TOOC Module 8

Week 8 Anticipating Change: How Might S&T Innovation Alter Life in the Circumpolar North


This module’s objective is:

  • to reflect on the possibilities for transformative change in the Circumpolar world and what that might mean for Northern people

How can the North approach the prospect of major technological change?

At one extreme, the North can be completely passive, waiting for new technologies to emerge and responding, or not, as possibilities arise.  This is the state of most of the Arctic now.  At the other extreme, the North could adopt a problem-based approach, identifying areas of intense need and driving science and business to respond to opportunities and challenges. Typically, universities and research institutes adopt the latter approach, while governments fund searches to answer some problems. But the overall effort is a hit and miss.

Developing a pro-active approach requires the systematic and international identification of needs and opportunities. In some ways, this requires stepping back from technology and focusing on socio-economic circumstances in the Arctic to identity areas in need of urgent investment and region-wide commitment. There are many barriers and challenges, ranging from the need for international cooperation, financing major research projects, limited northern capacity for regional research, and the like.

In this module, we focus on two themes:

  1. Identifying the need for technological solutions to real Northern problems
  2.  The North’s capacity to produce North-based solutions to Northern problems

The Need for Technological Solutions to Real Northern Problems

In the first instance, we examine the socio-economic, cultural and political challenges and opportunities facing the North. Given that new technologies are rarely developed in and for the North, it is vital that the Circumpolar World articulate its own requirements for future technological innovation. To do this, we have to learn to listen closely to the North. The ideas and needs are substantial and diverse, ranging from language preservation, cultural transmission across generations, amelioration of climate change effects and fresh food production in the North.

The North’s Capacity for North-based Solutions to Northern Problems

On the second topic, we explore the capacity of the North–in terms of researchers, facilities and general entrepreneurial opportunity–to respond to northern realities, to look at southern-based research institutes and researchers, global corporations and think-tanks. The North will never be able to produce the scientific and technological research necessary to meet northern needs on its own. But southern researchers tend to focus solely on southern, urban and developing world realities. This means the North suffers from a massive and ongoing innovation deficient, and this gap will only widen unless we proactively counteract it.

To summarize, in this module we will test a simple question: Is a northern innovation eco-system possible?

Laurence C. Smith: Further Thoughts on the Future of the North

Laurence Smith has some further thoughts, this time presented for a Canadian audience.  He has a unique perspective on the North, as he focuses on the connection between climate change–which everyone expects to cause havoc in the North–and economic opportunity–which should bring even more wealth to the region.  He is cautiously optimistic.  More useful for us, he looks at the Circumpolar North as a whole.  For most of you, this is not a particularly unique perspective.  For the past 20 years, thanks largely to the work of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, there has been growing awareness of the interconnectedness of Arctic regions.  The creation of the Arctic Council (created by the Ottawa Declaration of 1996) has sharpened the focus on the Far North and provided a forum for political and diplomatic relations on the regions.  This appears to be the “Age of the Arctic,” although that suggestion has been made many times in the past.