Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Local Knowledge MattersPower, Context and Policy Making in Indonesia$

Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, and Hans Antlov

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781447348078

Published to Policy Press Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.1332/policypress/9781447348078.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM POLICY PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.policypress.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Policy Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in PPSO for personal use.date: 16 May 2022

Generating and managing local knowledge

Generating and managing local knowledge

(p.89) Five Generating and managing local knowledge
Local Knowledge Matters
Kharisma Nugroho, Fred Carden, Hans Antlov
Policy Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter discusses how local knowledge is generated, codified and managed in real time, by real actors, in real political-economy contexts. It describes how interaction and adaption with the local environment shapes and continuously constructs local knowledge. This trajectory raises issues about locality and origin of local knowledge. Since local knowledge evolves in a dynamic interaction between conflicting interests and actors, the chapter discuss the political-economy dimensions of local knowledge, including potential abuse of local knowledge, how it contributes to equality or inequality, how inclusive it is, who benefits from holding local knowledge and who loses by being left out. The last sections of the chapter describe methods and instrument to codify and manage local knowledge and common trends and shocks in which the utility and maintenance of local knowledge is challenged.

Keywords:   knowledge generation, political economy, codification, policy entrepreneurs, local knowledge

The next two chapters will discuss how knowledge is generated, managed and used in real time, by real actors, in real political contexts. We build on reports that the ten grantees produced for the KSI project, many extracts from which are presented here in the ensuing text. Chapter Five focuses on the generation, codification and management of local knowledge, while Chapter Six focuses on the use and uptake of local knowledge by policy makers.

Generating local knowledge

Citizens and organisations have different positions and roles in producing local knowledge: to solve a local problem; to recommend alternatives for solving problems; to anticipate potential problems; or to preserve local wisdom. These different roles are defined by different capacities of organisations to understand local issues and know the local political context, including related stakeholders.

The melesi community-managed health insurance system in Konawe Selatan, Southeast Sulawesi, for example, reflects a continuity of communal solidarity with improvements in financial governance that (p.90) address emerging health problems. This is part of an effort to contribute to a growing government-sponsored universal health coverage system. This system is possible and sustainable because it is built on the ‘past’, that is, on the community’s social capital and local wisdom, along with the development of a ‘modern’ health insurance scheme. Local systems are built on or aligned with existing belief systems, which is not a totally new thing. It is not like creating a new institution. In this case, the basis for a local health financing strategy is the existing values of traditional mutual assistance (melesi) instead of ‘rational technical-based’ health financing solutions:

The creation of village health insurance in Konawe Selatan is achieved by adopting melesi, where each head of a family routinely pays a mandatory premium to the managing agency established by the village government. The amount of the premium is set based on the result of village community discussions, not based on risk. Melesi is part of a local cultural heritage from the values of unity and helping each other, or samaturu medulu ronga mepokoo aso. The creation of this communal health insurance demonstrates an implementation of such values. In addition, the melesi village health insurance scheme can be a basis on which to build village-owned enterprises. It might also serve as a village micro-finance institution to help people gain access to capital in developing productive businesses in the village. This melesi village health insurance scheme is a model that can be implemented by the villagers due to their values of collaboration and solidarity, access to high-cost referral health service facilities, and large economic gaps in the village. This melesi village insurance scheme will also teach independence and active community participation in the village development process. (LAHA)

Local knowledge is embedded in practice, action, morality and spirituality; it has a central role in social relations and reciprocity among people, as well as in the unity of people and nature. Keujruen (p.91) Blang, water distribution through an irrigation system in Aceh Besar, serves as a communal mechanism for water distribution as well as a venue for broader conflict resolution among community members. It is a proven and effective communal platform that is rooted in the cultural structure of the community. It provides culturally legitimate conflict resolution (as opposed to legal-formal mechanisms provided by the government-managed irrigation committee). As reported by PKPM Aceh, by the end of the 1990s the government had established 176 farmer organisations (P3A) to manage irrigation systems, a legal and formal mechanism. The intention of P3A was to ‘modernise’ the management of irrigation systems at the community level. However, in Aceh Besar, only a few are still functioning, leading to conflict between farmers. At the same time, water-associated disputes among farmers in areas where Keujruen Blang is in place are mostly resolved locally and without conflict.

People in Aceh possess knowledge that has been practised for generations on arranging and managing rice fields. This knowledge forms the characteristics of rice field system management by the Acehnese. The existence of the traditional institution of Keujruen Blang as local wisdom is very important, because most Acehnese make their living as farmers, and the biggest contribution to the local economy comes from the agriculture sector. Keujruen Blang plays an important role in managing rice field agricultural governance and systems. This includes not only managing irrigation and water distribution, leading to the implementation of various traditional and community work activities, and making mutual agreements among farmers; it also responds to critical issues that are difficult to address, such as resolving conflicts among rice farmers. These roles have very strong relevance to sustainable agricultural development and the broader socio-economic development agenda, as Keujruen Blang principles and practices can strengthen social capital and local democratisation, support food security, (p.92) create harmony and peace, and ultimately improve the welfare of farmers. (PKPM Aceh)

Interaction and adaption with the local environment

We have argued that there are close interactions between local knowledge and the physical environment. Our case studies share a common understanding of local knowledge in communities as a product of co-evolution between communities and their environments. This co-evolution serves as a foundation for and result of local community livelihoods and cultures. Local knowledge, such as the clan-based water management system in Kupang (East Nusa Tenggara) documented by Pikul, showcases the interdependence of socio-economic and ecological spheres. This interdependence explains why traditional water management in Kupang has been more effective and functional than the external technocratic mechanism installed through the government’s community water and sanitation infrastructure project, PAMSIMAS (see case study 1 on page 60).

