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close this bookRecording and Using Indigenous Knowledge: A Manual (IIRR, 1996, 211 p.)
close this folderPart 1 Indigenous knowledge and development
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentHow the manual was compiled
View the documentHow to use the manual
View the documentWhat is indigenous knowledge?
View the documentWho knows what?
View the documentCharacteristics of local systems
View the documentWhy is indigenous knowledge useful?
View the documentHelping communities conserve their IK
View the documentUsing indigenous knowledge in development
View the documentRecording IK in communities
View the documentIntellectual property rights

How to use the manual

There is no single approach to recording IK. This manual does not propose a new methodology for recording IK, nor do the authors claim to have invented the methods described. Rather, the manual attempts to describe how existing methods can be used to record IK.

The manual is heavily biased towards participatory methods (such as those used in participatory rural appraisal) because these are useful for capturing information on indigenous knowledge. However, it also recognizes the limitations of participatory approaches and the value of other methods such as sample surveys and in-depth interviews.

The manual does not provide ready-to-use approaches, but offers building blocks which users can put together to meet their specific objectives when recording IK. The examples at the end of the question guides in Part 5 are suggestions rather than prescriptions. Methods must be chosen, combined and modified to suit each field study. Creativity and flexibility are crucial for successful recording and application of IK.

The attitude and behavior of the rural development practitioner, or the "outsider," are also important. Professionals must face the challenge of "un-learning" assumptions which imply that "modern" must replace "traditional." Outsiders must be open, willing to learn from the people.

At the same time, local people. or the "insiders," must come to appreciate and value their indigenous knowledge. When people disregard their own knowledge, traditional wisdom and practices are slowly lost. To make IK work, all involved must recognize its usefulness and potential.

But even then, IK is definitely not a solution for every problem. Its contribution to development will also depend on the quality and approach of the projects in which it is used. If a project starts without insiders and outsiders jointly diagnosing the situation, it is likely that prescribed technologies and practices will not address what local people perceive as their main problems. Solutions will be rejected whether they are based on indigenous or western technologies, and the project may well fail.

Understanding IK is fundamental to participatory development approaches. However, we need to go one step beyond understanding IK. We must actively apply useful IK in the planning, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of projects. This means employing local healers, using traditional education methods, multiplying indigenous tree species, working with local organizations, spreading messages through indigenous communication channels—to give only a few ideas how projects can use IK.

At the same we must recognize that actively promoting selected IK technologies and practices does not necessarily make development participatory. For example, a project can introduce indigenous herbal medicines in a village without first consulting with the local people. Villagere might, or might not, decide to use the herbal drugs, depending on how the project as a whole is presented, whether it is culturally appropriate, and so on. Only if the active application of IK is part of a people-centered, truly participatory development effort, will we be able to realize the potential of IK in development.

IK in peopIe-centered participatory development

The table below shows stages in the project cycle and how IK might be involved in each stage.

Project cycle

Involvement of IK

Where discussed in this manual

Problem identitication

Understanding of IK is an integral part of truly participatory projects

Not discussed. Consult literature on RRA, PRA and other participatory approaches (e.g., Pretty et al. 1995)

Project design

Understanding of IK and its active application in projects

Part 1: Indigenous knowledge and development


Step 1: Discovering if relevant IK exists

Part 2: Recording and assessment methodologies

Step 2: Evaluating the effectiveness and sustainability of IK (Use directly if performance is obvious or proven.)

Part 5: Question guides

Step 3: Testing whether IK can be improved

Part 3: Assessment of indigenous knowledge

Step 4: Applying and promoting IK

Part 5: Question guides

For examples, see Part 4: Mini-case studies

For examples, see Part 4

Monitoring and evaluation

Monitoring and evaluating the of IK Using IK to monitor and evaluate the performance of projects

Part 3: Assessment of indigenous knowledge

Part 2: Recording and assessment methodologies

Part 3: Assessment of indigenous knowledge