UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
You are in the MOST Phase I website (1994-2003).
The MOST Phase II website is available at: www.unesco.org/shs/most.

MOST Clearing House Best Practices


Database of best practices on indigenous knowledge
The Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education / Indigenous Knowledge (NUFFIC/IK-Unit)
The Netherlands Organization for International Cooperation in Higher Education / Indigenous Knowledge (NUFFIC/IK-Unit) (1) in co-operation with UNESCO's Management of Social Transformations Programme (MOST) has established a Database of best practices on indigenous knowledge in 1999 which initially contained 27 best practices. Through the second phase (2001-2002), 22 cases were newly added to the database.

This database is part of the MOST database of Best Practices, which concentrates on poverty alleviation. It contains examples of successful projects illustrating the use of local and indigenous knowledge in the development of cost-effective and sustainable survival strategies, covering Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and Latin America & Caribbean. It also includes a geographical and thematic index and an index of institutions acting as indigenous knowledge resource centres.

NUFFIC (IK-Unit) and MOST have also produced two joint publications entitled "Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge (1999)" and "Best Practices Using Indigenous Knowledge (2002)". They provide further details on indigenous knowledge including the selected practices, indexes and a list of resource centers. The publications are only available via Internet.

Definition of Indigenous Knowledge

IK can refer to the knowledge belonging to a specific ethnic group, for example: ‘Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. It is the basis for local-level decision-making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities.’ Another useful definition is the following: ‘Indigenous knowledge is the information base for a society, which facilitates communication and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic, and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems.[1] Or: ‘Indigenous knowledge is the knowledge that people in a given community have developed over time, and continue to develop. It is based on experience, often tested over centuries of use, adapted to local culture and environment, dynamic and changing.[2]

IK may be related to a common practice seen in communities that are indigenous to a specific area. Or the focus might be on the long history of the practice, in which case it is often called ‘traditional knowledge’. The following definition is a combination of these different aspects: ‘Indigenous knowledge, also referred to as traditional or local knowledge, refers to the large body of knowledge and skills that has been developed outside the formal educational system. IK is embedded in culture and is unique to a given location or society. IK is an important part of the lives of the poor. It is the basis for decision-making of communities in food security, human and animal health, education and natural resource management.[3]

Analysis of this selection of definitions reveals that several interrelated aspects appear to be more or less specific to the nature of IK. IK could be summerized in the following way:

·        Locally bound, indigenous to a specific area.

·        Culture- and context-specific.

·        Non-formal knowledge.

·        Orally transmitted, and generally not documented.

·        Dynamic and adaptive.

·        Holistic in nature.

·        Closely related to survival and subsistence for many people worldwide.

The Best Practices presented here are diverse and a reflection of the broad and diversified character of IK.

[1] See Flavier et al. 1995:479.  

[2] See IIRR, Philippines, 1996. ‘Recording and using indigenous knowledge: a manual’.

[3] World Bank website text. See: www.worldbank.org/afr/ik/index.htm

What are Best Practices?

'Best practices related to indigenous knowledge' refer to examples and cases that illustrate the good use of IK in developing cost-effective and sustainable survival strategies for poverty alleviation and income generation, e.g. indigenous land use systems to encourage labour-sharing arrangements among farmers; using IK to increase the fuel-efficiency of local stoves instead of replacing them; using indigenous institutions by extending credit through existing village loan groups etc. In collecting the information we are not interested in the details of the indigenous knowledge itself (the technical specifications of for example the stove are not relevant here), but in the ways that knowledge has been adapted, applied, and disseminated.

Aim of the database

The aim of this database is to encourage researchers and policy-makers to incorporate indigenous knowledge into their project proposals, feasibility studies, implementation plans and project assessments, and to take indigenous knowledge and practices into account in all activities affecting local communities. We know that many people are working on projects in which indigenous knowledge plays an essential and practical role. It is very important that information about this kind of projects is made available world-wide so that other people can learn from the experiences. The database of best practices will play an important role in building a bridge between empirical solutions, research and policy.

Selection procedure

In order to qualify as a best practice, the activity in question must be evaluated both by independent experts and by the people who are directly concerned. All questionnaires that are sent in will first be screened by NUFFIC (IK-Unit) to make sure that the information is complete and that the activity meets the general definitions mentioned above. If the information meets the basic technical requirements, it will be entered in the IK database which NUFFIC (IK-Unit) maintains. The description of the activity will then be sent to one or more independent referees who are known to be experts in a field relevant to the proposed best practice. These referees will decide if and when the practice is suitable for submission to UNESCO.

If referees need more information about a proposed best practice or have suggestions as to how it could be made suitable, they will contact directly the person who described the practice on a questionnaire. This person will also receive the referees' report. Best practices that are judged suitable will be submitted to UNESCO for inclusion in the MOST database.

For more information, please contact:

1. Former Centre for International Research and Advisory Networks (CIRAN).

To MOST Clearing House Homepage