PUSKA UI’s science field shop is also a place where interdisciplinary and trans-disciplinary knowledge, dialogue and exchange can take place. In this arena, farmers, anthropologists, agro-meteorologists and students from different disciplinary backgrounds learn from each other and engage in discussion on the vulnerabilities caused by climate change. Together, they formulate possible adaptation strategies. Despite learning about scientific methods, farmers have not abandoned traditional knowledge systems. Farmers still refer to several things that they have known for a long time to predict the planting season. ‘The existence of cicadas signifies the dry season, while the appearance of bamboo sprouts can be an indication of the rainy season’, a PUSKA UI community facilitator said. ‘The combination of traditional, empirical and scientific methods has helped farmers address the agricultural impacts of climate change’, he continued. Farmers still routinely gather every month to discuss agro-meteorology and consider this an important learning process.

(p.93) In some of our cases, local knowledge and its related local institutions are also challenged by rapid socio-economic and environmental changes. Shocks and trends can lead to dramatic losses of local knowledge, as during the 2004 tsunami in Aceh.

In Aceh, conflicts and the tsunami have destroyed natural resources (rice fields, plantations, fish ponds, salt ponds, livestock and plants) and physical resources (public infrastructure). They have weakened human resources (deceased, lost, missed educational opportunities, sickness/injury) and crushed social resources (trust, social harmony, the culture of helping each other, caring for one another, the spirit of cooperation). (PKPM Aceh)

The challenge is to assess what remains the same (or survives) amid the rapid changes taking place in many communities. Sasi, the community-based natural resource management on the island of Haruku, Central Maluku, illustrates the point. Sasi is recognition of the role of communities in managing and maintaining landscape mosaics and biodiversity. Under sasi principles, fishing is not just a livelihood activity but also a mix of cultural and environmental matters. Sasi is well accepted and environmentally friendly because it assures a culturally fair distribution of the resources among community members. Fishing activities are guided by conservation principles. Sasi contributes to promoting sustainable economic and social conditions in the fishing sector because the mechanism makes fishing operations as selective as possible; it retains target specimens of the right species and size, with minimum impact on other species or juvenile fish of the target species. This practice is also ‘community-friendly’, as it helps maintain the necessary environmental balance for stable and predictable economic activity. Nevertheless, sasi is dynamic and adapting to a changing environment:

The sasi principle is: ‘For everything, there is a season.’ The sasi practice is an idea from indigenous people intended to preserve (p.94) the sustainability of life by restricting resource exploitation and forbidding harvest before harvest time. For example, if a coconut is prematurely picked, while economically valuable, it will not produce a new coconut. Likewise, mining sand and stone will reduce the quality of coastal sea water.

The local community in the village seemed to have lost the ability to weave and develop customs and norms that are meant to be the basis of their collective behaviour. This is due to them having been disconnected from their cultural roots. Justice in natural resource management is not fulfilled because the local community does not have access to participate in all the stages of management. Striving to preserve natural resources will be even harder if licences are given to businesses dredging resources without considering the preservation and existence of ‘sasi’ as a local culture worthy of being maintained. (PATTIRO)

In many cases, traditional knowledge was destroyed by modernisation.

There is now very limited traditional natural resource management on the island of Timor, as the resources to be managed are either no longer there or have changed due to various development or extractive projects, not necessarily agreed by the local community. Therefore, local knowledge on the planting season, harvest season, community granary and natural protection could no longer be applied; the role of the traditional leader is no longer acknowledged. The role of traditional elders in natural resource management was significant. They would conduct ceremonies to open land, decide on planting and harvest time, collect harvest as food reserves, and establish restrictions on hunting and collecting forest products during certain times. However, with the establishment of uniform village governance with Law 5/1979, this role was no longer recognised. Gradually, only a few villages were still using local knowledge and acknowledging local institutions in preserving nature and managing natural resource use. (Pikul)

(p.95) Interaction between forms of knowledge

In Chapter Two, we emphasised the importance of the complementary nature of various knowledge systems, and the need to move away from translating knowledge into one currency. A case of climate adaptation among farmers in Indramayu, West Java, demonstrates the complementary nature of local knowledge. Scientists from the University of Indonesia worked together with local farmers to understand the climate and its impact on agricultural activities. PUSKA UI’s study suggests that we need to propose a ‘multiple-evidence approach’ instead of using the single ‘knowledge currency’ of formal science. Indigenous, local and scientific knowledge systems generate equally valid, complementary and useful evidence for interpreting conditions, change trajectories and in some cases causal relationships relevant to the sustainable governance of ecosystems and biodiversity (Tengö et al, 2014). Our case studies confirm that a multiple-evidence approach requires greater participation of local communities, as highlighted below.

