Human Ecology

, Volume 43, Issue 1, pp 119–130 | Cite as

‘Knowledge Making’: Issues in Modelling Local and Indigenous Ecological Knowledge



Modelling, particularly computer-based modelling, is increasingly used in political, managerial, and scientific contexts to enable and justify decisions. Technocratic decision makers also aspire to understand and incorporate local knowledge, albeit at times only superficially. We analyse one consequence of this situation – ongoing attempts to formalise, synthesize and integrate local and/or indigenous knowledge into models. Field experience of knowledge projects with Indigenous Australians underpins our analysis, but we primarily discuss a priori and general issues: the political and ethical context of such projects; knowledge making as terminology; key characteristics of (scientific) models; local capacity, participation, and representation; and examples of computer-based tools for knowledge representation. Such formal abstractions will always be controversial, but demand for them seems likely to continue. To improve interdisciplinary understanding of what might be entailed by genuine attempts to meet that demand, our paper provides signposts to and analysis of important features of local ecological knowledge modelling.


Local knowledge Modelling Visualisation Indigenous ecological knowledge Causality Indigenous Australian societies 



This work was funded by the Water for a Healthy Country Flagship of the CSIRO. It was aided by many previous projects undertaken with Indigenous Australians by the authors, and by conversations with numerous co-researchers at the CSIRO. We thank the conveners of the American Anthropological Association panel at which aspects of this paper were presented and the anonymous reviewers for their comments.


  1. Agrawal, A. (1995). Dismantling the Divide Between Indigenous and Scientific Knowledge. Development and Change 26: 413–439.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Agrawal, A. (2002). Indigenous Knowledge and the Politics of Classification. International Social Science Journal 54: 287–297.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Agrawal, A. (2005). Environmentality: Community, Intimate Government, and the Making Of Environmental Subjects in Kumaon, India. Current Anthropology 46: 161–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Agrawal, A. (2009). Why “Indigenous” Knowledge? Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 39: 157–158.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Aktipis, C., Cronk, L., and Aguiar, R. (2011). Risk-Pooling and Herd Survival: An Agent-Based Model of a Maasai Gift-Giving System. Human Ecology 39: 131–140.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Australian Human Rights Commission. 2008. A Statistical Overview of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in Australia.Google Scholar
  7. Balram, S., Dragićević, S., and Meredith, T. (2004). A Collaborative GIS Method for Integrating Local and Technical Knowledge in Establishing Biodiversity Conservation Priorities. Biodiversity and Conservation 13: 1195–1208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Barber, M., Jackson, S., Shellberg, J., and Sinnamon, V. (2014). Working Knowledge: Local Ecological and Hydrological Knowledge About the Flooded Forest Country of Oriners Station, Cape York. The Rangeland Journal 36: 53–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bardon, G. (1991). Papunya Tula: Art of the Western Desert. McPhee Gribble/Penguin, Sydney.Google Scholar
  10. Berkes, F. (2012). Sacred ecology, 3rd ed. Routledge, New York.Google Scholar
  11. Berkes, F., Colding, J., and Folke, C. (2000). Rediscovery of Traditional Ecological Knowledge as Adaptive Management. Ecological Applications 10: 1251–1262.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Berlin, B. (1992). Ethnobiological Classification - Principles of Categorization of Plants and Animals in Traditional Societies. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Bohensky, E. L. and Y. Maru. (2011). Indigenous knowledge, science, and resilience: what have we learned from a decade of international literature on “integration”? Ecology and Society 16.Google Scholar
  14. Bradley, J., Yanyuwa families, and N. Cameron. 2003. “Forget About Flinders”: an indigenous atlas of the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria. J.M McGregor Ltd Queensland (Limited Edition), Brisbane.Google Scholar
