Knowledge comes in all shapes and sizes – from scientific research findings described in detailed academic reports to tacit indigenous knowledge built on direct experience and filtered through history, culture, family and context.

Systematic reviews and systematic maps are some of the best ways to synthesise evidence to guide policy-making, but they are frequently criticised for not including undocumented, indigenous and local knowledge. Systematic reviews are designed to deal with a specific type of evidence: you wouldn’t use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. But if we ignore other types of knowledge, we might not get the whole picture.

Organisations involved in curating knowledge to guide policy, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, are increasingly called on to integrate knowledge from outside the strict realm of science. But they face the challenge of reliably identifying, summarising and representing evidence that comes from non-scientific knowledge systems in such a way that it can be integrated with the more structured, scientific evidence appearing in systematic reviews and maps.

Beyond systematic review

I first got involved with systematic reviews in 2012, working at Bangor University in Wales. Looking at a range of different topics, from human well-being and protected areas to greenhouse gas emissions from farmland, I soon realised that the evidence from individual research studies is often conflicting, sometimes very challenging to understand, and in rare cases totally unreliable. Systematic review and mapping helped to identify which evidence was trustworthy and which might need to be treated with caution, and to summarise the various strands of scientific evidence in a transparent and objective way.

Many who have used systematic review methodology would agree that systematic reviews and maps are among the most reliable ways of bringing scientific evidence into decision-making processes. Over the past few years, I’ve been really keen to see whether we can take the principles of these structured methods and apply them to other kinds of knowledge and knowledge synthesis.

Integrating knowledge systems

Our new Formas-funded project, 3MK (for Mapping the Impact of Mining using Multiple Knowledges), is a chance to do just that. This three-year initiative, which I am leading, aims to develop a better understanding of the impacts of metal mining on social and environmental systems in Arctic and boreal regions, and of on the effects of measures that have been taken to mitigate them. We will do this by mapping the diverse knowledge systems and resources that can shed light on the issue. We will focus on integrating three types of knowledge: predicted or potential effects described in impact assessments; research evidence described in the literature (including grey literature); and the indigenous and local knowledge of Swedish Sami reindeer herders. From start to finish, we will be trying to engage closely with a wide range of stakeholders, to help us in the tasks of gathering and interpreting this evidence.

At the same time, we hope to push back the boundaries of knowledge-mapping methodologies, specifically on how we might be able to collate and report non-scientific knowledge in a way that is reliable, and readily integrated with systematic reviews and maps. The project will test whether and how some of the best aspects of different methodologies might be achieved across knowledge assessment types: transparency and repeatability, procedural objectivity, stakeholder engagement and co-design/co-production, comprehensiveness, and representativeness. Our interdisciplinary team will work with a diverse and experienced group of advisers and experts to design and implement the knowledge-mapping tasks.

In 3MK I have the honour of working with new forms of knowledge, with the support of a highly experienced team of social scientists, natural scientists, subject experts and methodology experts. It will also be a great opportunity to engage with diverse stakeholders who have rich experiences of life in Arctic and boreal, that we hope to be able to curate and to learn from.