Unsexy, Unfunded, and Absolutely Necessary

This Director’s Note was originally published in the January 2018 edition of the CACHE Newsletter.

For those of us who make a living as researchers and consultants, life churns. Novelty sells, and projects end. Many of us chose our work lives with the hope of making a difference in the lives of individuals who might not otherwise be reached. We know that lasting impacts require understanding, trust, mentoring and follow-up. For that, we’ve often built relationships with organizations that engage closely with communities. The pace of change in communities is—and should be— punctuated equilibrium at best; so different from the vortex one might call a career in research.

The big wins on the ground—happy community members, steps toward independence— are private celebrations in our world. A silent “Thank God” when the e-mail finally arrives, not listing any political or technical disasters. Half a tear of joy over a cup of coffee. I’m not asking for more. The work is its own reward. But the tide of new demands eventually carries us away. Our friends need technical advice; their equipment fails or is depleted; conflicts caused by unforeseen but retrospectively obvious events demand babysitting; a partner organization changes focus. We researchers end up with a bad choice: either doing another extra thing or abandoning something we had once committed to. I don’t know anyone who likes it.

Don’t we have a responsibility to the people we have touched? How do we maintain interactions when change occurs on such different time scales? How can we give as much as we get? Is there a fair way to sunset a collaboration?

These are not rhetorical questions. I want to share your success stories or obvious failures with the CACHE community. How do you make it work? Write to Olivia Harris (oharris2@illinois.edu) with a short description of an experience or moment of clarity. She’ll be in touch to learn more, and will help you share your stories.

Best, Tami

Posted in Director's Notes, News