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Reflections From the Board: Perspectives on International Growth

Thriving Earth Advisory Board Members share their views and vision for community science around the globe

Thanks to the ambitious and inclusive leadership of AGU and the Thriving Earth Advisory Board, the reach and impact of Thriving Earth Exchange goes well beyond U.S. borders. We recently caught up with two of our esteemed Advisory Board members to reflect on why a global view is central to our mission. 

Kevin Noone is Professor of Chemical Meteorology at Stockholm University and Chair of the Thriving Earth Advisory Board. Jenny Riker is Senior Lecturer in the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Bristol in the U.K. and Vice Chair of our Board. 


Why do you think it is important for Thriving Earth to facilitate community science beyond the United States? 

Noone: While the work that Thriving Earth Exchange does in the U.S. is stellar, the need for this kind of work is as great or even greater in other parts of the world. Thriving Earth Exchange often works with communities that in one way or another are disadvantaged or have been disenfranchised from access to science. While there are too many of these in the U.S., there are far more in low income regions of the world. The needs of these communities are often greater, and the resources even more limited than for communities in the U.S. 

I think learning how to refine and apply the Thriving Earth Exchange model for communities outside the U.S. will have many benefits. First, it will directly benefit the communities with which Thriving Earth Exchange works. Second, while many communities are resource or economically deprived, they are immensely rich in creativity, good spirit and optimism. Thriving Earth Exchange can learn from these communities how to make the best of limited resources and hopefully export this knowledge to other communities.

Even in places like well-to-do Europe, the Thriving Earth Exchange model can be very useful. As just one example, many countries in Eastern Europe are facing massive simultaneous changes regarding societal and economic restructuring after the fall of the Soviet Union and their incorporation into the European sphere, as well as the need to reduce their climate and environmental footprints in accordance with the Paris Agreement. Thriving Earth Exchange is perfectly placed to help communities in this region in particular develop science-informed, evidence-based strategic plans for the future.

Riker: There are a few important reasons why Thriving Earth should facilitate community science beyond the U.S. The first is that the same barriers that limit access to science in domestic communities exist globally. The second is that by limiting our work to the U.S., we limit the way we think about community science; we are bound to learn more from new approaches that emerge in different communities, environments, cultures, languages, etc.  Finally, the challenges Thriving Earth’s work aims to address — climate impacts, natural hazards, and natural resources — don’t see borders! An international approach will help us to solve problems that don’t fit neatly within national boundaries.


What are your hopes and dreams for the future of Thriving Earth’s international activities? 

Noone: In my dreams I see a network of regional Thriving Earth Exchange nodes. These would be hosted and partially (or fully, if we’re lucky) supported by major research institutions in each of the regions. Being anchored in different regions, these nodes will provide the cultural context in which to develop the Thriving Earth Exchange model to work well for the communities in each region. Depending on where these nodes are located, we can potentially tap into development and aid funding to support activities. 

This almost franchise model could allow Thriving Earth Exchange to expand and reach communities in all parts of the world without the necessity of having a large and expensive central administrative structure. It could also contribute to making the process of co-creating scientifically informed, culturally appropriate solutions to community challenges a reality wherever the need is present.

Riker: It’s clear that we can’t just take a community science model refined in the States and plop it in the laps of international communities — we don’t have the resources, but more importantly, we don’t have the cultural context needed to do that well. Instead, we need to take the model Thriving Earth has successfully developed in the U.S. and work to enable in-country partners (local community organizations, local scientists/experts, local funders) to adapt it to their own needs and contexts. My hopes and dreams for Thriving Earth’s international activities are that we grow this network of international partners over the coming years, expanding the global impact of Thriving Earth’s community-driven work.


Anything else you’d like to share?

Noone: I am grateful to AGU for having the courage to start the Thriving Earth Exchange initiative, let it develop on its own, and still support it now that it is a grown-up organization. I’m also immensely pleased that Thriving Earth Exchange is reflected in a lot of AGU’s new strategic plan. Finally, I’m equally grateful to AGU for gathering a coalition of eight international scientific societies to provide new outlets for disseminating the results and added value of community science through the new Community Science Exchange. Very cool things are happening at the moment, and it feels as if community science has its sails filled with a tailwind. It is an exciting time for building better links between science and society.

Liz Crocker editor

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