Monitoring | Keys to Empowering Change

Photo by Jimi Malmberg on Unsplash.

Change occurs when we take action to reach a goal

When I think of achieving a goal or an intended outcome, inevitably it is because there is something I want to change. Change comes in many forms. It can be at a personal level like improving the relationship with my son or daughter to increasing our business revenue through to much larger community-focused changes like regenerating entire landscapes or implementing new government policy. Change also occurs when we alter our perspective and the way we see things.

For change to occur an action must first take place. The key point here is that change requires action. Without action there is no change. A rock doesn’t move unless we push it. We won’t get fit unless we implement an exercise program. Pretty simple really. Why then do many of us, myself included, often fail to reach our goals? Monitoring, or rather the absence of it is a critical reason why our plans fail.

In this article I clarify what is monitoring, why it is so important and how we use it to achieve our goals. Observation is a critical aspect of monitoring and we need both if we want to succeed in reaching our goals and cause change. As I found in writing this article, that observation is a huge topic all by itself and worthy of its own article. Therefore, I wrote the accompanying article on Observation where I delve into considerable detail about the process of observation, why it is important and how we can develop ourselves to become good observers.


Monitoring is critical for change

Once we’ve chosen a a course of action to bring about change or reach a certain goal, we then need to monitor to ensure our actions are tracking us toward our goal. What then is monitoring? Monitoring is simply an intentional process of making frequent observations. While our skill at observation is necessary and important, the timing and what we choose to monitor is critical for success and to mitigate crises from occurring.

The frequency of monitoring is an important consideration. Depending on the action we are implementing we may need to monitor daily, weekly, monthly or longer. Monitoring 3-5 years might be appropriate if we are looking for increases in soil carbon, yet this frequency is completely inadequate if we are monitoring growth of our new plant seedlings. Even then we may need to change our monitoring schedule if the situation alters. Suppose we chose to monitor our new plant seedlings growth weekly, and then we encounter an unusually dry period with little or none of the expected rainfall. We may need to increase our monitoring frequency to daily to closely watch for early signs of plant stress so we can take appropriate action and prevent loss of our new plants.

The timing of our monitoring is another important factor to consider. For instance, does it matter what time of the day we monitor? If we are measuring brix levels in the leaves of plants then the time of the day does matter. Brix levels will be lowest at dawn and increase throughout the day to peak sometime late afternoon. Therefore, it makes sense to monitor in the afternoon when brix levels are highest. In planning our monitoring schedule, we need to be as consistent as possible and wherever practical monitor at the same time, every time.

Photo by Volodymyr Tokar on Unsplash

To summarise this section, monitoring is an intentional choice about what to look for, when, how often, and then be skilled at observing what we see and interpreting what our data (observations) is telling us.

Monitor early, monitor often

How then do we monitor for change? Milestones are a great way to track our progress. Each time we reach a milestone we know we are on track to reach our goal. Likewise, failing to reach a milestone lets us know we are falling behind or heading off course. Monitor early and often. As illustrated in Figure 1, it is far quicker, easier and less costly to correct small mistakes compared with big ones, which is why pilots constantly monitor and correct their progress. Lives depend on them staying on course. Monitoring therefore becomes a very useful practice if we assume that we are off track most of the time. The process allows us to control or correct our actions that are failing to produce or deviating from the expected results and get ourselves back on track.

Figure 1. A ship departs A headed for B. Wind and ocean currents send it off course heading towards C. Monitoring its direction at D compared with E will require less, time and energy to correct its course back towards B. Image by Bernard Callus

In the Holistic Management Framework, Allan Savory suggests a different approach to monitoring especially if it is an entirely new practice or course of action. When implementing a plan to cause a new outcome or goal (change), Savory says to ask yourself as early as you can: “if I got this wrong, what would I see?” For example, if I chose to sow more seed to induce plant growth around our property and I chose the wrong seed what would I see? Within the first three months I might see more bare soil, not less. The earlier we can observe our plan is not working, the quicker we can re-plan and implement.

To summarise:

• Monitoring is essential to ensure we achieve our goal.

• Monitoring is being intentional about what we want to observe over time.

• Our choice of when to monitor is critical for success.

• Monitor early, monitor often.

• Re-plan and enact as soon as we know we are off track.