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close this bookRecording and Using Indigenous Knowledge: A Manual (IIRR, 1996, 211 p.)
close this folderPart 2 Recording and assessment methodologies
close this folderObservation and interviewing
View the documentCase studies
View the documentField observation
View the documentIn-depth interviews
View the documentInterviewing
View the documentParticipant observation
View the documentParticipative technology analysis
View the documentSurveys

Case studies


A comprehensive, in-depth investigation of a situation, a sequence of activities, or a procedure within its natural setting.


To understand a situation, a sequence of activities, or a procedure to learn what happened, how it happened, and why it happened.




Tape recorder end microphone


Still camera

Interview guide

Video camera and accessories

Observation guide

Possible approach

1 Identify topic or focus—what you want to study.

2 Design the study

- Select the appropriate social unit. Will you study the individual, group, institution, process, activity, or system?

- Decide whether you will study a single case—one person, group, institution, or process—or a multiple case—two or more persons, groups, etc.

- Choose what you want to find out and how to observe and measure it.

- Select the site or sites for study.

- Set a timetable for gathering field data.

3 Prepare an observation guide—a list of things to observe—and an interview guide—questions to ask.

4 Seek cooperation from people on site in advance.

5 Gather information by interviewing people or by observing and using other methods described in this manual.

6 Record the information in a notebook, field diary, or logbook. Do this daily or according to a set schedule. You might find a tape recorder and camera useful for recording data.

7 Validate or cross-check the information through multiple sources. For instance, get information from several informants, or check findings with published documents or maps, or by measuring them directly.

8 Analyze the information.

- Identify themes, variables which are related.
- Look for strong evidence or corroboration.
- Rule out competing explanations.

9 Validate findings with the informants or other community members.

10 Prepare a report.

- Make sure that there is a narrative flow—an easily understandable pattern or progression. For instance, you could describe how things began, what led to what, and how events are linked.

11 Give a copy of the case study to the community.


Case studies

- are useful in investigating processes, such as documenting an activity from first to last step (e.g., rice production from land preparation to harvesting and processing).

- can be used to investigate changes over time (e.g., changes in farm practices from Year 1 to Year 5).

- are typically participatory and involve experential learning—they can lead to exchange of information between the researcher and the participants.

- emphasize the insider's perspective over the outsider's perspective.

Compiled by Perpetuo C. Librando and Eblas L. Blancas Sources: Bennett 1983 Yin 1984

Field observation


Outsiders observe what local people do or have.


To collect supplementary data, validate information gathered through other means (such as interviews), to learn and record IK

Observation car, identify topics for further discussion.


- Notebook and pen.

Possible approach

1 During field visits, observe what people do, how they do it, what they use, etc.

2 Write down your observations in a notebook. Write as much detail as required). If you have questions, ask bystanders for help Collect samples such as leaves, soil samples, etc., if the community permits.

3 Review your notes at the end of the day. Check whether any observation requires further clarification or follow-up.

4 Analyze your notes.


Field observation will help you discover new IK and to see familiar IK in practice. It can validate responses received during interviews. Observation alone, however, might be insufficient to discover the reasons behind IK practices or to identify the causal relationships between practices; in order to answer the question why, this method must be combined with small-talk, interviews (see Interviewing), or other methods.

In-depth interviews


A form of interview in which questions and topics are built upon the responses to previous questions. It is probing and flexible.


To uncover details about the "who," "what," "where," "when," "how," and "why" of practices, technologies, beliefs, or tools.


- Notebook

- Pens

- Initial list of topics for discussion and list of interviewees (if respondents are identified through random sampling)

- Tape recorder (if available)

Possible approach

1 Compile a list of topics. Be clear on the flow of questions and the relationship of each question to the rest,

2 Decide on a method to identify a sample of respondents. It can be based on random sampling (see How to draw a sample) or merely a group of people available and willing to participate at a given time. While the latter might be easier, it will give you biased results, because certain types of people might not be available at a given time. For example, farmers might not be available for interviews at mid-morning, or women might have time only during the evening.

3 If random sampling is used, prepare the list of respondents Make appointments with identified respondents.

4 Before each interview, explain the objectives—how the information will be used and the expected length of the discussion. About one hour IK recommended. Don't forget that your interviewee' time is valuable.