Since 2009, the Indramayu Farmers Club, facilitated by PUSKA UI, has learned agro-meteorology in science field shops. Several farmer groups, local NGOs and agro-meteorology experts from Indonesia, the Netherlands and Africa have collaborated through this programme. Beginning with an acknowledgement from local farmers that their traditional weather forecasting system had been misleading in recent years, they learned to monitor and calculate rainfall, combine scientific methods with monitoring rice field conditions, animal behaviour, pests and plant diseases that they routinely record. ‘This monitoring results in planting period estimations,’ said Yusup, a member of the Indramayu Rainfall Observation Club. Farmers are developing a new behaviour: they have become researchers. Farmers who previously carried hoes now also carry pens and books. (PUSKA UI)

(p.96) On the island of Timor, Pikul brought local knowledge around water management to the attention of the academic community as it generated solid information on local water management. A local university, Artha Wacana Christian University (Universitas Kristen Artha Wacana), noted that the research findings influenced the policies of the Masehi Injili Church in Timor, one of the largest protestant churches in eastern Indonesia.

In communicating with policy makers, support from the scientific community is a requirement that cannot be ignored. Support from universities and scientists goes hand in hand with the empowerment objective by civil society, so that local knowledge receives scientific legitimacy and its methods are held accountable. More importantly, with support from the academic/scientific community, local knowledge can be heard by policy makers whose institutional knowledge is still in the classical/conventional paradigm. Based on Pikul’s experience, the scientific community is somewhat inspired by local knowledge to develop new knowledge to effectively resolve issues. The scientific community has also contributed significantly to developing and refining the local knowledge development methodology. Moreover, a number of international policies (such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) have promoted the adoption of local knowledge in their implementation. This has strengthened various lessons learned on developing local knowledge in a way that is communicable with policy makers. (Pikul)

Several partners incorporated religious beliefs into their advocacy. A good example of this is LK3, a civil society organisation based in Banjarmasin. One of its focuses is the promotion of traditional knowledge to strengthen the understanding of Islam among the people. This idea is elaborated by LK3 through a number of activities, such as monitoring and advocacy of community development projects, (p.97) and environmental awareness programmes. In implementing these activities, LK3 collaborates with other institutions, such as the Jakarta-based Wahid Institute on the issues of democracy, pluralism, women and local culture. The film, ‘Our River, Our Life’ is one of the outputs of the LK3 programme focusing on revitalising river culture in the face of climate change, in which river management is indicative of the close relationship between local wisdom, religion, everyday life and the physical environment.

The river, in the context of Banjar, contains many stories. These stories are about the struggles, ideas and behaviours of the Banjar people in interpreting the river as their source of life. From the process of dialogue and activities related to river revitalisation advocacy, LK3 found a number of stories very closely related to the relationship between people and the river. One is the story of Khaidir Prophet as the protector of the river. As told by a cultural observer in Banjarmasin, the story says:

In the beliefs of the Banjar people, a number of prophets have been watching over the river. That is why when we go to the river, we are asked to send greetings and prayers, and act politely and kindly to the river, because the river will show its fury when treated poorly. The one who is protecting the river until now is believed to be Khaidir Prophet. The river will give its best prayers to people who treat it nicely, and vice versa.

Another similar story is that the river has prayer beads and will pray for anyone who is friendly towards it. Among signs of God’s greatness, there are verses known as kauniyah, namely verses on invisible things. The environment, including the river with all of its content, is included in kauniyah verses as proof of God’s greatness. (LK3)

(p.98) In these folk tales, we see that the river is very meaningful for the community around Banjarmasin. While the tales could be viewed as nothing more than myths, they reflect a form of local wisdom around preserving balance and harmony between humans and their environment, a cognitive map for adapting to the environment. These stories are generated from the Banjar people’s long struggle responding to changes in nature and their surroundings. The stories are rarely heard anymore and exist only in stories told by the elders who once lived peacefully with the river. As the population grows and development rapidly expands, and the number of outsiders visiting increases, these narratives are heard less and less. Appreciating these stories is another form of appreciating local knowledge.

Locality and origin

At the community level, the challenge faced is, ‘How local is local knowledge?’ Some elements in local knowledge are truly local and some are adopted/adapted from outside the community. Our cases identify both unique and common dimensions of local knowledge. On the one hand, partners have compiled various forms of local knowledge that are not only unique to every culture or society in the study, but also demonstrate variation within communities. On the other hand, the findings share some similarities and patterns. Looking across our ten cases, we can find a pattern: even knowledge that is seen as locally specific is similar in principle and practice to knowledge in other locations, even in locations with significantly different socio-cultural backgrounds. For example, research by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) (Cahyadi, 2012) and others (Von Benda-Beckmann et al, 1992; Nikijuluw, 1998) show practices similar to sasi outside the Maluku islands, revealing that the principles of indigenous coastal fisheries management in sasi are also found in other locations, such as Sulawesi and Papua. Mawah – the community-based asset and profit sharing mechanism in Aceh – and the melesi community health scheme in Southeast Sulawesi share principles of gotong royong (customary mutual assistance) that are also widely found in other parts of Indonesia (p.99) with different socio-economic backgrounds. These all lead us to the question of what it means to be ‘local’ and how we set boundaries in terms of place and location of local knowledge.

Only one of our cases (sasi in Maluku) reported an estimation of when the practice was initiated (in the 1600s). The other studies have no specific information on the origin of local knowledge. In general, they mention that the knowledge and practices were inherited from their ancestors, and passed down from generation to generation. Like other non-tangible artefacts, such as vernacular knowledge and practices, verification of their genesis and origin in terms of time and source of practice is difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain. This might have something to do with the prominence of oral culture in Indonesia (Heryanto, 2015) in which it is difficult to track the lineage of knowledge.

