Identifying indigenous specialists
A method employing informal questioning and diagramming to
identify individuals with specific know-how.
To identify indigenous specialists. Indigenous specialists are
community members who have special skills or expertise in one or more subject
areas or who practice a profession (e.g., healers). The method can be adapted to
identify other types of individualssuch as decision makers, innovators,
political opinion leaders, etc.
- Manila paper
1 Define the topic you want to investigate (such as farming or
health). Be as clear as possible about its focus and scope.
2 Identify the type of people who can help. It might be useful
to start with people who are involved in activities relating to the topic. For
instance, if the topic is farming, you should ask people who do farm work (both
men and women). If the topic is cooking, ask family members who do the cooking.
3 Select a sample of up to 20 such people. The number of people
will depend on the topic. For highly specialized topics (such as irrigation
tunnel building), you will probably need only a small number of people in the
initial sample, since only a few people are likely to be knowledgeable about
4 Ask each person to name the people in the village who know the
moat about the topic. Ask each respondent to name up to four people.
5 Write down the names of these people and where you can find
6 Visit each person named. Ask them to name the people who they
think know the most about the topic. Add the new names to the chart and visit
these new people.
7 If necessary, repeat steps 4 through 6 until no new people are
8 Draw a diagram showing all the people named. Draw each person
as a circle with the name underneath.
9 Draw arrows from each circle pointing to the circles of the
individuals each has named. Count and record the number of arrows pointing
toward each circle.
10 The individuals attracting the highest number of arrows are
the indigenous specialists for that topic.
- This method quickly generates a list of
individuals with specific skills or characteristics.
- These individuals can supply valuable information about their
particular area of expertise. (See other methods in this manual which rely on
indigenous specialists or key informants.)
Dos and don'ts
- Do repeat the process for other topics as
required. A specialist one topic (such as farming) is not necessarily the most
knowledgeable person on another subject (such as cooking).
- Don't rely on indigenous specialists for information outside
their area of expertise.
- Do make sure that you include a fairly wide range of people in
the initial sample. Include men, women, rich, poor, high- and
By changing the wording of the question, you can use a similar
approach to identify other types of people or relationships. For instance:
- "If you need some advice, who do you go
to?"This helps to identify opinion leaders.
- "Who do you most often
talk to in the village?" This helps to identify social networks.
- "Is there
anyone in the village who you disagree with on (topic X) ?"
This helps to identify a range of opinions.
AIthough certain people may have a reputation for their skills
they are not necessarily the best informants. The success on which their
reputation is built might reflect their reduced need to make compromises rather
than their skillsoften wealthier people who have more land and access to
higher inputs and therefore are less dependent on indigenous knowledge (adapted
from Fairhead in HED 1991).