  15. Bradley, J., Holmes, M., Norman, D., Isaac, A., Miller, J., and Ninganga, I. (2005). Yumbulyumbulmantha ki-awarawu (All kinds of things from Country) Yanyuwa Ethnobiological Classification. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Unit, University of Queensland, Brisbane.Google Scholar
  16. Bradley, J., A. Kearney, L. Norman, and G. Friday. 2011. The Choices we Make: Animating Saltwater Country. Guest edited by Adrian Martin and Romaine Moreton, Theme ‘Cinematic Histories of the Digital Futures’. Screening the Past 31.Google Scholar
  17. Brosius, J. P., and Hitchner, S. L. (2010). Cultural Diversity and Conservation. International Social Science Journal 61: 141–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Brown, M. (2004). Who Owns Native Culture? Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  19. Castella, J., Tran Ngoc, T., and Boissau, S. (2005). Participatory Simulation of Land-Use Changes in the Northern Mountains of Vietnam: The Combined Use of an Agent-Based Model, a Role-Playing Game, and a Geographic Information System. Ecology and Society 10: 27.Google Scholar
  20. Chan, T., Ross, H., Hoverman, S., and Powell, B. (2010). Participatory Development of a Bayesian Network Model for Catchment-Based Water Resource Management. Water Resources Research 46, W07544.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Christie, M. (2005). Aboriginal Knowledge Traditions in Digital Environments. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 34: 61–66.Google Scholar
  22. Clarke, P. (2009). Australian Aboriginal Ethnometeorology and Seasonal Calendars. History and Anthropology 20: 79–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Cohen, E. (2010). Anthropology of Knowledge. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16: S193–S202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Crane, T. (2010). Of Models and Meanings: Cultural Resilience in Social–Ecological Systems Ecology and Society 15.Google Scholar
  25. Crick, M. R. (1982). Anthropology of Knowledge. Annual Review of Anthropology 11: 287–313.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Dambacher, J., Brewer, D., Dennis, D., Macintyre, M., and Foale, S. (2007). Qualitative Modelling of Gold Mine Impacts on Lihir Island’s Socioeconomic System and Reef-Edge Fish Community. Environmental Science & Technology 41: 555–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Davis, A., and Ruddle, K. (2010). Constructing Confidence: Rational Skepticism and Systematic Enquiry in Local Ecological Knowledge Research. Ecological Applications 20: 880–894.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Davis, A., and Wagner, J. (2003). Who Knows? On the Importance of Identifying “Experts” When Researching Local Ecological Knowledge. Human Ecology 31: 463–489.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Drahos, P., and Frankel, S. (eds.) (2012). Indigenous Peoples’ Innovation: Intellectual Property Pathways to Development. ANU ePress, Canberra.Google Scholar
  30. Dunn, C. (2007). Participatory GIS — a People's GIS? Progress in Human Geography 31: 616–637.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Elkin, A. (1979). The Australian Aborigines (Revised). Angus and Robertson, Sydney.Google Scholar
  32. Ellen, R. (1993). The Cultural Relations of Classification : An Analysis of Nuaulu Animal Categories in Central Seram. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Ellen, R. (2004). From Ethno-Science to Science, or ‘What the Indigenous Knowledge Debate Tells us About How Scientists Define Their Project’. Journal of Cognition and Culture 4: 409–450.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ellen, R. (2006). Introduction. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 12: S1–S22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ellen, R., and Reason, D. (eds.) (1979). Classifications in Their Social Context. Academic, London.Google Scholar
  36. Eppler, M. J. (2006). A Comparison Between Concept Maps, Mind Maps, Conceptual Diagrams, and Visual Metaphors as Complementary Tools for Knowledge Construction and Sharing. Information Visualization 5: 202–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Eppler, M. (2011). What is an Effective Knowledge Visualization? Insights From a Review of Seminal Concepts. Pages 349–354.Google Scholar
  38. Evans-Pritchard, E. (1937). Witchcraft, Oracles, and Magic Among the Azande. Oxford University Press, Oxford.Google Scholar
  39. eWater CRC (2012). eWater toolkit: Concept. eWater CRC, Canberra.Google Scholar
