Mongolian Delegation Explores Community Science

Category: Uncategorized

By Anne Johnson

Thriving Earth Exchange recently had an opportunity to spend time with a group of Mongolian professionals who were visiting the U.S. as part of a professional exchange program. The fellows’ focus was on methods to collect and disseminate data on air quality and pollution in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The program, funded by the U.S. Department of State and implemented by World Learning, was intended to build fellows’ capacity while connecting them with potential partner organizations.

To help the delegation explore how a community-driven approach might benefit their efforts, Thriving Earth Exchange hosted fellows for a half-day workshop at AGU’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. The delegation then traveled to Boulder Colo., where they again joined us for a series of conversations with leaders, funders and participants from a variety of community science projects.

Ariunaa Norovsambuu, Project Manager for the Waste and Climate Change Project at The Asia Foundation, offered some reflections on the experience on behalf of the delegation.

 

What did you hope to gain from the fellowship and interactions with Thriving Earth Exchange in particular?

 Norovsambuu: The Working Group established under the fellowship program is unique in a sense that it is multidisciplinary, and it involves young professionals with varying degree of experiences and knowledge in the environment sector. The concept of environmental advocacy, which was the main theme of the program, was quite new to many of us, and therefore, we all hoped to learn more about the concept through our meetings and interactions with environmental experts in the U.S. Also we all hoped that the program would provide us with an opportunity to see and talk about environmental issues from different perspectives and would help to find answers to the “why” questions we all face while thinking, designing and implementing solutions to complex environmental problems. In regards to Thriving Earth Exchange, we were quite very interested in learning about community science projects, real life examples of how communities benefited from such projects, and specific facilitation techniques for community and scientist interactions at the local level.

 

Did the experience meet your expectations? Did anything surprise you?

Norovsambuu: Yes, we were all very impressed by the agenda put together by [Thriving Earth Director] Raj [Pandya] and his team in Boulder, Colorado. We had an opportunity to meet with not only government officials who facilitated and supported community projects, but we also got to hear a lot from community representatives and scientists who worked closely to find innovative solutions to local problems through combined research efforts. Also through an interesting workshop with [Thriving Earth Exchange Senior Specialist] Natasha [Udu-gama], we got a chance to understand some of  workshop techniques used when you try to identify specific problems that communities face, and how such workshops help the science community to devise collective solutions.

 

What were some memorable parts of the experience?

Norovsambuu: In D.C. we were very much impressed by the AGU net zero building, the sheer number of innovative technologies used to convert the 100-year-old building into a modern and green one. Also we were very surprised and truly impressed by the Americans who knew so much about Mongolia as almost in every meeting we would meet and interact with people who had some kind of connection or working experience in Mongolia, and all were so much eager to learn about Mongolia [and] its current environmental challenges. We also had some very warm and memorable meetings with local climate change activists at 350.org. We shared a very touching moment when we all sat together at the end of the meeting to listen to a “long song,” Mongolian traditional folk song, performed by one of our participants. Oyun Erdene is a researcher at the National Center for Public Health, but she is also a great singer, who passionately promotes traditional folk song singing.

 

How do you think the community science model might benefit communities in Mongolia?

Norovsambuu: This is definitely an interesting model worth exploring about, especially in the context of environmental and public health concerns in Mongolia. There are lots of efforts to address the challenges, however, in many cases the initiatives fail due to disconnect between science and policy. The community distrust in government is increasing, and there is little hope in political sustainability of the country where we see constant changes in government. Therefore, creating a model where the community can work together with scientists and develop evidence-based solutions to local problems would be not only practical but also very much inspirational for lots of people.

 

Did this experience help inform your proposed approaches to addressing air quality issues in Ulaanbaatar (or other projects)? What are your next steps?

Norovsambuu: As a next step, we are now in the process of designing an air pollution awareness project whereby we demonstrate the potential of multidisciplinary collaboration as a Working Group. It will be a small project, however, we hope that it will generate some interest from stakeholders, and would inspire us to seek more opportunities for collaboration. Also we will aim to organize a 2-day conference/workshop in October this year in Ulaanbaatar, inviting some of the experts we met in the U.S. to continue the exchange of knowledge and expertise.

 

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Norovsambuu: I felt the program enabled us to feel a sense of belonging to the broader environmental community, reminded us that many of the problems we face are global problems, and provided us with opportunities for networking and collaboration. Based on what we heard and learnt throughout the fellowship program, I hope that we will find best ways for furthering the advancement of our joint goals and objectives, which would eventually benefit the local community, society, as well as influence the decision makers. On a personal level, I had an opportunity for self-reflection to appreciate my own values, the reasons why I have chosen environment as a professional field, and have become more inspired for better changes in my country.

Natasha Udu-gama editor

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