Local Knowledge

Shreya Urvashi

Global environmental problems are influenced by local circumstances and vice versa. Whether it be issues of inappropriate resource utilization or environmental pollution within Information and Communication Technology, the effects are varied depending on geography. Thus, to tackle issues which are seemingly global in nature, actions need to be localized in accordance with the immediate and major issues of that particular region. Here, local knowledge of indigenous populations comes into picture. This pattern tries to make use of this existing knowledge with the pretext that the knowledge and commitment of locals could serve as a model for transition towards a sustainable circular economy.

When considering the application of any ‘modern’ or scientific environmental management, one must take into account the indigenous knowledge of the resident communities. As Fishel and Nelson wrote, “What is known, questioned or created at the local level in diverse communities around the world is too often commodified, trivialized or ignored.” [7] Thus, grounding one’s public engagement in a way that includes them can lead to productive and insightful action. Involving the local community has shown to have had fruitful results in the past, for instance the Chipko movement in India.
However, such efforts can become highly charged and sometimes even contradictory with other local communities. Contemporary societies and communities vary widely in how well they receive such initiatives -- a martyr to one group will seem like a dangerous radical to the opposition. Intermingling politics and religion can taint both, leading to false pieties in politics and making mundane the prayers and rituals which were originally spiritual in purpose.

One of the most important stakeholders in any action or implementation are the people directly affected by the changes i.e. the local population. Thus, it is easy to understand why they should be included in discourses while working out a solution. Their knowledges include expertise of the geography of the area as well as the knowledge of sacred texts, religious doctrines and traditional spiritual practices that exist. 

Local populations, especially those who have lived on the land for generations, have a deep understanding of the land as well as the culture. They can study trends and shifts in framework more efficiently. However, when seen only through a global lens, this ground-centric approach does not get its due and it leads to lack of involvement of the community. This exclusion of the local puts the already marginalized at a further socio-economic disadvantage, and reinforces the already existing divides (north-south, rich-poor). When seen within the ambit of ICT, this leads to waste, or rather inappropriate use, of natural resources with a lot at stake but very little to gain for indigenous populations.

This pattern can be illustrated by a series of historical examples intended to suggest its scope. The possibilities are many and varied. As an instance, Gandhi practiced and advocated "Ahimsa," the non-violent struggle for truth, inspiring and his part of the anti-colonialist movement in India to center on that strategy. Derived from Hindu tradition, Ahimsa applied to all features of their lives, from confrontations with the British to the ways they lived and ate and worked together. Similarly, Martin Luther King, working within the Christian tradition, was able to find the religious inspiration for a similar approach to non-violence while basing it in the US Civil Rights movement. Thich Nhat Hanh and his fellow Buddhist monks used self-suffering in the Gandhian tradition to oppose the war in Vietnam. The strategy continues in use at the state level in the struggle between Tibetans under the leadership of the Dalai Lama and the Chinese government. Their practice is both a strategic imperative and an injunction which works well since the leaders adapted it according to their contexts. A narrative on the opposite end of the spectrum could be the citizen protests in Brazil against the destruction of Amazon, which could also be seen as one of the most severe but not uncommon protests by the indigenous populations against foreign and invasive forces.


The local knowledge pattern should ideally be practiced using a bottom-up approach. The ultimate aim of developing such a pattern would be to have multiple local communities reacting to issues in their particular ways leading to a response that is effective at the global scale. At this juncture, however, it is important to create an awareness of the existence of local knowledge traditions and practices. The patterns should help us actualize these practices in a way that global forces do not overpower them. The pattern would aim to demonstrate local knowledge which are based locally but can be adapted globally.

Globalism and Localism
Community Action
Social Movement
Case Studies
Verbiage for pattern card: 

Local knowledge refers to the contextual knowledges of the people about themselves and their situations. Often times, they know more about the problem(s) than experts. Thus, by taking into account practices that exist at local/regional levels, this pattern could serve as a model for transition towards a sustainable circular economy.

Information about introductory graphic: 
This image depicts Kamayan or kinamot, the traditional Filipino method of eating, where food is served on banana leaves and eaten without utensils.