Research Methods

In this project, many researchers, local experts, community and government or organization partners were involved. Each had their own roles, interests, and goals, depending the sub-project(s) they were involved in. We were brought together in the first place because of our mutual interest in learning about Inuit knowledge of sea ice uses and changes. We had all been involved in different projects in Nunavut and Nunavik communities, and wanted to be able to share this work more broadly.

We also shared common goals and approaches to research and felt we could work well together. We believe that northern research is most effective when focusing on issues of importance to northerners, and when working with communities to engage in research. Each researcher and community has their own strategies for collaborative research, but here we highlight the key methods and approaches that we all share in one way or another.

Working with communities

Hear from Levi Evic about the respecting the knowledge shared by Inuit experts in research projects.

Working together with individuals and organizations in each of our partner communities was very important to make sure that they were involved in each stage of the research process. During project meetings, and even in interviews, a number of elders and hunters expressed their concerns with how research has been conducted in the past.

Hear from Arsene Ivalu about the lack of acknowledgement of local contributions in past research.

Hear from Manasie Maniapik about concerns for appropriate compensation for local research contributions.

Hear from Samuelie Ammaq about appropriate selection of local participants, guides, or collaborators.

Hear from Enuki Kunuk and Mangitak Kellpalik about concerns for lack of research reporting.

As Eric Joamie, Pangnirtung community researcher, describes, it’s understandable that there is concern or skepticism over research. There has been a lot of research done for personal benefits [in the North]. There’s been so-called journalists that come up and says that they’re doing a project so-and-so, and then they just leave and they get paid for it and we get no feedback, no results.

In working together in all stages of the research process, we tried to address some of these concerns. This approach helped to guide the projects so that there could be local benefits from the research, and that results would be more accurate and meaningful. It is also becoming a more common approach to northern research, in response to community concerns such as those described above, as well as because it is now often required by northern research licensing bodies and funding agencies.

We find that working together is very rewarding, not just for the research but in the working relationships that are developed. It also helps to make the research more relevant and useful in a community context. This Atlas in itself, is a result of working with many elders and hunters over the years. It is an attempt to respond to their interest in sharing their knowledge more broadly, as well as to make it available for educational purposes in northern schools.

We do our best to work with northern community members and organizations ethically and responsibly, from a research and community perspective. We follow the general guidelines for working with communities described by ITK and NRI, and continue to learn and try to improve over time based on community guidance.

Relationship building

Developing working relationships is different for each individual and each community. As part of our research team we have diverse and talented individuals who all contributed in different ways. For researchers who live and work in southern Canada, much effort was put into developing relationships with local contributors in Cape Dorset, Clyde River, Igloolik, Pangnirtung and community researchers. In this case, working together over the long term is the most effective way to ensure that research continues to be relevant and beneficial in the community context (as well as to the broader academic community).

Building relationships takes time, and starts with preliminary research visits, and many return visits for research, verification, or just visiting. In these cases a good deal of effort has also been focused on supporting more independent research within northern communities. This would help to ensure greater control and effectiveness of the research, as well as deal with some of the drawbacks of having southern-based researchers. For researchers who live and work in the north they are very important as researchers, but also as liaisons with community members. Community researchers can also provide valuable insights into how research projects or results can be translated into northern benefits. Building relationships in this case also takes time, but can come more naturally and gradually through daily life and much more frequent interactions. Either way, a partnership approach has been beneficial to all involved, because no one person, group, or community can meet all their goals on their own.

Local partners

The many local partners we have worked with over the years have played a very important role in getting to this stage. Without their support and guidance, this type of project could not happen. These key organizations are listed as Community Organizations in our Supporters section and more specifically in the background on each of the community pages.

Community Researchers

Community researchers play a very important role in a research project like this, where the emphasis is on working together, and facilitating more independent, community-led research. Community researchers are an important link to the community, and help a great deal with communicating, coordinating, and conducting research by linking university researchers with knowledgeable community members and supportive local organizations. These are unique individuals, with experience in both traditional teachings and formalized education. So they can provide very important insights into both research process and results, and they can effectively interpret between Inuit and scientific ways of knowing.

Community verification

Focus groups, workshops, and various one-on-one meetings with local experts and/or community researchers were a critical part of verifying that the information collected was being interpreted and presented in appropriate and accurate ways. When trying to communicate across languages and cultures, there are always opportunities for miscommunication and misunderstanding. So, on many different occasions we presented results shown here to either small groups, or individuals, to help verify that what we are showing is what they were trying to communicate.

