Resilience Reflections #9: Speaking each other’s language

Recognising the urgent need to respond to rapid societal and environmental change, resilience is one of the University of Twente’s spearheads. As an academic institution, we have a role to play in strengthening the resilience of the social, technological and environmental systems that support us. In this weekly series of the Resilience@UT programme , UT researchers share their personal reflections on current events and trends that impact our daily lives, exploring their implications for resilience. This week Bas Borsje reminds us of the importance of good communication to the success of projects with diverse stakeholders.

Last week, I had the privilege of being a guest at MIT. A postdoc from my research group is conducting detailed measurements at MIT on water movement and sand transport through coastal vegetation. These measurements are crucial for understanding the processes on a small scale in order to draw conclusions about the larger coastal system.

Living dike

My research group focuses on designing coastal systems that integrate hard structures like dikes with existing -soft forelands- such as salt marshes. These soft forelands slow down waves and adapt to rising sea levels by retaining sand and silt particles. We refer to this as a "living dike" which serves as a nature-based solution contributing to a resilient coastal system.

During my visit, I also gave a lecture on living dikes. It was truly enjoyable to discuss my passion and share information about our field measurements, the models we are developing, and our ongoing project to design a living dike in the north of the Netherlands. However, I noticed that the audience had many quite specific questions, such as the behaviour of Dutch coastal vegetation compared to that in the US and the applicability of our models for predicting behaviour during hurricanes.

Different approaches

Following the lecture, I had one-on-one meetings with several researchers. It became evident that speaking the same research language was crucial for effective communication and collaboration. Once we established this common ground, we found it much easier to learn from and inspire each other. We discussed ideas for future research and identified opportunities to mutually strengthen our respective research groups. It was interesting to note that different research disciplines, such as ecology, civil engineering technology and design, required different approaches to communication.

As I wait for my flight home, I reflect on the importance of speaking the same language, not only within the research community but also with policymakers, water boards, and other stakeholders. And I realise that to successfully implement living dikes in the Netherlands and create a resilient and climate-proof solution, it is essential to establish effective communication processes with all involved parties. Therefore, it would perhaps be beneficial for me to take lessons in the Frisian language since the first living dike in Friesland will be constructed in five years’ time, and understanding each other is now crucial to its success.

Bas Borsje is an expert in the field of building with nature, more specifically in nature-based coastal protection.

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