A busy beaver represents Step 4: Approach and Methods.

Step 4: Approach and Methods

There are many different approaches to Indigenous climate monitoring as well as a long list of different kinds of methods and tools. This section will provide resources to help you think through your approach to collecting information about the changing climate and develop a monitoring plan to achieve your goals.

Why It’s Important

Clear monitoring questions and indicators as well as focused methods and a monitoring plan will help to keep your project on track and avoid wasting time and money. It will help to ensure you collect enough data to answer your monitoring questions.

Key Questions and Considerations

Indigenous research methodologies are “…as old as our ceremonies and our nations. They are with us and have always been with us.”1 The methodologies for Indigenous-led research are varied across and within First Nation, Inuit, and Métis communities across Canada reflecting the diversity of worldviews and ways of knowing. The ways in which you approach your monitoring will depend on your questions, partners, and processes you will use. Common elements of Indigenous-led research and monitoring are that they support self-determination and nationhood, recognize Indigenous Knowledge systems, value community leadership, and support and community ownership of knowledge2.

Co-Production of Knowledge and Two-Eyed Seeing

Many Indigenous climate monitoring projects co-apply Indigenous Knowledge Systems with science bringing together the strengths of both knowledge systems. This has been described as two-eyed seeing (Etuaptmumk in Mi’kmaw), which involves “learning to see from one eye with the strengths of Indigenous Knowledges and ways of knowing, and from the other eye with the strengths of mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing, and to use both these eyes together, for the benefit of all.”3 Each knowledge system is unique and equally valid and doesn’t need the other to provide validation. The co-application of knowledge systems can ensure a holistic, place-based, and nuanced understanding of change. Consider how information from each knowledge system can contribute toward the objectives of your project.

Watch this video of Elder Albert Marshall explaining the concept of two-eyed seeing.

What will you monitor?

Identify the specific questions you will aim to answer with your monitoring project building from the goals you identified in Step 1: Setting Goals and Planning, information you have gathered through community engagement, and understanding of what monitoring has already been done in and around your community. Having clear monitoring questions is critical to designing an effective monitoring plan.

Indicators are what you will monitor. The indicators should reflect the concerns and values identified by the community and help to answer your monitoring questions. Indicators are used by many Indigenous Peoples to understand and communicate about ecological change. They are the signs and signals that have guided understanding and decisions within Indigenous communities for hundreds if not thousands of years. Some groups host a workshop specifically to identify which indicators to monitor. Developing a conceptual model can be helpful in understanding how parts of the ecosystem interact and which indicators may be most responsive to climate change.

Climate indicators can relate to:

  • radiation (solar radiation or sunlight; surface temperature and thermal radiation)
  • the atmosphere (e.g., temperature, precipitation, wind, humidity);
  • the land (e.g., changes in permafrost, soil moisture, soil temperature, water-table depth)
  • water quantity (e.g., flow, water depth) or quality (e.g., pH, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphates, water temperature)
  • ice and snow (e.g., timing of ice formation and breakup, thickness, quality; snow depth)
  • plants and animals (e.g., timing of arrival of species, species population and distribution, health and body condition, taste and yield of berries, spectroscopy (food chemometrics)4)

Identifying a range of indicators can ensure that you have enough information from your monitoring project to fully understand patterns of change and make good decisions about how to deal with these changes. As described in Step 2: Working Together, identifying indicators that are being monitored by other communities or organizations can create opportunities to connect the significance of changes being experienced across a larger area.

A list of climate indicators developed during a national symposium on Indigenous community-based climate monitoring can be a starting place, but it’s important to identify the indicators most relevant to your particular needs and context. With limited resources, often you must prioritize among many possible indicators.

“The world can tell us everything that we want to know. The only problem for the world is that it doesn’t have a voice. But the world’s indicators are there. They are always talking to us.”

Quitsak Tarkiasuk, Ivujivik5

How will you monitor?

Once your monitoring indicators have been chosen, you will need to decide on a strategy or set of methods to measure change in those indicators. Information from Indigenous Knowledge Systems, scientific approaches and the co-production of knowledge using both knowledge systems can be applied. Your monitoring plan should identify the kinds of data you plan to collect and how often, where you plan to monitor, and the tools and equipment you will need. It has been said that designing a monitoring project is like getting a tattoo since making major changes later can be messy and painful.6

It’s important that the monitoring approach reflects the day-to-day realities of those involved in monitoring and respect the relationships to the land. This will likely result in outcomes that are more meaningful and trusted by community members. Many Indigenous Peoples track both quantitative and qualitative data in their daily and traditional practices. Using both qualitative and quantitative approaches as part of your climate monitoring plan can allow for a more holistic understanding of changes:

  • Qualitative Methods: Methods which deal with words and meanings and don’t involve numbers. For example, noticing that the body condition of harvested caribou was poor.
  • Quantitative Methods: Methods which deal with numbers and statistics. For example, tracking changes in the number of caribou observed or the number of skinny vs. fat caribou.

