The geoscientist as international community development practitioner: On the importance of looking and listening
Published:May 01, 2016
Stephanie C. Tubman, Rüdiger Escobar-Wolf, 2016. "The geoscientist as international community development practitioner: On the importance of looking and listening", Geoscience for the Public Good and Global Development: Toward a Sustainable Future, Gregory R. Wessel, Jeffrey K. Greenberg
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Many geoscientists apply their expertise to international community development through projects that involve direct interaction with host country agencies, community groups, and individuals. As someone with expertise or financial resources, one often has power to frame the definition of success around one’s own perceived reality regarding human development. Both local counterparts and international geoscientists themselves are often in a position to shape project goals toward their own needs and interests, rather than those of intended beneficiaries. We argue that one-sided engagement is often ineffective and even harmful for target beneficiaries. Awareness of such power dynamics minimizes the waste of resources and unintentional perpetuation of harmful social dynamics. Guidelines are presented in this editorial to help geoscientists partner equitably with groups or communities they intend to serve. The guidelines in this editorial may assist geoscientists to identify the felt needs of their target beneficiaries, define their own role in meeting those needs, define project goals of mutual interest, and make progress toward meeting felt needs. These guidelines include: (1) form relationships and build trust; (2) understand the local context; (3) be observant of internal power relations; (4) examine your motivations and expertise; (5) utilize local expertise in project implementation; and (6) recognize change takes time and investment in monitoring and evaluation. Although equitable engagement is rarely straightforward, especially in an unfamiliar cultural or socioeconomic context, it is crucial if geoscientists are to contribute effectively to global development.