Do you know someone who seems to move fluidly between groups, either the extrovert who makes conversation with everyone or the introvert who seems to be the ear with whom everyone feels comfortable sharing? In your professional circles do you know someone who seems comfortable interacting with groups of people who are not comfortable to interact directly with each other?
These are bridge builders. Some do this intentionally, others are born naturals. I have run across a few in my work with environmental science and communities. Biologists are a funny lot. Many are afraid to speak with communities (or people in general) and many community members assume that biologists are too elite to be worth the effort to approach.
A few brave souls are able to cross this divide and do things such as translate scientific terms into popular language, as well as find scientific or logistical rationales for considering community concerns.
A science degree doesn’t often include topics such as community engagement, effective writing or interpersonal communication. But a field such as environmental science is one that is rife with politics and the need for public communications. Many an environmental project has failed because it has gone forward without community support.
The field of ecosystem restoration is one that, because of the nature of what is needed to bring ecosystems back to an historical state, recognizes the connection between various scientific disciplines and between science and society. To achieve success, a restoration practitioner has to understand all aspects of the system to be restored – ground, water, vegetation, wildlife – as well as the human and other pressures that could be inhibiting the system from restoring itself. Not understanding any one aspect can lead to a quick slap in the face (and pocketbook) either by society or Mother Nature herself.
So the next time you see a bridge builder, acknowledge them, congratulate them and see if you can glean a few tips. To move forward together, we must all learn to build our own bridges.
Anu Rao is an ecologist, writer and facilitator.