  40. Fischer, M. (2005). Culture and Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Emergent Order and Internal Regulation of Shared Symbolic Systems. Cybernetics and Systems 36: 735–752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Gilbert, N. (2008). Agent-Based Models. Sage, London.Google Scholar
  42. Grice, T., S. Arene, and N. Marsh. (2009). Dynamic Conceptual Modelling for Building Consensus in Natural Resource Systems R. Anderssen, R. Braddock, and L. Newham, editors. 18th World IMACS Congress and MODSIM09 International Congress on Modelling and Simulation. IMACS/MODSIM, Cairns, Australia.Google Scholar
  43. Guillet, D. (1989). A Knowledge-Based-Systems Model of Native Soil Management. Anthropological Quarterly 62: 59–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Hage, P., and Harary, F. (1983). Structural Models in Anthropology. Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  45. Hart, C. (2010). Database narratives: conceptualising digital heritage databases in remote Aboriginal communities. Pages 422–427 in Information Visualization, . IEEE computer society, Conference Publishing Services (CPS) 9780769541655.Google Scholar
  46. Haynes, C. (2010). Realities, simulacra, and the appropriation of Aboriginality in Kakadu’s tourism. In Keen, I. (ed.), Indigenous Participation in Australian Economies: Historical and Anthropological Perspectives. ANU ePress, Canberra.Google Scholar
  47. Hiatt, L. (1965). Kinship and Conflict. ANU Press, Canberra.Google Scholar
  48. Hill, R., C. Grant, M. George, C. Robinson, S. Jackson, and N. Abel. (2012). A Typology of Indigenous Engagement in Australian Environmental Management: Implications for Knowledge Integration and Social-Ecological System Sustainability. Ecology and Society 17.Google Scholar
  49. Holmes, M., and Jampijinpa, W. (2013). Law for Country: The Structure of Warlpiri Ecological Knowledge and its Application to Natural Resource Management and Ecosystem Stewardship. Ecology and Society 18: 19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Huigen, M., Overmars, K., and de Groot, W. (2006). Multiactor Modeling of Settling Decisions and Behavior in the San Mariano Watershed, the Philippines: a First Application with the MameLuke Framework. Ecology and Society 11: 33.Google Scholar
  51. Janssen, M., and Ostrom, E. (2006). Empirically Based, Agent-Based Models. Ecology and Society 11: 37.Google Scholar
  52. Jones, N., H. Ross, T. Lynam, P. Perez, and A. Leitch. (2011). Mental Models: an Interdisciplinary Synthesis of Theory and Methods. Ecology and Society 16.Google Scholar
  53. Kippen, J., and Bel, B. (1989). Can a Computer Help Resolve the Problem of Ethnographic Description? Anthropological Quarterly 62: 131–131.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Kuhnert, P., Martin, T., and Griffiths, S. (2010). A Guide to Eliciting and Using Expert Knowledge in Bayesian Ecological Models. Ecology Letters 13: 900–914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. LaFlamme, M. (2011). Learning Journeys: Seven Steps to Stronger Remote Communities Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, Alice Springs.Google Scholar
  56. Lepofsky, D. (2009). The Past, Present, and Future of Traditional Resource And Environmental Management. Journal of Ethnobiology 29: 161–166.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Levi-Strauss, C. (1966). The Savage Mind. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  58. Liedloff, A., P. Christophersen, S. McGregor, and B. McKaige. (2009). Representing Indigenous wetland ecological knowledge in a Bayesian Belief Network. Pages 2842–2848 in 18th World IMACS Congress and MODSIM09 International Congress on Modelling and Simulation. IMACS/MODSIM, Cairns.Google Scholar
  59. Liedloff, A., Woodward, E., Harrington, G., and Jackson, S. (2013). Integrating Indigenous Ecological and Scientific Hydro-Geological Knowledge Using a Bayesian Network in the Context of Water Resource Development. Journal of Hydrology 499: 177–187.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Lynam, T., and Brown, K. (2012). Mental Models in Human–Environment Interactions: Theory, Policy Implications, and Methodological Explorations. Ecology and Society 17: 24.Google Scholar
  61. Lynam, T., de Jong, W., Sheil, D., Kusumanto, T., and Evans, K. (2007). A Review of Tools for Incorporating Community Knowledge, Preferences, and Values into Decision Making in Natural Resources Management. Ecology and Society 12: 5.Google Scholar
