Sunday, May 24, 2020

CDSN, Year 1! Woot!

Exactly a year ago, we had our launch party for the Canadian Defence and Security Network [CDSN].  We had a good time after having a very productive meeting.  We have done much since then even as the pandemic has shifted some of our activities, postponed others, and set us in new directions. 

What have been the highlights of the past year?
    Melissa and Jeff after
    very busy first month
  • Building a team.  Melissa Jennings, our Director of Communications, not only built a pretty cool looking and functional webpage almost overnight, but also developed the skills to be our podcast producer.  Plus she brings excellent ideas and energy to everything we do.  Some of our latest COVID initiatives are largely her idea.  Jeffrey Rice, our Project Coordinator, not only organizes our events but manages our reimbursements.  He has used his connections in Canada and what he learned along the way to getting his PhD to take the Year Ahead and make it a signature CDSN event.  Alas, he is being hired away from us to be an Assistant Professor at Macewan University. 
    Pre-launch dinner with Erin and Stéphane on either side
    of me, Irina, Jeff, JC, Stef, Anessa, and Alvine across
    from me from back to front.
    Stéphane Plante will be joining us officially in July to take over from Jeffrey, but she has already become engaged in our meetings and our efforts.  Alvine Nintai, our PhD student/research assistant, helped us get the grant in the first place with her mastery of SSHRC processes and of excel spreadsheet checklists.  Since then, she has been both a vital voice for doing things for graduate students and a very helpful researcher for the podcast and for our other efforts.  We have also gotten much help at Carleton from Kevin Nzomo and Nora Kearns as well as NPSIA's staff, especially Coleen Kornelson. 
  • The podcast: Battle Rhythm It was one of the first and one of the hardest things we started.  Because Stéfanie and I were both on the road so much in June and July, it was more challenging.  But we got a cool logo, we figured out how to do it, Melissa has given us great ideas, and we have been able to interview many interesting people along the way.  CGAI has been most helpful in getting us launched, so that our joke about having only seven listeners is far, far off.  My sister regularly chats with me about the podcast, and she would have been voted Saideman Least Interested in Political Stuff. So, woot for us on that.  And the best part is I get to chat with Stef every other week.  
  • Anessa Kimball leading
    Security Theme workshop
  • Four workshops.  We were supposed to have five, but the last one, dedicated to personnel issues, got postponed due to COVID.  We have five theme teams working on specific research agendas, and we made much progress before the pandemic hit.  I attended the Security, Civ-Mil, and Procurement workshops (missed the Operations one).  I learned much at these events and was glad to see the seeds we had planted via the years of grant applications starting to grow.  I have no doubt that these teams will produce important and interesting research.
Susan Woodward
  • We had the first Paterson Chair talk with Susan Woodward presenting.  I have been a fan of her stuff since I studied the demise of Yugoslavia as it was happening nearly thirty years ago.  The talk was fascinating, and the boat of sushi we had afterwards was awesome.

    Katherine McInnis was a kickass keynote
  • We had our best Year Ahead conference.  Originally, a NPSIA research centre (CSIDS) event, it is now a CDSN event.  We had a great crowd this year, several really interesting panels, and a very informative and often moving fireside chat on diversity and inclusion in defence and security.

The Year Ahead's Fireside Chat on Diversity and Inclusion with
Kristine St. Pierre, Leila Adler, Bonnie Jenkins and Shawn Skelly

  • We held our Capstone event just as the pandemic was about to close everything down.  We brought the best of 2019's defence and security presentations from across Canada to the Canadian Forces College for a series of presentations.  It was great to see these mostly emerging scholars present their stuff.  CFC was a great host, and we hope to do this again.  However, we probably will not do so in 2021 for the simple reason that we will not have many 2020 conferences from which to get Capstone nominees.  Alas. 
  • We were asked by Canadian Special Forces Command to hold a roundtable to help them get alternative perspectives about the threats down the road.
  • We brought on three new partners: the US Air Force College, the Daillaire Centre of Excellence for Peace and Security, and the European Research Group on Military and Society [ERGOMAS].  Not only do they bring much energy and new ideas to our network, but it gives us some new focal points for future efforts.  And, yes, I had to go to Lisbon last summer to help solidify ERGOMAS as a partner and then to Paris to recruit another potential partner.  And,
    well, yes, Barcelona happens to be between the two.  It was a great summer of travel, sigh.  
  • We had a COVID Response Conference online last month that produced a briefing note and helped us figure out what we can and cannot do online.  We hope that our findings will help the government, and they certainly will drive our research agenda.
  • We have involved graduate students in our activities at HQ, and I know our theme teams have involved students in efforts around the country.  A key CDSN objective is to foster a new generation, a more diverse and inclusive group, for the future of the Canadian defence and security community, and I feel we are making good progress.  As part of that effort, we are launching a Summer Seminar for Phd students who may be lacking in opportunities to present and network with the pandemic cancelling many conferences and workshops.

What have been the lowlights?  Yes, there have been lowlights.
  • The pandemic has caused postponements of our Personnel workshop and our Summer Institute.  We will not have a Capstone event in early 2020 either.  We are figuring out now how to use the resources we have not spent this year down the road.
  • Opencanada, one of the original CDSN partners, has been sent into a coma thanks to budget cuts.  We will find other outlets for our research, but we regret losing this vital outlet.
  • The pandemic also got in the way of some networking.  I was planning to go to South Africa this summer to connect with the International Sociology Association's Research Committee on Armed Forces and Conflict Resolution.  While they are already a partner, I wanted to meet with their members as improving our inter-disciplinarity is one of our goals.
I am probably forgetting some highlights and lowlights, as it has been a very busy year.  While the pandemic has hampered some of our efforts, I think the adaptations we have made prove that the CDSN has not just met but exceeded our expectations for what we can be doing. 

I have been so lucky to have such a great team--the co-Directors and the HQ staff--that have done all of the heavy lifting.  I am so very grateful for their support and the enthusiasm we have received from the various actors in the Defence and Security community.  It has been a hard few months for Canada and especially a hard few weeks for the Canadian Armed Forces with losses off of Greece and in the skies out west.  I hope that we can provide some solace to those in and around the defence and security sector via a more connected community. 

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