Postgraduate course: “Conflicting demands in European Forests – a wicked problem?”

International on-site postgraduate course in the Last Wilderness of Boreal Europe and under the MidnightSun
Conflicting demands in European Forests – a wicked problem?
Sunday 24 June – Monday 2 July 2018
Gällivare, Sweden
part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Laponia”


All across Europe, we see examples of areas in which various stakeholders try to use or even exploit the land such that it optimises their demands. Often times, these demands conflict between stakeholders. For instance, nature conservationists may attempt to maintain the area in a natural state, while local industry (forestry, mining, agriculture) may try to exploit the land maximally. The tourism sector, on the other hand, may wish to use the area for recreational purposes, potentially pressurizing the environment. And of course, the local community has its demands for land use.

More and more, decision makers are confronted with such conflicting demands when trying to develop sustainable land-use strategies. This may lead to a so-called wicked problem; a complex issue that defies complete definition, for which there can be no final solutions since any resolution generates further issues, and where solutions are not true or false or good or bad, but the best that can be done at the time.

Scientists working on these wicked problems need to be trained to work in trans-, multi- and interdisciplinary teams of experts with various different scientific backgrounds, such as ecologists, economists, political, and social scientists. This course aims to teach them the skills they need for working in diverse teams, by means of a real-life case. The course is focused around Gällivare, a small town in the north of Sweden. Here we find the “last wilderness of Boreal Europe”, part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site with large nature reserves and national parks. At the same time, it has an active mining industry, forestry, reindeer herding and tourism. It is a perfect place for land use and land use change discussions.

The idea of this course is to bring Ph.D. candidates and postdocs from various countries and cultural backgrounds, and working in different scientific disciplines but related to European forests, together in a professional on-site training course. As multidisciplinary teams, we will introduce them to the various stakeholders, and allow them to collect necessary data that can help them to ultimately present a sustainable, long-term land-use strategy for the case study area or for a representative area elsewhere in Europe.

To enable the participants to really develop their skills in multidisciplinary research, and to ensure that they are coming up with robust and innovative solutions that can be extrapolated to other areas across Europe or the world, we will bring in a team of expert scientists from across Europe. These will be people with expertise in European forest ecology, but also experts from industry, economics, sociology, and policy. We will also organise excursions and interactions to and with local stakeholders, such as the local community, the local mining company Boliden Mineral AB and the state forestry service Sveaskog AB.

Course set-up

The course is planned to run for 9 days at the end of June 2018. It starts on Sunday 24 June in the late afternoon with welcome drinks, followed by introductory poster pitches of the participants, and concluded by an opening lecture about the general theme and aims of the course. Then, from Monday until Saturday there will be lectures in the morning on specific topics by experts of the partner institutes and/or from outside. Lectures will cover all interdisciplinary aspects related to conflicting demands in land-use. From forests and forest management in Europe to social and sustainability aspects, as well as economics, industrial innovation, and governance. In the afternoons, participants will work in small teams on a specific group work assignment. This will allow participants to link their theoretical knowledge with real-life challenges, aimed at finding solutions for the issues of our times!

The international experts will be present for most or all of the course to interact with the participants and to provide input for the group assignment. In the evenings, there may be some leisure lectures by invited speakers or local stakeholders. On Sunday, there will be no official programme, and people can explore the region a bit more. Then, on Monday, the group projects are finalised. On the last morning, the course is concluded by presentations of the group work, followed by a general wrap-up of the course and evaluation of the course aims. Finally, after a goodbye lunch, all can make their way home.

During the course, several excursions and field visits are planned to various stakeholders, and into the local area, to allow for interaction and exchange of ideas with the stakeholders, and to illustrate the challenges faced with regards to the conflicting demands that are at hand.

Course Organisers

This course is organised by a consortium of European Universities (SLU, WUR, BOKU, SGGW, KU-SCIENCE, and CULS) under the umbrella of the EuroLeague for Life Sciences, and under the auspices of the Graduate School for Production Ecology & Resource Conservation (PE&RC) of Wageningen University.

More Information

(Segnalato da: Giuseppe Scarascia Mugnozza)