Helpful Tips

“SMART” Indicators

A good practice is to ensure your scientific monitoring indicators are “SMART”, that is Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Guiding Questions for Determining Monitoring Methods

  • What kind of budget is available?
  • What are some key considerations for meaningful and respectful data collection?
  • What are the steps (protocols) for gathering the data?
  • Who will collect the data? (i.e., staff, harvesters, youth, volunteers).
  • Can the protocol be consistently implemented?
  • What tools, resources, and data organization is needed?
  • How easy or difficult is it to collect the data?
  • How often must the data be collected?
  • Can the monitoring be sustained?

Indigenous Knowledge

There are many definitions of Indigenous Knowledge. It has different names and meanings in different regions and cultures. Indigenous Knowledge refers to the understandings, skills and philosophies developed by societies with long histories of interaction with their natural surroundings7. Indigenous Knowledge takes many forms and encompasses distinct ways of knowing that are intergenerational, holistic, and place-based. Indigenous Knowledge is more than just information. In this Toolkit, Indigenous Knowledge is defined as collective knowledge of traditions used by Indigenous groups to sustain and adapt themselves to their environment over time.8

Elders and Knowledge keepers hold invaluable knowledge about the changes to the land and the environment as a whole. Indigenous Knowledge is shared through ways of exchanging cultural and traditional information, such as storytelling. Storytelling, questionnaires, and face-to-face interviews are commonly used when trying to learn directly from Elders and Knowledge holders. Going out on the land with Knowledge holders can provide a natural space for intergenerational knowledge transfer and Indigenous Knowledge sharing.

Shared knowledge may be recorded using pen/paper or using audio, video or computerized software (e.g., an on-line survey) depending on available resources and the preferences of participants. Participatory video is a newer method of documenting community climate observations and stories through mobilizing stories and collectively-held knowledge with diverse audiences to inform climate adaptation. It involves a group or community shaping and creating their own film.

It’s important to familiarize yourself with the protocols within your community for engaging with Elders and Knowledge keepers. Ask questions if you’re unsure about process or protocols. Determine in advance if language interpretation is required. For example, it may be difficult for an Elder to speak to you in a second or third language, and important context may be lost in translation. Consider who would be the best individuals to conduct the interviews. Creating an interdisciplinary interview team may be helpful. Pairing new staff with those experienced in working with Elders can build capacity within your community to engage in this type of research.

The more structured and formal the interview (refer to Questionnaire for interviewing Elders and community members), the more likely that the data is consistent and can be used and compared over time. However, a certain amount of flexibility is necessary to enable people to adapt their projects to new information and insights. However, too much flexibility makes comparison or identifying patterns and trends difficult.

It’s very important to develop a thorough and credible validation process for any information shared by community members and include it as part of your monitoring plan. This will allow you to reflect critically on draft results and allow participants to correct errors of fact, omission, and interpretation. Be sure to clarify with those who participated in your study in what context their knowledge can be used and shared and whether a trusted steward for that knowledge is appointed.

Community Spotlight – Examples of Indigenous Ways of Knowing and Being

Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit

Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit refers to Inuit beliefs, laws, principles and values along with Traditional Knowledge, skills and attitudes.9  Watch the video of Shirley Tagalik,  author and educator, explaining how Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is a dynamic and living knowledge system.


Netukulimk is a complex cultural concept that encompasses Mi’kmaq sovereign law ways and guides individual and collective beliefs and behaviours in resource protection, procurement, and management to ensure and honor sustainability and prosperity for the ancestor, present and future generations. It is a concept of living sustainably on the land through respectful co-habitation.”10 Watch the video about Netukulimk as it relates to the history of cod.

