Making northern communities part of the research team

ArcticNet works toward locally relevant research

“Our goal from the start was to connect with stakeholders,” explains Louis Fortier. “To ask about their concerns and what they want to know scientifically. By doing that, we can be confident we’re tackling the big issues.”

Fortier—Canada Research Chair on the Response of Arctic Marine Ecosystems to Climate Warming and a professor at Université Laval—believes in building connections and seeking local insight on pressing research challenges. A tireless advocate for bringing diverse research institutions into dialogue with communities in the North, Fortier provides strategic direction and leadership as scientific director of ArcticNet.

A Network of Centres of Excellence of Canada, ArcticNet brings together scientists and managers in the natural, human health and social sciences with partners from Inuit organizations, northern communities, federal and provincial agencies and the private sector to study the impacts of climate change and modernization in the coastal Canadian Arctic (participating members include more than 155 researchers spanning thirty Canadian universities, eight federal and eleven provincial agencies and departments).

With community representatives embedded directly into its governance structure, ArcticNet’s combined local knowledge and research expertise confirm that climate change and modernization are having major impacts on the Canadian Arctic. To identify the knowledge gaps and call attention to potential challenges, Fortier and his colleagues combed through the findings of thirty‑six research projects to create comprehensive regional impact assessments for each of four regions of the Canadian Arctic.

Released in November 2012, the first of these four assessments, From Science to Policy in Nunavik and Nunatsiavuts is a ground-breaking synthesis of research results and policy recommendations spotlighting the issues most important to people living in Canada’s northern communities—from finding better ways of paving on permafrost to the future availability of the tundra berries that are a crucial element in the Inuit economy.

Michel Allard—a permafrost expert at the Université Laval and co‑author of the report—says this regionalized approach is important.

“People in Iqaluit want to know about their local ice conditions, not just what’s happening hemispherically. What’s local is what’s relevant.”

With ArcticNet’s mandate set to conclude in 2018, Fortier, Allard and their team are looking today at ways of sustaining the initiative over the longer term—to continue developing community‑driven research of direct benefit to all Canadians, from coast to coast to coast.