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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


Ethnic Minority Development Data System (EMDDS)


The Ethnic Minority Development Data System is based on a philosophy of mutual respect between indigenous peoples and government officials, and is intended to replace conventional ethnic minority classification surveys. Although one of the objectives is data collection (on location/geography; socio-cultural factors and services; food and income production; land/water/natural resources; access to information), the major objective is to use more participatory and equitable methods in order to increase community-government dialogue and mutual understanding. Agencies provide a format for the data to be collected from communities, but the indigenous peoples are nevertheless free to submit data they want others to know about, especially the government. Therefore a category has been added: "locally determined input". A sub-category, "ethnic resources", has also been added to the category "socio-cultural".

The purpose of the data collection, on-site analysis and review is:

  • to establish or improve dialogue and understanding between indigenous peoples and governments;
  • to collect and analyze data of value to both;
  • to use the data—in the case of communities, as a basis for decision-making and planning their own lives, and in the case of government, for determining the content of development activities and the approach that is taken;
  • to generate a pool of accurate quantitative and qualitative data for use in policy-making. For example, the joint data collection and review based on the philosophy of mutual respect results in information, maps, ideas and analyses that villagers use as a basis for drafting development plans.
EMDDS is being developed by the Committee for Ethnic Minorities and Mountainous Areas (CEMMA) and the Institute of Ethnology. It involves a flexible mix of external participatory techniques and indigenous communication systems. Initial trials have resulted in smiles on villagers’ faces and interest on the part of many government officials. Besides requiring the collection of data on indigenous knowledge, skills, practices and other resources, EMDDS encourages the people themselves to contribute the IK input.


Regions: North, Central Highlands


In EMDDS, IK does not simply add an extra dimension, it is the foundation for community-government contacts and mutual cooperation based on respect. Without this respect and continuing exchange there is little opportunity for constructive development.


The mutual respect and understanding created by the practice should result in growing cooperation.


Community members and government agencies have a stake in the project and benefit from it.

During the trial period in 1998, 12 indigenous communities, one ministry and one research institute were taking part in the project.



- As mutual trust increases, cooperation improves.

- The data are more accurate and complete.

- The indigenous population takes part in development decision-making.


  • Official approval might be difficult to obtain because the government will fear a loss of authority and control.
  • The project might require more resources (funds, time and effort) than are available.
  • As data collection progresses, community members and local officials will make use of the feedback and add more and more of their own inquiries for strategic purposes. It is therefore vital that the research institute maintain some control over the database, monitor the activities, and draw the links.
It is vital that the project budget allow for teaching local people to manage and update the database. The activity must be embedded in the community and not left to the state. These kinds of inquiries will gradually become part of people’s lives, and they will use the data for many other activities.


It is too early to measure the success of the practice. Thus far only the development stage has been successful.

Trials have now been conducted in four provinces (12 villages) by a joint team of resident villagers, government officials (mainly to learn), and the Institute of Ethnology (which is quite skilled in this approach). The trials involved approximately 2-3 days per village (staying overnight), which is the maximum you could expect government officials to invest in such work.

The positive results were reflected in: (1) the eyes and smiles of the villagers, who finally had a chance to talk and educate outsiders, (2) the interest and acceptance shown by the participating officials and by the high-ranking officials who heard about the practice later in workshops, and (3) the decision by CEMMA (the ministerial body governing indigenous development) to integrate these methods into on-going policy studies and other efforts.

The negative results were reflected in the lack of interest on the part of some district and provincial officials, who refused even to take part in a trial. Apparently they found it too risky. A strange new system which respects indigenous knowledge and skills might demand more of their time and resources, and of course it contradicts the top-down methods of the preceding decades.

Nevertheless, the chances of the practice succeeding appear to be good, because the Institute of Ethnology is quite skilled, CEMMA is committed, and the indigenous people who have been involved up to now are optimistic.


In principle, the practice should be easy to replicate.

For the EMDDS itself, the main obstacle to further replication could occur after 1999, when the data system becomes institutionalized.

There are many networks in Asia that promote this kind of process. Communities and local professionals should be encouraged to establish contact with these networks to find out what other people are doing. Government officials should be encouraged to link the findings with the results of other research in the region. This would also help the process to take root.

From 1998 to the present.


Mr. Ha Que Lam
Committee for Ethnic Minorities and Mountainous Areas
(see below)


Organization that provided this information:

Committee for Ethnic Minorities and Mountainous Areas
Viet Nam
Telephone: +84-4-8237330
Fax: +84-4-7332197
E-mail: vie96010@undp.org.vn

Cooperating organization:

Institute of Ethnology
Viet Nam
Telephone: +84-4-9711435

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