Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Holistic management - part 7: Completing the feedback loop

The book Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making (affiliate link) sets out a guide to developing a holistic goal for your farm or business.  See my introduction to Holistic Management here, and part 2: four key insights for the reasons why holistic management is important and part 3: holistic goal for understanding what you are managing and what you want from it.  I reviewed the ecosystem processes in part 4 - the water and mineral cycles, energy flow and community dynamics.

In part 5 the book takes that understanding of ecosystem processes and discusses the tools that we can use to manage ecosystem processes in brittle and non-brittle environments, including: money and labour, human creativity, technology, rest, fire, grazing, animal impact and living organisms.  In part 6 we learnt about questions to ask to test our management decisions against the holistic goal defined in part 3.  This ensures that every action takes us closer to achieving our goal.


Part 7 is short - only one chapter, but an important concept.  Anyone familiar with the the basic Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle will recognise the need for "completing the feedback loop".  The basis of this chapter is monitoring the effect of your decision after implementation to make sure you got it right.  Even though you will have tested the decision as per part 6, you will have had to make assumptions, and if any of these were wrong, or you missed something, maybe it will turn out to be the wrong decision, despite best efforts.  Savory says to always consider that you could have been wrong.  The earlier you can realise this and change direction, the better.  Maybe you will have to vary plans slightly to make it work, or maybe you will have to cancel the whole project, but the earlier this happens the best chance you have of saving your money and effort for a more successful endeavour.

Part of the planning process should be considering how to monitor progress.  In some cases this might mean using a small test batch or area instead of investing fully.  For example, when we wanted to try perennial pasture, we only planned a few acres to start with.  We checked it weekly, at first it looked like the pasture was not growing and whole thing had been a disaster, but then it started to grow and is now doing well.  We learnt which grass varieties thrived, we didn't need fertiliser, and it takes a couple months for the pasture to look good.  We are waiting for a good time to plant the rest of the paddock now.  If it hadn't gone well, we would have had an opportunity to revise the plan before spending time and money on the entire area that needed to be planted.


It might also mean looking for "leading indicators" that your plan is working or not working.  If you decide to use natural methods for buffalo fly control, you might then say, if we inspect the cattle and they are just covered in flies, then we will agree that this particular method doesn't work and will go back to chemical methods (or another natural method) before the welfare of the cattle is affected, but if we see no flies then we will conclude that its a success.  You need to decide in advance how you will know if your plan is working or not working as early as possible.

Savory also suggests looking for evidence such as plant spacing, soil litter cover, soil density, aeration or organic content, quality of water run-off and insect activity to monitor long-term changes.

Do you have examples where you have monitored a plan and made changes?





Below are some Amazon affiliate links to books related to Holistic Management.  If you would like to read my reviews of these books, see the following links:

Joel Salatin's books

Peter Andrew's books on Natural Sequence Farming

Permaculture Principles



     
   





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Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

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