Why are you asking our gyan (knowledge) and padhati (practice)?: Ethics and prior informed consent for research on traditional knowledge systems

Contributed by Ranjay K. Singh1

This article presents practical guidelines for healthy and ethical collaborative research with traditional knowledge holders (TKHs) and local/traditional communities. Experience indicates that, in a majority of cases, research on indigenous knowledge or traditional knowledge systems (TKSs) in India and elsewhere also is pursued with very least follow-up of ethical guidelines and prior informed consent (PIC) of community partners and knowledge holders. Although, in the last 20 years, there has been considerable exploration of TK and grassroots innovations through applying PIC by SRISTI and NIF-India, Ahmedabad. However, there is a general lack of awareness and skills among Indian researchers regarding use of proper ethical protocols in conducting research with TKHs. Here, an attempt was made to provide some guidelines on important aspects of ethics in TKS research, which may be helpful to raise awareness around ethical issues and educate researchers working on various dimensions of TKSs.  Most of the information and ideas presented here are based on field experiences and use of PIC practically with TKHs and local communities in many parts of India. In addition to discussing the ethical dimensions, the processes and methods of obtaining PIC from TKHs are presented in order to facilitate ethical research on TKSs. Processes for engaging a community in research, helping build capacity and how to obtain PIC are discussed. It is hoped that the information presented will be helpful for researchers, and ultimately, it will contribute to respect and recognize the TKHs for their knowledge and wisdom, for which they hold rights.

1Dr. Ranjay K. Singh, whose most recent work is featured in this newsletter and can be viewed in full here, was recently awarded with the designation of Associate (Agricultural Rural Sociology) of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS), New Delhi, for work on biocultural knowledge systems and community-based biodiversity conservation in the eastern Himalayas. He is a long-time ISE member who has contributed regularly to the ISE Ethics Program. This article is shared with his permission, from:

Ranjay K. Singh, KP Singh & Nancy J. Turner. A Special note on Prior Informed Consent (PIC). Why are you asking our gyan (knowledge) and padhati (practice)?: Ethics and prior informed consent for research on traditional knowledge systems. Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge Vol. 12 (3), July 2013, pp. 547-562