5 Ask for permission in advance if you want to use a tape recorder. Also, keep written notes of the essential points of the discussion. If neither are possible, keep mental notes and record them immediately after the interview.

6 Ask questions and allow the interview to flow. But make sure you do cover the fiat of topics you drew up.

7 Stick to the agreed time.

8 Validate written notes with the interviewee and conduct any needed follow-up interviews.


In-depth interviews help draw out the perceptions and experiences of individuals, expressed in their own words. This is useful for gathering in-depth information on specific aspects of indigenous knowledge.

Dos and don'ts

(See Interviewing.)


If you are interested in a particular piece of equipment or process you can interview the respondent while she IK making or using the equipment or doing the process You can even try it out yourself—for instance, you can ask a mother to teach you how to cook a certain type of food or identify a medicinal plant in the forest. See also Participant observation a and Participative technology a analysis.

Compiled by Angelina C. Ibus


This topic provides general information on interviewing. The topics In-depth interview and Survey contain detailed descriptions on the "how-to" of these two forms of interview .

The word interview implies an interaction between two or more people. Interviews vary in style and format. We can broadly differentiate:

- Informal interviews without structure or control. Interviewers record details of conversations or discussions they have in the community or elsewhere. Such encounters can yield very useful information.

- Unstructured interviews based on a clear plan or a list of topics that the interviewer follows.

- Semi-structured interviews based on written lists of questions or topics that need to be covered in a particular order. These lists are called interview guides.

- Structured interviews based on a questionnaire or interview schedule which is closely followed during the interview. The course of the interview IK mostly predetermined and little leeway is left for follow-up questions.

The less an interview is structured, the more it allows for an exchange between interviewer and interviewee, leading to mutual understanding.

Most forms of interviews entail a meeting between interviewers and interviewees. Interviews with some informants, such as researchers, car also be conducted by telephone.

Individual interviews usually involve one interviewer and one interviewee. But sometimes several interviewers or interviewees can take part. In the case of group interviews (i.e., interviews with several interviewees) it is useful to have several interviewers, each assigned a specific role, such as interviewer, recorder, or observer.

Here are some interviewing "dos and don'ts." Many of the suggestions in this table apply to many other recording and assessment methods and to community work in general. Therefore they might appear in other sections of this manual.

Dos and don'ts for interviewing. These do's and don'ts are worded for group interviews but most apply also for individual interviews.

Adapted from Mascarenhas 1993.



Spend time:
forming the interview team.
defining roles and responsibilities.
understanding the topic.
planning the interview.
electing a spot for the interviews.
reviewing the dos and don't sof interviewing.

Make appointments with the interviewees informants as you would with other important people.

Don’t take the villagers for granted—treat them with respect.

During the interview

Follow protocol as required by the situation.

Don’t blunder along confused.

Create an atmosphere of confidence, trust, and enjoyment (women, especially, should feel like expressing themselves).

Remember that you are a learner (leave your feelings of your own status, achievements, and experience behind).

Don't feel superior to the villagers.

Show your interest and enthusiasm when learning Don't feel that there IK nothing more for from people

you to learn.

Be sensitive to moods (anger, boredom, hurt, anguish, enthusiasm, etc.) and build on them.

Be alert—look for information and leads, seize on them and follow up.

Don’t hesitate to clear your doubts and curiosities with the villagers—but don't do it in a rude fashion.

Remember that everyone has something to say.

Don’t monopolize the interview.

Involve the silent ones, especially women.

Avoid conversation monopolies. (In case you run "talkers," take them for a walk 60 that the others can carry on undisturbed.) lecture.

Don't ask too many questions about a into topic of interest only to you

Facilitate and control the interview.

Don't talk at the same time as someone else—it is confusing.

Listen carefully and facilitate information flow.

Don't interrupt. It disturbs the flow of thought of the interviewees and upsets their concentration.

Allow "triangulation" to take place (i.e., cross- checking of information by the villagers themselves).

Don't misinterpret information.

Sham the work and change roles too.

Remember, good teamwork IK an important part of any successful activity.

Terminate "bad" interviews without regret. But do try to analyze what went wrong.

Record the names of the informants and give them credit for the information they have given.

