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Center supports an action-oriented social science research agenda for the Salish Sea

November 14, 2018

The Center, with the Center for Canadian-American Studies at Western Washington University, was awarded a four-year Title VI grant in September in part to build regional expertise on the Salish Sea. A key initiative includes support for Social Science for the Salish Sea, a project co-led by staff at UW EarthLab and the Puget Sound Partnership, that brings together over 40 social scientists and environmental practitioners from diverse disciplines, organizations, and Tribes and First Nations in the region to outline a research agenda aimed at improving our understanding of the human dimensions of the Salish Sea.

To protect and restore the Salish Sea — the transboundary waters shared by British Columbia’s Georgia Basin and Washington State’s Puget Sound — we must understand its biology, physical processes and its people, who both affect and support the environment and provide the only means for recovering it. Understanding people’s diverse perspectives, values and objectives, and how people in the region are constrained or enabled by social systems, will facilitate a more effective and equitable approach to ecosystem recovery. There is growing recognition that to solve environmental problems, we need to also understand their human dimensions. The Social Science for the Salish Sea project addresses this need by convening a transboundary team of interdisciplinary researchers and practitioners to develop an action-oriented social science research agenda that serves the pragmatic ecosystem recovery needs of the Salish Sea.

Both authors and advisors met in early October at an all-day workshop held at the University of Washington. The purpose of the workshop was to cultivate a transboundary community of practitioners and researchers; identify research needs and interests; explain how those interests are relevant to ecosystem recovery; and develop criteria for including and prioritizing topics and questions in a research agenda.

It is rare to convene a transboundary group (Canada–U.S. group), and also rare to convene an interdisciplinary group of researchers, as well as researchers and practitioners, in one space. The day generated a wealth of material from which to construct the research agenda, plus a viable method for grounding social science research “themes” in ecosystem recovery “topics.” The group collectively produced a robust foundation for the author team to work with and is now at the stage where the author team can refine it into the first solid draft of the research agenda.

The planning team includes Sara Jo Breslow (Academic Co-Lead), Social Science and incubator Lead, EarthLab, University of Washington; Leah Kintner (Practitioner Co-Lead), Regional Manager, Puget Sound Partnership; Stacia Dreyer, Assistant Research Professor, Arizona State University; and Heather Cole, Puget Sound Community Relations Manager, The Nature Conservancy. For more information contact Sara Jo Breslow at