Leveraging a food transition for Arctic indigenous communities

Complex Systems Fund project:

Unalaska Island, Aleutian Islands, Alaska, United States

Indigenous Arctic communities are experiencing a fundamental, undesired and unsustainable shift in their food system. Science-based visions of sustainable solutions are lacking, and the capacity within communities to evoke change is low. One of the three projects that has received a grant from the 2020 Complex Systems Fund is aimed at leveraging a food transition for indigenous communities in the Bering Sea. The research proposal was written by Dr. Ine Dorresteijn and Prof. Bert Theunissen, who give an introduction to the aims and ambitions of their project.

We adopt a complex systems perspective to identify leverage points in a case study on an Arctic Indigenous food system. We will combine this with the establishment of a Transformation Lab that involves and empowers community members to identify transformation pathways towards a sustainable future. The project thus provides a unique opportunity to assess whether complex systems science combined with transdisciplinary approaches can lead to actual changes on the ground.  

Combining natural and social sciences

Interdisciplinary approaches are key to identifying leverage points for systems transformations. There is a general agreement on the importance of interdependencies between humans and nature, yet they are difficult to quantify. We wish to analyse the current structure of the food system by building a multiple-layer social-ecological network. But we also wish to explore how the food system is influenced by the changes in people’s values and paradigms from the past until today, and to identify key leverage points for a food system transformation. For these research questions, combining the perspectives of natural and social sciences allows us to identify the interdependencies and feedbacks between humans and nature and how they can be translated into leverage points for sustainability transformations.

Project start-up and vacancy

We estimate that the project can begin in late 2020. We are looking for candidates who have an interdisciplinary background with a degree in environmental science, sustainability science, quantitative social sciences or related field, experience with systems thinking and a keen interest in working at the intersection of natural and social science. The candidate should have modelling experience and be willing to learn and use interviews, participatory methods and qualitative data analysis. The position requires good social skills and the ability to lead workshops with people of different backgrounds. Furthermore, experience with indigenous contexts is a plus.

For more job details and to apply as a candidate, please visit the vacancy webpage.