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Monday, Sept. 15, 10:41 a.m.
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SSI works to build connections for Maine’s sustainability

The Maine Sustainability Solutions Initiative, or SSI, hosted a workshop Thursday, Dec. 6, at the George Mitchell Center for Watershed Research in Norman Smith Hall. The workshop was titled “Building Connections, Finding Alignment” and focused on linking knowledge and action.

The term “linking knowledge to action” reflects the efforts SSI makes to have its research projects and academic knowledge put to motion rather than sit on a shelf in a published journal.

SSI project director David Hart boiled down the ambiguous term on knowledge and action and said simply, the “art of SSI is taking something and making it into something useful.”

According to the SSI UMaine website, the SSI vision is to create “a Center for Sustainability Solutions that searches for, implements, and evaluates policies and practices that promote economic development while protecting ecosystem health and fostering community well-being.”

Researchers and professors alike gathered to discuss and learn from one another about research methods, stakeholder engagement and science communication. The morning started with a panel of professors and professionals who talked about their experiences in stakeholder engagement with their research.

Stakeholders are people who have a share, investment or interest in something like a business or industry. These people are usually interviewed for research purposes or placed in focus groups with other stakeholders.

Penobscot East Resource Center Fisheries, Science & Leadership Advisor Carla Guenther, Ph.D., talked about her experiences with stakeholders on the coast of Maine. “Know what is going on, politically and resource-wise. Know your audience,” Guenther said about her experience with fishermen in Maine. It can feel “very us versus them” when holding meetings and focus groups with fishermen, according to Guenther. This is where linking knowledge and action comes into play; rather than butting heads with stakeholders, it’s important to take academic work and issues and translate them into their simplest forms to keep stakeholders interested and involved.

The workshop provided many opportunities for graduate students, Ph.D. candidates, and professors to discuss and learn from each other and talk about future opportunities in research methods.

The notion to link knowledge and action is a strong theme that is deeply rooted in the foundations of SSI, to strengthen the economic, social and ecological future of Maine. SSI consists of various subgroups and researchers from various academic backgrounds. Under SSI professors guidance, students from science backgrounds team up with people whose backgrounds are in economics or communication to create research projects that make a difference toward improving the sustainability of Maine’s future.

This theme of sustainability has recently emerged in the academic world due to the high pressures on the environment and economics today. The word “sustainable” is defined as the ability to be maintained or kept going, as an action or process.

Although the sustainability is somewhat unclear, SSI is determined to help Maine’s future in more ways than one. The issues in Maine are not far off from other places around the country; public health, the well-being of the state’s economy, as well as environmental issues dealing with climate and landscape changes are all concerns. These issues are widespread, but SSI is hoping to put research in motion to help support the sustainability of the state.