Participant observation


Method of study in which outsiders immerse themselves in village life and observe or participate in daily activities.


To collect, understand, and validate field data. Involves intense social interaction with people in their own setting which can lead to fruitful cooperation.


- Alert senses. empathy
- Notebook, pencils
- Perhaps a tape recorder to record local music, village noises, etc.

Possible approach

1 Plan your field work: draw up a research framework, select and contact a community, get permission for a village stay (in some countries this can take a long time and might be a cumbersome process). Let the community know how long you intend to stay.

2 Move into the village and establish rapport.

3 Take interest in the culture, daily life, and special events. Learn through observation and by talking to people.

4 Eat what the people eat and live as they live. Help in daily activities and participate in special events (for the latter you might need permission).

5 Take mental notes when you are with people. transcribe these mental notes when you are alone. Check your notes regularly. Look for entries which need clarification or follow-up.

6 Depart in a way that is appropriate to the Culture of the study community.


Participant observation helps you learn and understand IK its advantages and problems, from the community's perspective. It is a key method for discovering the "how" and "why" of IK


Participant observation is commonly combined with other methods such as interviews, mapping, ranking, etc. Unless the participant observer is already familiar with the local language and culture, it might take several months for this method to yield meaningful insights.

Compiled by Evelyn Mathias Sources:: Bernard 1988, Labayen 1989-1990.

Participative technology analysis


A method of systematic analysis which outsiders and local residents, working together, car use to learn the detailed workings of a given technology its nature of operation, the +type of implement or implements used, its source of power, the social interaction the technology requires on encourages, the space it covers and the time it fills


To give an understanding of different elements of a technology or technique, their uses and the local peoples reasons for using them. This car lead tc adaptation and improvment of the technique.


- Type of tools used in the technique (e.g., plow, spade, hoe)

- Specimens or picture of sources of power (e.g., buffalo, 0, people who use use the technology no or technique)

- Manila paper

- Marking pens

- Notebooks

- Pens

Possible approach

1 Identify multi-disciplinary research team of three to five people (outside facilitators,: both natural and social scientists).

2 Visit the village site and .identify three to nine village representative who possess key information about the technology or technique.

3 Convene a meeting of key .informants (see key informant in Abbreviations and Definitions) to identify some Common farming problems which have technological solutions but which car not be solved efficiently using existing indigenous techniques.

4 Identify techniques being used to solve the problems.

5 Let village participants prioritize the list of techniques for examination by the group (outsiders and insiders:).

6 Take one technique at a time (e.g., land preparation, crop sowing, animal housing, animal castration or composting) and ask the village participants to answer the following questions:

- Operation: Which activities are carried out in sequence? Which activities are carried out simultaneously? Where and when are these operations done and why? Record the purpose, advantages, and disadvantages of each operation.

- Implement: What tools or implements are used to carry out these operations (e.g., plow, hoe, animal feet, human hands, or tractor tiller)? Where and when are these implements used and why? Record the purpose, advantages, and disadvantages of using the implements. Source of Power: What sources of power are used (e.g., animal, human male/female, fossil fuel, wood fuel, solar, or wind)? Where and how are these sources of power used and why? Record the purpose, advantages, and disadvantages of using these sources of power.

- Social interaction: Who is involved in handling the implements and controlling the operation? How do they interact while carrying out the process? (1a the work solitary? Are there small or large groups? Is there group interaction? Looking at gender, do men and women do the same tasks? Do they work apart or in groups, in a specific sequence or simultaneously? Record the purpose, advantages, and disadvantages of the type of social interaction pattern. Where and when is this pattern organized and why?

7 Present to the participants the findings on one element of the technique and then the technique as a whole for validation before investigating another technique.

8 Present the overall findings at a village reflection session especially organized for the purpose.


Participative technology analysis:

- is a powerful tool for recording and validating indigenous techniques.

- helps outsiders and insiders to discover the local technological foundation upon which to build.

- encourages respect and preservation of indigenous culture when introducing a new technology.

- helps identify what to change or modify without disrupting other elements of a technology.

- can be used to examine new technologies to discern their social compability, including their ecological and economic implications for indigenous systems.

Dos and don'ts

- Do use the guide questions to stimulate discussion among village participants.

- Do wait for their conclusions.

