Journal Article

Indicators as a means of communicating knowledge

Poul Degnbol

in ICES Journal of Marine Science

Published on behalf of ICES/CIEM

Volume 62, issue 3, pages 606-611
Published in print January 2005 | ISSN: 1054-3139
Published online January 2005 | e-ISSN: 1095-9289 | DOI:
Indicators as a means of communicating knowledge

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  • Environmental Science
  • Marine and Estuarine Biology


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Indicators represent the link between objectives and action in management. The identification of ecosystem indicators must therefore be embedded in the decision-making process. Fisheries management can only be effective if the measures are considered legitimate by stakeholders. The choice of indicators to guide management should not be evaluated from a technical perspective alone, but also in relation to their effectiveness in communicating knowledge. More specifically, indicators should serve as a communication bridge between different knowledge discourses. Reference is often made to “local ecological knowledge” as a source that should be integrated in the process for management to be legitimate. However, while extensive studies have been made on local ecological knowledge per se, few have addressed the issue of its integration into co-management institutions with research-based knowledge. The challenge is consequently to identify indicators that have both research-based validity and reflect features that correspond to stakeholder knowledge, while relating to shared understandings of objectives and actions. This challenge is discussed from a developing-countries perspective. Problems and possible ways forward are illustrated on the basis of experiences from a range of case studies of knowledge discourses regarding living aquatic resources in southeast Asia and southern Africa. The studies have shown that the different knowledge discourses, and candidate indicators therein, relating to a specific ecosystem may be identified and characterized. Often, however, such indicators will have very little in common across knowledge discourses, and the differences cannot be overcome through a simple translation process. The perspectives of formal research-based knowledge and of fishers differ systemically, reflecting the different interests and scales of observation between the two parties. Also, fishers focus on a wider agenda than research alone, on allocation problems and conflicts among users. Allocation/access issues must therefore be addressed as an integral aspect of an ecosystem approach if management is to be effective.

Keywords: ecosystem approach; fisheries co-management; indicators; knowledge

Journal Article.  3658 words. 

Subjects: Environmental Science ; Marine and Estuarine Biology

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