Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sociology before Geology: Community is Critical

Bruce Harvey, Chief Advisor, Aboriginal &Community Relations
The Center sponsored a speaker this week from the mining industry, and you might wonder why?  Bruce E Harvey, Chief Advisor, Aboriginal & Community Relations for the Rio Tinto Mining Company spoke to several faculty and a room full of students from a Conservation Biology class, Civic Engagement Interns and Geology students yesterday at noon in Commons on the importance of community relations and “participation agreements” in the mining industry. 
Harvey stressed the difference between community, those who are directly impacted by the proposed development and often have little voice, and stakeholders, who are typically in positions to make themselves heard but may not be impacted, or only indirectly, by proposed projects.  These definitions of community and stakeholders are those embraced by the World Sustainable Development Summit held in Johannesburg in 2002, Harvey told the audience.  Social consent and participation agreements are the key ingredients of successful projects in which “employees and host communities understand the goal and support the project."
Students in our Civic Engagement Internship class are reading about "collaborative leadership," and the concept of engaging communities and how to give little heard communities a voice is a very important topic for civic engagement.  What builds communities?  What does it mean to be a community leader, and how does one empower and enable people who are being impacted by all sorts of issues in their lives so that they become actors in the scenario, rather than "those that are done to." 
Harvey gave several examples of mining projects, both managed by Rio Tinto and other companies, in which the success or failure of the project was determined by the degree of employee and community agreement.  Sometimes those agreements took up to 18 or 20 years to achieve.  Social consent and “above-ground issues” were found to be responsible for 73% of project delays in a sample of 190 projects surveyed by Rio Tinto staff, and Harvey told students having the competencies to achieve these is a good career field! Harvey and others at Rio Tinto have developed an entire curriculum around what he calls “new-age competencies” for working with communities. 
Prior to the public talk, Harvey met with a small group of faculty in Business and Public Policy, Biology, Sociology, and Civic Engagement.  They talked more informally about the impact of existing and potential mining projects on Alaska from those different perspectives.  Harvey stressed again how often the problems and pitfalls of working in communities are “all sociological solutions.”  Even though the science is critical to be able to speak and plan from, the competencies required of scientists and mining companies now are to understand communities and relationships in an entirely different way.  In earlier decades, Harvey told them, society demanded and expected exploration and development and quickly – governments participated in moving right over residents who got in the way.  Today, society expects something entirely different, and companies need to adjust and be responsible for the kind of behavior that had preceded them. 
This new model of community engagement uses agreed upon principles that the community comes to adopt from the early days of a project, and they are in use right through implementation to closure, however many years that takes.  This is what our students are learning, and I think it gives us a vision for a different future and changing models of power distribution and use in the world.  
Harvey coined the term, “Sociology before geology” and made that presentation at the Sustainable Development Conference, Minerals Council of Australia in November, 2002.  In that paper, he stressed,
"This ‘interconnectedness of things’: environmental, cultural, social, economic and governance, is the essence of the sustainability agenda. These things are inextricably entwined. To Indigenous communities, cultural sustainability and economic sustainability are linked to environmental sustainability." 
Exactly - the interconnectedness of things is not only important on the sustainability agenda, although if you look at sustaining a world for us to live in, all of the issues we address as human beings fit on that agenda.  And isn't this what we would want students to be learning? 

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Food Security Project is Underway

Food Security in our Own Backyard(s)! 
Professor Mark Carper in Geography/Environmental Studies is passionate about food – and not just the act of feeding himself, as he pointed out, but both “nutritional density” and food security for the state of Alaska.  Professor Carper was funded by the Center last spring to begin a study of food security that began with a very extensive agenda and has since, with the advice of a team of UAA faculty, been trimmed back to a step-wise approach to an impressive research agenda that will be implemented over time.  This year, Carper and a team of students headed by Kyla Byers and Aleks Pfaffe have finalized a survey regarding access to food and fresh food and are currently distributing it around Anchorage. 
Students working on the project also include Zoe Meade, Danielle Giles, Kent Spiers, Brittany Murphy, Kaustav Kakati, and Rebecca Barker.  The students who are distributing the surveys  are “citi-certified” meaning they have completed the Institutional Review Board training to understand the protocols and restraints of research guidelines to protect human subjects.  The team will finish up surveys in April or May and begin the data analysis.  Data will also be gathered on food outlets that will be classified into “types” such as local markets, national chains, convenience stores, etc. and mapped using a GIS system. 
Professor Carper and his team are working with the Alaska Food Policy Council, and they will publish the final report on their website.  Carper’s other interests include further research on food security for households in the state of Alaska, community gardens, and disparities in access to fresh and nutritionally dense food as food equity for disadvantaged or rural populations in Alaska.
Mark Carper speaking at the Faculty Colloquia Series, also pictured are John Dede, Tracey Burke, Judy Owens-Manley, and Rose Ebue.