Based on the historical development of seasonal rounds and our own recent research (Supplementary Materials 1), we applied this process in a new action research initiative (2015–2021) that would facilitate engagement between communities of practice and enquiry to generate mutual understanding and insights. The project brought together social and biophysical scientists and their students with Indigenous or rural communities in North America and Central Asia (Fig. 1, Table 1; see Supplementary Materials 2 for short descriptions of the study sites). Collaboration in the co-creation of seasonal rounds served as the primary methodology to facilitate communication among participants and generate new insights about the impacts of climate change and possibilities of adaptation to increasing climate variability (Fig. 2, Table 1). Below, we provide a distillation of effective techniques learned through this approach. The process is simultaneously an act of participation and generation of research outcomes.
Long-term research relationships facilitate communication and contribute to a growing trust relationship. In each of the research sites except Oneida Lake, USA, members of the research team had established long working relationships, at least 10 years, with the respective community partners. Awareness of and sensitivity to the diverse cultural contexts further made formation of research partnerships possible. The research team usually initiated the partnership with the secular leadership such as the Tribal Chairman or Village Organization President followed by a similar conversation with local spiritual leaders such as Khalifas, Imams, or Traditional Elders. The conversation with community leaders centered on ecological calendars as a practice with which they could identify both historically and culturally. The project objectives, its collaborative nature, and expected outcomes were also discussed to allow them to assess the potential benefits of this approach for anticipating climatic variation.
Once there was unanimous agreement to proceed with research, we arranged a formal inception workshop accompanied by a meal (Fig. 3). We identified participants representing various ecological professions who could contribute to the process of knowledge cogeneration. Cultural context determined the means of contact. Whereas in North America, participants were contacted by phone, email and letters, in the Pamir Mountains of Central Asia personal visits were necessary. A community leader or key member of the research team visited community members in their homes or fields. Similarly, in the Standing Rock Nation, it was appropriate to visit Elders to invite them to the workshop.
At Oneida Lake, the only research site consisting of non-indigenous Euro-American settlers, the community of enquiry did not have established relationships. However, since, Cornell University has maintained a Biological Field Station at Shackleton Point, located on the south shore of the lake for over 60 years, staff who live within the watershed assisted in identifying potential knowledge holders. In addition, Cornell Cooperative Extension staff from the four counties within the watershed also suggested individuals.
At the inception workshop, we made a formal audio-visual presentation about the project as the participants gathered for a meal. The community of enquirers, including the students, were introduced to the community of practice. The funding agencies and contributing institutions were identified. The objectives of the project were explained and the need for anticipatory capacity for climate change was discussed, linking it specifically to the community’s food and livelihood systems. We described the geographic diversity and locations of all research sites to demonstrate the breadth of the project (Supplementary Materials 2), introduced the notion of ecological calendars and described the connections to the respective community’s ecological context. Finally, the expected outcomes and products resulting from the project were explicitly discussed. Informed consent for participation was obtained. The meal was prepared by a community member but hosted and financed by the community of enquirers. The principal investigators and students served the participants. The meal began with an invocation of thanks usually led by a locally recognized spiritual leader.
In addition to providing the basis for building trust relationships between the community of practice and enquirers, the meal itself was an impetus for a conversation on achievements of local food sovereignty as a key outcome of the project. While the meal was hosted by the community of enquirers, the community of practice also tended to the needs of the hosting-visitors. This event provided an opportunity to learn about their diverse backgrounds, discuss the project and its potential relevance, and tend to one another. The meal was the first concrete event where mutual care and respect were established.
While women were present, their numbers varied according to cultural context, especially in Central Asia (Table 2). For example, in the religiously conservative community of Sary Mogul, trust needed to be established and consent provided by the Aksakals (a Kyrgyz term for male Elders) before researchers could speak with both women and men. Other sociocultural factors led to women participating more in individual interviews than in public events such as the inception and validation workshops. First, the transdisciplinary research group tended to arrive in large teams of scientists and their students, and women were reticent to engage such a large group of outsiders. Second, a few of the women in the villages of Savnob and Roshorv did not consider themselves experts about the local landscape because they were from other villages and had married into the community. Nonetheless, men openly acknowledged the skills of those women, identifying one as a skilled hunter and another as the most knowledgeable orchardist. Third, during the summer field season, the burden of labor on women is high. Women have less time to participate in research due to agricultural as well as domestic responsibilities. The best time to talk to women would be in late autumn, winter, and early spring, but these villages are not accessible at these times because of inclement weather and poor road conditions, and the constraints of the academic calendar. We explicitly acknowledge low participation of women as a weakness. Potentially, graduate students have an opportunity to spend the whole calendar year in communities to access women’s insights and experiences. As the research project is iterative, women’s embodied knowledge needs to inform future research. To ignore women’s knowledge would be perilous for effective transdisciplinary research.
