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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

Criteria for assessing IK

When assessing each type of IK—practice, technology, organizational structure, human resource, etc.—consider the following criteria:


- Efficacy: Does it work? Is it effective? Under what conditions?

- Cost-effectivenees: Is it cost-effective? Affordable to poor people?

- Availability: Are its "ingredients", available in this location? In sufficient amounts? Decreasing?

- Understandability: Is it easy to understand? Easy to handle?

- Cultural appropriateness: Is it culturally appropriate? Will it be accepted? (These two questions apply only when IK from one location is introduced to another location, ethnic group or caste.)

- Effect on different groups in communities: How will it affect the different user- and non-user groups in the village? (Who would be burdened? Who would benefit?)

- Environmental soundness: How does it affect the environment?

- Constraints: What are potential constraints to its use or application? Can they be overcome?

These criteria resemble those applied to western knowledge. Due to its special nature, however, the measurement standards for IK might have to be distinct from those applied to western knowledge.

Special characteristics of IK

IK is holistic (ace Characteristics of local systems).

Indigenous systems are often complex, their various components interrelated. This makes it difficult to measure their efficacy or economic return accurately. To overcome this, western science has tended to pick only bits and pieces of local systems for comparison with their western counterparts. For example, yields of local crops were compared to those of improved western varieties. The fact that the local crops were well adapted to specific intercropping arrangements was often ignored despite the fact that total economic return from some intercropped fields is higher than that from improved monocrops.

Western science has been slow to develop methods to assess complex systems. Father than measuring the yields of single crops, we need methods which can measure economic returns of intercropped fields over extended periods. To assess the productivity of particular livestock species, we need methods which take into account inputs— coat of feed, medicines and labor. Up to now, analyses have focused on outputs—milk production and meat production—and neglected the benefits of local breeds which thrive on minimal inputs.

The value of some IK cannot be expressed in monetary terms.

Some practices fetch low economic returns but perform valuable social functions. Other practices which seem less effective than outside technologies might preserve the environment—a benefit that is difficult to express in economic terms. In other words, assessment of
IK must recognize the context in which it was developed and in which it is applied.

Adapting measurement standards to accommodate the special nature of IK is not enough. We must also identify the criteria and standards by, which local people themselves judge IK. This can be difficult.

We can, however, find out:

- What people value most in a specific IK
- Why they chose it
- What they See as its strengths and weaknesses
- What they think would happen if the IK were not available
- Who would be most affected if the IK were not available
- What features people look for when they teat a technology, and 50 on.

In other words, we attempt to learn the people's view of IK. Methods described in this manual can be adapted to this purpose.

Only if we combine both insiders' end outriders' assessment, will we be able to identify and better understand the value and usefulness of IK.

Compiled by Evelyn Mathias