  62. Maddock, K. (1982). The Australian Aborigines, revth ed. Penguin, Melbourne.Google Scholar
  63. Marchand, T. (2010a). Making Knowledge: Explorations of the Indissoluble Relation Between Minds, Bodies, and Environment. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16: S1–S21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Marchand, T. (2010). Preface - JRAI Special Issue: Making Knowledge. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 16:Siii-Sv.Google Scholar
  65. McGregor, S., Lawson, V., Christophersen, P., Kennett, R., Boyden, J., Bayliss, P., Liedloff, A., McKaige, B., and Andersen, A. (2010). Indigenous Wetland Burning: Conserving Natural and Cultural Resources in Australia’s World Heritage-Listed Kakadu National Park. Human Ecology 38: 721–729.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Merrit, W., D. Duncan, G. Kyle, and D. Race. (2009). Using Local Knowledge to Identify Drivers of Historic Native Vegetation Change. 18th World IMACS/MODSIM Congress, Cairns, Australia.Google Scholar
  67. Morphy, H. (1991). Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal System of Knowledge. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  68. Morphy, H. (1998). Aboriginal Art. Phaidon, London.Google Scholar
  69. Morphy, H., and Morphy, F. (2006). Tasting the Waters: Discriminating Identities in the Waters of Blue Mud Bay. Journal of Material Culture 11: 67–85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Murungweni, C., M. van Wijk, J. Andersson, E. Smaling, and K. Giller. (2011). Application of fuzzy cognitive mapping in livelihood vulnerability analysis. Ecology and Society 16.Google Scholar
  71. Nadasdy, P. (2003). Hunters and Bureaucrats: Power, Knowledge, and Aboriginal-State Relations in the Southwest Yukon. UBC Press, Vancouver.Google Scholar
  72. Nadasdy, P. (2005). The Anti-Politics of TEK: the Institutionalization of Co-management Discourse and Practice. Anthropologica 47: 215–232.Google Scholar
  73. Newton, A. (2009). Bayesian Belief Networks in environmental modelling: a review of recent progress. In Findley, P. (ed.), Environmental Modelling: New Research. Nova, New York.Google Scholar
  74. Novak, J., and Cañas, A. (2006). The Origins of the Concept Mapping Tool and the Continuing Evolution of the Tool. Information Visualization 5: 175–184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Özesmi, U., and Özesmi, S. L. (2004). Ecological Models Based on People’s Knowledge: a Multi-Step Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping Approach. Ecological Modelling 176: 43–64.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Palmer, M. (2009). Engaging with Indigital Geographic Information Networks. Futures 41: 33–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Palmer, C., and Wadley, R. (2007). Local Environmental Knowledge, Talk, and Skepticism: Using ‘LES’ to Distinguish ‘LEK’ From ‘LET’ in Newfoundland. Human Ecology 35: 749–760.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Parsons, E. C. (1942). Anthropology and Prediction. American Anthropologist 44: 337–344.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Pesek, T., Abramiuk, M., Garagic, D., Fini, N., Meerman, J., and Cal, V. (2009). Sustaining Plants and People: Traditional Q’eqchi’ Maya Botanical Knowledge and Interactive Spatial Modeling in Prioritizing Conservation of Medicinal Plants for Culturally Relative Holistic Health Promotion. EcoHealth 6: 79–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Prober, S., M. O’Connor, and F. Walsh. (2011). Australian Aboriginal Peoples’ Seasonal Knowledge: a Potential Basis for Shared Understanding in Environmental Management. Ecology and Society 16.Google Scholar
  81. Riley, M. (ed.) (2004). Indigenous Intellectual Property Rights. Legal Obstacles and Innovative Solutions. Altamira Press, California.Google Scholar
  82. Robbins, P. (2003). Beyond Ground Truth: GIS and the Environmental Knowledge of Herders, Professional Foresters, and Other Traditional Communities. Human Ecology 31: 233–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Ross, A., and Pickering, K. (2002). The Politics of Reintegrating Australian Aboriginal and American Indian Indigenous Knowledge into Resource Management: the Dynamics of Resource Appropriation and Cultural Revival. Human Ecology 30: 187–214.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Sen, A. (1977). Rational Fools: a Critique of the Behavioral Foundations of Economic Theory. Philosophy and Public Affairs 6: 317–344.Google Scholar
