2021 Will be Another Year With Mostly Digital Arctic Conferences

Anu Fredrikson speaks at an earlier Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø. (Foto: Albertio Grohovaz/Arctic Frontiers.)
"The good meetings that take place in person, whether it is over a cup of coffee, or sitting down one-on-one with somebody, those are lost. And I look forward to these meetings once the pandemic is over", says Anu Fredrikson, Executive Director of Arctic Frontiers. 

Many of the usual Arctic meeting places will this year only exist in the virtual world. High North News has spoken with representatives from Arctic Frontiers, High North Dialogue, The Kirkenes Conference, and the Arctic Circle Assembly to get an understanding of how Covid-19 affects Arctic cooperation and dialogue.

Anu Fredrikson is Executive Director of Arctic Frontiers. The Arctic Frontiers secretariat is hosted by Akvaplan-niva, located at the Fram Centre in Tromsø, Norway. Fredrikson says they decided quite early on that they would run the conference digitally.

Anu Fredrikson
New director: Anu Fredrikson is the new Executive Director of Arctic Frontiers. Photo: Arctic Frontiers.
Anu Fredrikson is Executive Director of Arctic Frontiers. (Photo: Arctic Frontiers)

What do you think this means for Arctic cooperation and dialogue?

“The Arctic is an area in which people are quite accustomed to working remote and digitally due to the vast and large distances that we have. If we look at the Arctic Council, a lot of their work was done digitally already before the pandemic hit. I think many Arctic organizations have a small comparative advantage there”, says Fredrikson and adds:

“But of course, the good meetings that take place in person, whether it is over a cup of coffee, or sitting down one-on-one with somebody, those are lost. And I look forward to these meetings once the pandemic is over. These meetings are important and bring a new dimension.”

How do speakers react to attending such a conference now during covid?

“From the point of view of the Arctic Frontiers, I think that we are in a good position in that the conference will take place in the beginning of February, which means that people have been living with the pandemic for almost a year already, and our speakers are prepared to attend in a digital format. This is an advantage for us and overall, our speakers have been very positive to the conference and they look forward to it", Fredrikson says in closing. 

The topic of this year's Arctic Frontiers conference is “Building bridges” and will take place at the Arctic Frontiers Digital Platform between 1-4 February.

High North Dialogue

High North Dialogue is a conference organized by the High North Center for Business and Governance in Bodø, Norway.

The High North Dialogue that is being planned for April 2021 will be in a hybrid format, with both physical and digital participation. Within the contemporary frameworks of infection control given by the national and regional government bodies, as well as the university, they are planning to welcome a limited number of students and panelists to be physically present in Bodø. 

Anders Edstrøm is an advisor at the High North Center and conference coordinator for the High North Dialogue. He says that the majority of the participants will attend the conference digitally this year. 

Anders Edstrøm is an advisor at the High North Center and conference coordinator for the High North Dialogue. (Photo: High North Center)
Anders Edstrøm is an advisor at the High North Center and conference coordinator for the High North Dialogue. (Photo: High North Center)

"The model we have chosen allows for the conference to be held completely digitally on very short notice. The digital platform will be a key component of the conference, which provides flexibility. This is a year in which many Arctic meeting places are canceled or only run digitally", Edstrøm says. 

What do you think this means for Arctic cooperation and dialogue?

"These conferences are important arenas for dialogue in the High North, and it is saddening when it is necessary to cancel them because of the virus. In March 2020, the High North Dialogue had to be canceled. The fact that the conferences in 2021 manage to apply digital solutions to the current situation and to create dialogue, shows resilience. In our experience, there is a demand for digital meeting places, and we believe we will involve many people in the dialogue in a digital and safe way."

The title for High North Dialogue 2021 is "Business in the Arctic". (Photo: High North Center.)
The topic for High North Dialogue 2021 is "Business in the Arctic". (Photo: High North Center.)

What assessments have you made so far with regard to infection control?

"Only a limited number of people will be present in Bodø, and the majority of participants will be online. The conference is in April, and much may have changed in three months. We will follow the developments as well as all the rules and guidelines for infection control, and strive to make this a safe conference for our students and guests."

These conferences are important arenas for dialogue in the High North
Anders Edstrøm, advisor at the High North Center

How do speakers react to attending such a conference now during covid?

