By Nadezda Nazarova, Vice-lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Smart Societies in the High North, Associate Professor and
Evgenii Aleksandrov, Postdoctoral Researcher and
Anatoli Bourmistrov, Lead of the UArctic Thematic Network on Smart Societies in the High North, Professor, Nord University
Holistic initiatives are still rather uncommon in the High North, but interest in the concept is growing. Smart transportation, smart governance, smart waste, and smart education crowd the top of the climate action lists of national and regional governments.
The partners of the UArctic Thematic Network on Smart Societies in the High North share the belief that smart initiatives can be a solution to sustainable growth and urban development in the High North. In this article, we present a more critical perspective and highlight the current opportunities and challenges of the smart concept implementation, based on our experiences within the Thematic Network.
First, there are differences in what “smart” means across the Arctic regions. At the establishment stage of our network, different perspectives on the appropriate unit of smart analysis resulted in long discussions on “too big vs. too small”. Smart city, smart community, or smart ecosystems? In this respect, the idea of smart society works in its integrating and overarching power that welcomes multiple perspectives. In addition, it allows further cooperation even when it comes to such competing dimensions as technological development and indigenous issues.
Second, there is a constant trade-off between fancy and sustainable solutions in the smartification of the Arctic. With the growing level of digitalization, the discussion between scholars and practitioners increases on the sustainability of the smart city concept in the High North. Many smart city initiatives originally developed in southern regions hardly pass the Arctic stress test. Therefore, they must be properly translated into the High North context in order to represent a solution and not a burden for Arctic sustainability.
Third, there is an essential missing element in everything that relates to smart Arctic development: the dialogue component. Smart solutions should be driven and framed by participatory governance initiatives, such as CitizensLab, participatory budgeting, or e-government. These initiatives demand time to address and realize existing variations of local stakeholders’ perspectives on smart Arctic development. The dialogue can help ensure that suggested smart initiatives get translated for the High North context, and not vice versa, as it often seems to be the case.
To sum up, we agree that smart societies can improve the attractiveness of Arctic cities and regions and foster a sustainable future. However, it is important to address not only the opportunities the concept offers but also the challenges it implies. In this respect, the partners of our Thematic Network are dedicated to develop a joint online course on relevant aspects of smart societies formation in the High North. The course will combine their unique competences and various perspectives on the topic, and the digital format will unite partners across geographical and time zones and make knowledge on smart societies in the High North available beyond the borders of the region. In the long term, this contributes to the sustainability of our Thematic Network as well as the Arctic.