And now the hard part …

Last month we hosted a summit in Vancouver, BC Canada on invasive arthropod species. Maybe you heard about it.  The idea was to get some really smart people who care about finding solutions to the invasive species challenge together to talk about where we are now in terms of management issues and where we, as a global society, need to be. Plus we wanted to develop a compelling narrative that we could use to develop talking points as a way to get others (including, and perhaps most especially, lawmakers) engaged on seeking solutions. It was perhaps a little audacious in that we tried to do a lot in a very short amount of time – just 12 hours of programming. This post’s intent is to sum up a bit of what the summit meant to accomplish and who was there to help do it.

But right off the bat I wanted to make sure that you heard about the challenge grant funding opportunity (for those of you who only read the first two paragraphs of any article). There were a number of research gaps discussed at the summit. ESA is partnering with a company called Experiment to launch a crowd-funding opportunity to help fund small research projects.

ESA will kick in an extra $1,500 to support the leading projects. If you have an invasive species research idea, click here to learn more about this challenge grant.


Who came? 

The summit, which was funded by the Entomological Society of America (with offsetting sponsorship funds from Corteva, Syngenta, and Bayer), was invitation-only. The initial invitation list included leaders of international professional entomological societies and other, related societies. It included government and academic leaders from across North America, from agencies like CFIA, USDA, CFS, and the CDC. We also asked all of our invited guests to help us crowd-source the registration list since we cannot possible know everyone that should be invited. Our guiding principle was to get the right people in the room. We know that some who should have been there were not, either through an inability to travel or because they simply did not hear about it in advance. In the end, approximately 150 people attended, nearly 1/3 of them from academia with the rest primarily coming from Canadian and U.S. agencies like USDA-Forest Service, USDA-APHIS, USDA-ARS, Natural Resources Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Provincial and State officials, and corporate interests.

What happened?

The program included round table discussions, plenary talks, breakout sessions on communication strategies, posters, and panels. A draft framework of an outcome statement was prepared in advance and attendees were encouraged to help draft it throughout and in the weeks following the summit. A brief write-up appeared in EntomologyToday shortly after the summit concluded. The two primary tangible outcomes were intended to be communication tactics and a white paper. Both remain works in progress. The white paper should be released sometime in early 2019. The narrative will forever remain a work in progress with refinements being added as the need changes. As a starting point, we used the ABT model developed by scientist-turned-filmmaker Dr. Randy Olson, who was the summit’s closing plenary speaker.

In brief, the model suggests that any issue can be turned into a compelling narrative by framing it through the use of the words “and”, “but”, and “therefore”. The breakout sessions tried to do that. Each was assigned a piece of the invasives challenge and asked to create an ABT to discuss it. These are short, encompassing statements that pique the interest. They are not finished products; they are starting points for the work to come.

The structure of the breakouts was something new. We developed a process whereby each room was in contact with Randy via GoogleDocs as they accomplished their task. It was, admittedly, a little chaotic (but what innovation isn’t the first time?).  Breakout-computer

  • Prevention — Globalization brings invasive pests that cause ecological, health, and economic damage, and once those pests have arrived in an area they may be costly to control, but pests continue to invade, therefore we need to implement evidence-based policies to keep pests out of trade and develop novel communication and education initiatives.
  • Detection — Early detection of invasive species is critical for effective and rapid response, and is essential to prevent economic and ecological impact. But our capacity to detect and accurately identify these organisms early is inadequate. Therefore we need improved tools and enhances taxonomic expertise.
  • Response — Invasive species are a threat to our way of life and global economy but there is little awareness of the risks they pose therefore we must communicate the need for collaborative response efforts to all affected parties.
  • Policy — Trans-boundary movement of arthropods can negatively impact food security, animal and human health, infrastructure, as well as natural environments, and trade agreements and policy exist to mitigate these risks. But these policies don’t always fulfill their mandate. Therefore evidence based, flexible responsive agreements need to be formulated with all stakeholders in compliance.

The actual white paper will be more involved and reinforces points that have been addressed by others – we are doing well but more needs to be done. Collaboration and coordination will be key parts to solutions. Some other parts of the solution include ideas regarding

  • improving pre-border exclusion management techniques,
  • reviewing surveillance programs to ensure that we are working at maximum efficiency,
  • analyzing existing trade agreements and national laws
  • improving pathways analysis
  • developing improved tools and strategies for rapid response
  • doing more to inspect cargo pre-border
  • building the capacity
  • engaging the public

And now we move on to the hard part; doing it.

After months of preparation plus the day and a half spent at the summit, we’re moving on to developing the outcome report. It should be “finished” in early 2019, but it would be a mistake to think of this as “the” finished product. From the beginning we’ve wanted this to be an iterative process, building on the successes of previous events and moving on toward something greater.


Think of the framework of a house that is under construction. It starts out as just a jumble of boards and ladders, but at some point it really starts to look like a house. But it isn’t yet. That’s where we are now.

We want your feedback to help on this next stage. On the home page of the Grand Challenges website you can enter your email and subscribe to our site. We encourage you to do so and we’ll be sure to send you an update once the report is finished.