Cover Image
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

Recording IK in communities

You should follow certain rules and procedures when collecting, recording, and documenting IK. Whether the IK is part of an applied development project for storage in a database, the same standards apply. The following is a general outline of activities, rules, and procedures to be followed when collecting, recording, and documenting IK, Part 2 contains detailed information on some 30 methods useful for recording IK,


- Define your study objectives.

- Determine content and extent of the study: What do you need to know? How much do you need to know? Do not attempt to collect more data than necessary

- Select methods for recording and documentation. Methods should:

Yield the required information.
Be low-cost.
De easily understood by community members.
Be fun.
Place importance on local people rather than the researcher and other outsiders.

- Prepare for each method thoroughly before going to the community. If several people are involved, divide the work and agree on who will do what.

- Collect as much relevant information as you can about the community and related topics before you enter the community.

- Obtain permission from the community before you start the study or project.

Entering the community

- Introduce yourself and other outsiders to all community members involved.

- Explain to the community, in detail, the study or project objectives, Do not raise false expectations.

- Let people know that you have come to learn from them.

- Discuss with the community the possible benefits of the study.

- Inform community members of how much of their time the study take.

- Learn the meaning of local terms (see Matching terms and concepts below).

- If possible, learn to speak the local language. This makes field work much easier and is usually highly appreciated.


Matching terms and concepts

Many misunderetandings and mistakes occur because outsiders and local people do not understand what each other mean when they use particular words. Your Definitions and the way you classify things such as soils and diseases arc not-necessarily the same as those of community members. You may need to work together with local people to translate and match your terms and concepts.

In some cases local Definitions arc broader than their western equivalent. For example, Fulani pastoralists in Africa regard several important livestock diseases as Just one disease because they have similar symptoms.

In other instances, local descriptions arc more detailed. For example, the Inuit of the Arctic have many words for snow; farmers in Central America have different names for corn depending upon its stage of growth or its intended use; and pastoralists in northern Africa have an extensive vocabulary describing parts of a camel's body, reflecting how important the camel is to these people.

Some abstract concepts, such as beliefs about what causes disease, have no western equivalent. it can be difficult to match indigenous terms and taxonomist with their corresponding western ones. Methods such as interviews, sorting, ranking, building taxonomist, and observation can help match indigenous and western terms.

Learning about IK

- Ask neutral questions. Do not ask leading questions.


Yes: "What do you use this for?"
No: "Do you use this for cooking"

- Use these words and phrases often: What? How? Why? Who? When? Where? How often? Where did you learn this?

- Listen. Observe.

- Be open. Try to achieve an insider's perspective.

- Keep alive the interest of local participants—know when to Stop.

- Follow the dos and don'ts of community work in the box below.


Dos and don'ts of community work
Don't force people to participate in the process.
Don't be impatient.
Don't ask a lot of questions all at once.
Let people finish what they have to say and then ask your questions.
Listen attentively and learn.
Don't disturb ongoing discussions.
When people are discussing one subject, don't introduce another.
Include fence sitters (those who watch but do not actively participate).
Be wary of people who dominate discussions. Deal with them diplomatically.
When people discuss among themselves, do not try to influence them.
Don't show approval or disapproval.
Don't exchange signs between team members during discussions.
Learn and use the local language.

Source: Shogorip 1992

- Recording IK Record all information, even if it does not make sense from an outider's point of view.

- Record as neutrally and value-free as possible.


Yes: "Farmers use local breeds."
No: "Farmers still use local breeds."
No: "The village appears less developed because farmers use only local breeds."
Yes: "Farmers use two or three types of medicine."
No: "Farmers know only two or three types of medicine."

When the study is finished

- Validate the output with the community.
- Provide the community with a copy of the output.
- Discuss how results will be used and how they can benefit the community.


"Extractive research" is designed to provide information to outriders.
'Enriching research enables local communities. (Waters-Bayer 1994).