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International Symposium for Society & Resource Management (ISSRM) 2020 Virtual Conference

Incorporating Social Science into the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

A session held at the
International Symposium for Society & Resource Management (ISSRM) 2020 Virtual Conference

July 20, 2020

By Taylor Goelz, Knauss Marine Policy Fellow, NOAA Research


  • Steven Scyphers – Northeastern University
  • Athena Trakadas – National Museum of Denmark / Ocean Decade Heritage Network
  • Davin Holen – Alaska Sea Grant
  • Monica Grasso – Chief Economist, NOAA
  • Amy Trice – Ocean Conservancy – Director of Ocean Planning, also co-author on one of the High-Level Panel papers

Abstract: The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (Decade) (2021-2030) is a unique ten-year, global cooperative program to expand scientific partnerships to support effective science, ocean management, and sustainable development. The emphasis of this Ocean Decade is not science for science’s sake, but a dedicated effort around the world to ensure the sustainable development and management of our coastal and ocean regions. Due to this emphasis on humans living and working with the ocean, it is essential that the social sciences be engaged to help achieve the six goals of the Decade (a clean ocean, a healthy and resilient ocean, a predicted ocean, a safe ocean, a sustainable productive ocean, and a transparent and accessible ocean). This dedicated session will see experts from a variety of disciplines, working in different fields connect their work to the goals and priorities of the Decade. In addition to discussing their own work, panelists will facilitate alignment between ISSRM attendees’ current work/projects and the US and UN’s Decadal priorities and identify opportunities to become involved (e.g., partnerships, funding, how to become part of the Decade).

The event took place in two parts – pre-recorded presentations, which can be found here (part 1 / part 2), and then a live discussion with ISSRM conference participants on July 20, 2020. The following is a summary of the discussion, provided by Taylor Goelz. Many thanks for her efforts in organising this virtual event and allowing us to publish the summary on ODHN’s website.

Summary of the major themes that emerged from the panel and the discussion:

  • Breaking out of siloed management
  • Increasing coordination and collaboration between different levels of governance/government
  • Transitioning from being reactive to proactive in marine research, policy, and planning
  • Recognizing different stakeholder perspectives, backgrounds, motivations, and definitions of success
  • Connecting the global Decade to local users and regional perspectives.


Julianna Duran (Recent graduate in Wildlife Conservation) Are social scientists being hired or incorporated into a “science field” more so? Or are they still left out in favor of quantitative scientists/fields?

  • Davin – Has seen NWS hiring social scientists, NAS recently released a report on social sciences, part of this increased willingness to engage with social science and social scientists is this dramatic increase in the desire to engage in communities
    • Coastal resilience in Alaska proposal as an example – the state and universities need social scientists to engage these communities
  • Amy – Especially within the coastal resilience realm in terms of climate change and impacts – seeing that shift of greater inclusion/consideration starting to occur in climate change conversations
  • Athena – Generational difference in recognition among quantitative scientists – greater recognition/understanding now of what social scientists do – part of the work has been re-educating marine scientists and explaining what social science is and how it contributes

Julianna Duran – How do you retrain natural scientists to think from a social science perspective?

    • Davin – scicomm has become a really important driver, as scientists are beginning to understand that they need to be able to take science and bring it to communities – this is what social scientists do
      • Bring the questions to the community, not just the science, and then bring those questions to the community – address the questions the communities might have -one of the most important questions we ask/things we do

Clare Ginger (Associate Professor, Director of Natural Resources Program, University of Vermont, here referencing her work on Cape Wind case off Cape Cod – multitude of energy issues, issues of multi-scale governance, focus on national policies, but recognized the importance of sub-national governance systems, opportunities and challenges) – What are the gaps in governance that need to be addressed? What issues arise when trying to address these gaps?

  • Amy Trice – Cape Wind case – we now have 16 offshore leases off the East Coast, and you’re starting to see conflict challenges play out – we have such an institutional structure, siloed management, so an important question is how do you get BOEM to better coordinate with NOAA to cite offshore wind with less conflicts?
    • Federal ocean policy has made progress, but we still have work to do with filling data gaps that allow for more cross coordination
    • Our laws are outdated in allowing this flexibility for agencies – takes Cape Wind for us to learn the lesson, ok we can’t do it that way, but what else can we do – we have to be faster with that approach –
    • It’s a continuous challenge, but it’s something that people are trying to work towards, to better integrate – and you see these issues across the board – the ocean community is a bit behind in the integration
  • Davin – speaking to his community connections/work – erosion in Alaska, threatening communities – the governance structure of moving these communities is complicated, especially for the funding to come forward to move structures and communities – it’s been a real problem
    • There isn’t the governance structure within the government to move these structures and communities
    • There has been real efforts to outreach to communities, a lot of work that goes into that – to help Alaska communities understand how development will impact their subsistence ways of life
    • It’s all about governance issues – all about the legislation that needs to happen, to be less reactive and more proactive

Caitlin Dyckman (Associate Professor, City and Regional Planning, Clemson University, here highlighting a theme she saw within the Decade presentation – concept of siloing – we’ve been asking everyone to think creatively about how to leverage silos – and this is going to be really important over the course of the next ten years) – Can lack of federal action on enactment of the CZMA act, can that create an opportunity on other scales that we can leverage (local, regional, state)? Without federal guidance, can we come up with creative ways to leverage the silos?

