2. Selected Community Based Monitoring Basics

2. Selected Community Based Monitoring Basics

2.1 Introduction

Community based monitoring is a relatively new scientific field. Obviously, in a broader sense, humans have been always “monitoring” their environment but monitoring by local residents as an organized activity has only recently begun playing a role in research. In the last few decades, local and indigenous observations of the natural and physical environment have made substantial progress. At first, they were referenced as anecdotal evidence, then became case studies, and finally methods are being developed to utilize these observations in independent data sets.

What is community based monitoring? It most often refers to the gathering of information by local residents over a period of time. However, community based monitoring as a term has become a set phrase. It is often used to describe various community based or placebased activities, which are not monitoring in its true meaning. Examples of such activities are meetings and recording of local oral traditions. Bearing in mind that this term originated in the English language in North America, one must understand that other terms may be used for community based monitoring activities in other countries. For example, in Norway, the term community based monitoring is seldom used but it does not mean that there are no programs that employ activities attributed to community based monitoring. Some agencies and researchers prefer the word “observing” to the word “monitoring”, explaining that observing relates more to research, while monitoring is more of a regulatory function. There is no good equivalent term for community based monitoring in the Russian language and different projects use different translations. Careless use of the words “monitoring” and “observing”, and especially information collection in Russia, may unintentionally evoke associations with some Cold War-type suspicion. In Indigenous languages it may be even more confusing, as there may not be equivalent notions. Defining specific activities planned for community based monitoring is the best way to avoid misunderstanding.

Since there is diversity of an interpretation for community based monitoring terms, methods, and approaches, it is useful to clarify the definitions of the main terms applied to community based monitoring that are used in this document. They are offered in Sections 2.4 and 2.5. The project reviews in Section 3 may contain other terminology, which was used by the interviewees, but all other sections of the Handbook are consistent with the definitions offered in this Section. This Handbook adopted the broadest approach to community based monitoring definition as any locally-based repetitive activity performed by local residents at defined time intervals with the purpose of gathering information to monitor the local environment.

2.1.1 Application of different types of knowledge

Community based monitoring is often emphasized as a perfect vehicle for synthesis of different types of knowledge. However, understanding differences and commonalities between the various types is not easy. This issue is further complicated by the lack of standardized terminology. While it is not the purpose of this publication to discuss the philosophical, political, legal, and linguistic arguments surrounding community based monitoring, the information in this section highlights the complexity of the issue and is intended to encourage careful consideration of the choice of words and better understanding of what their meanings entail. It cannot be overemphasized that the careful use of terminology plays a critical role in the success of a community based monitoring project. Misunderstandings due to different interpretations of the meaning of some phrases and terms can create barriers to local support for community based monitoring projects.

The application of indigenous knowledge in scientific research is arguably one of the most difficult, poorly understood and confusing issues. The confusion begins with the use of terminology. Currently, the following terms are used in the English language: Local and Traditional Knowledge (LTK), Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge (ITK) and Traditional Knowledge and Wisdom (TKW). Within different contexts, the word “knowledge” in these terms may mean “ways of knowing”, “the information held by individuals”, or may refer to specific skills. Below is a suggestion for the use of terminology in community based monitoring. The rationale behind this selection is based on the use of terms by international bodies, such as the Arctic Council, United Nations Convention on Biodiversity, United Nations Development Programme, and the relative ease of understanding by diverse audiences. However, the terminology used in the project reviews contained in Section 2 is the same as was used by the person who was interviewed. It does not necessarily coincide with the definitions applied to the rest of the document.

Indigenous knowledge (IK) denotes ways of knowing (a system of knowing) that enable an indigenous individual “…to make true statements and defend them as true. The statements include empirical generalizations, hypothesis and theories; the sum of knowledge is a collection of all statements whether arising from direct observations or as part of systematic truth.” 3

In this regard, Indigenous knowledge does not differ, as a system, from other knowledge systems but it differs in the essence because the ways of knowing (generating knowledge, processing information and transfer of knowledge) are presumed to be different from other knowledge systems. It should be noted that such indigenous knowledge can exist only in indigenous communities where there was none to little interference from other cultures. In the Arctic, most indigenous communities, though economically marginalized, are located in developed countries with a relatively high level of integration. An indigenous person in such communities is a holder of various types of knowledge, including indigenous. So for these reasons, the terms “indigenous” and “traditional knowledge” or simply “local knowledge” are less confusing and more useful for practical purposes.

Indigenous and traditional knowledge (ITK) refers to the ways of knowing by indigenous peoples and to the portion of knowledge of non-indigenous individuals that is based on local and/or cultural traditions and/or special skills typical of a particular location or culture. The relationship between indigenous and traditional are not defined easily. The common use of this expression is in a context that merely denotes that any long-time resident of a particular locale possesses definite qualities that are not known to individuals outside this locale.

These English terms do not always translate well in other languages. For example, the word “traditional” sounds similar in many languages but the meaning and application can be different.

Any community based monitoring project is based on some way of gathering information. The ownership of this information may present a number of questions, especially if it is labelled as indigenous knowledge. The available legal system does not offer comprehensive protection of intellectual property rights related to indigenous knowledge, as the system itself struggles to define what it is that needs to be protected. “ The existing legal system cannot properly embrace what it cannot define, and that lies at the heart of the problem.” 4

Therefore, careful consideration should be given to any potential issues arising from Intellectual Property Rights on products based on indigenous knowledge. Some regional and local indigenous organizations have developed policies and protocols for researchers. (For more information see Appendix 3).

3 Definition of “knowledge” in Longman Dictionary of Scientific Usage, A. Goodman, E.M.F. Payne, Longman Group Limited, Harlow.

4 M. Dodson, “Indigenous peoples and intellectual property rights” Ecopolitics IX: Conference Papers and resolutions Northern Land Council: Sydney, 1996 in J. Anderson, Access and Control of Indigenous Knowledge in Libraries and Archives: Ownership and Future Use. Columbia University, N. Y. 2005.