by Erin Knuttila 

Erin pic

This article is a brief update on the work that several graduate students on the VACEA project have been doing with the interview data they collected last summer.  Using a community-oriented approach, students conducted both community vulnerability assessments (CVAs) and governance assessments of the specific Canadian VACEA study sites.  In February and March of 2012 both CVA and Governance interviews were conducted in Rush Lake, Saskatchewan as part of the assessment.  Similarly, in May and the beginning of June interviews were conducted in Pincher Creek Alberta.  During the end of June and into July the assessment continued in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan and finally in July 2012 interviews were completed in Taber/Lethbridge, Alberta.  The Blood Tribe in Alberta is the final community that will be studied as a part of the Canadian portion of the VACEA project; however, appropriate methodological changes may be required in this First Nations community given the historical impacts of colonialism and marginalization.

 The following chart shows the total number of interviews that were conducted in each community:



Community Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) Interviews 

Governance Assessment Interviews

Rush Lake






Pincher Creek






Blood Tribe

To be conducted

To be conducted






The objective of the Community Vulnerability Assessment (CVA) has been to develop a systematic understanding of the present and past vulnerabilities of rural actors to extreme climate events.  This has been done first by identifying some key informants in each community.  These were considered to be people who are active within the community, including community organizers and leaders.  We began by conducting individual interviews with these key informants and during the conclusion of each interview we asked them to suggest potential participants for further interviews.  Sampling was done utilizing a snowball approach and we would often ask respondents to identify other potential participants representing a diversity of different viewpoints.  Interviews started with semi-structured questions followed by open-ended interview questions.  All interviews were transcribed, and the coding of interviews using NVivo software is almost complete.  Coding the interview transcripts allows for further data analysis to draw out themes in participant responses.

The Governance Assessment interviews serve as an exploration of the network of actors, institutions, relationships, organizations and entities involved in managing water resources and responding to climate variability, hazards and extreme events in the selected communities.  These interviews focused on organizational responsiveness and flexibility, how organizations plan for climate variability, existing organizational capacity, and the capacity of organizations to deal with future climate extremes.  There are several levels of governance in the communities, so interviews included those involved in governance at the local and municipal level including stewardship groups, water Co-ops, NGOs, watershed organizations, irrigation districts, mayors, town administration, reeves, municipal councils and those involved in emergency responses.  Similarly, at the provincial level those involved in water infrastructure were interviewed along with respondents from Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, Alberta Environment, Alberta Wilderness, conservation officers, Saskatchewan Environment and the Government of Saskatchewan.  


From both the CVA interviews and the governance interviews we have aimed to identify current and future vulnerabilities and adaptive strategies as a means of drawing conclusions about both vulnerability and resilience to climate extremes in the individual communities.


While data analysis is still underway some common themes are emerging from the coded interviews.  In general, participants have attributed climate variability to three main causes: natural climate cycles, human activity and God.  More specifically, in Rush lake there was a common concern among participants about the PFRA (Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration) divestiture.  In Shaunavon one major concern was the lack of health care providers but there was a generally positive perception of the oil industry and their assistance in emergency response.   In Pincher Creek respondents seemed divided on their opinions of industrial development in the area and there was a very high level of environmental awareness among respondents.  Taber respondents spoke about the continuous improvement of irrigation technology in the area and how the drought of 2001-2002 led to local level cooperation on water related rights, such as the Water Sharing Act.  The role of religion and strong individualism was thematic in the transcripts as well.  In all communities some common adaptive practices used by participants to adapt to climate variability include crop diversification, minimum tillage, rotational grazing for water management and shifting their calving season. These general findings are very preliminary in nature.  Once all interview transcripts are coded, a much more systematic data analysis will be undertaken using NVivo and we are looking forward to sharing more concrete findings.