Holistic Decision Making and Holistic Management

This page exists to clarify the difference between Holistic Management as in the decision making framework developed by Allan Savory, and the Holistic Decision Making approach that this site is about.

Though the two are closely related, with the latter standing on the shoulders of the former, it is important to understand how, where and why they differ. In particular, we want to honour and thank Allan Savory for providing the foundation for our work, while not wanting to have any confusion that much of what you will find on this site does not come from Savory but has been developed by ourselves after we used his amazing framework to get started (in other words, the last thing we want to do is pin any of our half-baked or harebrained ideas on him!).

What is Holistic Management?

As we explain in this three-part series, holistic management is a framework for empowering decision making that is socially, environmentally, and economically sound in the short, medium and long term.

It was founded and formulated by Allan Savory, and it all started with his quest to figure out what was behind the world’s rapid and ongoing transformation into desert. After a long and unexpected journey he realised that the only common factor that underlies desertification the world over is human decision making. He then developed holistic management as a framework for empowering land managers to make land management decisions that halt and indeed reverse desertification.

This is an important point, for the emphasis of materials on Holistic Management, whether print, audio, video or otherwise, has almost exclusively been on Holistic Management in a land-management, farming, or ranching context, and in particular on understanding how the nature of the relationship between grazing animals and grasslands can send the land backwards or forwards. For Allan, this focus has been essential in that until we reverse the global haemorrhaging that is desertification, we are on track to not be around to think about doing anything else.

However, in his seminal Holistic Management: A New Framework for Decision Making (Second Edition), Allan introduces

the way forward that I found and subsequently developed with the help of many others … a new decision-making process that gives us the ability to design and to plan the future we want while ensuring that the environment can sustain it.

Where this:

decision-making process can serve to manage a farm, a national park, or a city’s water supply, or one’s personal life, a household, a corporation, or organisation of any kind. It also can be used to diagnose the underlying cause of many problems, to assess a variety of policies, and to make research more relevant to management needs (p. 4-5).

Thus at its core Holistic Management is a design making process applicable to any thing that is being managed by at least one human being making decisions. As mentioned above, however, you will struggle to find any feely accessible, easy to understand and apply information about holistic management in its core sense of a framework relevant to everybody (as opposed to a farm management tool). Indeed, that is why we wrote this article which was out best attempt several years back to explain the approach and its application.

What is Holistic Decision Making?

If you go through the articles we just mentioned, you will start to see that in several places even back then in 2014 we were starting to differ in both the key terms we use to describe different aspects of Savory’s approach, and the ways in which we were applying it. Since then our applications have evolved even further away from the source to the point that we came to the conclusion that it would be misleading and confusing to continue calling our work holistic management.

So, to be clear that we are in no way claiming to accurately represent the holistic management approach, we have adopted the phrase holistic decision making to simultaneously acknowledge our roots (in holistic management) and that the approach we describe is quite different from what you will find described in Savory’s work or other holistic management resources around the planet.

Why is there a difference?

The need to have different names arises for two main reasons:

  • First, we have found that while some of the key terms used by Savory continue to work for us and those we work with, some of them don’t. So after using both his and our terms for years we have crossed the line and decided to just use the terms we prefer.
  • Second, some of the main ways in which we use holistic decision making you will not find in an books or resources about holistic management. This is because we have invented or adapted these uses to address gaps or limitations we have experienced in our use of the tool over the years.

What are some of the differences in language?

Here are some of the key differences in language between holistic management (in Savory’s presentation) and holistic decision making:

  • Where Savory says holistic context (and in the past said holistic goal) we just say context
  • Where Savory says forms of production we say enabling actions. Where Savory stresses what you have to produce to enable the truth of a quality of life statement, we stress what you have to be doing to enable the truth of a quality of life statement.

What are some of the differences in approach?

  • Unlike the standard paragraph format of a holistic context you find in Savory’s writing, we have developed a specific and unique way of diagrammatically representing and using the context you develop for something you’re involved in managing, where:
    • We list quality of life statements separately, each with their own collection of enabling actions (where in some cases one enabling action will support more than on quality of life statement)
    • We most often use these context diagrams proactively whereas in the conventional holistic management literature ones holistic context is primary used reactively to deal with problems or opportunities
    • We have a different way of defining future resource base items
  • We are very focused on the fact that we all are involved in many wholes and thus in fact have many contexts in our lives, where some are nested inside others, and some sit at the same tier. We are not aware of any tools in the conventional literature of holistic management that help navigate this reality.
  • As hinted above, though we use a version of Savory’s testing questions on occasion, we mostly use this whole approach using a procedure we call rapid context auditing which we have not seen used elsewhere.

A Diagram Showing Similarities and Differences


A Preexisting Difference Internal to the Holistic Management Movement

Just to confuse matters, it turns out that well before our time, and after Savory originally developed the holistic management approach, that there was a split in the associated movement he’d by then created. In short, Savory had some kind of difference of opinion with his colleagues resulting in his leaving Holistic Management International and forming The Savory Institute which are now two completely separate organisations about the same thing.

Further, these two organisations themselves now differ in key terminology, although as far as we now their applications of the framework remain more or less identical. So, there you have it – hopefully if you have tried researching this stuff this helps makes sense of some of the confusion you may have found!


We hope in reading the above you appreciate our quandary.

On the one had we owe Savory everything and want to everything we can to acknowledge and thank him for his amazing work without which this site would and could not exist.

On the other hand we don’t want to pretend or imply that all the differences in the way we now use Savory’s approach don’t exist. For they do exist, and the last thing we want to do is contribute to any confusion about the details of Savory’s approach. About the primacy and purity of the spring from which our work is a secondary and down-stream development.

So our solution to this is to, while making sure we repeatedly acknowledge, reference, and honour Savory, to develop our work under a different name holistic decision making. We hope this makes sense and that in particular Allan that if you find yourself reading this that you appreciate our attempt to do the right thing here!