Another dimension that makes the genesis and originality of local knowledge even more complex is the fact that local knowledge – as are all types of knowledge – is dynamic as it adapts to a changing environment. Because local knowledge changes over time, it can be difficult to trace where it came from, and when, to know which actors engaged in the local knowledge process, and even to decide whether a practice or local knowledge system is local, adopted from outside, or a blend of local and introduced components. In most of the cases reported by partners the latter situation is likely.

For a very long time, the Aceh people have developed and practised mawah in rural areas as a coping strategy to gain access to capital. The mawah practice is based on social capital (familial relationship, care for each other, spirit of helping each other, trust), which then facilitates access to financial or resource capital. In the economic context, mawah brings together parties with surplus assets but limited labour and time, and parties with limited assets but surplus labour. Mawah combines two important factors in production activity: owners of working capital (‘ureung po atra’) and labour (‘ureung keurija’/‘pubuet’ or ‘pemawah’). In mawah cooperation, pemawah usually contributes to work (p.100) supporting facilities, such as farming tools for agricultural mawah or barns for livestock mawah. The vulnerability factors discussed previously demanded that people adopt new means of livelihood generation or modified their previous livelihood approaches. They also decreased the chances of people engaging in ‘traditional’ mawah for agriculture, plantation and livestock. The concept of mawah as a traditional coping strategy in rural areas is being reapplied for new livelihoods, and even in urban areas. People are starting to implement the mawah concept in their modern business practices, such as managing property or businesses, including cafés, shops and car and motorcycle washes. In these cooperative enterprises, the capital owner and the manager mutually agree on the profit and loss sharing of the business, just like in the traditional mawah. Under the modern mawah, people in cities have begun to use written agreements, or even a notary. (YKU)

The fact that local knowledge is described as being based on people’s daily life experiences means that local knowledge is attached to the physical places where people live, work and act. Therefore, there are inherent barriers to external actors documenting and translating local knowledge. According to Relph (1976: 45), places have identities and meanings for the people who live there. ‘The identity of a place is an expression of the adaptation of assimilation, accommodation and the socialisation of knowledge to each other.’ With this understanding, the concept of place means different things to different people depending on their personal relationship to it. External researchers may present ‘inauthentic attitudes to place’, which do not involve understanding a place or its symbolic meanings, identity and values due to their ‘outsideness’ (Seamon and Sowers, 2008) as well as their efforts to comply with a research methodology that requires ‘objective attitudes’. Places are instead seen as backgrounds for action, situations and environments where research activities are situated. While politicians and decision makers often regard places this way (a place is geographic coordinates, figures, data – called an ‘objective outsideness attitude’ by (p.101) Seamon and Sowers, 2008: 45), local knowledge researchers who want to document and translate local knowledge need to deeply understand meanings, values and identities associated with physical place. They need to experience behavioural ‘insideness’ as an objective observer (known as an ‘emic approach’ within anthropology). Researchers who have deeper connections with local people may become empathetic which demands ‘willingness to be open to significances of a place, to feel it, to know and respect its symbols’ (Relph, 1976: 54). In this way, researchers can begin to overcome the limitations imposed by being outsiders.

There might be a need to be innovative in the efforts to document local wisdom so that it can contribute to the policy making process. The BIGS story about forest management in Central Java is a good example. BIGS innovated by visualising its research outcome in an animated film, which was then shown to villagers. Disseminating ideas through this film provided the opportunity for the villagers to respond, both critiquing and praising the video. It also brought out new and other ideas based on and related to the animation. The villagers’ response was useful not only as an external validation to the research result, but also as material to develop policies. New ideas and other stories concerning culture-based forest conservation conveyed by the villagers are actually very rich in establishing policy options for environmental conservation based on local knowledge, as shown in the graph in Figure 5.1. (p.102)

Generating and managing local knowledge

Figure 5.1: BIGS innovation for local knowledge

(p.103) The political economy of generating and managing local knowledge

It is not sufficient to simply document local knowledge; it is equally important to understand how this knowledge adapts, develops and changes over time, how it contributes to equality or inequality, how inclusive it is, who benefits from holding local knowledge and who loses by being left out. In addition, in terms of local knowledge-to-policy processes, how this knowledge is communicated and by whom, both within and beyond the community, is also significant. These are the social complexities of local knowledge. From a critical perspective, as local knowledge resides, grows and is owned through socio-economic relations, its ‘fairness’ from critical theory and social inclusion perspectives can be questioned. By and large, local knowledge documented in our studies is owned by the elites in a place. The framework developed by FAO (FAO, 2004), which we mentioned in Chapter Two, is a useful starting point to navigate the data across our case studies: common knowledge is held by most people in a community; shared knowledge is held by many but not all community members as part of a division of labour and roles; and specialised knowledge is held by a those with special training or authority. Using this framework, ‘specialised knowledge’ is held by a few people who might have held a special position (for example, the clan that controls the water system in Kupang), or as ‘common/shared knowledge’ that is held by many but not all community members (for example, villagers in Aceh who raise livestock will know more about basic animal husbandry and the mawah system than those without livestock). Only two studies (the community-based health insurance system in Sulawesi and forest conservation in Central Java) identified local knowledge as ‘common knowledge’ that is held by most people in a community. The POLGOV study of local resistance to mining showed the mixed use of specialised knowledge and common knowledge: specialised knowledge of religious issues (church and mosque), environmental advocacy (NGOs) and the local community merged in the resistance movement against mining projects.