"For us, having a digital and physical option for participation in the panel debates has been overwhelmingly positive. This flexibility is appreciated, and it seems like it is even easier for the panelists to accept our invitation, and fit the conference into their schedule. We will all remain informed on the situation until April, and be in close dialogue with the speakers on how best to proceed."

How many participants are invited?

"Everyone who would like to participate is welcome to follow us online. The registration link will be available during January, and you could follow our webpages for more information on the event. Physical participation will be limited to our students and speakers, as long as the infection regulations and situation in April allows for it", Edstrøm says in closing. 

Also read

Arctic Circle Assembly

The annual Arctic Circle Assembly is the largest annual international gathering on the Arctic, attended by more than 2000 participants from 60 countries.

In August last year, they chose to postpone the 2020 conference until October 2021. The assembly for 2021 will take place in Reykjavík, Iceland between 14-17 October.

Ásdís Eva Ólafsdóttir is Director of the Arctic Circle Secretariat. She says that the 2021 Arctic Circle Assembly is currently being organized as a predominantly in-person event.

Ásdís Eva Ólafsdóttir is Director of the Arctic Circle Secretariat. (Photo: Arctic Circle)

Are you prepared to cancel and possibly run the assembly only digitally?

"As of today, we feel confident that vaccinations will have produced a relatively safe traveling environment and that most of our participants will be able to travel freely to Iceland and attend. There is no plan of hosting the Assembly completely online but we are examining options on how to integrate an online element to it as well as other future Arctic Circle events", Ólafsdóttir says. 

What assessments have you made so far with regard to infection control?

"Harpa, the Assembly venue, reexamines the development of the virus regularly and its in house safety procedures. The Assembly will only take place if the situation allows for it and that it is certain that all safety and health precautions can be followed."

How do speakers react to attending such a conference now during covid?

"In the current pandemic environment, it wouldn't be possible to host the Assembly or any other conference. However, we feel a longing from the Arctic community that, when the time comes and it is safe to travel, the will to meet in person is strong and that people miss these events".

How many participants are invited?

"Over 2000 participants have attended the past Assemblies every year. The nature of the Arctic Circle is that it's an open and democratic platform for Arctic dialogue. This means that anyone is able to register and attend. This is a year where many Arctic meeting places are canceled or only run digitally".

What do you think this means for Arctic cooperation?

"Arctic cooperation is going strong given the fact that a large portion of projects and discussions can be performed virtually. However, there is a certain magic that happens when people come together under the same roof. New connections are made that turn into new cooperations and projects and previously formed collaborations and friendships are strengthened. The resilience of current Arctic cooperation is high due to its importance and adaptation to new circumstances. But the longing and necessity to meet in person will most likely always be present", Ólafsdóttir says in closing. 

The Kirkenes Conference

Guro Brandshaug is Director of the Kirkenes Conference. She says they are planning according to four different scenarios. 

Guro Brandshaug is director for the Kirkenes Conference. (Photo: KNH)

"In this way, we will, in any case, avoid canceling the Kirkenes Conference 2021, but the design may have to be adjusted right up to the conference", Brandshaug says to High North News. 

What assessments have you made so far with regard to infection control?

“We follow the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the authorities' guidelines and will comply with these as they apply in February. In addition, as we approach, we will establish a dialogue with the local Chief Infection Control doctor, and also coordinate this very closely with Thon Hotel, so that we are sure that we take care of all infection control considerations in the best possible way.”

How many people do you plan to accommodate?

“To date, there are 50 people who want physical access. We hope this can be adjusted upwards to 100 people while we still observe the 1-meter rule with the size of the room, but these are conditions that may be adjusted through dialogue with infection control authorities and not least with regard to infection development.”

What is the focus of the conference?

“We continue what is the core of the Kirkenes Conference, taking the temperature of the geopolitical Barents. The [Norwegian] Minister of Foreign Affairs will also attend in February 2021, and we will receive a digital contribution from the other countries' foreign ministers”, Brandshaug says and continues:

“Furthermore, we will look at the situation with closed national borders, and how this has affected the security policy picture, and not least people-to-people cooperation. We will also look at the picture of opportunities for development in the region, with, among other things, a look at the importance of tourism and the "new" design after the corona. In addition, we will investigate the maritime opportunities, and the opportunities within the development of green energy in and from the north.”

How do speakers react to attending such a conference during Covid-19?

“They respond surprisingly positively. It seems that we are all eager to meet and with so few events, there will be a greater interest in those that are actually arranged", Brandshaug says in closing. 

Also read

Tags