National Forest Week: Contribute to innovation in the living laboratory of Canada

Natalie A. Swift –

Amidst the thick smoke we experienced this summer, I heard a common sentiment being expressed by residents of this region: we need to do things differently. This desire for change is an expression of a hunger for innovation, for new ideas and approaches to address the social, economic, and environmental issues we face. The pursuit of research is one means of generating these ideas.

The author investigating some rosehips. Photo: Hanna Jarrett

To support research relevant to forest-dependent communities, various institutions have established research forests. This includes, among others, two national research forests maintained by Natural Resources Canada (the Acadia and Petawawa Research Forests) and four research forests in British Columbia—two affiliated with the University of British Columbia (the Alex Fraser and Malcom Knapp Research Forests) and two affiliated with the University of Northern British Columbia (the John Prince and Aleza Lake Research Forests).

According to Natural Resources Canada, the research forests that they maintain are “living laboratories”. By hosting scientific experiments that focus on topics such as forest health, biodiversity, and climate change, these laboratories are valuable sources of knowledge that contribute to improved forest practices and assist in the development of forest policy.

Although cleverly applied by Natural Resources Canada in the characterization of their research forests, the term “living laboratory” is not limited to research in ecological environments. Rather, it is a term that describes interactive spaces where developers and users collaborate to test new concepts in real-life situations. The Living Laboratory Handbook identifies three phases to innovation in living laboratories – concept design, prototype design, and innovation design – with four stages carried out at each phase and repeated in an iterative process: exploration, co-creation, implementation, and evaluation.

The concept of a living laboratory is considered relatively new, having emerged in the early 2000s via research that was being conducted by Professor William Mitchell at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a faculty member in the School of Architecture and Planning he was interested in technology associated with smart cities and homes. To enable monitoring of user responses to innovation, Professor Mitchell proposed moving traditional laboratory research to “in vivo” or “living” settings.

Considering its origins in academic research relevant to urban planning, it is of little surprise that the concept has proven popular within academic institutions and cities. For example, Harvard University, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Alberta have all characterized their campuses as living laboratories, with all three institutions linking their “campus as a living lab” concept with sustainability-related activities.

The living laboratory concept has also been integrated into the economic development strategies of local governments. In Alberta, the City of Calgary is leveraging its resources to promote itself as a living laboratory by allowing companies to use city-owned land and property to test augmented reality technology. The City of Summerside on Prince Edward Island has also adopted a living laboratory model, which dedicates city infrastructure, processes, and citizens to create an environment that supports innovators in testing and validating products or services.

Although there are numerous other initiatives that market themselves as “living laboratories,” there are also many initiatives that do not identify with the term, even though they pursue activities in line with the model.

A Dasiqox Tribal Park sign located adjacent to Teztan Biny (Fish Lake). Photo: Natalie A. Swift

Tribal Parks could be considered one such example, as they involve Indigenous nations collaborating with others to implement and test a relatively new Indigenous-led land management concept in a real-world setting. In addition to being an innovative concept, Tribal Parks are also ‘laboratories’ where research activities are pursued. The knowledge that is generated from the experience of implementing a Tribal Park and pursuing associated research is not only critical to the well-being and development of Indigenous communities, but also the continued improvement of state forest policy and practices.

On a larger scale, one could also argue that the area occupied by Canada could be considered an example of a living laboratory, where various nations are engaged in a perpetually evolving experiment in cultural diversity and sustainability. The results of previous iterations of the experiment suggest that we need to do things differently, that we need to change how we think and act in relation to one another and the land.

Tribal Parks represent an exciting opportunity to contribute to the evolution of this experiment. In the case of Nexwagwezʔan, which is also referred to as the Dasiqox Tribal Park, Tsilhqot’in leaders have extended an invitation to the public to contribute by providing feedback concerning the “Community Vision & Management Goals for the Dasiqox Tribal Park” document they published earlier this year. Feedback is being accepted until Sunday, September 30 and can be submitted via email at info@dasiqox.org.

This call for submissions aligns well with the end of National Forest Week, which is taking place between September 23 and 29 under the theme “Research Forests: Canada’s Living Laboratories”. The timing and theme of this year’s National Forest Week presents an excellent opportunity to contribute to an Indigenous-led effort to generate knowledge and pursue innovation that is intended to assist with addressing some of the social, economic, and environmental challenges of concern to forest-dependent communities in this region. So, take some time over the course of National Forest Week to learn about the Dasiqox Tribal Park, participate in the collaborative process of its development, and contribute to innovation in the living laboratory of Canada. I can’t wait to see the results!

For more information regarding National Forestry Week in British Columbia, visit: bcnfw.ca.

To learn more about the Dasiqox Tribal Park, visit: dasiqox.org.

Natalie A. Swift is a specialist in ecosystem management interested in Canadian identity and forest governance, planning, and management. She is currently a Masters of Science student in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia and a Forester in Training with the Association of BC Forest Professionals.

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