Innovation and Anthropology

Innovator-292x300Innovation is an interesting word, and one with multiple meanings.  According to our friend Webster, ‘innovation’ produces a new idea, device, or method and includes the act or process of introducing these new ideas, devices, or methods to a particular audience.  As I continue to navigate my doctoral research project in the Peace Country, one that is focused on the social aspects of work and community, I find that innovation can mean much more.

Grande Prairie, by any definition, is innovative.  A friend recently visited me, and remarked that there was a certain buzz about town, an energy.  It is a place where opportunity seems limitless, and where an idea and some ‘gumption’ can set you on a road to success.  On an average day, you can meet any number of self-starters, entrepreneurs, and inventors.  You can meet people with drive, ambition, ability, and more – and that is just in the grocery line at Superstore.

GPWhen I came to GP in November of 2012, I wasn’t yet keyed into this energy; I was simply looking for a community to engage for the purposes of doing some ethnographic research – which is an academic way of saying I wanted to talk to people about what they did for work, where they lived, and what they had to say about their jobs and communities.  Happily, I have succeeded here in ways beyond what I had envisioned, and along the way, have found that word, innovation, so often cropping up in conversation.

What I have learned is, on the ground, innovation often means improving communication and profitability – it implies forward momentum or progress.  Many people would agree that this is good thing, especially those invested in local industry and business.  As an anthropologist, someone who studies culture, I have been interested to learn what sorts of things innovation can offer in addition to increasing bottom lines.  As time passed, I began to see opportunities for innovative thinking and strategies in terms of improving relations between the public and the giants of industry.  If you talk to anyone in and around Grande Prairie, chances are if they do not work in industry, they most certainly know someone who does (and, more often, a whole bunch of somebodies).  This means that many people have a vested interest in the long term sustainability of industry, and this is one area where innovation’s rubber can meet industry’s road.  Improved communication, increased transparency, and the fostering of better, more equitable relations with industrial stakeholders in the local community (landowners, residents, and migrants, for example) are all avenues that can benefit from innovative thinking.

For innovation to flourish ideas, people, passion, and action are required.  What can you offer?

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