These types of meetings also usually brought out new questions or ideas, so we have to emphasize that even results presented as part of this Atlas are not final. We keep trying to improve and expand upon what is shared here. But, this is an important start to an even larger verification effort - since now community members themselves can see and access these results. We are working to provide as many opportunities for individuals to edit/update different aspects that are most important to them.

Communication strategies

Effective communication is a critical component in working together in a collaborative approach to research. Each sub-project has used different forms of communication to try to convey results, seek feedback, and engage community members in the research process. At one point or another, each of the following components have been part of an overall communication strategy:

  • Interim reports - provide updates throughout the life of the project, or summarize activities as part of research trips or events
  • Informal meetings - regular meetings with community organizations to update them on project progress and seek feedback or guidance
  • Radio shows - local radio is such an important part of northern communication, within and between communities, so call-in radio shows, or radio announcements, are an effective way of getting feedback or generally updating the community on project events or progress
  • Posters - bilingual posters are a useful way of summarizing project information with more visual appeal than written documents, and can be posted in public places to raise awareness about project progress or results
  • Information pamphlets - bilingual information pamphlets are a useful way to summarize project progress or results that can be easily distributed to individuals either face to face or through community organizations
  • Written reports - reports are not always the most appealing way to communicate project progress or results, but for some individuals or supporting community organizations, summary reports or formal reports/publications can be a helpful way to communicate the important detailed findings coming out of the research
  • Public meetings - having a public gathering can be a way to involve the community more broadly, to share project progress or results, and to get feedback from community members who may not have been directly involved in the project - such meetings are most successful when combined with another community event at an appropriate time (i.e. not conflicting with other activities or meetings in town)
  • Maps - if map biographies or participatory mapping was used , creating large format printed map compilations is an effective way of communicating mapping results
  • Copies of original audio, video, or transcripts - if there is a place to store research results and recordings locally, it is important to leave copies in the community for use in other local initiatives - leaving full, original, unedited audio and video recordings, as well as transcripts (of audio or video) can be very helpful for either communicating results or providing materials for future use by the community (however, it would also be important to consider the levels of consent provided by individual contributors, as well as the capacity of the local organizations to safely store this information and make it accessible to others)
  • Websites - creating a website to share project reports or information can be an effective to make project progress and results more accessible to partner communities, and to a wider audience
  • Informal communication - of course there are also many other ways in which project contributors and researchers stay in touch, not all of these are formalized - just maintaining contact through emails, phone calls, faxes, visits, home stays, etc. are critical to developing and maintaining research relationships

We continue to try to refine and improve efforts to communicate results in ways that are useful for northern communities, and more broadly for other researchers and the general public. We also welcome new ideas and feedback, so if you have other suggestions please contact us

Commonly used research methods

Describing research methods helps to understand the ways in which knowledge was shared, documented, and represented in order to develop this Atlas. This section provides a description of some of the commonly used research methods by various members of our project team. Again, in each community, different methods may have been used in different ways. But, in one way or another, these ways of documenting knowledge shared by Inuit elders and hunters were used most often. Browse the headings below, or explore the diagram to the left, to learn more. Keep in mind, these are not just research methods to be used within our project, they can be adapted to be used for projects you are interested in as well!

Interviews/oral history

Interviews are useful to learn a lot of detail about a particular topic, from knowledgeable community members. Most of the times these interviews were one-on-one, with the help of an interpreter. But sometimes small groups were interviewed together, and then this is referred to as a focus group. In interviews, community or university researchers were asking about:

  • The local expert’s background and experiences
  • Understandings of freezing and melting processes
  • Inuktitut sea ice terminology
  • The importance and uses of sea ice in their community
  • Safety concerns and survival strategies on the sea ice
  • Sea ice or weather changes observed
  • And many other topics would come up during these discussions

Questions were just used to start discussions, but it was fairly informal and unstructured so that many stories could be shared and new topics could be explored. Interviews were conducted in various locations in a community, as well as out of town on the land or sea ice. Much of the knowledge shared in interviews was part of the local expert’s oral history. And in Igloolik, the Igloolik Oral History Project was also an excellent source of local knowledge about sea ice.

