Creating a Snapshot of the Arctic Region’s Issues and Opportunities in the Roentgen Room

by Participation Factory

Arctic communities are hard to reach in the most literal sense due to their geographic position and very specific climate. Therefore challenges faced by those communities are quite unique yet are more and more pressing as the role of the Arctics is rapidly changing nowadays. We at Participation Factory embarked on a journey aimed at understanding the most urgent needs and biggest opportunities of the Arctic Region as understood by their members themselves.

In 2022, Tomas Rakos attended the U.S. State Department TechCamp in Tromsø, Norway, as a trainer. There he connected with Ronny Ericsson and Viktor Lindahl. Together they have created a project “Icebreaker 2022-2023” which came into existence in the city of Kirkenes, Norway, thanks to the financial support of the Tech Camp Team. The main activities took place in November 2022 during ICE Festival at which our experts engaged the public in mapping the needs. Later on, this data was used to create a set of recommendations and suggestions for the next step in Kirkenes community.

The event took place in an old Kirkenes hospital, a future community space, an innovation lab, and a start-up accelerator Nothing Hill. There in an old Roentgen Room experts from Participation Factory set up their base: two small rooms were transformed into a brainstorming chamber for 15-minute power sessions with the public. During those sessions, small groups of participants were invited to answer the main four questions: 

  • What are the key issues faced by the Arctic community? 
  • What are the main opportunities in the Arctic Region? 
  • How can we support the local government or how can it improve? 
  • How can we prevent the brain drain and engage the youth better? 

The Roentgen Room was active through both days of the event and attracted around 11% of all the participants (34), the majority of which were from Kirkenes while others were from everywhere in the Arctic region from the Faroe Islands to Finland. However, despite this extensive geography of the region, the main challenges identified were similar: brain drain, poor transportation and connectivity, slow innovation, lack of opportunities for work, not enough skilled workforce, climate change, and feeling of isolation among others. 

However, the participants also noted a wide range of opportunities ranging from unique nature and associated tourist and experimental agriculture opportunities and space for testing new ideas to a high quality of life and health due to various regional specificities including low levels of noise and light pollution. Among those opportunities, a strong focus was put on youth engagement in social and political life that echoed the suggested improvements in local governance. Other things were connected with the general increase in public participation, the use of technology, better communication, and more community-oriented and inclusive strategic planning. 

Overall, the experience showed real hunger and the need for public participation in the development of the new Arctic frontier as a large number of developmental projects are rushing in the region. It requires thorough preparation and capacity-building on the side of both the local governments that are currently equipped to handle complex citizen engagement projects and processes and the general public that has little to no experience of participation at best. In the worst cases, local indigenous groups have been actively barred from social and political life. Therefore any next steps towards effective utilization of participatory methods for planning, development, and reinvention of local communities should be accompanied by experts who have both general experience and knowledge in public participation and citizen engagement as well as a deep understanding of intricacies of the local context. 

The recommendations that came out of the “Icebreaker 2022-2023” project include starting off with a process of assessment of the levels of preparedness, creating a shared community and regional vision, introducing youth engagement, and gradually moving towards creating a participatory infrastructure to effectively processes any demands of the current regional needs and development.

Regardless of what the next steps of Kirkenes and the Arctic region will be, it is indisputable that this region is becoming increasingly important in our global development and that it faces higher levels of pressure to become more active in planning and acting for and with its local community members. So, right now the question is not whether participation is needed but how to do it in the most effective and sustainable manner.