In knowledge leadership, the core phenomenon is knowledge development and how knowledge is used in our everyday lives, in organizations and societies in general. This means, for example, how a single observation leads to smart decisions. Common phrase is that knowledge is power and quite often we are hesitant to act before more knowledge is gained. However, we already live in a world with abundance of data, information and knowledge, even wisdom. So I wonder, why are we in a situation like this, struggling with overconsumption of the natural resources, biodiversity loss and depletion of the soil? These are only some examples of the problems we are facing. Considering how much we know, maybe it is not about the knowledge per se.
I explore knowledge development and it is closely linked with these global challenges or problems. For my research, forest-based bioeconomy provides a conceptual framework and forest data-information-knowledge chain or cycle is a core phenomenon. Basically, the chain from data to knowledge should lead us to smart decisions supporting life on the planet Earth – systemically step by step. At the university, I’m within the phenomenon I investigate. Thus from time to time, it can be rather difficult to stay as a distant observer or think outside of the box you are in.
When you are part of the phenomenon you investigate, you are engaged with it. I have not been able to count my thoughts, but a large part of the thoughts in my mind are directly linked to the things I get paid for. Even those that are not directly linked, may be linked later. The Tobler’s First Law of Geography starts with “everything is related to everything” and I agree. As I am engaged with my phenomenon, I can really sense the things I do. The things I do feel meaningful and provide strong experiences. Due to these feelings and experiences, I’m willing to invest a huge amount of my energy into these things.
I have started to wonder, why we are not always engaged with the things happening around us. Could this lack of feelings and experiences be one reason why we are in this kind of situation with our environment? What kind of relationship do we actually have with the environment around us and how is the information and knowledge from our environment affecting our decisions? Considering my own decisions, I know that I could have selected the better alternative in many cases. Why have I been making these environmentally non-optimal decisions although I have had the needed knowledge? Obviously, I have not always been such a rational decision maker and I have been driven by my experiences and feelings instead of knowledge. I could do better, but my change could be also supported with engaging information.
Maybe there is something to be improved in the way we present environmental information, for example from the forests. Could we really shift towards sustainable living if environmental information would give a rise to engaging experiences and feelings? Let’s think about a theoretical situation, in which an expert in the daily news says that if we continue to live like we live, the climate will get warmer more than 3 degrees. How is this kind of information changing our decisions the very next day? So, the information is there and I want to believe that the knowledge is there as well. However, it seems that the pure numbers don’t raise any strong feelings or lead to meaningful experiences, so we don’t care too much. And this is causing and will cause careless decisions. Therefore, scientists, teachers, experts, consultants, information workers and so on, should be able to provide that kind of information that is meaningful. Meaningful information and experiences may change our behavior. Without a meaningful experience, there is no change.
So are we experiencing the current environmental information and knowledge somehow in a lame way? How should we experience information about our environments so that it would be meaningful? Or what kind of environmental information could provide meaningful experiences? To answer these questions, we could be thinking of, for example, what kind of senses we will be using in the future when we work with and deliver information. How are customers of forest information consuming information in the future? Is the information going to be in numbers? Can forest information systems or decision support systems be entertaining? What kind of role beauty, as a fundamental concept of human understanding, can play in the chain of knowledge development? How much can we personalize forest information to meet different kinds of needs?
This personalization of environmental information is interesting and challenging at the same time. As we all perceive and experience the environment and related information differently, to obtain meaningful experiences different ways to present information should be used for different users. So the challenge is, how well can we provide personalized information in a way that is still truthful? This is an especially interesting point as different service providers will start to provide different kinds of services based on forest information. We are now discussing this topic regarding the popular press and other mass media, but we need to have the same kind of discussions related to forest information. Information providers will have more responsibilities, or at least new kinds of responsibilities. On the other hand, information users need to have a good set of literacy skills.
When forest information is used to create personalized experiences and raise feelings, we need to carefully start to consider the concept of truth. As long as forest information is mainly numbers, they are seemingly similar for everyone. There are many valid counter arguments for that clause, but you get my point. By creating experiences, we may aim already for something and thus it is important for us to recognize this.
To provide an example on how forest information may affect us in the future, let’s consider a simple movie theater experience. After a powerful experience in some fancy cinema, the reality hits after the movie when you come out of the theater to the real world. At least I quite often feel a bit unreal for a few seconds. I haven’t lost my sense for reality, but I still feel a bit confused for a while. In the near future, after a forest planning session with an expert, forest owners may have a similar feeling. I cannot be certain that my decision before and after an experience, as powerful as the movie theater experience, would be the same in all of the possible decision making situations. Nor the same effect could be obtained by reading numbers.
We most likely have some kind of mutual understanding of what it means to present numbers that are true, but what kind of experience is true and ethically correct to create? There is a risk that also forest information will be used to strengthen some agenda or existing mindsets – we know this as a filter bubble phenomenon. Luckily, there are also a lot of possibilities to find ways to use technology to bring people together and engage with the forests.
Text: Professor Mikko Vastaranta, University of Eastern Finland