Creating a Common Vocabulary and Mutual Respect for Different Ways of Knowing
Developing seasonal rounds simultaneously requires and establishes a common vocabulary. It also stimulates reciprocal respect for different ways of knowing between and among scientists and local knowledge holders. As the research was undertaken by a multidisciplinary team working across different conceptual paradigms, mutual understanding and respect need to grow from the beginning of the research process. Therefore, to create an enabling environment for cogeneration of knowledge, the valorization of different ways of knowing first had to occur among the members of the community of enquiry for each other; and second, appreciation of the depth, breadth, and diversity of Indigenous or place-based knowledge among the heterogeneous members of the community of practice followed.
Documentation of seasonal rounds is a means of focusing the community of enquiry by providing a common basis to begin their research. During this process, relevant terminologies have to be clarified to ensure mutual understanding between the research team and the local knowledge holders. For example, identifying culturally specific starting points of seasons or how communities understand the notion of “rain”, required conversation. While conducting interviews on a rainy day in Savnob, a rare occurrence in the summer in the Western Pamirs, the research team discovered different understandings of the word “rain”. Although it was raining outside, one of the villagers said that they do not experience rain in the summer. Through discussion the scientists realized that they were using a meteorological definition of rain, which would include any kind of liquid precipitation, while the community members differentiated tsirak pirak, an onomatopoeia for soft rain that does not wet the earth or destroy crops, from sharrast thyad, another onomatopoeia for harder rain that soaks the ground and can damage crops. As it is sharrast thyad that matters to local livelihoods, villagers were only considering the heavier rain when answering questions.
Creating a shared understanding and mutual respect cannot be achieved within one field season. The reoccurrence of research steps required by the effective development of seasonal rounds, including iterative stages of data gathering and validation, provides continuity for the research process. It also sustains long-term relations between the community of enquiry and community of practice. It is through this process that members of the community of practice also began to recognize the heterogeneity of knowledge and experiences among themselves. This creates further opportunities for collaboration and common understanding, so that the research project gains meaning and relevance for all involved.
Development of Seasonal Rounds
As a fundamental component of partnership formation and building trust, the inception workshops were designed to establish at the outset the collaborative process of knowledge generation which is a key tenet of this transdisciplinary research initiative. Therefore, the idea of seasonal rounds was also introduced and collectively visualized. Creation of seasonal rounds at workshops enabled conversation of the phenomenological reality faced by the community of practice with respect to seasonal change, climatic variation, and their respective impacts on the local livelihood and food systems.
The process of discussing and illustrating a seasonal round begins with a facilitator from the community of enquiry explaining the purpose of the activity and explaining how the activity will proceed. The research team places a large sheet of paper printed with a series of concentric circles on the wall. The first questions pertain to the seasons, for example: How do you know the winter has ended? How do you know the next season has begun? How many seasons follow? What are the names of those seasons? The answers to these questions are used to identify important reference points on the seasonal round to which participants can relate other knowledge that emerges through discussion.
Discussion of the seasonal round starts at a specific time of year and proceeds through the seasons. In Standing Rock, the annual cycle begins with the first singing of the Western meadowlark (tȟašíyagmuŋka, Sturnella neglecta), so discussion began with spring and proceeded through subsequent seasons. At Oneida Lake, the conversation started with seasonal changes occurring at the time of the workshop and then moved through the rest of the year. The discussion of processes and events often reminds participants of related phenomena and human activities in seasons that have already been considered, and it is important to document such knowledge whenever it arises. Thus, from the very beginning, developing seasonal rounds is an iterative process, rather than a strictly linear one (Fig. 2).
