Monday, May 24, 2021

CDSN, Year 2: More Zoom, Still Woot!

 Two years ago was the Canadian Defence and Security Network's official launch, and I marked here last year the progress in the first year, so why not do it again?  We had to re-arrange stuff and cancel some activities because of the pandemic, but, as I keep saying, COVID reveals the weaknesses and the strengths of organizations just like it reveals pre-existing conditions in people.  Overall, the CDSN responded well to the shocks, as our forthcoming annual report will make clear.  Using the framework I started with last year, I will note the highlights and the lowlights and the next steps.  I am very proud of our team and how we made our way through the quarantine and made some contributions along the way.

So, what have been the highlights?

  • Continuing to build an excellent team.  Melissa Jennings, our Director of Communications, now is responsible for two podcasts as we added Conseils de Sécurité (more on that below) to BattleRhythm.  She has built a respository for all of our publications, she has managed the Youtube account that holds the videos of our events, she mostly runs the team of research assistants She is the glue that holds the CDSN together.  Stephanie Plante serves as our Project Coordinator for the year before moving on next month.  Her energy was most welcome during our many zoom meetings, and she helped out on a number of fronts including budgeting and event planning.  We had a new team of research assistants.  Paxton Mayer helped keep the podcast updated with news reports, produced the Year Ahead report, and did much research along the way.  Our team of MA students--Vincent Belanger, Evelyne Goulet, and Graeme Hopkins--were super helpful, including translating some of our activities into French, supporting the podcast, helping us run our various events, and engaging in random bits of research as we went along.  I'd include a picture of all us working together, but I have not met any of them in person except Paxton.  Given the stresses of the year and the challenges of working through zoom, these students exceeded all expectations, and I am very grateful for everything they did.  Again, the folks at Carleton, especially Sherry LaPlante in the research accounting office, did tremendous work for us.
  • We have doubled our podcasts! Conseils de Sécurité hosted by Sarah-Myriam Martin-Brûlé and Thomas Juneau is a joint venture with RSA-NSA, producing podcasts in French.  They kicked off by interviewing the Minister of Foreign Affairs and have kept up the pace quite well. Stef vH and I had a very good year, improving the rhythm of BattleRhythm, making it less of a grind on Melissa and Stef.  The highest highlight was the recent joint interview of Deputy Minister of Defence Jody Thomas and Acting Chief of Defence Staff LGen Wayne Eyre.  The crisis of misconduct and abuse of power has been a steady drumbeat (yeah, I know what I am doing) for the past several months on the podcast, so this joint interview was the culmination of that.  We have gotten much positive feedback, although I still don't really know who listens besides my sister.  
  • Our five research themes held workshops this year online and produced a quite a bit of research.  I am so grateful to the co-directors of the CDSN for leading these efforts despite the tough times.  The CDSN survey, with the Nanos firm, one of our partners, will be a public good for scholars of Canadian defence and security.  It produced interesting results, and the rollout, led by JC Boucher, gave it much visibility in government and beyond.  We will be doing another one in year 6 of the grant. 
  • Our annual events went very well.  We held online versions of the Year Ahead and of the Capstone.  The Year Ahead included panels on China, comparing pandemic responses, greyzone warfare, a great diversity fireside chat, and the keynote conversation with Ambassador for Women, Peace, and Security Jacqueline O'Neil.  It didn't have the same networking punch as there were no lines for coffee or lunch for folks to meet and chat, but we had sharp people provide insightful perspectives about the stuff on the near horizon.  The Capstone event, which aims to give a platform to the best presentations from our partners and contributors across Canada, highlighted a variety of interesting work.  Again, I regret that the networking component suffered, but two Capstones in the books means it is now an institution!  
  • More new partners! We added two new organizations to our roster of partners: the aforementioned Network for Strategic Analysis and L’Institut militaire de Québec.  It was not planned but was not entirely a coincidence that our two new partners are Francophone entities.  The CDSN is also the RCDS, and although I am linguistically lame, our network is not.  Having partners focused on activities and entities in Quebec [IMQ] and building bridges between the Francophone and English communities [NSA] helps the CDSN be a truly national, coast to coast community.  
  • Our first post-doc and our first book workshop!  Linna Tam-Seto is/was our first post-doc.  She fit in very well with the Personnel Theme, as she worked on mentoring, gender, and the Canadian Armed Forces.  Her work was quite timely, making her a natural interview target for the Canadian media as the CAF leadership crisis reverberated.  Stephanie Martel was our first Book Workshop victim/winner, as we had a team of folks scrub her book so that it would find a good press.  Her work on Asian security communities was most interesting, and I look forward to seeing it in print soon.
  • We had our first Undergraduate Excellence Scholars: Ozan Ayata and Stella-Luna Ha.  The aim of this effort is to get undergraduates, especially those from traditionally underrepresented communities, interested in defence and security and involved in our efforts.  Stella and Ozan played a role in our Capstone, and we will be seeking other means by which to engage in undergraduates in our efforts. 
  • We held a second COVID response conference where we asked more government agencies for questions, and we produced recently a memo that gave our responses in a short format.
  • We worked with Organizations in Solidarity in the aftermath of last year's police violence to learn how we can do better to elevate the voices of racialized communities in Canada.  This has led to us consulting people from a variety of perspectives and getting proposals from different EDI consulting groups.  We are still figuring out our approach.  The conversations have been productive. 

Lowlights? Yes, alas.

  • The pandemic caused us to cancel the first Summer Institute.  We will hold this summer's institute online.  I am looking forward to it, but all of our meetings that got moved online just aren't the same--a key part of the CDSN is to build networks bridging various divides.  Much harder to do so when people don't meet in person.  I have vowed to have a social event once we can to bring together many of the people who we have met online so that we can meet in person.
  • We didn't have a Paterson Chair talk since we want that to be an in-person event.
  • We have had some churn, as my military friends would say, in our team.  We are hiring to replace Stephanie P, which means time spent on hiring and training, which means more work for Melissa.  The new project coordinator will be our third in three years.  I am hoping this position does not become the Spinal Tap drummer spot.  This is normal for our kind of enterprise, but it does, well, disturb our rhythm.  
  • Our grant efforts did not pan out this year.  We have enough funds to do what we need to do, but not enough to do what we want to do.  We came close, but did not finish in the money.  The good news is that our efforts were quite good and we should be competitive next year.

We've been lucky that our kind of stuff can be moved online, and we have been determined to make things work despite the complexities.   Our online events have worked out well, and we will have more tricks up our sleeves after the pandemic.   I am so very grateful for the patience, enthusiasm, and insights that the various folks working in the CDSN and those working with the CDSN have provided over the past year.  Hard to believe we are into year 3.  Rock on, Canadian defence and security community.

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