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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

Tapping assessment

Outsiders can learn about the advantages and disadvantages of indigenous practices from local people themselves. This not only provides valuable information about IK, but also helps identify opportunities for—and constraints to—the promotion of specific practices.

While some require adaptation, many of the methods for recording IK described in Mart 2 can also be used to assess IK:

- Strengths and weaknesses and SWOT analysis can help insiders and outsiders alike assess the advantages and disadvantages of a particular item of IK in solving problems.

- Participative technology analysis can show the uses of a practice and how it might be modified or promoted.

- The five question technique can reveal whether a practice is helpful, harmful, or neutral, and therefore whether it should be promoted.

- Village reflections enable villagers themselves to analyze and make decisions as a group on complex issues facing them.

- Individual interviews or group discussions can reveal the reasoning behind an indigenous practice or technology. They can also reveal how villagers assess the effectiveness of specific IK practices or technologies.

- A series of resource maps drawn by local people can help gauge the effect that indigenous practices have on the environment.

- Historical comparison can suggest why a specific item of IK has changed and suggest possibilities for improvement.

- A matrix showing characteristics of various practices or species can highlight their relative strengths and weaknesses.

- A flowchart listing the steps of an indigenous practice can focus discussion on the problems encountered at each step, and in the process help solve these problems.

- A web can help reveal causal relationships between a specific IK and other factors. This can help determine whether to improve a specific IK, and if 50 where to start.

- Sorting and ranking allow comparison of different IK practices and technologies and can help identify which of them are most effective.

What is true for recording IK is also true for assessment: the more participation a method provokes, the more the output will reflect the people's views and experiences.

Another possibility is to study how local people themselves assess their knowledge. Some communities or regions have specific bodies that meet, discuss, and decide on practices. In Bali, Indonesia, for example, regional networks of "water temples" manage and regulate water distribution for rice cultivation. The network would be a valuable source of information for anyone wishing to study and evaluate the local irrigation system.

And, local people do experiment. They might plant a new tree species in their home gardens to check its performance, they might test herbs for new medicines, or try some new cooking ingredients. Their experiments range from just trying something new, to deliberate, systematic experimentation (for further information on indigenous experimentation, See Boef et al. 1993). Outsiders can learn a lot from these community experiments and build on them when testing technologies. Assessment of IK is more than observing indigenous practices it means looking at the various processes and structures through which IK is generated, shared, tested, and applied.

Compiled by Evelyn Mathias