KM4Dev Innovation Proposal 7

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How can we formalize the KMS for Indigenous Knowledge Management?

In existing literature, the term indigenous knowledge, traditional knowledge, traditional ecological knowledge, local knowledge and indigenous technical knowledge are used interchangeably. In addition, some of the commonly asserted characteristics of indigenous knowledge include the following: it is generated within communities; it is location and cultural specific; it is a basis for decision making and survival strategies; [generally] it is not systematically documented, it covers critical issues[: such as] primary production, human and animal life, natural resources management[;] it is dynamic and based on innovation, adaptation and experimentation, and it is oral and rural in nature [1]. Indigenous knowledge, which has generally been passed from generation to generation by word of mouth, is in danger of being lost unless it is formally documented and preserved [2]. The rapid change in the way of life of indigenous people has largely accounted for the loss of Indigenous Knowledge (IK). Younger generations underestimate the utility of indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) because of the influence of modern technology and education [3]. Over the last two decades there has been a great increase in interest in Indigenous Knowledge (IK) from a variety of groups including development agencies, researchers, governments and corporate world. An increasing number of cultural heritage institutions in the western world are exploring digitisation as a means of preservation and/or improving access and knowledge of their collections. The World Bank’s ‘Indigenous Knowledge for Development Program’ [4] and UNESCO’s ‘Best practices on Indigenous Knowledge’ [5] are the examples. These initiatives are focusing on creation of databases of indigenous knowledge in the same systematic way as western knowledge. In any case, the objective of databases is typically twofold. They are intended to protect indigenous knowledge in the face of myriad pressures that are undermining the conditions under which indigenous people and knowledge thrive. Second, they aim to collect and analyse the available information, and identify specific features that can be generalised and applied more widely in the service of more effective development and environmental conservation [6]. So these organisations focused on IK as a corpus of facts rather than IK as a system. IK as a system has a much broader understanding of Indigenous people as they place themselves in relation to the environment in which they live. Dr. Gada Kadoda while addressing the Unisa community during the 2010 CSET African Scholar Programme highlighted the issue of the lack of indigenous knowledge systems theories written for research purposes. She added that, “In creating a shift from the reliance on the Western knowledge systems to the indigenous knowledge systems, we have to start from what we do not have” [7].

In modern organisational structures knowledge management practices consist of knowledge generation, capture, sharing and application. The organisations emphasize on codification and documentation of implicit knowledge and transform it to explicit form. Indigenous communities however have much less codified knowledge relying mainly on oral and tacit form. Influenced by the oral and tacit structures, the communities have their own processes of storage, leveraging, sharing and applying knowledge which is different from knowledge management processes of corporations and research organizations.

Our research approach is a thorough study of the pattern of indigenous knowledge management systems, community processes of IKM and to relate it with the modern organisational and scientific knowledge management systems. This will lead us to design a model for process oriented community centred indigenous knowledge management system from an ICT perspective.

Research Questions

On the basis of the current debate between IK as corpus of fact and IK as a system, our main research questions are;

Is there any existing IKMS within indigenous communities? And if ‘yes’, How does the IKMS deal with the community knowledge assets?

How can we model the indigenous people perspective on determining suitable technologies (Software) for community development?

How do we model the Indigenous community K.M processes along the same lines as Scientific K.M processes?

To explore these research questions, we strongly believe that the people in indigenous communities have the best knowledge about their own community and their community structure and practices.

Tangible output.

Our approach is innovative as this provide a means to focus from an ICT perspective on the community processes of IKM and systems, rather than products. The framework would allow the preservation and maintenance of IK, more importantly it will enhance the recognition for IKMS and can be employed to generate income for the indigenous communities.

Locations of Conducting the Study:

We will conduct our research in Long Lamai and Bario two remote and indigenous communities of East Malaysia. Our Centre of Excellence for Rural Informatics (CoERI) is already implemented eBario and eLamai (telecentres) projects. eBario is a multiple award winning initiative and eLamai is contesting for eINDIA 2010 award. Both of the communities have no road access, no electricity, and very limited interconnection with outer world. For further details on eBario and eLamai please visit Professor Micheal Gurstein (Father of community informatics) blogs and


The Communities of Long Lamai and Bario through the management committees of eLamai and eBario.

A team of researchers from Centre of Excellence for Rural Informatics (CoERI) Universiti of Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS);

1): Professor Dr. Narayanan Kulathuramaiyer, Dean and Professor of Computer Science at the Faculty of Computer Science and Information Technology, University Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS). He has been working in the area of Artificial Intelligence and Knowledge-based systems for the past twenty years. He obtained his M Sc. in Computer Science from University Sains Malaysia and PhD in Computer Science from Graz University of Technology, Austria. He currently has over 60 refereed publications in related areas.

2): Associate Professor Dr. Alvin Yeo Wee earned his PhD and Bachelor of Computing and Mathematical Sciences (Hons) from the Computer Science Department, University of Waikato, New Zealand. He began his career as a tutor in the Faculty of Computer Science and Information (FCSIT), University Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) in 1994, currently is an Associate Professor at the Faculty. He is the eBario Team Leader at the Centre of Excellence for Rural Informatics, and heads the Faculty’s Knowledge Systems Research Core Group and the Sarawak Language Technology (SaLT) Research Group.

3): Tariq Zaman, PHD candidate in UNIMAS and currently working as Research Officer in CoERI. He has experiance of research, project implementation and comunity development in different part of Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan. Previously he worked with ActionAid Pakistan, Church World Service Pakistan/Afghanistan and Christian Study Centre.

Funding requirement



Tariq Zaman, PHD Candidate and Research Officer in Center of Excellence in Rural Informatics (COERI) University of Sarawak (Unimas) Kota Samarahan, Sarawak, 94300 Email:, Mobile No. 0060168530102


1. Hagar, C. (2003).Sharing Indigenous Knowledge: To Share or Not to Share? That Is the Question. Bridging the Digital Divide: Equalizing Access to Information and Communication Technologies. Nova Scotia.

2. Ngulube, P. (2002). Managing and Preserving Indigenous Knowledge in the Knowledge Management Era: challenges and opportunities for information professionals. Information Development , 8.

3. Ulluwishewa, R. (1993). Indigenous knowledge, national resource centres and sustainable development. Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor , 1 (3), 11-13.

4. The World Bank Group. (2010). Indigenous Knowledge for Development. Retrieved 06 17, 2010, from Indigenous Knowledge:

5. UNESCO. (2010). Best practices on indigenous knowledge. Retrieved 06 2010, 17, from Database of best practices on indigenous knowledge:

6. Agrawal, A. (2002). Indigenous knowledge and the politics of classification. International Social Science Journal , 187-297.

7. UNISA. (2010). Reverting to indigenous knowledge systems. Retrieved 06 18, 2010, from Unisa Online: