Photo credit: Leïla Shahshahani

Getting to know Labex ITTEM: mountain research programme in Human and Social Sciences

by | Nov 24, 2021 | European stakeholders

Raffaella Balzarini, Labex ITTEM, responsible for international cooperation

The Laboratory of Excellence “Innovation and Territorial Transitions in Mountains” (Labex ITTEM) is a consortium of nine French laboratories from National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) and the Universities of Grenoble Alps (UGA) and Savoie Mont Blanc (USMB).

The Laboratories of Excellence are supported by the French scientific programme Investissements d’Avenir (“future investments for research”) and their objectives are to provide significant resources to research units, to attract researchers of international renown and to build a hub of integrated scientific policy, training and development of high level.        

Led by UGA and USMB, the Labex ITTEM is a pool of hundreds of Human and Social Sciences researchers working on mountain issues, from different research fields such as economy, geography, history, sociology, law, tourism or policy.

Photo credit: Labex ITTEM

In light of the climate emergency, it is important to ensure the continuity and expansion of long-term observation programmes, and to support collaborative innovation mechanisms that closely link research with local and regional stakeholders, industry sectors, professions, and researchers (e.g., the Alpine Sentinel system).

Taking into account the social, economic and territorial contexts, the transdisciplinary research carried out at Labex ITTEM, attempts to accompany changes in individual and collective behaviour in a logic of transformative innovation. As an example, theTransforMont project is the result of a collaboration started in 2017 between Labex ITTEM, and the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and Provence-Alpes Côte d’Azur Regions. Combining research and action, Transformont attempts to answer these three questions:

  1. How can we characterise the specificities of social innovations in mountain regions?
  2. What role do these innovations play in the dynamics of marginalised territories?   
  3. How can we strengthen and assess the impact of these innovations on territorial transitions in mountain regions?

The project aims to collect data on social innovations in mountain areas, to build a network of actors and researchers and manage a collaborative platform listing the different initiatives launched in the territories.

Moreover, Labex ITTEM has launched and supported several key collaborative research programmes, such as Alpages sentinelles, Mountain Huts Sentinels, and TranStaT (Ski resorts in transition). For instance, the Mountain Huts Sentinels programme is a multidisciplinary and participatory observation system for high mountain areas where mountain huts are key observatories of the effects of environmental and cultural changes.

In a panel of mountain huts intended to cover diverse configurations in terms of altitude, natural processes, and tourist contexts, observation and monitoring campaigns are carried out over time. The work carried out involves over 70 professional and territorial stakeholders (sports federations, professional unions, tourism offices and observatories), who participate in the orientation of the scientific programme and the collection and management of data. The hut keepers, who are the main contacts, are at the heart of the system and are involved on a voluntary basis. Five research focuses have been developed: (1) visitor flows and uses in mountain regions, (2) environmental education and the dissemination of scientific culture, (3) meteorology, (4) biodiversity, and (5) natural risks.

Photo credit: Labex ITTEM

Mountain Huts Sentinels’ global aim is to identify and measure the changes and trends that will enable us to understand how the transformation of the natural environment interacts with cultural changes in order to develop recreational practices, contribute to the strengthening of new professional skills and generate new scientific issues.

The diversity and richness of the scientific, environmental, political, social and economic challenges at hand have led the Labex ITTEM to re-envision the mountains as a laboratory, where global-scale societal problems are especially acute. Since 2011, the Labex ITTEM has continuously shown capacity for initiative, launching new projects and research themes, and constituting a scientific “community” committed to research that transcends the boundaries of academics or disciplines.

In conclusion, Labex ITTEM implements interdisciplinary approaches to deal with mountain territories as “demonstrators” of transition. It analyses the dynamics of change and their obstacles in order to design strategic reorientations and accompany the experimentation of operational solutions. Encouraging a global approach, it accompanies public action in mountain areas through projects built with territorial actors, in a perspective of sustainable development.