Métis traditional environmental knowledge

Métis traditional environmental knowledge is built from community practices which form the foundation for understanding the natural world, building skills and behaviour adaptable and applicable to other facets of Métis life, maximizing use and benefit of natural resources within community accepted ethical boundaries, and contributing to personal and community spiritual, physical, intellectual, and emotional health and development.”11

Scientific Monitoring

Many Indigenous climate monitoring projects also follow scientific methods for collecting data. When following scientific methods, it’s important to use consistent methods for data collection to be comparable from year to year. In many cases, standardized methods or “protocols” for monitoring certain indicators have already been developed. Following existing standardized protocols can save you time and effort in developing your own protocols and can help ensure your data is rigorous and reliable and comparable with similar studies. However, it’s important that the protocol relates to your selected indicator and helps to answer your monitoring question. If you need to develop your own monitoring protocol, ensure it’s well designed and well documented so that it can be repeatable. See the Resources – Scientific Monitoring Methods dropdown for an inventory of existing community-based monitoring protocols that you can consider. For resources specific to monitoring specific indicators such as weather and climate, land and water, and animals and plants, visit the Monitoring Resources by Theme page.

Equipment and Technology

Most monitoring projects will require the use of equipment to support your climate monitoring efforts. This can be as simple as waterproof paper and pencils or involve expensive equipment that may cost thousands of dollars. Selecting the right equipment is an important part of an effective monitoring project.

Many monitoring projects incorporate sensors and automated instrumentation which remain in the field such as weather stations, hydrological sensors, trail cameras, soil temperature sensors, etc.. Data from this equipment may be uploaded directly a community-owned computer or server, to the Cloud (a folder stored on the Internet), or you may need to visit the sensors to download the data. Some community-based monitoring projects are even using observations from space-based remote sensors (e.g., Landsat 8, LIDAR). Equipment to support monitoring including boats, snowmobiles, freezers, etc. can be very costly and are not always easy to purchase on limited budgets. Depending on your community’s remoteness, you also need to take into account when equipment can be shipped to the community. Renting can also be an option. Maintaining equipment so it’s safe to use and doesn’t need to be replaced or fixed as often is also very important.

Where will you monitor?

Where to monitor is another important decision as part of determining your methods. Many Indigenous-led monitoring projects seek the guidance of Elders and Knowledge holders on the critical locations for monitoring. Other factors which may influence your decision on monitoring location will include reliable and safe access to the monitoring site and whether the location is in the areas where the change you’re measuring can be detected. Depending on your monitoring questions, you may wish to monitor in several locations to compare changes between sites or to understand change across a wide landscape.

It’s important to record the geographic markers for your monitoring locations, so you can easily find them again for your next round of observations. This can be done by ensuring your monitoring locations are accurately recorded using a GPS and/or photographs and permanently tagging or flagging your monitoring sites, if that is permitted.

You may wish to integrate mapping into your monitoring initiative. Resources and methods developed for land use and occupancy studies may be modified to support you in your climate monitoring initiatives. Finding baseline data and existing maps of your region (e.g., Landsat 8, LIDAR) are useful resources.


Helpful Tips

Automated Monitoring Sites

When designing an automated monitoring site, it is important to consider:

  • Power requirements
  • Datalogging
  • Instrumentation
    • Accuracy
    • Resolution
    • Sensitivity
    • Calibration protocols

Considerations When Buying Climate Monitoring Equipment

  • Cost – How much does the technology cost to purchase and maintain?
  • Purpose – Does the technology fit with the overall purpose or strategic vision of the community-based monitoring project and is suitable for use within your monitoring protocol?
  • Ease of Use – How easy is it to use? How much training will be needed to use it?
  • Data collection – Will the technology increase data collection opportunities?
  • Format – Does the technology produce data in a usable format relative to data needs in the community?
  • Data Quality – Will the technology produce data in the quality you need?
  • Robustness – Will the equipment be resilient to weather conditions and the curiosity of local wildlife?
  • Upgrades – How easy is it to keep the technology up-to-date?
  • Participation – Will the technology increase the number of people participating in the monitoring project?
  • Communication – Will the technology improve the capacity of the project to communicate the outcomes of the project to the community or other necessary audiences?


Sampling Strategy and Methods

The type of indicator and its spatial heterogeneity (i.e., uneven distribution of various concentrations of species within an area) will inform the sampling strategy necessary to achieve accuracy and confidence in statistical outputs. Examples of statistical (probability) sampling methods are:

  • Simple random
  • Systematic
  • Convenience
  • Stratified
  • Clustered sampling


Who will monitor?

