Trust and a Bucket
A bucket drifter is pretty much what it sounds like: a five-gallon plastic bucket that you might find at a home improvement store, kitted out with a waterproof container holding a GPS device. When sent adrift on the tides, the contraption’s data can help researchers chart tidal flows.
Citizens in the town of Waldoboro, on the coast of Maine, wanted to understand how tidal patterns influenced the water pollution that sometimes required closing mudflats to clamming—putting as many as 175 people temporarily out of work. Researchers from the University of Maine worked with clammers and other townspeople to understand what information would be useful to achieve their goals and slowly built trust with the community. In fact, when one of Waldoboro’s bucket drifters was stolen (its GPS signal showed that it had been pulled from the water and was rapidly moving down the highway), local clammers, the town manager, and even the police department scrambled to recover the bucket.
David D. Hart, Bridie McGreavy, Anthony Sutton, Gabrielle V. Hillyer, and Darren J. Ranco relate this story as an example of the trust that can—with time and effort—develop between communities and university researchers. “On the face of it,” they write, “the story of the missing bucket might not seem like it has much to do with trust. But it does. Trust is the connective tissue that motivates people to show up for each other—in this case, for a bucket that had come to mean a lot to this group.”
Read more about how building trust in community-university partnerships can strengthen deliberative and democratic practices.