Map biographies/participatory mapping

One of the trademarks of this project is its reliance on participatory mapping as a way of documenting data. The mapping sessions were conducted with the participation of one or more sea ice experts, who drew sea ice features, travel routes, camps, or other notable features (e.g. fishing and hunting areas) on maps. Maps can also be used as a way to create a map biography, where the local expert shares some of their past travels and family life on the land through mapping various routes, camps, placenames, family events, and so on in different years. Maps are useful to have a visual representation of ice features, travels, or hazardous areas to share with others, as well as helping in interviews to spark stories or memories about specific places or events at different times. We used National Topographic Service maps as the basemaps for work in each community (and these are all available free from GeoGratis. All the information collected on maps was digitized (converted into digital format for use on a computer), and given to the communities in paper format. They are also now available electronically through this Atlas. It is our hope that future versions of this atlas will allow map updates and contributions by community members. This way, the educational resource can continue to grow and help facilitate more knowledge-sharing.

Experiential travel and learning

Elders and hunters always emphasized that you cannot learn about the ice unless you experience it, and use it over the long term. So, a lot of the documentation and learning in this project took place during trips on the sea ice. It was here that community researchers and local experts could best explain and demonstrate the different conditions, processes, hazards, and safety indicators to the university researchers. The researchers could also then learn through their own experiences of traveling and hunting on the ice, as well as from the knowledge shared by local experts. The many learning experiences on these trips were documented using photographs, video and audio recordings, GPS tracks and waypoints, and journal writing.

Focus groups/workshops

Focus groups are like interviews with small groups of people. They are useful for clarifying or verifying project results, or going in-depth on particular topics with those who are most interested or knowledgeable. In these cases, university and community researchers would work together to facilitate discussions. These small groups sessions can also be useful as people can bounce ideas off each other, and build on each other’s comments. Focus groups were used for things like verifying terminology or mapping work, planning various research stages, consulting with key contributors on project results, etc. Workshops are similar in that they are also typically working with small groups, but usually with a specific purpose such as: project planning, training, or bringing together Inuit and scientific experts around specific issues.

Community-based monitoring

Community-based monitoring (CBM) is the gathering of standardized, locally focused information, directed by and of relevance to community residents. It can be a valuable approach to the gathering of locally specific information about environmental change in the Arctic that is of importance to both local and scientific communities and for which we often only have data at much larger geographic scales. In a monitoring program, communities typically determine what aspects of the local environment they would like to watch for changes in, based on the importance of these potential changes to residents. ‘Importance’ may be determined by the value and significance of a local resource (e.g. caribou) to community residents because it is commonly harvested, or a key environmental variable (e.g. stability of ice in a bay) because it influences safety while hunting and traveling in the local area in association with lifestyles and livelihoods. Ideally, CBM programs use recognized and standardized techniques for gathering their information so that observations can be compared and/or combined with other communities watching for similar changes or with other forms of information/data on the issue. This means that the regular, systematic collection of this information in a way that generates good quality observations is one of the most important aspects of a CBM program. CBM information can then be used to understand changes in the local environment, educate the public and scientists about these changes and, if needed, make decisions.

Satellite monitoring

One of the most common ways of monitoring sea ice cover over time, and over large areas, is using satellites to take images of ice conditions. There are different kinds of satellites, including optical (like taking a photograph, it records light reflected off the earth, ocean, or sea ice surface) and radar (it sends out pulses of microwaves and records the amount of energy that returns to the sensor). Radar is the most popular for recording images in northern regions because it is not affected by cloud cover, or darkness. It can record images in all weather conditions, and produces black and white images that represent the amount of roughness (i.e. topography), or moisture (i.e. water presence) on a surface and within the snow pack. Generally speaking, radar images are good at detecting differences between water and ice cover, distinguish old ice which is dense from younger ice, and map areas where the ice is rough. ,These capabilities are used to monitor sea ice regularly to assess changes over a season - or sudden changes that may make it dangerous to travel on the sea ice. This kind of satellite imagery is most often used for shipping operations to avoid high concentrations of thick ice cover. But, more recently, satellite imagery is being used by northern community organizations and hunters to evaluate presence of sea ice and its safety for use for travel or hunting. In particular, the Polar View Floe Edge Service has been established in a number of partner communities, and is being used in various ways to monitoring local and regional ice changes.

Use of multi-media

This Atlas is an example of how we used different ways of recording, representing and sharing knowledge within this project. Photographs, audio, video, maps and text are all available in digital formats, and can be linked together to share information using multiple forms of media (i.e. multi-media). Because much of Inuit knowledge is oral and visual, we found using a combination of media formats to be more effective in sharing documented knowledge than using reports or text alone. It is also meant to be more engaging and encourage interaction with the materials to facilitate learning that is more relevant to the northern context. Of course, it can never replace the value of personal experiences on the ice, or learning from elders stories in person, but this can help to share this deep sea ice knowledge with others in Nunavut communities, and across Canada.