  85. Shapiro, W. (1979). Social Organization in Aboriginal Australia. St Martins Press, New York.Google Scholar
  86. Sillitoe, P., and Marzano, M. (2009). Future of Indigenous Knowledge Research in Development. Futures 41: 13–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  87. Sillitoe, P., Dixon, P., and Barr, J. (2005). Indigenous Knowledge Inquiries. Practical Action Publishing, Rugby.Google Scholar
  88. Sinclair, F. L., and Walker, D. H. (1998). Acquiring Qualitative Knowledge About Complex Agroecosystems. Part 1: Representation as Natural Language. Agricultural Systems 56: 341–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Sletto, B. I. (2009). “We Drew What we Imagined”: Participatory Mapping, Performance, and the Arts of Landscape Making. Current Anthropology 50: 443–476.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Stephenson, J., and Moller, H. (2009). Cross-Cultural Environmental Research and Management: Challenges and Progress. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand 39: 139–149.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Stone-Jovicich, S., T. Lynam, A. Leitch, and N. Jones. (2011). Using Consensus Analysis to Assess Mental Models About Water use and Management in the Crocodile River Catchment, South Africa. Ecology and Society 16.Google Scholar
  92. Sutton, P. (1998). Icons of topography. In Woodward, D., and Malcolm Lewis, G. (eds.), The History of Cartography, Vol 2, Book 3 - Cartography in the Traditional African, American, Arctic, Australian, and Pacific Societies. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.Google Scholar
  93. Tan, P., Mooney, C., White, I., Hoverman, S., Mackenzie, J., Burry, K., Baldwin, C., Bowmer, K., Jackson, S., Ayre, M., and David, G. (2009). Tools for Water Planning: Lessons, Gaps and Adoption. National Water Commission, Canberra.Google Scholar
  94. Tergan, S., Keller, T., and Burkhard, R. (2006). Integrating Knowledge and Information: Digital Concept Maps as a Bridging Technology. Information Visualization 5: 167–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Tobias, T. (2009). Living Proof: the Essential Data-Collection Guide for Indigenous use-and-Occupancy Map Surveys. Ecotrust Canada, Vancouver.Google Scholar
  96. Verran, H., Christie, M., Anbins-King, B., van Weeren, T., and Yunupingu, W. (2007). Designing Digital Knowledge Management Tools with Aboriginal Australians. Digital Creativity 18: 129–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Walker, D., and Sinclair, F. (1998). Acquiring Qualitative Knowledge About Complex Agroecosystems. Part 2: Formal Representation. Agricultural Systems 56: 365–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Walsh, F., Dobson, P., and Douglas, J. (2013). Anpernirrentye: a Framework for Enhanced Application of Indigenous Ecological Knowledge in Natural Resource Management. Ecology and Society 18: 18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Wohling, M. (2009). The Problem of Scale in Indigenous Knowledge: a Perspective From Northern Australia. Ecology and Society 14: 1.Google Scholar
  100. Woodward, E. (2010). Creating the Ngan’gi Seasons Calendar: Reflections on Engaging Indigenous Knowledge Authorities in Research. Learning Communities: International Journal of Learning in Social Contexts 2: 125–137.Google Scholar
  101. Woodward, E., S. Jackson, M. Finn, and P. Marfurra McTaggart. (2012). Utilising Indigenous Seasonal Knowledge to Understand Indigenous Aquatic Resource use and Inform Water Resource Management,. Ecological Management and Restoration 13.Google Scholar
  102. Wyeld, T., Leavy, B., Hills, J., Barker, C., and Gard, S. (2008). Digital songlines: digitising the arts, culture and heritage landscape of Aboriginal Australia. In Kalay, Y., Kvan, T., and Affleck, J. (eds.), New Heritage: New Media and Cultural Heritage. Routledge, Oxford, pp. 294–303.Google Scholar
  103. Wyeld, T., Leavy, B., and Crogan, P. (2009). The re-presentation of country as virtual artefact in Australian Aboriginal cultural heritage using a game engine. In Hjorth, L., and Chan, D. (eds.), Gaming Cultures and Place in Asia-Pacific. Routledge, New York, pp. 194–212.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Social and Economic Sciences ProgramCSIROBrisbaneAustralia
  2. 2.Australian Rivers InstituteGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia

Personalised recommendations