TOOC Module 10

Week 10 Policy Options for Circumpolar Innovation

This module’s objective is:

  • to consider the policy and program options available to northern governments and peoples as they seek to accelerate improvements in northern quality of life associated with S&T

As we reach the end of the course, it is important to consider the options facing the Far North.  The purpose to this point was not to define the present and outline the innovation future for the Circumpolar World.  There is far too much uncertainty for an accurate and convincing portrait.  Instead, the purpose has been to raise questions about the scientific and technological prospects for the North.  It is clear that the world is changing very rapidly, and the scientific and technological transformations of the Far North have been dramatic.

No one group or region has sole responsibility for creating a northern innovation economy.  Indeed, there are many key participants, including the following:

  • local and regional governments
  • local business and community organizations
  • regional Indigenous associations and organizations
  • key and prominent Northern business leaders
  • universities and college administrators, particularly those charged with research and commercialization
  • hospital administrators and medical leaders, who are key to innovation initiatives
  • northern alumni, who might be scattered across the North or living outside the region
  • regional young people, who must be positioned to lead the North in the years to come (and who are not as tech savvy as popular culture would suggest)
  • national political and government officials
  • collaborators from other Circumpolar regions and nations, focusing on business, Indigenous and government officials
  • key research directors from leading innovation countries
  • top flight scientists and regional innovation experts

Without a comprehensive approach, the chance of making a leap into global competitiveness–already a challenging assignment–is substantially impossible.

There is no simple road map for a Circumpolar Innovation strategy. Several key considerations stand out, as challenges more than opportunities:

  • The special circumstances of Indigenous peoples have to be taken into account.
  • No northern region, including Russia, has the technological and scientific capacity to tackle the era of S&T innovation on its own.
  • The Far North has to address its fundamental deficiencies in infrastructure and support systems.
  • North-centred solutions are imperative and pan-northern approaches are urgently required.
  • Considerable attention has to be given to the future of work in the innovation economy of the future.
  • Regional governments and local authorities have a greater chance of success than do national governments, particularly where the latter are southern based.
  • Natural resources provide the financial resources and business opportunities to establish the foundation for an innovation.  They will not, on their own, create the innovation.  Resource development offers a valuable base for the development of an S&T-based economy, but the sector must grow beyond this base.
  • Considerable attention should be given to using S&T innovation to improve the quality of life for northern residents.

The major items to be addressed, following from the above, include the following:

  • Improving educational outcomes at the primary and secondary level, focusing on the needs of Indigenous students, services in small villages and towns, transition to university or college, and the development of S&T expertise.
  • Developing innovation-centred post-secondary institutions that are focused more on regional problem-solving than traditional disciplines and learning styles.
  • Expand regional efforts to recognize and support entrepreneurs, particularly through business development and venture capital funding.
  • Create regional funds–through Indigenous or community/regional organization–to provide venture capital for Northern companies looking to build businesses.
  • Work across the Circumpolar world to identify market niches and sales opportunities of direct and sustained relevance to the Far North.
  • Work with other remote regions (the outback of Australia) to identify market niches and sales opportunities of value to remote regions.
  • Work collaboratively at the local/sub-regional level to identify specialized opportunities to go after –aggressively–companies suitable for the local economy.
  • Ensure that the basic infrastructure for the region–Internet, roads, airfields, hospitals, schools, electricity, professional services–are at an appropriate national level and remain cost competitive.
  • Educate the regional population in the dynamics of northern development, modern S&T and the imperatives of the innovation economy.
  • Learn to compete–and win–at the international level.
  • Review national policies to see if there are structural, legislative or policy barriers to business development in the region.
  • Promote loyalty to the region–keep top talent, return start-up businesses, encourage former residents to return home (or at least to invest in the region)–and promote the attractions of living and working in the Far North.
  • Build an innovation economy around northern realities–embrace the Far North, don’t walk away from it.

There is no easy path toward regional prosperity, and contemporary realities make planning and policy-making even more complicated.


Realities of the Circumpolar World

Over the past nine weeks, we have explored many aspects of the global and Circumpolar innovation environment.  We have looked at futurists and their ideas about the pace of technological change. We have examined various national innovation strategies, looked at specific issues like the future of work in the North, and contemplated what the North might look like in 2050.  If you think the present is complicated and uncertain, it is clear that the future is even more uncertain.

For the last week of class–with the ideas and insights about Circumpolar innovation in our heads–we will return to look at the North itself.  So much global conversation about the Arctic focuses on images and stereotypes. The current focus on the prospects for Arctic shipping (they are much smaller than you would believe from all the discussion about it), Arctic resource development (promising opportunities are offset, in large measure, by high costs and logistical challenges) and Far Northern climate change (very real and substantial, but with uncertain implications for the region).

So, to wrap up the course, let’s check in on some of the realities of the Circumpolar World and leave the course with a variety of perspectives on the changing Far North. The focus here is on Indigenous peoples, in large measure because so much of the discussion about technology, resource and government policies emphasize non-Aboriginal people. Yet, the Indigenous peoples of the Arctic face major forces for change–and fundamentally important decisions about their future.  As we contemplate the future of the Arctic and the prospects for innovation, it is useful to think about who innovation is for and who stands to benefit from the commercialization of science and technology.  Can innovation help Indigenous peoples determine their own futures?  Can these developments transform Arctic life in a way that meets their cultural needs and allows them to create the lives that they want?
Several of these are long, but I think you will enjoy all of them.


Russia’s Indigenous Peoples


Invincible Nenets People of Russia’s Far North

Last Yoik in Saami Forests? 


Live from the Floe Edge: From an Inuit Point of View (

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change (

America’s first climate refugees (

Arctic Resources: The Fight for the Coldest Place on the Earth Heats Up (

Mining in the Arctic

On Thin Ice: Inuit way of life vanishing in Arctic




Concluding Remarks

The Arctic is a fascinating place. It needs creative and innovative solutions and a northern approach to innovation if the people and communities of the North are to flourish.

Thank you for your interest in this course and in the scientific and technological future of the North. Please send me any links, articles or news reports that relate to Circumpolar Innovation so that I can include them in future iterations of the class. It has been a delight to study with you. If nothing else, you will appreciate the need to pay close attention to the continuing transformations in the Arctic and the role that scientific and technological innovations will play in the shaping the future of the Far North and the world as a whole.