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

Linking Local Knowledge to Global Science

On March 17–20, 2004, the MA held a conference “Bridging Scales and Epistemologies: Linking Local Knowledge and Global Science in Multi- Scale Assessments.” The goal of the conference was to foster dialogue among academic and indigenous experts, including individuals involved in the MA and newcomers to the process, on two central challenges faced by the MA: how to undertake a “multi-scale” assessment and how to create mechanisms that enable the integration or coordination of information and insights from individuals who possess different “ways of knowing the world.” The conference, hosted by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, offered a unique forum for exploring the integration of different types of knowledge in assessment processes, how to approach issues of scale in assessments, and how indigenous people perceive and participate in assessments.

Approximately 220 academics, practitioners, and indigenous people from nearly 50 countries gathered to share ideas, experiences, perspectives, methods, and tools. The conference included formal paper presentations and panel discussions that brought together conceptual and applied work on types of knowledge and issues related to working at multiple scales as well as open dialogues, video presentations, and storytelling.

The Indigenous Knowledge and Peoples (IKAP) Network on Capacity Building in Mainland Montane South East Asia coordinated a workshop where indigenous views on bridging epistemologies were presented and discussed with other conference participants. This direct input from indigenous peoples’ perspectives is captured in several comments from that workshop presented in the final plenary (and posted on the MA web site).

Many participants identified the need to arrive at a common language to discuss the idea of bridging scales and epistemologies. Participants also indicated that work on these issues will involve bridging disciplines as well. To build bridges for collaboration will require participants and practitioners to develop commonly defined and understood terms.

The Bridging Scales conference introduced many individuals to the MA, and injected new approaches into the Assessment’s sub-global work. Many participants expressed interest in the MA methodologies and in undertaking new subglobal assessments. Many also expressed willingness to help the MA with indigenous and community empowerment issues. The Subglobal Assessment Working Group members who attended the conference have indicated that discussions during the week had direct impact on their work for their assessment report. A book of selected papers from the conference will be published by Island Press in early 2005, as part of the MA publication series. Several special-edition journals are being prepared featuring different themes and concepts presented during the course of the conference. All presented papers, the list of participants, and other information about the conference can be found on the MA web site here.

The MA Secretariat organized this international conference with support from the Swedish International Biodiversity Programme, The Christensen Fund, the International Council for Science, the Canadian International Development Agency, and Bibliotheca Alexandrina.