As the discussion moves from season to season, the facilitator gears questions toward the specific ecological professions within the community. For example, the facilitator might ask herders questions about the time for moving animals, whereas farmers will know more about the best time to plant and harvest each crop, and other relevant agronomic activities. Other knowledge, such as the timing of sociocultural events like festivals and celebrations, are typically shared across the community. Furthermore, one of the roles of the facilitators is to encourage participants to share what may seem to be contradictory knowledge based on different experiences. Engaging this diversity of knowledge is often challenging, especially when some participants are regarded as authorities. Facilitators emphasize that the goal is not to achieve consensus, but to enrich the seasonal round with knowledge derived from a diversity of experience.
Concerns about climate change impacts often arise on their own, but it is important to ask questions about these impacts once most of the seasonal round has been documented. The iterative process allows for emergence and discussion of more observations, concerns, and insights. Therefore, the facilitator asks if participants have noticed any changes in the weather in the past 10 years. Participants often describe the uncertainty and anxiety associated with climate change, particularly the increasing frequency of unusual and extreme weather events. These discussions inform the community of enquiry as to the need for further research that will enhance the anticipatory capacity of the community of practice. In addition to climate change, participants often raise immediate priorities such as access to education, malnutrition, and poverty. The fact that such concerns arise indicates that climate change is already exacerbating existing inequities.
During the process of generating seasonal rounds, members of the research team are assigned various tasks. A community researcher assists with both translation and explanation. In many cases, Elders also help with translation and elaboration across various languages. Another team member records information on the circular diagram so that participants can review what is documented. Different colored markers are used to categorize information, e.g., green is associated with plants, brown with animals, and red with hazards. Meanwhile, other members of the community of enquiry listen attentively and take detailed notes to ensure that the nuances of the conversation are captured from different disciplinary perspectives. If culturally appropriate and accepted by the community, the process is photographed, leaving not only a written but also a complementary visual record. After the community meeting, documentation of the seasonal round continues with individual interviews.
As information through individual and group interviews is gathered, compiled, and analyzed, an empirically rich and more detailed seasonal round emerges. The community of enquirers returns to the respective research site to share their findings through a validation workshop. Again, discussions are first held with the secular and religious leaders. Then a community wide meeting is called, inviting all the original participating members, individual interviewees, and others who are interested to the validation workshop. As in the inception workshop, a locally prepared meal hosted by the research team provides the social context for discussion and insight. A new seasonal round based on information from interviews that has been gathered and analyzed is presented. The key questions are: Is the seasonal round accurate? Did the community of enquirers understand the community of practice? What was misunderstood? What is missing? Validation workshops were conducted at all research sites between 2018 and 2019 (Table 2).
The process allows for corrections, greater nuance, more information, and new insights. At the validation workshop in the village of Savnob, participants arrived 45 minutes early at the local schoolhouse, keen to get started and ask questions. An important new insight from the workshop was that ploughing depends on the availability of oxen. There are six oxen available in Savnob, and a pair is required for ploughing. Villagers must borrow extra oxen from the village of Roshorv at the start of Spring. Therefore, even if biophysical cues indicate time for ploughing, there is a delay based on availability of oxen. This shows that when designing an ecological calendar, other factors such as availability of labor and other resources influence livelihood activities that are informed by seasonal indicators.
At the validation workshop in Roshorv, an important correction to the collected information was that villagers also had agricultural lands in the nearby village of Yapshorv, which is located at a lower altitude. There is at least a 25 to 30-day time lag in key agricultural activities between Yapshorv and Roshorv. Lands from both these villages contributed to the food security of the people of Roshorv, so it was necessary to disaggregate the seasonal indicators that had been collected for these two villages. Furthermore, it became clear during validation that physical hazards may serve as cues for livelihood activities. Increasingly, landslides are a major threat to mountain communities resulting from environmental degradation and then exacerbated by climate change. In fact, villagers explained that a major landslide and subsequent destruction of houses in Yapshorv led to the settlement of Roshorv. Over time, as landslides become part of the seasonal cycle of mountain communities, villagers have developed capacity to anticipate their impact on their livelihood activities. For example, in Yapshorv, farmers associate the first landslide with the ripening of apricots.
In transdisciplinary research, it takes time for a common understanding and insights to emerge. For instance, until the validation workshop in Sary Mogul, it was not apparent that Kyrgyz communities had historically used ecological calendars. However, during the validation workshop it became clear the cosmological relationships were embedded and informed by their habitat. This aspect of a universally shared practice was simultaneously accompanied by biophysical indicators that are unique to the cosmology of this particular agropastoral culture conveying their ecological and cultural distinctiveness (Fielstrup, 2002: 210–217; Schuyler, 1877: 329). The validation workshop firmly corroborated the shared legacy of ecological calendars across diverse ethnicities, ecological professions, and geographical locations.