(p.104) The power of inequity within local knowledge has significant implications for research and development work (FAO, 2004). To find out what people know, the political-economy position and the right people must be identified, because possessing knowledge is a consequence of people’s political economy position. This requires deep understanding of the socio-economic arrangement of the community; in some cases, this is concealed by formal structures and traditions. We sometimes draw the wrong conclusion if we work with the wrong informants – because the sampling follows the formal structure or works within a given framework. An analysis of local knowledge, identifying who owns it and how they actualise and communicate it, is not a simple task; it requires an adequate stock of knowledge about the structure of both formal and informal knowledge systems behind the proxies for local knowledge. For example, if in Aceh Besar young men do the herding, they may know better than their fathers and the owner of the cows where the best grazing sites are, so asking fathers to show good pastures (because a researcher would normally go to the elders first) might only provide partial information. Selecting the head of the household (the fathers) as the informant is an example of taking facts at face value, because it follows the conventional household structure. This approach to knowledge is related to the belief system about the role of the head of the household in an agriculture-based community and in intra-household power relations in Aceh. Political-economic inquiries will not only see this from the perspective of specialisation or an age-based division of labour in the community, but from a broader (political) understanding of the knowledge system and where specific knowledge resides.

Local knowledge is not equally shared and owned by men and women, between age groups, ordinary men and ordinary people, among other variations. Each of these social categories may possess different and complementary knowledge. Many cases, such as the clan-based water management system in Kupang, whale hunting in Lembata and sasi fishery management in Maluku show that culturally designated individuals, lineages or clans may possess specialised knowledge and (p.105) skills in specific domains. The story from Aceh Besar on revitalising customary farmers’ associations is one example.

Women play an extremely important role in fulfilling the needs of farming families in Aceh Besar. Women farmers play a central and dominant role in rice field related activities, such as making seedbeds, sowing the seeds, applying fertilisers, removing seeds and planting rice. Women farmers are responsible for ensuring that water flows to the rice fields, and for preventing the water from spilling and disrupting the growth of the paddy, leaving it vulnerable to pest attack. To guarantee the availability of water, women stay up late at night to control water supply, because other farmers could close the waterway or there could be leakage in the irrigation, and the water would not reach the rice fields. Women also play a crucial role in mediating water distribution conflicts among farmers. (PKPM Aceh)

There are often roles for ‘non-elite’ community members such as women, children and minority groups in transmitting, preserving and elaborating local knowledge. For example, women are frequently the primary managers or collectors of natural resources, such as drinking water, or of fuel or small agro-forestry plots or medicinal plants. They are also the primary holders of knowledge concerning such resources. However, they are often not present in decision-making events on the distribution of these communal resources. Special care must therefore be taken to involve women and other under-represented groups.

In implementing activities to revitalise river management in Banjarmasin, LK3 always engages women’s groups, often even more than men’s groups. Women’s participation has been important in initiating several activities, such as proposing and coordinating social action to clean the river. LK3 realised that women are often more affected than men; thus it is very important to involve women in the public space and engage them in public policy-making processes. Men do not dominate (p.106) attendance at public discussions. During events, women are active in responding to resource people and in conveying issues from their neighbourhoods. At one event, the female participants came from various religious and social organisations in Banjarmasin city and at regional and city levels, such as Muslimat, Badan Kontak Majelis Taklim (BKMT) and Nasyiatul Aisiyah. Also included were other women’s organisations, such as the Women’s Organisation Coordination Agency, Indonesian Christian Women, Indonesian Catholic Women, Wandani, WHDI, Aisiyah and others. These organisations are part of LK3’s network and they are always involved when LK3 hosts events. (LK3)

Access to knowledge is governed by culturally specific rules and procedures. Communities often see this kind of gender and social hierarchy-based division of labour not as a power relation issue, but as a cultural approach, indicating that women and men have different, but complementary, roles and responsibilities. Our studies acknowledge that this has resulted in different knowledge, needs, concerns, priorities and roles within communities. Attention to gender balance and social inclusion in all local knowledge processes is critical to understanding the knowledge itself and how it is used for policy purposes.

Methods and instruments to codify information and knowledge

Let us now turn to how our partners codified local knowledge. This is important because local knowledge – as all forms of knowledge – needs to be generated and codified in order to be become part of the knowledge sector. How this is done will affect how the knowledge is used. Using the FAO framework (Figure 5.1), the methods and instruments to collect local knowledge were different depending on the type of knowledge. For ‘common knowledge’ such as myths and communal traditions, the methods used were storytelling and key actors’ analysis (the mawah system, melesi, myths in forest conservation and so on). For ‘shared knowledge’, the common method was (p.107) observation of key events or processes. For example, in the sasi coastal fishery system in Maluku, PATTIRO observed the ritual and process, and did an analysis of the key actors involved in the events and their specific roles.

Another challenge to implementing sasi is that many people think it is only mandatory for local people, and does not apply to ‘outsiders’ who are governed by formal (government) regulations. As a result, indigenous people and groups are striving for sasi lompa to be formally reinforced according to their ancestral heritage. ‘The central Maluku government with the provincial government intend to draft, socialise and issue a local regulation on sasi. This is the opportunity for us to give inputs, so the Haruku King is involved,’ said Haji Abdullah Latarissa, a local leader. The challenge being addressed is how tradition-based local knowledge can be codified so that multiple parties involved in the policy-making process can understand it. (PATTIRO)

This codification process is crucial to overcome discrepancies of understanding among community groups; the basic benefit of the sasi lompa codification is to strengthen social cohesion and preserve the fishery resources for community benefit. If the codification process is participatory, people can see whether their understanding is the same as other community members. This stage is important because local knowledge cannot be separated from the ‘owner’ of such knowledge. There are many actors who contribute to local knowledge and our cases show a large range of knowledge producers and users.