Your monitoring plan and selected methods should be geared appropriately to the skills and capacity of those collecting the data. Simple and repeatable methods will still generate high quality data. Many projects hire community members (on a full-time or part-time basis) to support data collection following a routine schedule. Other models for data collection can include:

  • On-the-land camps: Many Indigenous monitoring projects integrate on-the-land camps into their approach for gathering data. On-the-land camps provide an excellent opportunity to collect data, learn and share knowledge about the changing environment while also practicing traditional cultures.
  • Youth and school-based monitoring projects: Some projects design their monitoring projects around partnering with school groups to collect, interpret, and share the data. For example:
    • Black River First Nation has been monitoring and analyzing data from snow and forest plots in partnership with the community school for many years.
    • The Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq has partnered with the Mi’kmaw elementary school in Pictou Landing First Nation and Bear River First Nation to monitor and analyze rain, hail and snow as part of the Community Collaborative, Rain, Hail and Snow Network (CoCoRaHS) monitoring initiative.
  • Partnering with other groups: Partnering with teams within your community involved in related initiatives such as those working with harvesters or youth or working with other communities and organizations with overlapping geographic areas to develop a more robust monitoring network. Refer to the Sustainability and Funding page for more ideas on building sustainability into your monitoring project through partnerships.


Community Spotlight - On-the-Land Climate Monitoring Projects

Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik (Quebec)

The community has partnered with researchers to host science land camps in the George River watershed that incorporate Traditional Ecological Knowledge.

Learn more here.

Arviat, Nunavut

Through the Arviat Youth Monitoring Program, youth are learning monitoring skills in a variety of different areas including permafrost, water quality and fish health, and animal health.

Learn more here.

How much data do you need?

Determining how much data you need to collect can be difficult. However, determining in advance how often you need to collect data to answer your monitoring questions will save you time and money. It will also help to avoid situations where you have monitored for several years but can’t answer your monitoring questions. How often you need to collect data may differ from one indicator to another and will be influenced by the quality of data you need. “Power analysis” is a tool that helps you determine a minimum sample size for your study. Consult your monitoring protocol, literature and/or seek expert opinions on the appropriate monitoring frequency for your indicators.

For qualitative studies involving interviews, consider creating some consistency with the interview questions (refer to Questionnaire for interviewing Elders and community members). Think about how many interviews you may need to conduct to be representative and think about how often you might want to repeat these interviews to track changes over time. Refer to Step 6: Learning and Sharing for ethical considerations around data ownership, consent, and usage.



Co-Production of Knowledge and Two-Eyed Seeing

  1. ^

    Cardinel, L. 2001. What is an Indigenous Perspective? Canadian Journal of Native Education, 25(2), 180-182.

  2. ^

    Johnston et al. 2018. Relationships, Respect, Relevance, Reciprocity and Responsibility: Taking Up Indigenous Research Approaches. In Indigenous Research: Theories, Practices and Relationships.

  3. ^

    Elder Dr. Albert Marshall from Reid, Andrea J Lauren E. Eckert, John-Francis Lane, Nathan Young, Scott G. Hinch, Chris T. Darimont, Steven J. Cooke, Natalie C. Ban, Albert Marshall. 2020. “Two-Eyed Seeing”: An Indigenous framework to transform fisheries research and management. Fish and Fisheries 22:2, p243-261. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12516

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    Wang H, Peng J, Xie C, Bao Y, He Y. Fruit Quality Evaluation Using Spectroscopy Technology: A Review. Sensors. 2015; 15(5):11889-11927. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/s150511889

  5. ^

    Canadian Arctic Resources Committee. 1997. Voices From the Bay: Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Inuit and Cree in the Hudson Bay Bioregion. Compiled by Miriam McDonald, Lucassie Arragutainaq, and Zach Novalinga. 98pp.

  6. ^

    Karen L. Oakley, Lisa P. Thomas, and Steven G. Fancy. 2003. Guidelines for long-term monitoring protocols. Wildlife Society Bulletin 2003, 31(4):1000–1003.

  7. ^

    UNESCO. Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems. Available at: https://en.unesco.org/links

  8. ^

    Assembly of First Nations. Traditional Knowledge. Available at: https://www.afn.ca/uploads/files/env/ns_-_traditional_knowledge.pdf

  9. ^

    Nunavut Department of Education, Curriculum and School Services Division. 2007. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit Education Framework. Available at:  https://www.gov.nu.ca/sites/default/files/files/Inuit%20Qaujimajatuqangit%20ENG.pdf

  10. ^

    Prosper, K. , McMillan, L. J. , Davis, A. A. (2011). Returning to Netukulimk: Mi’kmaq cultural and spiritual connections with resource stewardship and self-governance. The International Indigenous Policy Journal, 2(4) . Retrieved from: http://ir.lib.uwo.ca/iipj/vol2/iss4/7

  11. ^

    Métis National Council. 2011. Métis Traditional Knowledge: Métis Traditional Environmental Knowledge.