Toolbox in Vienna

July 28, 2016 at 3:41 am

This July, on the second day of the Summer School on Science, Values, and Democracy? at the Institut Wiener Kreis (University of Vienna), 25 graduate students participated in a Toolbox exercise. We (Mark Brown, Heather Douglas, and Andrew Jewett) assigned the exercise not because the students would be collaborating together on a research project, but because we needed a way for them to discuss their disciplinary differences, with the aim of improving discussion and debate among the students over the coming two weeks of the summer school. With students from political theory, history of science, philosophy of science, religious studies, and STS, such an exercise was definitely needed. We tailored it to explore different conceptions of science, politics, and philosophy, to get at likely differences within the cohort of students. And it worked. After the exercise, the students were more relaxed with each other, understanding better where their fellow students might be coming from, even if they did not agree with them. The Toolbox exercise cleared the air, and in place of potential suspicions, mutual respect became the standard tone in the discussions (over often contentious issues) in the days that followed. The Summer School was an intense teaching experience, and the Toolbox exercise made it a more rewarding one for all involved.

Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in Team Science

July 26, 2016 at 3:36 am

The Toolbox Project, an NSF-funded initiative based at Michigan State University that focuses on enhancing the quality of interdisciplinary team science, seeks candidates to fill a 12-month postdoctoral Research Fellow position beginning as soon as August 2016 but no later than January 2017. Candidates will be based in East Lansing, Michigan, with potential for negotiation. This is a one-year position, with the possibility of renewal for a second year.

The successful applicant will become part of an interdisciplinary team dedicated to investigating the use of philosophical concepts and methods to enhance communication and collaboration in interdisciplinary research. Responsibilities will be divided between (a) research on the communicative and collaborative aspects of cross-disciplinary team science in a variety of contexts, e.g., traditional social and biophysical science, health science, environmental science, (b) dissemination of research results in publications and presentations, and (c) delivery of Toolbox workshops and the collection of associated data. There will be opportunities to work with high-profile groups and institutions in the US and internationally. The successful applicant will also be expected to continue their own scholarship, and will receive support for those activities.

3rd Annual Consortium for Socially Relevant Philosophy of/in Science and Engineering

May 22, 2016 at 6:53 pm

At the 3rd Annual Consortium for Socially Relevant Philosophy of/in Science and Engineering (SRPoiSE) meeting at the University of Texas at Dallas, the Toolbox Project was well represented. First, we kicked of the program with a Toolbox workshop to facilitate a meta-philosophical dialogue for the SRPoiSE community. We employed a new instrument developed specifically for SRPoiSE that focused on the nature of philosophy, the nature of science, engaged philosophy, and philosophical dialogue. Brian Robinson led the workshop and was joined by Stephen Crowley (Boise State), Chad Gonnerman (Southern Indiana), Zach Piso (Michigan State), and Kathryn Plaisance (Waterloo) to facilitate five dialogue groups.

Then, Brian Robinson (Michigan State), Michael O’Rourke (Michigan State), and Chad Gonnerman (Southern Indiana) presented two works in progress, “Philosophy of Science as a Hindrance to Scientific Integration” and “Philosophy as Facilitator, not Gadfly: Philosophical Dialogue, Mutual Understanding, and Collaborative Science”.

Toolbox Workshop: Winnebago County Illinois Land Perspective

February 26, 2016 at 2:31 am

On January 30, 2016, Dr. Graham Hubbs from the University of Idaho moderated a toolbox workshop for landowners and land managers in Winnebago County, Illinois. The purpose of the toolbox was to explore how different types of farmers, land owners, and environmentalists view the relationship between agricultural practices and environmental concerns within the social confide of their evolving community. A specific instrument was designed to help organize thoughts as well as serve as discussion topics for the community representatives that participated. During the toolbox presentation, Dr. Hubbs guided participants to focus on the theme of the workshop and not rely on negative stereotypes that can erode the ability to work toward a common goal. The discussion period of the workshop was lively and amicable and participants all felt the need for a greater awareness and sense of community within any discipline of land user in the county. Future toolbox workshops will focus on action items that can be used towards the common ideological grounds uncovered in the first workshop.

Recent Toolbox Publication in Cogent Arts and Humanities

February 16, 2016 at 9:46 pm

The Toolbox Project has a new publication, “Human values and the value of humanities in interdisciplinary research,” recently published in Cogent Arts & Humanities. It’s open access, so check it out!

The Toolbox Project “in” Amani, Tanzania

December 2, 2015 at 2:33 am

Michael O’Rourke and Sanford Eigenbrode conducted a Toolbox workshop with the Woody Weeds Project on 29 November 2015, checking in virtually with the group during their project meeting in Amani, Tanzania. This marked the second dialogue-based workshop that the Toolbox Project has conducted with Woody Weeds, and was the first involving a Toolbox instrument designed by and for the group. Together with several members of the Woody Weeds Project team, Sanford and Michael developed the new “Woody Weeds Toolbox” to address methodological, cultural, and institutional challenges that are of special concern to this multinational transdisciplinary research project. Designing and conducting project-sensitive, dialogue-based workshops is one of the Toolbox Project’s responsibilities as the Woody Weeds partner concerned with communication.


