Nanotechnology and the Community

Overview

Increasingly, we understand city-regions as key sites of future prosperity and as crucibles that leverage local innovation and entrepreneurship. Furthermore, city life fosters inventive gains in knowledge, quality of life, creativity, and local culture itself. Urban and regional policy, as a consequence, is being placed at the heart of economic development strategies and is accompanied by a more general re-scaling of governance to the urban level. Additionally, innovations are often central to the wants and desires of city-regions; however, we are seldom sure what they will look like, or how to get to them. Unfortunately, the term "innovation" often tends to be an empty buzzword lacking strategic meaning and direction. Because of this, innovation initiatives are isolated from local development planning, from wider regional economies, and from the broader public.

We asked: What can cities and communities do to support and benefit from new technologies? How can knowledge-intensive sectors develop in ways which account for local contexts and local needs? How can benefits and prosperity be made to "stick" to the communities in which new technologies are innovated? What cultures, urban forms, and places create positive conditions for innovation?

While Edmonton has long been defined by its northerly location as a transportation and support centre, as a provincial capital, energies economy, and by its passion for hockey, Edmonton's designation as the national centre for the commercial development of nanotechnologies is less well known. Nanotechnology is imagined as a force of change and diversification, challenging the city's identity as a northern capital, attracting a new class of high tech workers and entrepreneurs and creating the opportunity for world-leading economic and urban development.

Using the local case of nanotechnology in Edmonton, CRSC has undertaken research and community engagement, and developed a series of strategic partnerships, to better understand how innovation and development are linked and how technological advances can inform urban planning, as well as to engage people and place as key constituents of successful science policy and development practices.

Objectives

Key project aims and objectives were:

  1. To extend existing partnership networks to link governments, science, industry, and civic society across the Alberta Capital Region, as well as to foster these relations nationally and internationally.
  2. To bring together interdisciplinary expertise so as to inform our understanding of innovation-community relations, and to actively participate as researchers in the development of these interactions. In doing so, we hope to advance the scholarship, methods, and practice of both understanding and contributing to innovative communities.
  3. To foster community knowledge and engagement with nanotechnology and its role in the future development of the Alberta Capital Region.
  4. To seek to apply the knowledge and expertise arrived at through this project to inform the development and planning of innovative communities in Canada, and abroad.

Outcomes

In order to achieve these aims, CRSC organized a series of community engagement and partnership activities:

  1. Citizens' Summit (March 2013) – We invited a diverse group of engaged citizens and community stakeholders to learn about nanotechnology and explore its roles in the Alberta Capital Region, and participate in dialogue on nanotechnology and the community. The panel was convened over a series of two days, and involved a series of workshops involving scientific, industry, and policy stakeholders. 
  2. Futurescape City Tour (October-November 2013) – CRSC partnered with Futurescape City Tours to host a series of photography walking tours of the Edmonton urban environment. Participants were invited to take photos, jot down reflections, and notice their city or community in a fresh light, while considering its past, present, and future. Facilitated deliberation before and after the tour, as well as informal conversations with researchers, stakeholders, city planners, and officials, encouraged all participants to voice their concerns and desires for the future of their communities. Check out our dedicated Edmonton Futurescape City Tour webpage to learn more about the events.
  3. Community Learning and Engagement Event (November 2013) – We hosted a one-day public engagement exercise at the TELUS World of Science, involving a series of presentations for the public, and the opportunity to join roundtable discussions with scientific experts, policy officials, industry representatives, and community leaders. We also showcased photographs taken during the Futurescape City Tour.

Based on these activities, we developed a series of reports (see below) outlining findings, and setting the stage for continued research, community engagement, and partnership development in the Edmonton area.

Research Team

Research team members

  • Dr. Rob Shields, Professor and Henry Marshall Tory Chair, CRSC, Faculty of Extension at University of Alberta
  • Dr. Kevin Jones, Director, CRSC, Faculty of Extension at the University of Alberta
  • Dr. Nils Petersen, Professor of Chemistry, Faculty of Science at the University of Alberta
  • Dr. Yun-Csang Ghimn (Postdoctoral Fellow)
  • Michael Granzow (PhD Research Assistant)
  • Katie Herzog (MA Research Assistant)

Steering Committee members

  • David Carpenter, Dean of School of Information Communication and Engineering Technologies, NAIT
  • Chris Lumb, CEO, TEC Edmonton
  • Linda Keyes, Senior Consultant – Business Planning, City of Edmonton, Sustainable Development
  • Michael Phair, Former Councillor, City of Edmonton
  • Karen Young, Executive Director – Partnerships and Collaborations, Alberta Innovates | Technology Futures
  • Rick Brommeland, Vice President – Business Development & General Manager, Quantiam Technologies, Inc.
  • Frank Florian, Vice President of Programs, TELUS World of Science

Collaborators 

  • Dr. David Guston, Centre for Nanotechnology and Society, Arizona State University
  • Dr. Maja Horst, Professor of Media, Cognition and Communication, Copenhagen University
  • Dr. Alan Irwin, Dean of Research, Copenhagen Business School
  • Dr. Jack Stilgoe, Senior Lecturer in Social Studies of Science, University College of London 
  • Dr. James Wilsdon, Professor of Science Policy, University of Sussex

Funders and partners

This project was also made possible by funders and industry partners, including: TEC Edmonton, Alberta Innovates | Technology Futures, NAIT, and the National Research Council Canada – National Institute for Nanotechnology.