  • Steven – a lot of things will be context specific, but specifically in his field, the setting of waterfront homeowners in the Northeast
  • E.g., Army Corps nationwide permitting has historically made putting in hardened shoreline structures easier
    • There’s so much inertia to putting in these hardened structures, that it’s hard to get living shorelines even mentioned in the conversation
    • MD, as an example, has fought back against this inertia to hardened structures, said you have to do living shorelines first
    • Less policy focused approaches are important as well, like working with homeowners to influence neighbors, and this can make an impact
    • A lot will rely on robust social science, have to understand the policy, who the actors are – are decisions driven economically, or socially?
  • Amy – state component informing federal – bringing state agencies together to map and understand the ocean – e.g., Rhode Island has interesting state plan, defines what matters to their state, and then runs it through CZM to influence what happens further offshore – reverse engineered the process because they wanted to be able to dictate what happened offshore near their waters
    • States and regions are starting to get creative without federal work/guidance
  • Davin – coastal zone management is a great example – in AK, university is working with state agencies to figure out where the coastline actually is for planning reasons related to sea level rise
    • In doing so, they are soliciting community input, asking communities to ID where there are problems, where inundation is happening

Taylor Goelz – Where does your field need to be in 10 years?

  • Amy – climate change – that’s what needs to be incorporated in integrated ocean management in the next ten years – need to go beyond reacting and instead need to be proactive and plan for the future
    • She doesn’t want to be in reaction mode, in the next Decade, my field needs to get better at integrating data, bringing in the community, integrating ideas and data more thoughtfully – that’s the vision that is inherent within the Decade, integrating and bringing people together
  • Athena – Better articulating why marine heritage is relevant, why we do what we do – also integrating ocean management plans, like Amy touched upon
    • Don’t have a solution right now, we’re in reactionary – need to be less so in the next ten years – moving to asking stakeholders how they can move forward
    • Decade planning at the UN level recognizes this as well, as demonstrated by the changes from the Decade Implementation Plan Zero Draft to the First Draft – there was a recommendation from member state comments to add a final outcome – “Inspiring and engaging ocean” – this was a big change – gives us a different perspective, and something to promote over the next 10 years
    • Ocean Decade Heritage Network – were able to get some of their goals for the Decade framework accepted into the IP – now it’s about where do we go from here, how do we (as people in the marine heritage field) see ourselves and based on this, we need to try to best position ourselves
  • Davin – He asks community members when he goes into communities, what should your community look like in two generations, what should it look like so your grandchildren can live successfully?
    • The empowerment of local communities to make those decisions, that they have that power to make their own decisions when given the data (climate data in his instance) – this is what’s key over the next ten years – because localities want to be able to make their own local decisions
    • Another example, they’ve provided data support tools on what salmon fishing will look like in Alaska, this is key for the wild food harvest – important for making determinations in the community concerning where they need to build, what housing decisions they need to make
  • Steven – The bundle of ideas presented by other presenters is where it’s at
    • The time period we’re thinking about is important – he’s seen two different types of homeowners for example with his work – some are concerned about maintaining property values in order to sell at retirement age, and others are worried about generational maintenance, they’re the sixth generation of owners so they want to maintain it for future generations
      • And thus the approaches needed to address these groups and what information is salient to them is very different
    • Also have to think about the balance of policies when you have powerful decision makers where a single decision might influence a large group of people
      • E.g., access to beach/coastal areas
    • Within academic and research labs – partnership and partnering is crucial for academic institutes, like Sea Grant who are connected in the community, to make sure their research is use inspired or matters – this is what academic needs to do over the next 10 years

Taylor Goelz – What are some of the challenges of the concept of the Decade? 

  • Amy – The Decade Implementation Plan is a high level document because it’s trying to be at a global scale – so a challenge is how do we connect local users, regional perspectives? That connection and perspective is invaluable
    • Also the question of how do we implement the recommendations of these groups? What does the Decade mean to these groups? It will be a challenge to help these communities understand
  • Athena – There’s the need to avoid “research for research’s sake” – we don’t want to think of the Decade as another possibility just to get more funding, not that funding isn’t important, but the challenge is to not, in the clog of research, keep doing the same thing,
    • There has to be a conscious effort across the board, building these alliances, with different stakeholders at all levels, developing actual platforms that work and function and get the structural change that we’re looking for out of the Decade
    • Challenge is to not use the Decade as an opportunity to keep the current funding cycles going