Toolbox at the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature

November 8, 2015 at 3:13 am

RIHN-posterDrs. Michael O’Rourke and Brian  recently spoke and conducted Toolbox workshops with the environmental researchers at the national Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN) in Kyoto, Japan

On the first day, they spoke on problems of communication and collaboration in cross-disciplinary research. As a way of introducing the problem, Robinson compared inter- and transdisciplinary research (collectively cross-disciplinary research, CDR) to the game Double Cranko, which comes from an old episode of M*A*S*H. The game is a cross between chess, checker, poker, and gin (both the drink and the rummy).RIHN2There are no rules; players make them up as they go along. The problem for CDR is much worse. Imagine 2 scientists from different disciplines working on a research project and 2 non-research stakeholders in that project (say one from government and another from business). Each knows one game only, and all the rules, terms, and objectives of that game. In collaborating on this project, they have to develop a way to integrate 4 different games (chess, checker, poker, and gin) into one game. But they don’t even speak the same game language. A point O’Rourke and Robinson emphasized over the two days with the RIHN researchers is the need for a co-creation of meaning of ambiguous terms or concepts for effective collaboration.

In the morning workshop of the first day, O’Rourke and Robinson facilitated dialogues among the researchers to begin that process of co-creation of meaning. They had to negotiate various ambiguous terms that we gave them in a set of prompts. In the afternoon session, the researchers broke into their research teams to produce a concept map of their projects from which to find project-specific ambiguous terms or concepts that will have to be negotiated with their projects’ non-research stakeholders.

[cross-posted at]

The Toolbox at the Long-Term Ecological Research Network’s All Scientist Meeting

September 4, 2015 at 1:57 am

The 2015 LTER All Scientists Meeting took place August 30 through September 2 in Estes Park, Colorado ( Michael O’Rourke, Toolbox Project Director and member of the MSU Kellogg Biological Station LTER community, represented the project at the meeting. In addition to presenting a poster describing the work of the Toolbox Project, O’Rourke had a chance to explore the prospects for expanded collaboration of the project with LTER sites. There were also opportunities to reconnect with Dr. Frank Davis, Director of NCEAS ( and the new LTER National Communications Office and advisory panelist for the Toolbox Project on its first NSF award, as well as members of the GLEON group with whom the project has conducted a Toolbox workshop.

Toolbox-Overview_posterThe Toolbox Approach to Enhanced Collaboration, Communication, and Integration in Cross-Disciplinary Research

Michael O’Rourke, Brian Robinson, & Stephanie Vasko, Michigan State University

Cross-disciplinary research entails unique challenges due to differences among researchers’ disciplinary worldviews. These differences inhibit effective collaboration impeding clear communication. Cross-disciplinary researchers are often talking past one another. The Toolbox Project is a NSF-sponsored effort that uses philosophical concepts and methods to evaluate and facilitate improvement in communication and collaboration by cross-disciplinary and inter-professional groups (O’Rourke & Crowley 2013). The primary vehicle is the Toolbox workshop, which is a dialogue-based intervention designed to improve communication and collaboration by enhancing mutual and self-understanding of philosophical assumptions among collaborators. Since 2005, 160 workshops have been conducted for over 1,400 participants. Most workshops have involved groups with research or education missions. This poster summarizes the Toolbox approach, including examples from multiple Toolbox instruments, which serve as the focal point to dialogue-based intervention. We present quantitative and qualitative evidence demonstrating the effect of Toolbox workshops generally and for particular research groups. This includes our findings from a recent Toolbox workshop focusing on climate resiliency in West Michigan.

Toolbox Presentations at SciTS 2015 at NIH

June 7, 2015 at 5:00 pm

The Toolbox Project was well represented by Stephen Crowley (Boise State) and Brian Robinson (Michigan State) at the recent Science of Team Science (SciTS) 2015 conference at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Crowley’s presentation (“Let’s Talk about It – How Dialogue Supports Integration”) focused on the various ways in which dialogue (particularly as conducted in a Toolbox workshop) can foster epistemic integration among cross-disciplinary researchers. Robinson’s talk (“Diagnosis Differences among Disciplinary Worldviews”) presented some of the preliminary findings of philosophical differences between various branches of sciences, based upon data collected during Toolbox workshops.

Toolbox Workshops in Kenya

June 4, 2015 at 4:52 pm

The Toolbox Project has just completed two workshops in Kenya, making Africa our fourth continent on which we’ve lead Toolbox workshops and conducted research. Sanford Eigenbrode (Idaho) and Michael O’Rourke (Michigan State) traveled to Nairobi to work with the Swiss NSF-funded “Woody Weeds” project at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI). The conducted two workshops using a Toolbox instrument custom-designed for this context. We look forward to future updates here on our findings and ongoing collaborations.