Ashlee-Ann Pigford, Ph.D.

BAhonours (Anthropology), University of Alberta; MSc (Nutrition and Metabolism), University of Alberta; Ph.D. (Renewable Resources), McGill University


Interests: Knowledge flow, Knowledge translation, Arctic research, Innovations ecosystems


Ph.D. Thesis:




The Arctic is one of the world’s most rapidly changing regions and is facing a series of unprecedented and complex challenges. It has been argued that science-informed innovation will be key in supporting sustainable regional development and improved policy outcomes. Despite significant and increasing public investment in Arctic research, Northern communities continue to assert that existing research governance structures have been unable to create public value, failing to deliver research that reflects public expectations, interests, and innovation needs. Given that little is known about how Arctic scientific research is embedded in broader innovation and value creation processes, this dissertation takes a systems approach to examine the complex and dynamic governance contexts that shape how networked scientific research creates public value in the Canadian Arctic.

It begins with a literature review that connects the concepts of innovation ecosystems and public value with Canada’s efforts to guide Northern and Arctic research to identify salient challenges and opportunities relevant to research and innovation policy. Then, the remainder of the dissertation examines public value creation processes by focusing on the instrumental case of ArcticNet, a large Canadian research network responsible for connecting public, private, government, not-for-profit and Indigenous stakeholders to study the impacts of climate change in the Arctic with the goal of informing adaptation strategies and national policies. This empirical research focused on three levels of organization: 1) networked scientific research actors; 2) a network administrative organization; and 3) institutional mechanisms for delegating authority. A Social Network Analysis was conducted to map the configuration of science-based innovation actors in ArcticNet and its evolution over a 13-year period. Results suggest that the network was centralized around non-local public-sector actors who played central boundary spanning roles that facilitated collaboration, while local Arctic actors had an increasing propensity for carrying out boundary spanning roles and closing structural holes in the network. Next, the Network Administrative Organization (NAO) was used as the unit of analysis to explore the network-level public values associated with ArcticNet to inform network-level evaluation strategies. Public Value Mapping revealed that the NAO targeted diverse publics, seeking to create a range of public values that were identified both at the outset of the network and emerging later. Results point to the need for research networks to improve clarity in value articulation across public facing documents and different scales (e.g., research versus network impacts). Suggestions for improved network-level evaluation include: 1) the development of more holistic evaluation tools that better assess dynamic and emergent network-level public values, 2) engaging multiple publics in evaluation efforts, 3) explicit articulation of how network boundaries are drawn for evaluation purposes, and 4) the design of policies that support value articulation in complex networks, which may in turn improve public value creation. Turning to the larger contract between science and society, principal-agent theory and the public value Strategic Triangle were used to identify the overlapping, multi-level principal-agent contracts for delegating public value creation in Arctic science. Findings illustrate that the adoption of networked models for science governance corresponded with a trend towards contracting roles for public value management to Arctic scientific research actors; however, it remains unclear how core elements of public value management (i.e., identifying public value, political legitimacy and operational capacity) have been realized.

This dissertation presents new insights into the complex, networked and multi-dimensional nature of Arctic scientific research governance in Canada, raising important questions about how publicly-funded research efforts can be designed to enhance public value, with potential implications for the strategic design and operation of Arctic research efforts, as well as for regional research and innovation policy.


Awards and Scholarships:

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canadian Graduate Scholarship: Doctoral (2017-2020)

Graduate Excellence Award, McGill University (2016)

NSERC-CREATE Environmental Innovation Research and Training Program Graduate Student Stipend, McGill University (2016-19).

Graduate Student Mobility Award, McGill University (2016).


Project Publications:

Pigford, A., Hickey, G.M. and Klerkx, L. (2022). Networks for science-informed innovation in the Arctic: Insights on the structure and evolution of a Canadian research network. Arctic 75(2): 161-179.

Pigford, A., Darling, S., Hickey, G.M. (2018). The need to better unpack the transaction costs associated with northern research in Canada. Arctic Yearbook: 491-499 [online].

Pigford, A., Hickey, G.M. and Klerkx, L. (2018). Beyond Agricultural Innovation Systems? Exploring an Agricultural Innovation Ecosystems approach for niche design and development in sustainability transitions. Agricultural Systems 164: 116–121.

Pigford, A., Hickey, G.M. and Klerkx, L. (2017). Towards innovation (eco)systems: Enhancing the public value of scientific research in the Canadian Arctic. Arctic Yearbook [online].


My full list of research publications prior to joining the lab can be found on Google Scholar.