, Volume 31, Issue 3, pp 463-489

Who Knows? On the Importance of Identifying “Experts” When Researching Local Ecological Knowledge

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Documenting local ecological knowledge (LEK) has recently become a topic of considerable interest within the social research, development, and indigenous rights communities. For instance, LEK is thought to offer a substantial alternative to existing, largely “top–down,” natural resource management regimes. LEK informed resource management systems would acknowledge peoples' experiences and priorities, while also providing people with additional means of empowerment. Given these qualities, one might reasonably expect that rigorous design and methodological attributes will characterize LEK research, particularly respecting the procedures employed to identify and to select “local knowledge experts.” Our review of the recent social research literature suggests that insufficient attention is given both to reporting the methods employed and to employing systematic approaches, especially with regard to the critical issue of how local experts are identified. We detail a research design that systematically solicited peer recommendations of fisheries local knowledge experts in a study focused on two northeast Nova Scotian embayments. Finally, we argue that in order to achieve the stated purposes and potentials of LEK research, researchers need to become more attentive to reporting on the methods employed and to employing systematic approaches than is currently the case.