After approval of ACIA's Executive Committee, I was able to attend the final of ten meetings of the Assessment Steering Committee and two meetings of the Assessment Integrations Team towards the end of the process. My role in these meeting was an observer participant. After an initial presentation round, which provided me an opportunity
12 Yin, Case Study Research. Design and Methods, 13; Stake, The Art of Case Study Research, chapter 7.
13 David Silverman, Interpreting Qualitative Data (London: Sage Publications Ltd, 2001), 119.
14 Merriam, Fallstudien Som Forskningsmetod, 117.
to present my research and purpose for being there, I did not take part in the discussions during the meeting.
Gaining access for making field observations in a closed social setting is not straightforward.15 Several factors probably contributed to my being able to gain access. From the participants' perspective, a key element may have been shared norms about the importance of research. In connection with previous professional activities, I was known to several people at the meetings. It was therefore important to define my specific role as an observer rather than as a colleague. The major strategy for doing this was in personal conversations and by distributing written information about the research project. To avoid being seen as more connected to some people in the process, a special effort was made to connect with people with whom I had not had previous contact, if not at the first meeting at least at some time during the process.
The Assessment Integration Team and the Assessment Steering Committee meetings held in London in October 2003 were the first ACIA meetings I attended. The major purpose of these meetings was to discuss the review comments on the scientific report. Observations were also made at an Assessment Integration Team meeting in Copenhagen March 2004, where the key item on the agenda was to review comments on the overview document.
To cover the ACIA process in the policy arena, observations were made at a joint meeting of the working groups of AMAP and CAFF, who were given the mandate by the Arctic Council to see that the assessment was carried out. This meeting was to "sign off" on the documents from the ACIA before they were presented to the Arctic Council. In relation to AMAP, I participated as part of the delegation from IASC, which has observer status. In relation to CAFF, I participated by invitation of CAFF's executive secretary.
I have also made observations at two Arctic Council meetings, one in May 2004 and one in November 2004. The November meeting was the the Reykjavik ministerial meeting at which the ACIA results were presented to the Arctic ministers and thus represented the formal conclusion of the ACIA process. The primary purpose of these observations was to learn about Arctic Council meeting dynamics and to see how the ACIA was treated at the highest policy level. My attendance at the Arctic Council meetings was as part of the delegation from the University of the Arctic, which has observer status in the Arctic Council. It should properly be described as participatory observation, as I was also there in the capacity of science editor of the Arctic Human Development Report. The Arctic Council meetings provided a venue for arranging interviews with participants in the policy process.
Regardless of the level of formality of each meeting, there is a social component to them, including coffee breaks and meals. In general, I took part in these social activities, which provided many opportunities for informal discussions with different participants and was important in building trust with people that I had not had previous contact with.
In addition to the formal meetings, I attended a scientific conference in November 2004 that was arranged to present ACIA's scientific results. Besides being an opportunity for observing presentations and discussions, this meeting provided a venue for conducting interviews with the lead authors of the ACIA scientific report.
15 Silverman, Interpreting Qualitative Data, 57.
The purpose of making observations was mainly to get a first-hand feeling for how discussions progressed in relation to my specific research questions, which were concerned with the knowledge base of the ACIA, i.e. the process behind what would later become printed reports. The observations were used to refine the analytical themes for the content analysis of the ACIA reports, to identify issues that would need attention in the analysis of the process documentation and the reports, and to identify actors that should be interviewed because of their role in or insights into specific aspects of the process.
The limited scope of the observations had both advantages and disadvantages. A major disadvantage is that I did not have any opportunity to capture the dynamics at the beginning of the ACIA process. For these parts I have, therefore, been limited to information from formal documentation, which is not likely to have covered all relevant aspects, and also to interviews, where the individual's recall of earlier events is likely to be less detailed than observation and also colored by later process dynamics and personal interests. Additionally, I was not observing the work occurring in smaller meetings, including those among people collaborating on chapters in the ACIA reports or ACIA's Executive Committee meetings. This means the micro-dynamics of writing an assessment chapter is not well covered in the empirical material and that the picture I have is only through the eyes of the lead authors. It is also only through the eyes of the people who stayed active in the process towards the end, and leaves out perceptions by people who only took part in some of the initial discussions about the ACIA.
The meetings I did observe all had a certain level of formality to them, and that level of formality clearly affected what issues were brought to the table and what issues were kept to private discussions to which I did not have access. However, it was an advantage in that I could avoid, or at least buffer, some weaknesses of observations studies, such as being so integrated into the social setting that the observer affects its dynamics or by being so immersed that one loses the role as observer.16
A major advantage with the observations method, in comparison to interviews and/or text analysis, is that it gives the researcher first hand knowledge of processes rather than a version filtered by interviewees or meeting secretaries. Also, processes are recorded as they happen.17 Recording of observations was done by taking written notes during the meeting along with diary notes at the end of the day. The notes taken during the meeting focused on recording direct discussion. No analysis or coding of events were done on the spot. In several cases, I also conducted shorter interviews in direct connection with the meeting to follow up on points that had been raised by the participants.
During the policy process, I was not able to gain access to meetings to make observations. In the early part of the policy process, I approached one of my contacts with an informal inquiry to be an observer. In spite of some support, objections were raised on grounds that these meeting were closed negotiations and concerns that both the dynamics and outcome could be hurt by the presence of an outside observer.18 As it turned out, the policy process became very contentious and no further attempts were made to gain access to any of its meetings.
16 Yin, Case Study Research. Design and Methods, 86; Silverman, Interpreting Qualitative Data, 58.
17 Yin, Case Study Research. Design and Methods, 87; Merriam, Fallstudien som forskningsmetod, 102.
18 Interview Magdalena Muir, March 24, 2004.
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