Knowledge Exchange


Participatory mapping excercise, Zincalco, Veracruz, Mexico (Photo: V. de la Hidalga) 

 Knowledge is power. Despite skyrocketing use of communication technologies throughout the world, access to information continues to be unequal. Access to knowledge and information continues to be a barrier to equitable and sustainable social development.  Amidst today's complex and interconnected social and ecological problems, local people need to be able to effectively assess, revalorize and mobilize their own knowledge, skills and traditions, and to adapt these by incorporating other forms of know-how, both local and extraneous.  Too often, top-down scientific and corporate processes prevail, marginalizing those who intimately know and manage natural resources. Instead, a process of exchange, among local groups as well as between local people, scientists and other social actors, is essential to allow communities to respond creatively and effectively to processes of social and ecological change. People and Plants has a long history of involvement in this process, developing and using a wide range of tools (manuals, audiovisual resource packs, radio, theatre, games, etc.) to catalyze productive exchanges between individuals, communities and groups, thus enabling the diffusion of valuable scientific and technical knowledge. Knowledge Exchange is a cross-cutting Program, interfacing with all of our other programs, and working in different regions and at different scales. The program strives to catalyze the creation of knowledge networks which bridge disciplines, sectors and cultures.  



Returning Research Results

R Murilo Serra leading local farmers in a field study, Brazil.esearch can empower marginalized, rural communities.  Knowledge can help communities adapt to change, enhance management practices for conservation and wellbeing. However, bio-cultural research is often designed, generated, and distributed by academic and research institutions which are geographically and intellectually far-removed from the places and the people where research was conducted. Scientific research is rarely communicated to local groups, and if so, rarely in ways that are useful to them. In support of the International Society of Ethnobiology's Code of Ethics, the Knowledge Exchange Program - along with all of PPI's research and field programs - works to ensure that the research process and products arising from research are respectful of, and relevant to, local people.  We produce innovative materials in accessible formats which are directly useful to local resource managers, including community manuals, posters and videos

For an analysis on the obstacles inherent to scientific research, see Out of the loop: Why research rarely reaches policy makers and the public- and what can be done (Biotropica, 2009). Read more about our survey, Enhancing impact: research design and dissemination. Read more about our related work  in Conservation and managed habitats, Health and Habitat, and  Cultural landscape mapping.


Empowering communities through peer-to-peer learning

Students map out species during a group excercise, Cortejuba, BrazilThe Knowledge Exchange Program promotes exchanges between local groups, encouraging them to share experiences, knowledge, skills and know-how relating to natural resource use, trade, management, health and well-being, and rights. Using an innovative assortment of approaches, from meetings and workshops to written,  audio-visual and performance-based communication, the program enables local people to learn from each other, and from the past.  To learn more, see some of our Community manuals (Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Bolivia) and video exchanges  (Ese Eja, Bolivia and Peru; Video and grassroots indigenous mobilization, Peru; Linking indigenous people in Madre de Dios and Palawan, Peru and Phillipines).



Building capacities through training programs and materials

Intercultural land-use zoning, Universidad Veracruzana Intercultural (Photo: R. Hidalgo)Over the past decade, countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have developed new programs and institutions for training and education of marginalized people, ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples.  These institutions and programs serve as a bridge between indigenous and western concepts of science and learning. Rather than undermine traditional capacities, as past efforts to ‘educate’ local groups have often done, these initiatives explicitly seek to strengthen and complement indigenous skills, practices, and knowledge.  The intercultural and applied orientation of these initiatives can help local people develop their adaptive skills and endogenous resources. These skills are increasingly needed to respond to the grave social and environmental problems that threaten their viability and that of the biocultural diversity which sustains them.  PPI has been working with a number of these institutions in Africa, Australia, China and Latin America, strengthening their existing programs and helping to create new courses, teaching materials and curricula. Read more about our recent work in Mexico with several local partners to support teaching and capacity-building among indigenous students in the states of Puebla, Veracruz and Guerrero in Central Mexico. 


Turning policy into practice

Like scientific knowledge, policies, laws and regulations are profoundly important to local resource users and managers; yet too often policies affect communities in negative ways, through enforcement and prohibitions. Policies that impact rural populations are often poorly crafted with limited or no input from these groups, and in ways that undermine sustainability and customary legal systems, while promoting inequity. 

