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7 March 2014

‘Mistra Arctic Futures is putting Sweden on the map’

After three years, the Mistra Arctic Futures programme is coming to an end. During the concluding conference in March, participants in the various projects will summarise the research and formulate their messages to society at large. In April, a new programme about the Arctic will begin.

Mistra Arctic Futures is the largest initiative to date in humanities and social science research on the Arctic. Previously, Arctic research was strongly oriented towards the natural sciences.

The Swedish Polar Research Secretariat has hosted the programme since it started in 2011. According to Programme Director Lize-Marié van der Watt, in its three-year existence Mistra Arctic Futures has put Sweden on the international map for Arctic research.

‘A big Arctic venture like this has repercussions on several levels, of course,’ says van der Watt.

As examples of the programme’s success she mentions the International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences (ICASS), an annual event. This year, it will be held in Prince George, Canada on 22 May. Sweden’s presence will be especially salient, thanks to what Mistra Arctic Futures has achieved. On other levels, too, the programme has influenced decision-makers and other stakeholders, van der Watt says. The Russian Embassy, for example, has invited the senior researchers on the programme to round-table discussions.

‘The research has also contributed to its respective disciplines in a broader sense: it has included the environment and game theory, for instance.’

Formulating conclusions from the programme

During the concluding conference, researchers in the five different projects of the programme, along with communicators, will formulate the key conclusions in a two-page document. This will be enclosed with the final report, which will be issued in the spring.

‘The final report isn’t meant just to be filed away, but to be a document that others can use — not least those who will be working in the next phase of the programme,’ Lize-Marié van der Watt says.

Four of the projects in the programme now ending are now to continue, in a more highly developed form, in the new Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development programme. This will formally start on 1 April, and at the March conference people involved in both the completed Arctic programme and the new one will come together to exchange views and experience.

Shared leadership in the new programme

Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development, in which Mistra is investing SEK 30 million, has split its leadership between two programme directors: Carina Keskitalo and Peter Sköld, both of Umeå University. The programme is to be administered from Arcum, the Arctic Research Centre at Umeå University that was inaugurated last year, partly thanks to Mistra’s initiatives. Carina Keskitalo, one of the more senior researchers at Arcum, headed one of the projects in the programme that is now being concluded.

‘Research in the new programme will be about interactions between various livelihoods in northern Norway, Sweden and Finland that depend on natural resources,’ says Keskitalo, who is to be the scientific programme director.

The plan was for Mistra Arctic Sustainable Development to start a year ago, but first Mistra’s Board wanted to see certain changes in the structure of the programme. Mistra’s views were a matter of the various researchers in the programme, as well as the different projects, not being sufficiently integrated with one another or having clear enough joint aims.

‘We got a rebuff, and a fairly comprehensive one,’ relates Peter Sköld. ‘But it was a good thing Mistra’s Board was so exacting. It has made the programme a tremendous lot better.’

Text: Thomas Heldmark, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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