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Holistic Management: Part 3 – Holistic Context

26 March 2024

This is the third of a four-part series exploring holistic grassland management. The other articles in this series cover an introduction to Holistic Management, the Holistic Decision Making Framework, and Holistic Planning 

In part two we discussed how, before moving to decision making and actions, under Holistic Management, the user must first establish their ‘Whole Under Management’ and ‘Holistic Context’, these are then referred back to during decision making to ensure that the social, environmental, and economic factors are all accounted for.  

To quickly revisit the concept of ‘Whole Under Management’, defining the Whole Under Management clarifies three key things: 

  • The decision makers – those directly involved in its management.  
  • The resource base which includes physical resources, such as land, and the people who influence or are influenced by your management.  
  • The money available or that you can generate from the resource base.  

The decision makers identified in the whole, must then create one all-embracing holistic context. This will be referred to often when making day to-day management decisions and when developing strategies which traditionally have been framed within a much narrower context.  

Defining your Holistic Context

The holistic context has two and sometimes three aspects: 

  • Quality of life – an expression of the way you want your lives to be within the whole under management. Four areas to consider for this are economic well-being, relationships, challenge and growth and purpose and contribution.  
  • Future resource base – a description of the environment/land base, referring to the four ecosystem services, and people behaviours that will be required to sustain that quality of life for your successors.  
  • Statement of Purpose – If you are managing an organisation formed for a specific purpose, then state in a single sentence that purpose prior to creating the context as this will be inform the rest.  

Once the whole under management and holistic context are defined, decision making can proceed, with selection of appropriate tools and actions. Now when making decisions the holistic context is used to ensure that you do not lose sight of: what is meaningful to you in both the short and long term, the quality of life for those within the whole and the health of the environment that sustains it.  

To do this you should run through the seven context check questions to filter out any actions that may not be in context and so not socially, environmentally and economically sound. 

The Seven Context Checks

  1. Cause and effect: Does the action address the root cause of the problem? 
  2. Weak link: What is the weakest link in the situation? Would this action create a further weak link or does it positively address a weak link in either social, biological or financial goals and objectives? 
  3. Marginal reaction: Does it provide a greater return, in terms of time and money spent, than other possible actions? (only used when comparing two or more actions).
  4. Gross profit analysis: Which of two or more possible enterprises provides the best gross profit? Which enterprise contributes the most to covering the overheads of the business? (only used when comparing two or more enterprises). 
  5. Energy/money source and use: Is the energy or money to be used in this action derived from the most appropriate source, and will it be used in the most appropriate way, based on the holistic context? 
  6. Sustainability: Will this action lead toward or away from future resource base (environment, economic and social) described in the holistic context? 
  7. Gut feel: Based on the picture that has emerged, how do you feel about this action now – how will it affect your quality of life and that of others? This must be the final question asked.  

Following the context questions, a process which becomes faster with familiarity, you may then want to modify how you implement the action, abandon it altogether, or in some cases go ahead anyway knowing that sooner or later you will have to deal with some of the reasons it didn’t pass. When going ahead with any plan/action monitoring is essential, and we will discuss that in our fourth and final section article. 

A free introductory eBook, The Foundations of Holistic Management, is available through the Savory Institute website for those who would like to learn more: Savory Institute - Free eBook  

Author: Daniel Stout, SAC Sheep and Grassland Specialist 

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