Religious institutions and civil society organisations: In Manggarai, religious institutions redefined social norms and enriched them with religious norms, and contextualised them to be relevant to the current context. For example, the church mediated indigenous community networks around manganese (p.108) mines. Its goal was to revitalise and consolidate community knowledge and establish strategic alliances with various civil society organisations, such as AMAN, WALHI and JATAM. (POLGOV)

Civil society coalitions: There are on-going efforts by a coalition of civil society organisations in Banyuwangi to save the ecology of the Tumpang Pitu area from gold mining corporations. The coalition consists of Banyuwangi’s Forum for Environmental Learning, or Forum Peduli Masyarakat Nelayan Banyuwangi, and Front Nahdliyin untuk Kedaulatan Sumber Daya Alam. (POLGOV)

Government and multi stakeholders: Our study engaged multiple partners, including local government (Bappeda, the Marine Affairs and Fisheries Office and the Environmental Agency), the local people’s representative and indigenous people (including the Indigenous Council and Kewang), the fishers’ association, and extractive companies operating in the Maluku Tengah district. (PATTIRO)

In terms of approach, in engaging local knowledge actors to gather data, a fundamental dichotomy can be observed across our ten cases. The first group used a process by which academic researchers and professional practitioners collaborate; the practitioners are either involved in the research or carry it out themselves with the support of professional researchers. Examples of this approach are in PUSKA UI on climate change adaptation research with farmers in Indramayu, and in POLGOV UGM with communities in Manggarai on land-dispute advocacy. The approach involved using ‘research-minded’ local knowledge actors in the data collection and analysis process.

The process involves codification of local practices into a conceptual framework with three essential components: 1) conducting participatory research (research scientists and local (p.109) farmers); 2) conducting on-site oriented research (research scientists, extension workers and farmers); and 3) validating farmer experiments (farmers and extension workers). (PUSKA UI)

Through this perspective, the researchers carried out participatory on-station data collection and data validation, with the roles of the local knowledge actors limited to being informants. As such, this methodology may be perceived as hegemonic knowledge (Bergold and Thomas, 2012). The reason for this is that the research process starts from the external and is about the community (Russo, 2012).1

The second approach is found in a second, larger group of eight studies where the research was conducted directly with local knowledge holders. The aim was to reconstruct their knowledge and abilities in a process of understanding and empowerment. In these eight studies, research was conducted as research with the people in question, and about their problems. This approach was chosen because the aim of the inquiry and the research questions were not developed out of the convergence of two perspectives – that of science and of practice, but as research about the local knowledge and contextualisation of a given research question. What all other studies show is an effort to understand, communicate and empower local knowledge – an effort taken to address the nature of local knowledge that technically uses different forms of expression with other types of knowledge, especially scientific knowledge.

Mapping the distribution of local knowledge will enable us to analyse the sources of local knowledge that will lead to an analysis of power relations. Having a map of actors in the mawah system in Aceh Besar, for example, helped YKU to identify the land ownership structure and socio-economic structure of the society.

(p.110) Globally, micro-finance has been the most popular approach to overcoming poverty in rural areas. This strategy has also been adopted by the government in Aceh as well as by multiple donor organisations during the post-tsunami rehabilitation and reconstruction period. It has contributed to the development of the micro-finance sector in Aceh over the last ten years. However, the socio-collateral approach used in micro-credit does not accommodate the context of the means of livelihood of the rural poor, who depend on the yields of agriculture, farms and sailing, with an unstable income and inability to regularly and routinely pay weekly or monthly instalments. These people do not own assets that can serve as collateral. The research found several cases in the study area where the inability of group members (generally the poor) to pay instalments has generated conflicts with other group members. This is because the ‘punishment’ over delinquency in payments affects the whole group – none of the group members will receive another loan, and the village will not receive funding for infrastructure development. As a result, the poor are ridiculed and are no longer involved in micro-finance activities. In some cases, poor people who have taken micro-credit from programmes funded by the government must take high-interest loans from loan sharks to pay the micro-credit instalments, because of their uneven and irregular income. Thus, instead of empowering, this programme is actually trapping poor people in a deeper cycle of debt and poverty. (YKU)

The socio-economic nature of local knowledge requires a context-specific data collection method and sampling approach that reflects the local socio-economic structure, as in the following case by POLGOV.

Knowledge has begun to be consolidated, structured and documented in a more organised way. Local knowledge has been transformed into explicit knowledge or common knowledge. Through an agenda-setting process, structured local knowledge (p.111) can be promoted into an evidence base for public issues, public agendas and institutional agendas. Collective awareness and knowledge leads to discussions in public media, so the issues become public issues that can turn into policy issues when relevant parties in the policy process, especially formal actors, begin to view them as public concerns that need to be addressed. If such political agendas are accommodated and become part of the formal policy-making process, this will turn into a public agenda: a public issue generally recognised by the political community or policy makers as an agenda that needs to be considered and managed through relevant public authorities. (POLGOV)

Methods and instruments to manage information and knowledge

Once codified, knowledge needs to be managed. This allows organisations to use and adapt practices to leverage their existing knowledge assets and develop a culture of sharing and learning. In many cases, codified local knowledge lacks information about the socio-cultural context, a situation that puts local knowledge at the instrumental level. Bringing the everyday life of a community into broader conceptual debates requires an adequate stock of knowledge metadata: the ‘who, what, where, when and how’ of data collection.

