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close this bookRecording and Using Indigenous Knowledge: A Manual (IIRR, 1996, 211 p.)
close this folderPart 3 Assessment of indigenous knowledge
View the documentAssessing IK
View the documentCriteria for assessing IK
View the documentTapping assessment
View the documentUsing western science methods to assess IK
View the documentMonitoring and evaluation

Using western science methods to assess IK

First, by "western science methods" we mean methods used by western science to develop and test technologies, methods, or practices. For example, soil sample tests, measurement. of animal feed intake, or blood tests to monitor the effects of certain drugs.

But IK can be different IK is holistic. it can be difficult to differentiate into many subject matters, each treated separately by western science. And, to attempt to describe all western science methods which could be used to assess IK would be impractical. Instead, we will highlight some principles and give a few examples

Principles for assessing IK with western science methods

- As with all research, the selection of western science methods for assessment of IK should be based on objectives defined before the assessment (see Recording IK in communities).

- The assessment needs to be based on a throough understanding of the IK to be assessed.

- The experimental design should do justice to the special nature of IK (e.g.,, recognizing its holistic nature, not purely economic benefits, etc.).

- Insiders' assessment should complement western science methods.

- IK should be viewed in the broad context of culture, society, and history.

- We must recognize the limitations of western science for the assessment of IK in order to interpret our study results correctly.

1 Western science methods can lead to false conclusions when used to assess IK (see Criteria for assessing IK).

2 Western science, lacking the means to understand an indigenous practice or technology, might belittle it. A classic example is acupuncture. For a long time western science had no explanation for acupuncture and therefore disregarded it. This is changing and acupuncture is being integrated into western medicine's curricula.

Examples of western science methods used to assess IK

The following are some examples of western science methods which could be used to assess IK. This list shows that approaches developed in different disciplines can be used. Keep in mind that these methods should be combined with insiders' assessment.

Animal Production and healthcare

Let's suppose that a community wishes to expand and improve its livestock production system. The following western science methods could determine the efficiency of local animal production and healthcare practices and indicate which aspects of the indigenous system could be used, improved, or blended with western practices:

- Measure productivity of animals, recording both inputs and outputs (ace Criteria for assessing IK).

- Observe the condition of livestock kept in the community (this could be done by ocular inspection, weighing and measuring animals, etc.).

- Test for Parasites by investigating feces of randomly selected animals (this will require some laboratory tests).

- Identify medicinal plants used by the community and test their efficacy. The medicinal qualities of some plants have already been established in the scientific literature.

Indigenous paper making

- Calculate amount of raw materials and energy used in the production process.

- Test quality of paper in the laboratory (do not forget to keep the local use in mind when making any statement about the paper's quality).

Effect of IK on environment

- Assess biodiversity in the environment of the study community (e.g., count number of species in an area of a certain size).

- Measure nutrients in soil.

- Measure runoff and soil erosion from fields.

Indigenous birth attendants

- Collect data about course and outcome of deliveries assisted by indigenous birth attendants and analyze results using statistics.

- Investigate condition of instruments used by local birth attendants (e.g., whether the instruments are clean, which bacteria they contain, etc.).

Indigenous communication

- Assess number of Persons reached by messages transmitted through indigenous channels.

- Measure time needed for transmission.

Compiled by Evelyn Mathias