Is a Melting Arctic Making the Arctic Council Too Cool? Exploring the Limits to the Effectiveness of a Boundary Organization

by Jennifer Spence 


The Arctic Council offers an interesting and unexplored case study of boundary work between policy makers, scientific communities, and Indigenous organizations in the circumpolar region. Its notable success can be attributed to the production of high-quality policy products, including the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment and the Arctic Human Development Report—both of which meet the criteria of boundary objects. However, this article goes beyond applying the concept of the boundary organization to inform our understanding of the Arctic Council. Rather, I use the Council as a case study to explore the dynamic environment in which these types of institutions exist. I argue that, as a result of a number of factors, the Arctic Council is being pushed to be more action oriented. Furthermore, I consider the implications of this pressure for the institutional design of the Council and where the Council looks to affirm its credibility, saliency, and legitimacy. I conclude that the Arctic Council’s effectiveness as a boundary organization is being compromised by pressures for it to be more action oriented.

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