Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
Strengthening Capacity to Manage Ecosystems Sustainably for Human Well-Being

Bridging Scales and Epistemologies: Linking Local Knowledge and Global Science in Multi-Scale Assessments

Alexandria, Egypt  ·  March 17-20, 2004


An international conference co-sponsored by:

Global environmental change is increasingly understood to have causes and effects that span multiple scales, from the local to the global. Yet, until recently, international scientific assessments have typically focused more on global phenomena than on either sub-global processes or cross-scale interactions. In addition, scientific assessments are based on a particular Western epistemology (way of knowing), one that often excludes local knowledges, ignores cultural values, and disregards the needs of local communities. Scientists and policy-makers alike have become aware that there is a need to establish new assessment processes that are robust enough to accommodate and value these different “ways of knowing” and the multi-scale and multi-stakeholder nature of environmental concerns.

To address this need, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) is designed as a multi-scale effort, one that pays particular attention to sub-global processes and interactions. Actually doing a multi-scale assessment, however, raises major theoretical and methodological challenges.

  • How can we synthesize and present information that is collected at different scales, from different communities or regions, and from different knowledge traditions?
  • How do we study and understand the complexity of cross-scale interactions?
  • How do we ensure that the intended users of the assessment feel sufficient ownership and trust in the process that they are willing to act on the findings?

In order to address these challenges, the MA organized “Bridging Scales and Epistemologies: Linking Local Knowledge and Global Science in Multi-Scale Assessments,” an international scientific conference that was held March 17 – 20, 2004 in Alexandria, Egypt.  (This conference was originally scheduled to be held in June 2003 in China, but was postponed and re-located as a result of the SARS outbreak.)  The conference provided a unique opportunity to bring together individuals involved in the MA with academic scholars and indigenous peoples (and others with local knowledge) to explore these issues in both their theoretical and applied contexts. By facilitating this dialogue, the conference made a significant contribution to the work of the MA and we hope that it will make a similar contribution to the existing literature in these areas. A book of the proceedings of the conference will be published by Island Press in early 2006.

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