Participatory indicator development

Mark Reed, Andrew J. Dougill, Timothy R. Baker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

191 Citations (Scopus)


Given the growing popularity of indicators among policy-makers to measure progress toward conservation and sustainability goals, there is an urgent need to develop indicators that can be used accurately by both specialists and nonspecialists, drawing from the knowledge possessed by each group. This paper uses a case study from the Kalahari, Botswana to show how participatory and ecological methods can be combined to develop robust indicators that are accessible to a range of users to monitor and enhance the sustainability of land management. First, potential environmental sustainability indicators were elicited from pastoralists in three study sites. This knowledge was then evaluated by pastoralists, before being tested empirically using ecological and soil- based techniques. Despite the wealth of local knowledge about indicators, this knowledge was thinly spread. The knowledge was more holistic than published indicator lists for monitoring rangelands, encompassing vegetation, soil, livestock, wild animal, and socioeconomic indicators. Pastoralist preferences for vegetation and livestock indicators match recent shifts in ecological theory suggesting that livestock populations reach equilibrium with key forage resources in semiarid environments. Although most indicators suggested by pastoralists were validated through empirical work (e. g., decreased grass cover and soil organic matter content, and increased abundance of Acacia mellifera and thatching grass), they were not always suf. ciently accurate or reliable for objective degradation assessment, showing that local knowledge cannot be accepted unquestioningly. We suggest that, by combining participatory and ecological approaches, it is possible to derive more accurate and relevant indicators than either approach could achieve alone.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1253-1269
Number of pages17
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2008


  • Botswana
  • Kalahari
  • land degradation
  • local knowledge
  • participation
  • southern Africa
  • sustainability indicators
  • environmental-management
  • bush encroachment
  • rangeland health
  • knowledge
  • vegetation
  • nonequilibrium
  • soil


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