Arctic Identity Futures


The Arctic Circle Assembly conference, Reykjavík, Iceland




Futures Approach

Exploratory futures research using ethnographic participatory data


Form of engagement

Group research collaboration | New business development


Arctic Identity Futures: what does it mean to be Arctic and how might this change in the future?



(Excerpt from proposal)


A joint collaborative proposal by arcticfutures (UK), Cognitive Edge (UK), the Making of Meaning project and Cynefin Centre for Applied Complexity, Bangor University (UK), University College London’s Institute for Risk & Disaster Reduction and Institute for Global Health (UK), University of Agder (Norway), University Centre of the Westfjords (Iceland), Icelandic Center for Future Studies (Iceland), Innovation Center Iceland (Iceland) & St. Mary’s University (Canada)



“Identity is a powerful influence on the way we choose to act…” and all of the A8 states identify themselves as Arctic through a combination of history, geography, culture, language and evolving social, economic and political relations. However, there are multiple perceptions and framings of what Arctic identity is – what elements, values, motivations and aspirations for the future it embodies – but does being part of an Arctic state necessarily confer Arctic identity? Does not being part of an Arctic state preclude an Arctic identity? And how might the idea of ‘arcticness’ be subject to change in relation to a range of emerging Arctic conditions across local, national and global levels.

We wish to produce an interactive research exhibit designed to offer conference attendees the opportunity to explore issues around Arctic identity and contribute directly to the creation and analysis of real-time crowd-sourced research material by utilising an online technology platform designed to facilitate collaborative insight.


  • To provide a vehicle for the conference to explore the central and universal theme of identity underlying and influencing, often implicitly, many areas of Arctic affairs
  • To provide a new, inclusive but highly participatory experience open to all conference attendees
  • To continue our long-term approach of introducing novel forms of breakout session format, interaction and learning to the Arctic Circle Assembly
  • To introduce capabilities to enable global and futures outreach for the Assembly both before , during and after the conference with specific, and complimentary, participation opportunities also available to non-conference attendees

Interactive research exhibit proposal

The Arctic Identity Futures (AIF) initiative has the aim of facilitating and conducting direct research with our core aims being to:

  • Open new and novel crowd-sourced research in order to capture current ideas around Arctic identity, discover emergent patterns and trends and better understand how individual and group perceptions of identity may be disposed to change given the range of complex and evolving social, cultural and environmental challenges the region and its peoples are facing
  • Utilise distributed ethnographic approaches which, crucially, seek to enable the self-signification and interpretation of personal notions and narratives of what constitutes Arctic identity. In effect, participants analyse their own story to create insights.
  • Provide an easy to use and inclusive digital platform open to all, both within the Arctic and globally, and available in local languages
  • Publish all research results on a Creative Commons basis to generate wider re-use and engagement with this important issue
  • Develop an original body of research as the foundation from which a longer-term programme of enquiry can be established including activities to consider the future personal, policy and inter-generational implications of changes to Arctic identity

We envision the AIF initiative as being composed of the following key activities during 2017:

  • A test deployment in the community of Ísafjörður, Iceland (July/August)
  • Formally launching the initiative at the Arctic Circle Assembly and running a real-time interactive research exhibit over its duration (October)

We are also open to discussing with the Secretariat whether there would be interest in creating an additional, second option based on a global pre-conference release of the online platform as a means to start the research in advance of the conference itself. The benefits of this would be providing an option for non-conference attendees to take part, increasing the volume of potential data collection, promoting wider engagement of the initiative, and also providing the opportunity for the conference to use a novel survey approach. We would envision this taking place in September.


What are the benefits of our distributed ethnographic approach?

Our research and data collection method, explained in more detail below, is different to more mainstream engagement and participative approaches and offers unique benefits:


  • People will individually contribute and interpret stories themselves. This removes the need for 3rd party intermediaries to interpret the data, means we can gather and display results in real-time without the need for lengthy post-conference analysis and significantly reduces the introduction of cultural biases into the research process
  • The interaction process is intuitive and simple to understand and enables all participants to contribute in the same way – as citizen-ethnographers – so promoting inclusivity and longer-term sustainability of interest as, once used, participants are well placed to make further contributions over time



Arctic identity research

The Arctic Identity Futures initiative has emerged out of the research brief underpinning the forthcoming “Arcticness: Power and Voice from the North” book, edited by Ilan Kelman (Reader in Risk, Resilience and Global Health at UCL and a researcher at the University of Agder, Kristiansand, Norway) and due for publication in the Summer of 2017 by UCL Press. The book explores some of the opportunities and limitations in engaging with the Arctic under change, and the Arctic peoples experiencing such change, through the lens of understanding Arcticness: that is, what the Arctic means to Arctic peoples socially and physically.

The book seeks to “… probe Arcticness, including technical and place-based standpoints, involving northern and non-northern viewpoints (and their combinations), and incorporating science, policy and practice – but all with the fundament of the human perspective.”

The AIF recognises the ongoing dynamics of change in the Arctic and endorses the need to give greater visibility and direct presence to the viewpoints of those who live in, or near, the Arctic. Arctic identities encompass Arctic indigenous peoples, Arctic non-indigenous peoples, immigrants, and connections amongst these peoples. At the same time, global awareness of the Arctic region continues to grow giving value to establishing an initiative that seeks to capture and understand different senses of what identifying as Arctic, or with the Arctic, may mean, what possible changes to these various notions of identity might be and then seek to identify the future pathways to such changes via anticipatory knowledge creation.

With the above in mind, we are currently in the process of refining our research agenda and developing a set of questions based on predefined topics of interest for investigation (the signification framework).

Research platform

The Arctic Identity Futures Initiative will use the Sensemaker ® platform as developed by Cognitive Edge.
Sensemaker ® is a narrative-based research methodology that enables the capture and analysis of a large quantity of stories in order to understand complex vector change and measure dispositional states over time. It is a form of meta analysis of qualitative data that bridges a gap between case studies and large-sample survey data. The approach offers a methodological breakthrough for recognising patterns and trends in perceptions, behaviours and relationships.

Sensemaker ® uses two unique software applications for data entry and analysis. After developing the signification framework, an online data entry platform called Collector is created and assigned a specific project URL. For data collection with mobile devices, data can be instantly entered and uploaded to the Collector site. Once all story data has been uploaded, the Sensemaker ® Explorer software contains a suite of tools for data analysis. These different tools allow for easy visual representation of data, which can also be exported as statistical data. Taken together, this will enable us to record individual and group experiences to build a ‘picture’ over the conference of people’s perceptions of Arctic identity and how they may change.

We would recommend watching the ‘Introduction to Sensemaker ®’ 5 video which provides an excellent overview of how the methodological approach and interaction underpinning Sensemaker ® offers unique value to our aim of exploring the representations of Arctic identity.

< Excerpt ends >