Validation at Standing Rock Sioux Nation was conducted in six communities in October 2018 after similar workshops had been organized in the Pamirs. As a result, the research team had identified effective techniques that could be modified for these Native American communities to facilitate greater communication. For example, data collected during the first phase were presented in two forms: first, a seasonal round in table format as in the Pamirs; and second, a circular diagram in which the same information had been digitized (Fig. 4). As at the other sites, these validation activities were extremely important in that they revealed shortcomings of previous data and elicited more knowledge, in part due to participation of different individuals, and because participants could more easily envision the ultimate value of the research. As in Pamir communities, celestial indicators, such as the sun and moon are utilized by communities not as fixed occurrences in time but in direct relation to biophysical events such as “the moon when the cherries are black” or “the moon of snow blindness.”
At the validation workshop in the Oneida Lake watershed, information was presented as both a table and a circular diagram to facilitate discussion, correction, and new insights. The validation workshop was different in character and content than the project inception workshop. At Oneida Lake, the majority of the Euro-American settler community did not accept the existence of anthropogenic climate change on ideological grounds. However, in the validation workshop, discussion of climate change was much more nuanced, and the ideological divide was not a significant factor; collaboration and adaptation were seen as the priority. Furthermore, the conversation conveyed a greater sense of urgency. Keeping in mind that the project was initiated in 2016 during an unusually dry season where farmers had to cull their herds due to a lack of fodder; two and half years later, there was a palpable anxiety associated with livelihood activities being affected by unusual weather events. Moreover, valuable insights regarding the relationship between the fixed photoperiod and changing temperatures and precipitation were discussed in terms of impact on fish, plants, and poultry. Participants not only represented their own ecological professions but also represented various community associations, taking a long-term view and showing a concern for future generations. As in Standing Rock, there was a deep concern about loss of local ecological knowledge among the youth related to beekeeping, farming, fishing, herding, hunting, and orcharding. The dignity, mutual respect, mindfulness and care demonstrated by the participants at the validation workshops in the Oneida Lake watershed reflected similar qualities found among Elders in Indigenous communities in Central Asia and Standing Rock.
As an iterative process, the seasonal round facilitates validation at vital stages in the transdisciplinary process. It also provides an opportunity to identify areas of difference and synthesis which are essential to any knowledge cogeneration process. First, the validation process is about testing the credibility of the co-generated knowledge; specifically identifying seasonal indicators for developing anticipatory capacity to anthropogenic climate change. Second, it is also an exercise in communication by illustrating the value of each of the various knowledge systems and combining the diversity of expertise found within the community of enquirers as well as community of practice. Unlike the blind peer review process, in this form of validation, difference is valorized as community members and researchers engage in discussion to establish mutual understanding. Participants can see and respond to each other, using verbal as well as non-verbal communication. The process is transparent and shared, hence engendering dialog and reflection.
Because the research team is visiting the community of practice, there is opportunity for further collaborative reflection and new insights may emerge even after the formal validation meeting has concluded. In fact, after the validation there were opportunities for additional interviews and data collection related to specific biophysical indicators. Whereas in each of our study sites, one validation workshop has been conducted, it can be possible that several validation stages are needed or that further development of certain details have to be pursued.
Final validation workshops presenting a draft ecological calendar for each of the research sites were scheduled for 2020 but are delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These validation workshops will present drafts of ecological calendars for use and implementation by each community. The ecological calendar will be framed by the transdisciplinary understanding gained by the co-generative process described above. Each ecological calendar will be simultaneously particular and universal. It will be unique as framed within the cosmology and ecological context of each research site and common in that it will be conveyed in a vocabulary and methodology familiar to all the communities so that they may be able to share insights with each other.
Vista to Specific Disciplinary Research
The relationality revealed by articulating the seasonal round of each research site enables the members of the community of enquiry to (1) find elements within the rich information provided that was directly relevant to their respective discipline, and (2) to recognize the research pathway, value, and role of each contributing element from the varied ways of knowing assembled to the overall research aim. The process of generating the seasonal round simultaneously spurs humility by illustrating what is not known as well as generates mutual respect by showing the contributions other ways of knowing can make to one’s own discipline and understanding. This sets the stage for further transdisciplinary research feeding into the process of developing ecological calendars:
Ethnographic interviews were undertaken to gather biophysical indicators, cues, and sequences of seasonal livelihood activities.
