Sunday, January 06, 2008

Am I This Stuff?

Here's a puzzle, what do the following things have in common?

  • Analysis of green areas per person in the Metropolitan Area of Mexico City 1950-2000
  • Description of a process (1994-1997) for capacity building to promote multi-stakeholder dialogue on the environmental problems in a peri-urban hot spot and the capacity needed for its management
  • Report on the status in 1996 of Biosphere Reserves in Arab Countries and perspectives for an Arab Network of Biosphere Reserves
  • Empirical studies from 1997 of the role of gaming/simulations in policy development and organizational change

I could go on. What these things have in common is that they joined several thousand other such interesting pieces of paper in a journey to the recycling centre last week as I cleared out at least half of my "archived" material at home over the holidays.

It was hard - every piece of paper had interesting data and information in it, it had memories, places, faces, experiences - little parts of life. I had to struggle with myself to let go of it - what would it mean when it was gone? Was this stuff me? After hours of looking through it (ostensibly to recuperate paper clips but mostly procrastinating tossing it) I decided that the answer was Yes and No. Yes, this composite of knowledge and information somehow reflects my own personal and professional experience and gives some indicator of who I have become through my work.

No, because this stack of stuff has way too much detail, frozen information that has shifted and changed over time. It does not reflect the progression of my understanding of these themes nor even necessarily what I actually learned through these experiences. For example, that particular Mexico trip took us from Mexico City to the Yucatan Peninsula. I don't actually remember the figures for green area per person in Mexico City (I guess the trend was going down.) However, I do vividly remember watching fishermen near Progresso catch octopus during the day with bait of live crabs that the women would catch at night. This was a fantastic example of gender roles and natural resource management that I will never forget, but I didn't have any report or papers in my files on that.

I did notice that there were many papers, events, trips etc. where I did not recall much - a missed opportunity for learning. Most of these situations seemed to include classroom case studies, powerpoint, activities that I did not engage in (simulations that I watched but did not take part in). There seems to be an inverse correlation between interactivity and background documentation. Even more reason to get rid of the paper tower, much of it did not sink in. But I kept it for a reason, it helped me to track my experiences, and to a certain extent reflects me. But I guess it will do that anyways, either in my basement, or in my head - and perhaps as a part of a newly recycled paper document that I get on my next trip. How's that for a learning cycle?

Happy New Year!