Smart Prosperity’s Research Network conducts world-class research focused on a stronger, cleaner economy. This Spotlight Series highlights the activities of faculty and student researchers alike, showcasing the breadth of expertise and activities of our Research and Student Networks. 

In this edition, we caught up with Maureen Reed, Sheri Andrews-Key and Michaela Sidloski. The team was awarded funding through Smart Prosperity’s 2021 Call for Research Proposals for their project titled “Empowering Resource-Based Communities to Adapt to Climate Change“.  

Hi Maureen, Sheri and Michaela. Your research seeks to develop a climate change vulnerability assessment tool that integrates social and cultural considerations. Can you tell us a bit more about the project and what the “big questions” are that you are trying to answer?

When we think about planning for climate change, we typically focus on designing infrastructure or managing the environment to withstand hazards such as floods or fires. When disaster hits, we learn about the number of people who have been evacuated and the economic costs of rebuilding. Physical health and human safety are primary concerns, followed by infrastructure and financial costs. And rightly so.

However, we learn less about the social effects of major climate events. These social effects are also important. For example, there may be significant effects on people’s mental health and well-being, sense of efficacy and belonging, and emotional losses when the lands they loved are destroyed by fire or flood. Furthermore, these effects vary for different groups of people. For example, Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents living in the same community may have quite different experiences of a major event. Our purpose, then, is to develop a planning tool with local people that weaves social impacts into climate resilience planning, accounts for the different experiences of a diverse range of community residents, and encourages local people from all walks of life to participate and plan together. Our research to date suggests that local people want to participate and by doing so, they can improve mental and emotional health outcomes, nurture a sense of belonging and ownership for all residents, and strengthen community bonds and adaptation measures over the long term.


Could you tell us a bit about the two communities you will be working with for this project and how you plan to engage them?

We want to ensure that the adaptation planning tool that is co-produced through this research is also effective and applicable in diverse, complex, and multi-level governance contexts. Therefore, the research participants will come from two different “groups”. The first group is the community of Canoe Lake Cree First Nation (CLCFN), which is located in the northern boreal forest of Saskatchewan with a population of approximately 100 people. In order to understand the governance context that CLCFN operates within, we will also engage with the broader Meadow Lake Tribal Council (MLTC) as our second group, which operates programs and services in the Meadow Lake region and is governed collectively by elected representatives from each of its nine member First Nations (including CLCFN). The MLTC operates out of Flying Dust First Nation Reserve, with a second office in Buffalo Narrows, Saskatchewan.

We plan to work with these two groups over the next few years by conducting regular meetings, individual interviews, and community workshops. The workshops will involve using participatory geographic information systems (PGIS) to conduct community mapping exercises. PGIS is a research method that allows for community engagement and active participation in knowledge creation through geographical processes, such as map making. It offers unique opportunities to identify and record participant interests and priorities using spatial information. For our two communities, PGIS will be used to identify areas of both particular value and particular vulnerability. These mapping exercises will provide critical information about community adaptation priorities, which will inform resource allocation decision-making in later stages of the project.


What are the potential policy implications of your work and why is it so important that climate adaptation planning takes the social, cultural and geographic context into account?

There are policy implications at all levels – from the local community to the federal government. By building this tool, we can identify human resources and capacities (such as specific skills and competencies) that can facilitate adaptation, point to social networks that can be mobilized to plan for and respond to a hazard event, and improve opportunities for people to work together, deliberate and learn, and lead changes at multiple levels. This may require governments to provide some resources, learn how local residents interpret the challenges they face, and adapt social policies and supports to address local needs.


Maureen, you share a UNESCO Chair in Biocultural Diversity, Sustainability, Reconciliation, and Renewal at the University of Saskatchewan. Can you tell us about this Chair and some of the work you are doing as a Chairholder?

I share this Chair with Dr. Jim Robson. Together we work in communities in Canada, Latin America, Europe, and South Africa to learn from those who work ‘on the ground’ in rural and Indigenous communities to promote biological and cultural diversity, and sustainability. Many of the communities where we work face environmental challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss, economic challenges such as maintaining livelihoods, and social challenges such as advancing gender equality, diversity and inclusion. By learning and taking action with our partners, we aim to strengthen governance arrangements and management capacities that promote productive and biodiverse landscapes and a just and sustainable future for all.  


Sheri, you approach these issues having one foot in academia at the University of Saskatchewan and one foot in the private sector. How has this combination informed or strengthened your work?

I have worked both in an applied research capacity and with the private sector in assessing vulnerability to climate change and developing adaptation plans and action. It’s important to create processes, strategies, and solutions that are based in evidence at different levels.  Linking science, management, and policy in my work has helped improve the relevance of research for my partners – providing tools for practitioners to enhance their adaptive capacity and climate resilience on the ground.


Michaela, you started your PhD relatively recently. What made you want to pursue a doctorate looking at these particular issues?

My motivation to pursue a doctorate in this area comes from a lifelong passion for protecting the natural environment combined with a desire to make tangible change in the world. From a young age, climate change was an issue at the forefront of my mind. With climate change impacts becoming ever more imminent, I see this research project as a unique opportunity to contribute to global climate change solutions by sparking positive social change at multiple levels. Working closely with communities to build adaptive capacity also provides important and valuable opportunities for learning with and from local knowledge holders. The skills that I will gain during this project will serve me well in future academic endeavours, particularly in the realm of transdisciplinary scholarship.


Thank you, All and best of luck on the project!

For previous Researcher Spotlights, click here. For more on the Smart Prosperity Research Network, click here. For recent Working Papers produced by the Research Network, click here.