Experiences in the Field – Insights from Træna, Norway

Træna islands, Norway, Photo by: Terje Rakke (Nordic Life) www.nordnorge.com
Træna islands, Norway, Photo by: Terje Rakke (Nordic Life) www.nordnorge.com

Since the EmpowerUs project started in October 2022, Norwegian partners Nordland Research Institute (Norway Academic Lead) and Kunnskapsparken Helgeland (Norway Local Host) have been busy carrying out fieldwork and engaging with local stakeholders in Træna, the Norwegian Transition Coastal Lab (TCL).

Træna is a small municipality located off the coast of Northern Norway, consisting of several tiny islands, with approximately 450 people living in the community. With such a small population size, the community of Træna was, as a matter of course, exposed to more and more social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities. The main goal of the EmpowerUs fieldwork was to explore what coastal challenges exist in Træna and how the local community could tackle them. 

EmpowerUs Transition Coastal Lab Map
TCL Map The EmpowerUs TCL map provides information on each of the 6 TCLs, including their main challenges and the TCL Hosts and Academic Leads working at each TCL.

Christian Buschmann Ekeland, senior researcher at Nordland Research Institute (NRI), who was heavily involved in the Norwegian Transition Coastal Lab, states: - "It's quite exciting working with local stakeholders and a consortium of international partners".


Challenges with Fieldwork 

During fieldwork, the TCL team engaged with many stakeholders, including business owners, community groups, working professionals, youth and elderly councils, local administration workers and municipal politicians. One of the primary challenges faced by the TCL team during fieldwork was their unfamiliarity with the local community, as neither the Academic Lead nor the Local Host have their base in Træna. They relied on stakeholder mapping and snowballing techniques to identify and connect with relevant stakeholders to overcome this. While snowballing allowed them to reach specific networks, efforts were also made to reach individuals outside these networks to ensure inclusivity. The team also had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the community for an extended period. As a result, they could actively participate in community events and volunteer with other community members, which allowed them to form informal relationships and build trust and rapport. 

"Træna is a beautiful place with amazing people. I don't think there could have been a better place to do my first ethnographic fieldwork. People were so welcoming, and we learned a lot." - Vida Maria Daae Steiro narrates. She is another researcher from NRI involved in the EmpowerUs project and worked in the field in Træna.

The TCL team faced other issues about "Leaving no one behind", a key element of EmpowerUs. They found it particularly challenging to reach seasonal workers who did not speak Norwegian or English fluently. To address this, they approached the leading employers of these workers to try and come to a solution. The team is currently exploring alternative ways to reach non-Norwegian speakers living in the community during the following stages of the project. 

While carrying out Q-sorts (systematic study of participant viewpoints), additional challenges arose regarding the academic language used during the activity. When participants were uncomfortable completing the Q-sorts, the team adapted their methods by taking walks with them, creating a more relaxed and informal setting. 

Despite the challenges, the Norwegian TCL team is satisfied with how the fieldwork has gone so far and appreciates how locals have responded positively to the project. The TCL team has also successfully built essential relationships with the municipality, which allowed shared knowledge about the project and the municipality's work. 

Documentation of some of the activities in Træna, Norway TLC
Norwegian TCL documented some of the activities happened in Træna, Norway


Existing Coastal Challenges in Træna 

The Norwegian TCL team has identified several coastal challenges through interviews, Q-sorts, and discussions with local stakeholders. These include: 

  • Housing shortages, 
  • Issues with transportation to and from the islands, 
  • An ageing population with few children, 
  • High turnover of inhabitants (due to seasonal work), 
  • Lack of infrastructure, 
  • Lack of opportunities for youth. 


Proposed Local Solutions 

As part of the EmpowerUs project, the Norwegian TCL team co-created suitable solutions that will help tackle the problems identified during fieldwork in collaboration with the local stakeholders living in Træna. The leading solutions proposed by local stakeholders included housing initiatives, meeting places, and activities for youth in the area. 

"We've had two interesting workshops in May and November 2023 discussing challenges and solutions with various stakeholders. Based on these dialogues, we have developed pilot solutions that are both diverse and important for the local community". - Ekeland and Steiro recollect.

Norwegian TCL workshop
Photos from the Træna workshops.

Solutions proposed during the seminar were similar to those proposed during fieldwork, including housing initiatives, more opportunities for youth, and place attraction campaigns. The Træna community has high levels of cultural competence, which local stakeholders would like to see mobilised to a more significant extent. Socio-cultural initiatives and programs, such as the Artist in Residence programmeDesignBuild and the Træna festival, have increased visitors and short-term residents who mutually share knowledge with locals. Developing similar initiatives together with current economic developments would increase place attractivity. 

"Most of the pilot activities are aimed at increasing place attractivity. We also have events and activities to increase ocean awareness to show off the valuable cultural and historical heritage of Træna". - Ekeland and Steiro sum up together.