More on the importance of empathy & reciprocity for scientists who want to have real impact

A momentary break from all things #BTEHbook (Buy My Book!) to quote this excerpt from Rantala et al., “How to Earn the Status of Honest Broker? Scientists’ Roles Facilitating the Political Water Supply Decision-Making Process” (2017):

We found trust building as a key to achieve the credible position in the eyes of the stakeholders, but achieving the trust was not self-evident and in the beginning our credibility was constantly contested. One of the key observations was that achieving trust partly resulted from careful listening, empathy, and reciprocal relationships. For example, by letting the involved actors speak freely without interruption, showing understanding for their concerns and values, and creating an atmosphere with a low threshold to communication, we contributed to people’s need to be heard and to interpersonal trust by deeply understanding their views. “First time someone is actually listening to us,” said one politician living close to one aquifer. Yet most of the interviewed politicians found it easier to describe when they did not experience trust, for example, when someone was too self-opinionated or not listening—including situations with us. Reciprocity resulted from planning before meetings on how to motivate politicians to participate and share information, and what we could offer to them in return, for example, “tailored” information or showing appreciation for their knowledge and experience.

Another lesson learned was that the trust-based relationships were keys to expand two-way knowledge flows. Thus, when politicians and stakeholders felt more comfortable to contact us—and not just “bothering” us, as one politician said—they were asking a wide range of questions about water supply planning, instead of relying only on information provided by city authorities or other politicians. Conversely, contacting key actors regularly via e-mails or phone calls was a useful way of keeping the interaction channels open and hearing the latest political discussions. Furthermore, we were even invited to participate in city board and city council meetings to answer questions.

You may or may not be reminded of my 2016 blog post, “Deep Thought (on the moral/utilitarian relevance of strong reciprocity)“. But basically, this. Further, what Rantala et al. experienced (of course) need not be limited to interactions with politicians. I’d rather wager it applies a bit more broadly, as well.

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