Weather stations and soil loggers were installed in the mountain communities to measure key meteorological variables, as no long-term data records exist.
Vegetation cameras were installed to monitor intra-annual changes in phenology and snow cover.
Information on the vegetative and reproductive development of key agricultural species, as well as planting and harvesting times, was recorded with the assistance of farmers to use for phenological forecast modelling based on climate conditions.
Farmers and herders were asked to keep diaries and take regular photographs to document phenology and weather conditions.
Long-term regional climate data were downscaled and complemented with community observations (Haag et al., 2021).
Having established the collaborative process, while walking through the village, people came out to tell stories, and wanted to show their gardens, greenhouses and other agricultural operations. This strong engagement of community members can provide further insights and inform new research ideas.
Insight into Seasonal Change
Any strategy to anticipate seasonal weather dynamics and adapt to climate change needs to be grounded in the local sociocultural and ecological context. Climate models can capture regional weather processes but lack seasonal deterministic forecasting capacity at the scale of a village or valley, particularly in complex topographies (Hall, 2014; Kassam et al., 2018). During the validation process in the three Pamir communities, climate scientists were invited to present results of a regional climate analysis to initiate a two-way learning process and to start discussions about weather processes at the local scale (Haag et al., 2019). By sharing those results, communities can provide new insights on how local climate and weather conditions differ from the regional level. Those insights are particularly valuable, as local-scale climate records are scarce across the Pamirs and regional data sets cannot accurately capture small-scale variations of temperature and precipitation in complex terrain. For example, residents of Roshorv confirmed that they perceive a warming trend in spring, autumn and winter, but they disagreed with regional climate model data that summer is warming. In Savnob, further insights about changes in the timing of snow were shared, and in Sary Mogul community members disagreed that seasons are warming at all, except for winter. Building anticipatory capacity requires an understanding of local weather patterns and microclimatic conditions over the long-term. Microclimates are often oversimplified in large scale studies and gaining insight into their impact can be difficult and time consuming (Potter et al., 2013). From the standpoint of communities of enquiry, a genuinely transdisciplinary methodology is necessary to engage the communities of practice who hold such knowledge and co-generate new systems that enhance their abilities to anticipate change.
Seasonal rounds are context-specific and, therefore, serve as an entry point for understanding a community’s sociocultural and ecological relationality. When collected from heterogeneous community members such as farmers, fishers, herders, hunters, orchardists and so on, the insights are revealing to the community of enquiry as well as to the community of practice. For the enquirers, the process yields theoretical insights about the relationship between climate data and local ecosystems, such as phenological indicators that maintain synchronies with seasonal change. For community members, a focused discussion of the seasonal round provides an opportunity to synthesize diverse knowledge about the seasonal rhythms of their habitat emerging from different livelihood activities.
Although much of this work has been conducted with Indigenous communities, the Oneida Lake watershed provided an opportunity to engage a predominately Euro-American settler community. Some of the workshop participants and interviewees in Oneida Lake were skeptical about anthropogenic climate change; however, they were excited to engage in a discussion of their seasonal activities, and willing to talk about how changes in the weather have affected their own livelihood activities. The discussion of seasonal rounds created a space for engagement around common interests and concerns, avoiding assumptions based on political or ideological positions or affiliations. In a telling moment, the lead principal investigator asked a participant, who is a hunter and tour operator: “What are your priorities and concerns?” After some hesitation, he answered: “I don’t know. I need time to think. We have never been asked about our needs. We are [usually] asked to take surveys.” After a long pause he began listing concerns that directly linked his seasonal livelihood activities to the ability to anticipate climatic variation. The process of making seasonal rounds facilitated genuine engagement. At this early stage in research, the primary role of the community of enquiry is to listen. A foundational element of using seasonal rounds is the understanding that knowledge does not emanate from the heads of experts but through a community of practice’s engagement with their habitat. Thus, creating a responsive space, to co-generate original, empirical insights about seasonal change.
The overall process of engagement makes explicit the seasonal round, which requires the participation of the community of practice, who have not observed it in its full scope with the heterogeneity of points of view and nuanced detail according to varied community members. The role of the community of enquiry in the co-creation is not only contributing diverse expertise but integrating knowledge with different insights provided by community members, tying it together, only to revisit it collectively and iteratively.