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Supporting coastal community resilience in Alaska: an evaluation of the Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO)


Nathan KettleInternational Arctic Research Center
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Olivia LeeInternational Arctic Research Center
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Vera Metcalf
Eskimo Walrus Commission
Gay SheffieldMarine Advisory Program
University of Alaska Fairbanks
Lisa Sheffield Guy
Arctic Research Consortium of the U.S.



The primary objectives of this project are to: (1) evaluate the
SIWO to identify how to increase its usability and impact; and (2) optimize the SIWO based on a
set of stakeholder-generated recommendations. Achieving these objectives will have
implications that extend beyond the SIWO, including building coastal community resilience for
Bering Strait communities through improving knowledge co-production between Indigenous
knowledge holders and western scientists (see section 5).
The evaluation is based on six types of knowledge co-production indicators: inputs,
processes, outputs, outcomes, impacts, and external factors (Kettle 2019, Wall et al. 2017).
Inputs focus on capitals and capacities (human, social, natural, financial), including resource
allocation, involvement across the science-practice boundary, leadership, and skill sets.
Processes refer to actions taken to meet program goals, such as the frequency and level of
engagement and inclusion of individuals on both sides of the science-practice boundary. Outputs
refer to the deliverables, such as reports, publications, and other products as well as their timely
delivery. Outcomes are more conceptual and refer to achieving project goals, perceptions of
legitimacy, relevance, credibility, and continued interest in collaboration. Impacts are longer-
term socio-environmental consequences, and historical factors are contextual variables.
Indicators (n~35) will be qualitatively and quantitatively mapped against the SIWO objectives.
Our project approach is grounded in a model of use-inspired science, whereby the
purpose of the research is driven by the application of science to inform decisions, rather than the
pursuit of scientific theory alone (Stokes 1997, NRC 2008). As such, we will work iteratively
with stakeholders to evaluate and refine the SIWO decision support tool, which has a direct
bearing on their information needs (Dilling and Lemos 2011, Lemos and Morehouse 2005). Our
approach consists of four steps discussed below: literature review, two surveys, optimization,
and outreach.


The issue

The Arctic is undergoing rapid socio-environmental change that has led to shifting
distributions of walrus hunting locations in the Bering Sea. There is increasing interest among
Bering Strait hunters in understanding sea ice, reducing risks, using Indigenous knowledge and
western science in decision support, and supporting knowledge sharing across communities.
There is also a desire to validate the accuracy of National Weather Service (NWS) models using
local observations. The Sea Ice for Walrus Outlook (SIWO) was designed in 2010 to serve as a
web-based resource for Alaska Native communities and other stakeholders interested in sea ice
and walruses in northwest Alaska and support National Weather Service sea ice forecasts via
feedback from community observers. Weekly SIWO reports are provided April-June and include
information on sea ice conditions, weather, and marine mammal observations. Although there
appears to be a high level of interest in SIWO, there remains a limited understanding of who uses
SIWO, barriers to information access and use, the extent that SIWO observations have supported
NWS operations, and how it may be improved to further support community resilience.

Why is this an Alaska Sea Grant project?

The project addresses two areas of ASG’s
Strategic Plan. First, the project supports resilient communities by implementing a set of
recommendations to improve sea ice and weather forecasts and communication networks in
manners that help communities adapt to changing conditions and safely participate in maritime
activities. Second, the project supports workforce development by providing graduate training in
science and communication, with specific regard to bringing together scientific and Indigenous
knowledge. It also supports the Alaska Sea Grant’s vision of sustaining Alaska communities by
enhancing the availability of local, Indigenous, and western science for decision making.

How will researchers conduct their study?

The evaluation will be based on six types of knowledge coproduction indicators:
inputs, processes, outputs, outcomes, impacts, and external factors. Indicators will be mapped
against the objectives of SIWO. Interviews (n~20) will be conducted with residents in the 7
coastal communities who contribute to or use SIWO, coordinators, sea-ice forecasters, and
external experts. Interview transcripts will be analyzed using content analysis. These data will be
supplemented by a web-based questionnaire distributed to the SIWO mailing list and Facebook
page (n=1000) to obtain feedback from other users (e.g., agencies, researchers). Recommended
improvements will be incorporated, to the extent feasible, into the subsequent season of the
SIWO. Findings will be presented at six venues attended by SIWO observers, including regional
and statewide conferences, the AdaptAlaska webpage, and local radio shows.