Wellbeing and Resource Impacts

Measuring wellbeing to understand resource impactsKent Spiers

Project Leader: Kent Spiers, Master’s Candidate at Lakehead University

UPDATES
Kent did a presentation on this research at the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies (ACUNS) student conference (November 6th, 2015). The following is the abstract and powerpoint from his presentation at ACUNS.

“Northern Exposure: A Comparison Study Of Alaska and Yukon Models of Measuring Community Wellbeing”
Abstract:
The main objective of this study was to examine models of measuring community wellbeing in Alaska and Yukon to determine if they were constructed with the input of community members. Research suggests communities that establish an agreed upon model of measuring community wellbeing will benefit by having an increase in public involvement in local decision making, and larger capture of material wealth and empowerment over resource management.

The core problem is that while many communities have started to develop ways to evaluate wellbeing, there is a lack of research on the various models in the Arctic. There are several unique challenges to developing a model in Arctic communities such as the clash between mainstream and Indigenous definitions of wellbeing, the lack of data and small population sizes.

For this study I conducted an in-depth search for publically available models in Alaska and Yukon and conducted semi-structured interviews with experts. Part one of the analysis was searching through records of each model to document community outreach methods, part two was an experimental content analysis to identify themes across models in both regions, and part three was a content analysis of the interviews.

Spiers Due North talkPowerpoint presentation

Project Completed  (Febraury 2, 2015)
Kent completed his thesis for his Masters of Arts in Sociology in December 2014. His thesis report “Northern Exposure: A Comparison Study of Alaska and Yukon Models of Measuring Community Wellbeing.” has been posted here.  Kent also recently did a poster presentation of his research at the ArcticNet Arctic Change Conference in December 2014 in Ottawa. The following is the abstract for this poster.

NORTHERN EXPOSURE: A COMPARISON STUDY OF ALASKA AND YUKON MODELS OF MEASURING COMMUNITY WELLBEINGSpiers research Poster Arctic Net (p2) for web
Poster Abstract for Arctic Net – Arctic Change 2014 Conference, December 2014
Research suggests that developing a model of measuring community wellbeing in the Arctic is difficult because of the unique challenges in these communities. Two of the principle problems are that these communities often lack the resources to expand local research capacity; and models for measuring community wellbeing have predominantly been designed in southern more urban communities that do not account for unique aspects in the Arctic life. This presentation will outline the findings from my thesis project that examined different models of community wellbeing in resource dependent communities in the State of Alaska and Yukon  Territory. Past research has only examined one or two models of wellbeing in one region; there has not been an analysis of multiple models across two regions. By using a case study approach and in-depth interviews with experts, this project compared the similarities and differences across models of measuring community wellbeing in Alaska and the Yukon. Furthermore, it provides a better understanding of best practices to engage community residents and builds local research capacity.

Summary
Research suggests communities that establish an agreed upon model of measuring wellbeing will benefit from local ownership of community affairs, such as greater decision-making, a larger capture of material wealth, and empowerment over resource management (Varghese, Krogman, Beckley, Nadeau 2006).  A core problem is, while many communities and organizations have started to develop ways to evaluate wellbeing, there has been little research on the various models for measuring community wellbeing in the arctic.  There are several unique challenges to developing a model for measuring wellbeing in Arctic communities such as; the clash between mainstream and Indigenous measure of wellbeing, the lack of accurate and longitudinal data, and small population size (Taylor 2008 & Bobbitt et al., 2005).  By conducting a content analysis of models of wellbeing and interviews with people familiar with these models, this project will gain a greater understanding of how communities have defined wellbeing and illustrate the differences and similarities across the models.  Furthermore, it will be a starting point for further research on wellbeing in the Arctic.

Research Purpose
A model of community wellbeing* can take several forms, it can be a framework that points out policies required for wellbeing to exist or it can be a set of measurable indicators that are put together to illustrate the living conditions of a community.  In order to improve conditions in a community it is important to develop a model that measures wellbeing so that policy makers and informed citizens can make knowledgeable decisions to improve their community.

Defining community wellbeing can be difficult because there is no one universal definition.  In this project community wellbeing is defined as “the quality of life of northern Indigenous peoples that takes into account both economic and material considerations (e.g., harvesting and housing) as well as the knowledge, practices and beliefs that matter to people’s sense of self and community” (Parlee and Furgal, 2012).

Another reason for creating a model of community wellbeing is to be able to predict the impacts that a resource development project will have on a community.  Communities see these resource projects as economic opportunities for their residents to overcome poverty and generate capital for the community as a whole (Parlee and Fugal, 2012).  However, this illustrates the paradox that communities that are dependent on economic development have gained a higher level of poverty (Beckley and Burkowky, 1999).  It is vital to find ways in which resource development can be a benefit to those living in these communities and not add to further economic and social problems.  It is interesting to investigate models of measuring wellbeing in Alaska and the Yukon because both regions share similarities such as, geography, climate, Indigenous groups, etc.  Furthermore, they are also different in many regards such as, forms of state and federal governments, land use legislation, laws, etc.

Research Questions

  1. How do communities in the Yukon and Alaska define wellbeing and how does this relate to how we measure wellbeing?
  2. What are the similarities and differences in models of measuring wellbeing in the Yukon and Alaska?
  3. How have models of measuring wellbeing impacted communities in the Yukon and Alaska?
  4. What model of measuring wellbeing best reflects the conditions of the community in either the Yukon or Alaska?

Methodology

A content analysis framework will be used to analyze 20 models of community wellbeing, 10 in Alaska and 10 in the Yukon.  20 in-depth interviews will be conducted with people who are familiar with models of community wellbeing.  A semi-structured interview guide will be used with participants.  Participants will be asked to discuss their familiarity with models of wellbeing, the challenges to designing, monitoring and taking action with models of wellbeing, and suggestions they have to improve current models.

Timeline:

September 2013 to December 2014

Expected Findings

  • Communities are struggling to deal with local issues.
  • Models of community wellbeing share greater similarities than differences.
  • Empowering citizens to be included in the solution has been meaningful and positively contributed to a better community.
  • I hypothesize community’s that have established a mutually agreed upon model of wellbeing are able to prioritize and set out plans to increase the local living conditions.

References

Beckley, T.M. and T.M. Burkowky. 1999.  “Social Indicator Approaches to Assessing and Monitoring Forest Community Sustainability.” Information Report NOR-X-360, Edmonton, AB: Northern Forestry Centre, Canadian Forest Service.

Parlee, B., and Furgal C. 2012 “Well-being and environmental change in the Arctic: a synthesis of selected research from Canada’s International Polar Year program.” Springer, 10.1007/S10584-012-0588-0.

Taylor, John. 2008. “Indigenous Peoples and Indicators of Well-Being: Australian Perspectives on United Nations Global Frameworks.” Social Indicators Research 87: 111-126.

Varghese, J., Krogman, N., Beckley T., Nadeau S., 2006. “Critical Analysis of the Relationship between Local Ownership and Community Resiliency.” Rural Sociology 71: 505-527.

Poster presentation at the International Congress of Arctic Social Sciences May 2014

measuring well being poster of Kent Spiersv3

For more information contact:
Kent Spiers
Graduate Student
Lakehead University, Department of Sociology
E-mail: kspiers@lakeheadu.ca