Climate webinars as a platform for supporting extended networks in Alaska

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Tuesday, 6 January 2015
Nathan Kettle, Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, Fairbanks, AK; and S. F. Trainor

Boundary organizations serve multiple roles in linking science and decision making, including brokering knowledge, supporting local and cross-level networks, building trust, and negotiating conflict. Yet boundary organizations face several challenges in providing services for an ever-increasing number of actors and institutions interested in climate information and adaptation. Research on the role of social networks suggests they may play an important function in addressing some of these challenges through the leveraging and pooling of resources and facilitating access to extended networks. Lemos et al. (2014) introduce the concept of “boundary chains” to describe how extended network connections among boundary organizations may improve the provision and use of climate information as well as increase the efficiency and effectiveness that services are provided. This study evaluates how one boundary organization, the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, innovated its boundary spanning role by partnering with other boundary organizations through its ongoing climate webinar series. We utilize the concept of boundary chains to investigate the different types of network chains established and the benefits and challenges associated with each arrangement. Our evaluation is based on the analysis of webinar participation data (2007-2013) and semi-structured interviews conducted in 2013 (n=14). Findings from the evaluation suggest the ACCAP climate webinar supports at least three different boundary arrangements. As initially organized, the climate webinar series served in a traditional boundary arrangement, whereby the webinar series (i.e., boundary object) connected climate researchers and science to information users. In a variation of this arrangement, ACCAP innovated its boundary spanning role by inviting speakers from other boundary organizations to present in the webinar series, thus enabling both ACCAP and the participating organization to leverage existing trusted networks to reach broader audiences. In a third arrangement, satellite sites were created with other boundary organizations, whereby multiple participants could gather together at a remote site to attend the webinar. Several participants commented on the value of satellite sites in supporting local networking within their organization/agency and within their community. With temperatures rising at nearly twice the rate of other parts of the globe, the northern latitudes, including Alaska, are facing immediate changes in climate and related physical and ecological change, which impact industrial production and subsistence food harvest. As such there is both a growing need for information, collaboration, and networking among a rapidly increasing number of climate science, service, and decision-making entities state-wide. Each of these changes occurred as an organic evolution of the ACCAP webinar series with the goal of collaborating with and meeting stakeholder needs. In these ways the flexibility and adaptive capacity of the ACCAP boundary organization is supporting ever increasing and dynamic user needs while simultaneously networking with other boundary organizations state-wide. The value of this approach is documented through webinar participant interviews.