Our project WILDSENS is based on the simple idea that maps used in environmental decision making can be better and more representative if they could take into consideration the ideas, perceptions and emotions of the actors who use them, namely: people. Traditionally maps of landscape such as those of wilderness are made almost exclusively based on remote sensed satellite data and expert opinion. Including people in this mapping process and other higher resolution local in situ data (human perception and ecoacoustics) gives these maps a richer picture of these complex and dynamic landscapes
As a result, we spent a good amount of our time concentrating on recruiting participants. We also completed habitat surveys along our walking transact and recorded the soundscape over a period of ten days. Convincing people to come out with us for a day in Abisko National Park was no small task: the walks were fairly moderate in ability level, but we were still banking on people being generous enough to give up a day of their time for the benefit of our research project. We had a Facebook group page and had plastered the towns with information sheets about our project and invitations to join. But the most productive way of getting people to join us was simply to ask them in person: seasonal workers in a shop, bartenders at a lodge, tourists visiting Sweden for a few days, etc. We even managed to get four people working in the Kiruna municipality planning office to come out with us. Local institutions, such as the Abisko Mountain Lodge and the Swedish Tourist Organisation, were extremely open to getting our message out and with helping us find possible participants. This is one great thing about carrying out research in a small community: people are often very friendly to newcomers and everybody knows everybody, so it was quite easy to feel like we belonged in some way – even after just a few days.
We designed the walks to follow a gradient from more built-up to less built-up, in order to assess people’s perceptions and affective responses to a range of types of wild landscapes (this is, in part, what the “dynamic” in our project’s title refers to). So we began our guided walks in the parking lot of the welcome centre of the Swedish Tourist Organisation and then moved along one of the less touristed marked paths southwest into Abisko National Park. Every 45 minutes or so we would pause with our participants to carry out short interviews, asking them about their sensory perception of the spaces we were in: what they heard, saw, felt, and how being there affected their sense of emotional intensity. This last question encouraged participants to reflect on the role that natural spaces play in individual welfare and well-being, something that is an emerging topic of research across environmental and social scientists. In addition, we were interested in meta-ethnographic aspects of the participatory work we were doing. In other words, we wanted to know how participation in our project – being made to think about their relationship to natural spaces and having to discuss with ourselves and others their perceptions and emotions – changed how people felt about the role of wild spaces in their lives after they had returned to their everyday lives.
During our stay in Abisko, we also were able to come into contact with SVT Swedish Television/Radio, who became interested in our project enough to come film a television news piece on us for their daily newscast. One of their reporters joined us for a morning and carried out interviews with us and some of our participants. The news piece was aired on the SVT Oddasat programme in late June. We hope that the story told will help us encourage members of the Sámi community to participate in our project when we go back up to Abisko, perhaps this winter.
In our next post, we’ll give a bit of contextual background for how this project came about and what we’re hoping to do with it.