In investigating the mawah system in Aceh Besar, for example, researchers reported difficulties in identifying the underlying socio-economic structures that made this mechanism function. This requires the researcher to have adequate knowledge about communal asset structures in Aceh Besar, the evolution of socio-economic class division in Aceh, and so on. In short, the challenge is about having an adequate relevant stock of knowledge so that the local knowledge can be understood. Multiple levels of community leaders in Aceh are important figures in exploring local knowledge. They also function as intermediaries who can communicate local knowledge to the government.

(p.112) As a result, when presented without the local and cultural context in which it was collected, local observations and knowledge can lose value at best, and be misleading at worst. For example, the community health insurance system documented by LAHA in Southeast Sulawesi was possible because of the cultural context of melesi – a community practice of shared poverty/property. Melesi is the context in which the health insurance system is situated. When LAHA was advocating for scaling up the insurance system, knowledge management issues constrained this effort. The data brought to district level as the basis for developing a district regulation on health insurance has a high risk of losing suitable contextual information. This is due to a lack of detailed information about its origin, how it was collected, constraints on its use, detailed specifications for data formats, and organisation of the data. To promote more complete representation of the data, and to ensure discoverability, access to and preservation of data and metadata (as complete as possible) must be ensured. Some of these metadata components may be more familiar than others.

To support the establishment of melesi health insurance in Southeast Sulawesi, we interviewed relevant village heads and the potential network through a focus group discussion with communities in four villages. The collected data is primary data directly obtained from interviews and focus group discussions. The limitation that can be identified since the beginning of the programme is the lack of government support. This is because the implementation of this programme coincided with the election of the head of the Konawe Selatan district, so the people assumed that the programme was part of a political process. (LAHA)

To ensure that data is useful to local communities and policy makers, it is imperative for the richness of the codification that contextual information is collected along with the data itself. For the knowledge holders and data providers (who may be the same person), this can mean a significant amount of effort. But it is important that those most (p.113) familiar with its content and context develop this information. Through the process of describing documented forms of local observations and knowledge using metadata, providers help to ensure that the data can be understood, managed and appropriately distributed, along with as much contextual information as possible. Local knowledge brings meaning to social phenomena.

The first challenge in processing local knowledge is generally associated with the nature of space and its significance, that local knowledge is largely hidden, lying tacit and dormant within communities (Campbell and Marshall, 2000). Researchers often find it difficult to be confident in selecting the right informants, actions and situations that will lead them to the essential information. The BIGS’s study highlights the role of myths in forest conservation in Central Java and reported that they had to change the description of the myths as a result of inconsistencies from different informants about the what, when, where, who and why of myths in the community.

In the field, researchers need to adapt to become part of the community. This is done to obtain information, because at first, the community will not be open. Researchers need to show that they have the same thinking and feeling as the community, in order for them to provide information. For example, when outsiders ask whether there are myths in a village, the villagers will not reveal that information. But, as our field researcher was a local organiser who not only understands, but also preserves the local culture of the research site, such ‘mythical’ information was shared. (BIGS)

A second challenge is around language and linguistic diversity. This is not merely a matter of communication and interpretation. Indigenous peoples and local communities possess distinctive nomenclatures and taxonomies with respect to biodiversity; these lexicons are often technically complex for talking about observations, evidence and proof (Thaman et al, 2013). Knowledge about climate in Indramayu, West Java, is embedded in indigenous and local concepts. It can be (p.114) neither captured nor conveyed with any rigour by a simple translation into scientific concepts. Studies from other locations reported similar challenges.

Another role played by civil society is translating local knowledge into a language that can be easily understood by policy makers, including promoting the creation of a dialogue space in order for the local people to regain control over that space and their natural resources. Civil society has a duty to bridge local knowledge so that policy makers can comprehend it. This is not an easy task. A number of scientific methodologies, such as mapping, participative ethnography, participative rural study, barefoot engineering, barefoot observation and recording phenomena through local languages are methods commonly used by civil society to communicate local knowledge to outsiders, especially to policy makers. (Pikul)

In practice, efforts to adapt to the community’s culture can be made by wearing the same attire, speaking/using the same language and being respectful to the community’s culture. As our researchers understood the local culture, they easily adapted their research approach (in language, clothing or ways to contact informants). They used visualisation as a tool to gather knowledge from villagers. BIGS made an animated film based on their research findings. This film was shown to the people to obtain, among others, their input on its validity. Visualisation has been proven to stimulate people’s excitement to provide opinions and input. (BIGS)

A third challenge relates to the fact that knowledge is also embodied in areas that are ‘value-based’, such as morality and spirituality. It puts outside partners in a difficult situation. For example, in the case of whale hunting in Lembata, fishers were challenged by tension between the traditions of the whale hunt for livelihood, and the emerging (p.115) marine conservation movement, both of which they recognised as important.