- If necessary, divide larger groups into smaller ones, each facilitated by a member of the outside research team.

- Don't record an answer unless it is agreed upon by all participants. Do note the names and addressees of participating village members and list them as co-authors of the recorded knowledge.

Elements of technologies and techniques to be studied when doing participative technology analysis


Example: Planting corn


Sowing corn behind the plow



Source of power


Social interaction in furrow (gender- integrated)

Male making furrow, women sowing seeds


In the hills


Rainy season

Compiled by Jit P. Bhutktan
Source: Bhuktan 1990, Chapple and Coon 1942



A social Science research tool used to study a wide range of characteristics of a population.


Population survey—studies a whole population.
Sample survey—studies a portion, or sample, of a population.

Survey instruments—questionnaires, interview schedules or interview guides (for a brief description of these survey instruments, see Definitions).

A survey is not inherently a participatory research tool. But it is increasingly being used in a participatory manner as community members use it to examine their own affairs.


- Survey instrument—questionnaires or interview schedules (one copy for each respondent) or interview guides

- Notebooks

- Pens


To generate baseline and evaluation data (see Abbreviations and Definitions)—qualitative or quantitative—and to answer questions identified using other methods.

Possible approach

1 Develop a list of information to be gathered. Prioritize the data to be collected.

2 Choose the type of instrument to be used.

3 Develop the instrument (the questionnaire, schedule or interview guide). Use simple language.

4 Pre-test the instrument with the same type of population and in a setting similar to the intended research site. Revise the instrument if necessary. Repeat the pretest to ensure that information generated is reliable (the same quality of results should be generated again and again) and valid (it should gather the type of information for which it is designed). Surveys should generate the same results even if they are conducted by different interviewers.

5 Select the sample. You can select respondents at random or by using other appropriate sampling techniques (see How to draw a sample). The type of sample that you use will determine the type of statistical analysis you can perform.

6 Administer the survey.

- Mailed questionnaires—Send the questionnaire with a courteous cover letter and clear instructions. Send follow-up letters to remind respondents to return the questionnaire.

- Self-administered questionnaires—Give the instrument to the respondent (or group of respondents) and explain it. Ask if the respondents have any questions. Ask them to complete the questionnaire and return it to you. Quickly review the completed questionnaire and obtain any missing information before leaving.

- Personal interviews—Follow the guidelines for interviewing (see topic Interviewing). The researcher should write the responses on the instrument.

- Interview guide—C fine topics in sequence and try to maintain the interview's interest. Note responses an the interview form. At the d of the interview, review the information gathered ensure nothing has been missed.

7 Organize and analyze the

8 Discuss and validate the results with the community. Return the results to the community. (See topic Intellectual property rights.)


- Surveys are useful for identifying and documenting people's indigenous knowledge, practices, and their cultural context.

- Sample surveys can be used when the indigenous knowledge of a large population must be inferred from a small portion of the population.

- Surveys can help determine how widespread is a practice, technique, or belief in a community.

- Surveys with structured questionnaires are useful to capture the "what," "who," "where," "when" and "how often" of IK, but they are less suited to discover details of the "how" and "why." This is true especially if the questions are closed-ended (offering only prescribed response choices).

- Questionnaires designed by local people can provide useful insights into their IK.

Dos and don'ts

- Do train interviewers in how to administer your questionnaire or conduct your interviews.

- Don't use a self-administered questionnaire when surveying illiterate people. Use an interview guide instead.

- Do pretest the questionnaire to make sure respondents understand the questions and can answer them correctly. Revise the questionnaire if necessary.

- Do keep the instrument short and simple. Ask only those questions which you need in order to answer the research question.


Close-ended questions: Where me respondent chooses me answer born a predetermined list Example: Where did you fires learn of this new farming practice:

(a) From family members
(b) From other relatives
(c) From friends or neighbors
(d) From the extension agent
(e) From other sources (specify)

Open-ended questions:

Where me respondent is asked to provide his or her own answer.

Example: How did you fires learn of this new farming practice? Responses to closed-ended questions are easier to analyze. but they may give less insight into the subject than open ended questions.

Compiled by Jit P. Bhuktan
Sources: Frank Lynch 1979, Kerlinger 1982, Kidder 1981