Arctic Science Summit Week | 31 March -7 April 2017 | Prague, Czech Republic | by Michelle Slaney
All eyes on the Arctic
ASSW is an annual IASC (International Arctic Science Committee) event that brings together scientific organisations and researchers from around the world to exchange arctic knowledge, information and ideas.
This year’s Arctic Science Summit Week, hosted by the University of South Bohemia and held in beautiful Prague, attracted over 700 delegates from 28 countries. The 5-day scientific programme was preceded by a business programme where many of the partner research organizations, funding organizations and international networks held workshops and meetings to take advantage of the wide participation of scientific and community experts in attendance, and FEC was no exception.
As is the case with many large annual scientific conferences, there were multiple parallel sessions, business meetings and other adhoc informal and formal meetings and workshops taking place throughout the week. Here I will focus on only the highlights which I believe to be most relevant to FEC and our work.
On the 30th and 31st March, Future Earth Coasts (FEC), together with the Integrated Marine Biosphere Research (IMBeR) international scientific project held a workshop on Arctic continental margins. With funding from the European Space Agency (ESA) , scientists from the joint IMBeR/FEC Continental Margins Working Group (CMWG), the IMBeR regional program ESSAS (Ecosystem Studies of Sub-Arctic and Arctic Seas), the FEC circum-polar network CACCON (Circum-Arctic Coastal Communities KnOwledge Network), and remote sensing experts from the ESA were brought together to :
(1) identify relevant issues and the spectrum of knowledge needs for Arctic margins, including the focal region for an Arctic case study;
(2) identify which ESA and other data products can contribute to address these issues and knowledge needs and what knowledge gaps may point to the need for other sources and innovative approaches; and
(3) define a common roadmap and collaborative actions to make full use of the existing datasets in pursuit of the Margins research agenda outline above.
Immediately following this workshop, we convened a meeting with the founding group and program leaders of FEC’s circumpolar engagement partner, the Circum-Arctic Coastal Communities Knowledge Network (CACCON).The group used the opportunity to catch up on and exchange information about the growing number of activities in which communities are driving research agendas, and turning knowledge into actions. Northern communities are increasingly taking control of research and decisions about what research can be undertaken in and around their lands and waters. The group discussed a number of ongoing efforts including, for example, the development of an Inuit-specific research agenda, community-led action research plans, and shared ideas about how the network could pool resources in order to facilitate meetings or other activities that communities deem appropriate for helping to move these processes forward!
On the 3rd April, we were invited to participate in the Sustainable Arctic Infrastructure Forum (SAIF) which is an outgrowth of RATIC, or Rapid Arctic Transitions due to Infrastructure and Climate Initiative, developed at ICARP III in Toyama, Japan, in 2015. It was a very intense workshop which opened with a keynote and a couple of other presentations, and was immediately followed by breakout sessions to address scientific and policy issues related to major types of infrastructure. The major task of SAIF was to address the cumulative effects of four major types of infrastructure systems: indigenous infrastructure (e.g., camps, trails, corrals, migration corridors, etc.); onshore oil & gas fields (networks of roads, drilling and facility pads, pipelines, etc.); remote communities (village or hamlet infrastructure); and urban infrastructure (cities). Following group presentations, there was a discussion on process and modalities relating to a journal publication and a RATIC strategy document. A “Prague Sustainable Infrastructure Scientific Research Agenda” identified the following tasks to be completed by RATIC in the next five years: (1) Promote the topic of “sustainable infrastructure development” as a key IASC research theme; (2) involve scientists, local communities, governments, industry and the general public in this research; (3) publish a synthesis of sustainable Arctic infrastructure research findings in peer-reviewed scientific journals and more publicly accessible platforms; (4) pursue funding to continue the RATIC initiative; and (5) develop a strategic plan by December 2017.
On the 6th April, we presented in a session which was co-convened by Donald Forbes and others, and chaired by Bob Rich, Executive Director of the Arctic Research Consortium of the United States (ARCUS). The session (#22), Building partnerships among multiple knowledge systems to enhance understanding of a dynamic Arctic, looked at different aspects of Arctic knowledge production and implementation to resolve pressing challenges related to economic and social development, demographics, globalization, mixed cash and non-cash economies, linguistic and cultural integrity, unprecedented environmental change, health, and well-being. It was very well attended and following the presentations, there was a lively discussion.
There was also a Belmont Forum Arctic CRA (Collaborative Research Action) scoping workshop to discuss whether or not the themes and objectives highlighted in the first Belmont Arctic Call (in 2014) were still valid and those of highest priority to the scientific community. There was no clear outcome from this meeting, and the call will not be issued until next year, 2018.
Despite all of the activities and buzz during the sessions and at the coffee breaks, the highlight of the week for me was the plenary talk by Mike Jaypoody, from Clyde River (Kangiqtugaapik), Nunavut. Mike is the IT Coordinator and media specialist at the Ittaq Heritage and Research Centre, part of Ilisaqsivik Society, in Clyde River. His presentation on the Cyberatlas Technology in the North demonstrated how the technology blends digital mapping capabilities with multimedia to create a highly visual, interactive tool that communities are using for research, education, sharing narratives, decision-making, and more. The community of Clyde River has been developing a cyberatlas, Initiated and managed locally, that focuses on the marine environment and brings together Inuit knowledge, science, technology, and visual arts (photography, videography, and drone imaging) to assemble a rich resource of knowledge about the area. Not only is the technology and the sophisticated way of capturing and sharing knowledge very impressive, it is a perfect example of community-driven research enhancing community well-being. It also exemplifies how technology, science and Indigenous Knowledge can be combined for the benefit of diverse groups and for long-term sustainability. The atlas is managed by young Inuit technicians, artists, and leaders from the community who train and exchange skills with visiting university-based researchers and other technicians.
When the research agenda is developed by and with communities, and includes all types of knowledge and ways of knowing, the outcomes and decision-making related to that research will be more relevant, as it will be rooted in local values and priorities. While this approach is fundamental to the CACCON network and all of its partners and operations, it was evident in speaking with and listening to many of the presenters at ASSW, that this is not an approach that is widely practiced by all disciplines or across all regions of the circumpolar north. It was also glaringly obvious from the fact that in many of the sessions and workshops, there were not many Indigenous or Arctic community participants present.
In order to change the conversation (and practice) around sustainability research and transitioning societies to more sustainable futures, there needs to be a paradigm shift in how research is being conducted and how sustainability is being defined (and by whom). Community-defined sustainability challenges are not always the same as those defined from a more theoretical perspective. Evidence, or proof of concept, is powerful in demonstrating how solutions-oriented co-designed and co-delivered research is leading to resilient communities. To that end, we are currently in the process of examining examples of community-research partnerships which have resulted in tangible impacts on the well-being and sustainability of Northern communities. Hopefully, capturing the essence of what it takes to build and sustain successful research partnerships will ultimately lead to more community-driven research that builds resilience and transforms communities. Please visit this space again next week to read more about this initiative, and how you can contribute, in my next blog.
The link to the Arctic Science Summit Week 2017 can be found here: http://www.assw2017.eu/
The List of Sessions, which range from Arctic glaciers and ice caps, to Arctic animals and their parasites, can be found here: http://www.assw2017.eu/session-list.htm
To learn more about Ittaq Heritage and Research Centre in Clyde River, Canada, and how they are turning knowledge into action in support of community priorities, goals and informed decision-making, visit: http://ittaq.ca/