There are two important debates in relation to the whaling tradition versus the tourist industry. First is the conflict between the interests of whale hunting and cultural conservation. Some people think it is crucial to preserve their whaling culture, because this tradition is not commercial in nature. Whale hunting is carried out for all of the people in Lembata, not only for individuals. ‘We are not ignoring the environment, but culture also needs to be developed’, they say. Whale hunting in Lamalera village is a tradition passed down through generations. Despite receiving criticism from environmentalists, the community sees its culture as appropriate, because the whole cultural and social dimension of the people of Lembata is enshrined in this whale hunting tradition. Eliminating this cultural practice would be the same as destroying the socio-economic tradition of the Lembata people. The idea of whale conservation among Lamalera people is a ‘foreign’ one, whereas cultural conservation is ‘local knowledge’.

The second debate concerns the contestation between communal and non-commercial traditional values and a market-oriented tourism logic. The government’s policy on tourism in Lamalera is viewed as a threat to the traditional values of the people. The relatively conflict-free tradition of distributing hunting yields is in contrast to distributing ‘money’ from the tourism industry. The people have learned to be commercial when it comes to the tourism industry. For example, based on indigenous discussions in 2015, visitors carrying video cameras were charged Rp 3 million (US$225), and those with cameras, Rp 150,000 (US$11). Those who look at the fish capturing activity, even a glance, will be charged Rp 150,000 (USD$11). The problem lies in the distribution system, as the traditional (p.116) distribution structure is not applicable in a monetised system. (Poros Photo)

From the perspective of the position and role of local knowledge, these debates show the vulnerability of local knowledge when faced with external knowledge or economic logic. Many people have codified local knowledge about this tradition, but the challenge is in the next process, namely how people can engage in a dialogue from different perspectives (for example whale conservation) and also market instruments such as the tourism industry. In these cases, communities might need ‘intermediaries’ to bridge dialogue and the adaptation processes.


Our partners identified five common trends and shocks in which the utility and maintenance of local knowledge is challenged, following the framework introduced by Blaikie, as cited in FAO (no date):

  1. 1. Areas of very rapid population growth, with a concomitant reduction in resources caused by external pressures, may require adaptations of new technologies to increase production and diversify livelihoods. Climate change adaptation in Indramayu and sasi coastal fisheries in Maluku are examples of the challenges created by rapid socio-economic and environmental changes. These adaptations require a rapid learning of new skills. In this situation, local knowledge would have to develop, and adapt very quickly, to respond to the challenges.

  2. 2. The studies by POLGOV about local communities and mining in East Nusa Tenggara province and by LK3 on river-based communities in South Kalimantan highlight circumstances in which rapid migration to a particular area meant that the repertoire of knowledge for agricultural and pastoral production and environmental conservation were out of focus with a new set of environmental conditions, opportunities and constraints. The (p.117) socio-economic structures creating this knowledge faced fracturing and contradictory additions as new migrants arrived. Resettlement programmes introduced by the city government of Banjarmasin provided one example of these circumstances. People found themselves in a new situation, where their local knowledge was no longer relevant. These types of shocks can lead to the complete loss of existing local knowledge (in both old and new communities).

  3. 3. Disasters and other extreme events cause a disjuncture, both materially and culturally. This often causes shocks to the knowledge system. Such instances are both opportunistic and limiting. A relevant example is the two case studies in Aceh (YKU and PKPM) where the knowledge system’s existence was threatened because many people possessing the knowledge were lost in the tsunami of 2004; at the same time, this event also provided triggers for revitalisation and the introduction of various community-based initiatives, often introduced by international development partners.

  4. 4. There are other processes of slow-moving environmental change, such as climate change, widespread deforestation or land degradation, that challenge the resilience and adaptability of local knowledge systems. The farmer climate change adaptation programme in Indramayu, the river-based community in South Kalimantan, forest conservation in Central Java, mining exploitation in Flores and water management in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, are examples of adaptation to environmental conditions. In those situations, an innovation and adaptation process must take place to adjust the system to challenges that arise. These are examples showing how local people manage to adapt their practices and knowledge to changing environments; often the result is greater diversity because the adaption process is highly contextual and constitutes a co-evaluative process, with the changing physical and social environment.

  5. 5. Rapid commercialisation and economic shocks may also undermine local knowledge. The cases of whale hunting in Lembata, East Nusa Tenggara and coastal fisheries in Maluku confirm the influence of rapid commercialisation and economic shocks on local (p.118) knowledge, which led to tensions between community groups, local government and businesses.

The potency of inequality within local knowledge (see page 103) has significant implications for its research methodology and its use for development work, including policy making. Access to knowledge is governed by culturally specific rules and procedures that are not immune to inequality challenges. Attention to gender equality and social inclusion in all local knowledge processes is critical to understanding the knowledge itself and how to use it for policy.

All these aspects present challenges to local knowledge systems, including the methodology to document and process local knowledge. However, impacts are not just negative. Farmers’ innovation in Indramayu in agro-meteorology, and the community-based health financing system in Southeast Sulawesi are good examples of successful adaptations and innovations that have resulted from external challenges. The challenges described earlier will lead to adaptation. This in turn will increase existing diversity of forms and actors. The most important lesson from these challenges is that an adequate stock of knowledge about the broader context must be taken into account when trying to understand existing local knowledge. Understanding broader sociocultural and environmental contexts is critical to giving the meanings of the proxies of local knowledge, or local skills, events, rituals and behaviours.


(1) Given their academic mandates, it should be little surprise that the two studies taking this perspective are university-based.