PPI works to help local stakeholders understand the implications of policy and to use policy frameworks more effectively and in ways which strengthen their well-being, rights and abilities. It also helps local voices reach policy-makers, seeks to better inform governments of the impacts of their policies, and promotes more effective and fair policy development and implementation. To find out more about our policy-related work, see our Policy and Trade Program.


Scaling up: local to global

An inherent assumption in all PPI activities is that the complex nature of social and environmental problems are Final presentation of data, Cortejuba, Brazil. best addressed through carefully designed, small-scale interventions that strengthen local institutions, knowledge, and practices. However, there is also an important responsibility to extend and scale-up what is learned in order to have a wider impact on the relationship between science and local groups.

PPI's Knowledge Exchange activities seek to raise awareness and change practices of scientists, funders, NGOs and others, by providing methods, lessons, and assistance with the design and execution of effective and ethical research, including the exchange of research results in ways that are useful to local communities. One of the ways we do this is through the publication of best-practice guidelines and manuals, aimed at science manager and policy makers.


Knowledge exchange resources

Festival del Buen Vivir, Universidad Veracruzana Intercultural, Zongolica, Mexico (2013)PPI collaborators have a long commitment and experience developing a diverse range of tools and materials for knowledge communication and exchange;  some of these seek to encourage communication and exchange within and among local peoples, others have been designed to help democratize access to technical information and scientific knowledge,  to sensitize policy makers and government officials, or to help train a new generation of applied ethnoecologists in bio-culturally diverse regions.


Local manuals

Some of the manuals produced by PPI seek to disseminate valuable scientific research results to groups who normally do not have access to the specialized journals or to the language used by scientists to communicate the results of their findings.  Others have been used by communities to disseminate, or in some instances control, the use of their knowledge. A number of hands-on technical manuals have also been developed to help local groups better manage resources, or to negotiate with commercial and government representatives interested in local resources and lands. Several of our manuals have been translated into different languages and have been extensively used by students, technicians and policy-makers to better understand many of the complex issues surrounding biocultural diversity and plant resource management.  For a selected list of downloadable titles click here.


Audiovisual resource packs

Several of PPI's collaborators have pioneered the used of video technology and desktop editing as a tool for community development and training in matters relating to  resource rights, use and management. Besides producing a wide range of audiovisual resources designed to strengthen local capacities for social, health or ecological well-being, PPI staff and affiliates have also trained an extensive network of local video practitioners using accessible digital video editing technology. For more information on PPIs audiovisual resource packs and use of video, click here.


Posters, maps and photo guides

Using art, digital photography and cartography, PPI collaborators have produced a wide-range of materials designed to assist in the transmission of technical or socially-valued knowledge, in ways that underscores and recognizes the value and importance of visual, as opposed to written, forms of communication. For more information click here.


PPI Books and the People and Plants Conservation Series

Building on the extensive and  highly utilized series of technical manuals and books produced by the People and Plants Initiative, and drawing on the rich experience and expertise of its collaborators, PPI is continuously producing new titles on cutting-edge and important topics and issues, presenting information and offering guidelines in a clear, comprehensive yet accessible way. For a list of titles and for more information, click here.


Policy briefs and journal articles

Policy briefs and journal articles distill lessons learned into forms that are easily used by policy-makers, conservation agencies, and other external agents. They are valuable tools to communicate the views, experiences and perspectives of local communities, producer groups, and others on the margins of policy processes who are significantly impacted by laws and policies.  Summarizing, rendering accessible and disseminating the findings of research that fills gaps in understanding can also help ensure policies on resource use, governance and trade are more effective and equitable. For example, a policy brief on Wild Product Governance was produced in 2010, in collaboration with the United Nations University, CIFOR, the University of Cape Town, and the Institute for Culture and Ecology. This included recommendations for governance of non-timber forest products that drew on community and producer experiences from around the world. An on-going series of background documents, policy briefs, and articles are produced for policy processes associated with the Convention on Biological Diversity, including implementation of the Nagoya Protocol. For more information see Policy and Trade.