feedback is available on the RKRK as video clips and audio clips (www.rkrk.net.au).  Overall the feedback was extremely positive.  There are some regional organisations which have now catalogued over 2000 items each using the Evidence Base software and the Friends of the RKRK is a very active Community of Practice.
In addition the Program came in $400,000 under budget, so even our funding stakeholders, the Australian Government, are satisfied.