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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 Alaska Sea Grant’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.