Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Relatedness in action in science practice (#3)

In a beautiful blog post, Megan Adams gives a personal and honest account of both the benefits and challenges of community-engaged ecological research. In "Doing Science that Matters: Engaging with Communities in Collaborative Scientific Research," she describes working in coastal British Columbia and collaborating with groups of indigenous and non-indigenous people with "long-standing, adaptive, and evolving knowledge of natural systems" on a variety of projects.

For me, one of the most interesting parts of her piece is on some of the challenges of the work. Megan says:
"Navigating these challenges depends on building strong and transparent relationships, which requires humble and open communication, as well as additional funding and time for extended field seasons and visits during the 'off-season.' These are important components that can enable and support the space required for relationship building—for moments like eating and feasting together, sharing in celebration and/or ceremonies, or youth outreach, none of which are directly related to research (at least at first glance)."
Her description of learning to, for example, listen well in the midst of a training process that does not emphasize it, and of coming to a place where she can't imagine doing research in another way, is reflective of my own experience. It's what I tried to describe in a paper I wrote several years ago on some of the more subtle skill involved in community-engaged research and practice in the environmental sciences, and what I continue to write about here, whether it's around conflict, contemplative practice, or grief.

I was again reminded of the value of relational work in science practice last week at a workshop for the ranching community in northern California as they continue to deal with our ongoing drought. I unfortunately don't get to do quite as much direct community work as I once did, so I am deeply grateful for these opportunities, deeply grateful to work for an organization where that kind of work is exactly what we do as I know it's often quite difficult to get support, financial and otherwise, for relationship-building. There is no substitute for being with really smart, curious people who are doing their level best to make it through a natural disaster to, at the very least, ground your work, and at the very best, make you think about it entirely differently. It's the most enlivening flavor of challenging. 

We all know that relationships come with ups and downs -- beautifully connected and incredibly disconnected moments. The truly relational element comes in how we navigate those ups and downs and try to stay connected through them. It's a bigger and more complex piece of the work than is often appreciated, and it is heartening to see more researchers talk about their work through this lens.

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