New Member Monday: Dr. Marisa Rinkus

March 6, 2017 at 8:00 am

Dr. Marisa Rinkus joined the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative in January 2017 as a postdoctoral research assistant. She holds a PhD and an MS in Fisheries and Wildlife, Human Dimensions focus, with specializations in International Development and Gender, Justice, and Environmental Change from Michigan State University, and a BS in Wildlife Science from Purdue University. Her interest in the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative (TDI) lies in the acknowledgment of scientific research as a human endeavor and the importance of communication and collaboration in pushing knowledge production forward.

In her role as Research Associate, Dr. Rinkus will be establishing a longitudinal study to examine the short and long-term impacts of TDI on individuals, research teams, and institutions. This study will focus on process, with the goal of understanding how an impact was achieved. Her area of study is community participation in conservation, particularly in an international development context, with a focus on understanding community social structure (including aspects of gender, race, and class) in order to better engage people in conservation. Dr. Rinkus hopes to apply insights from the TDI process to improve communication and collaboration among diverse stakeholders in conservation research and management.

New Member Monday: Dr. Anna Malavisi

February 27, 2017 at 6:10 pm

Dr. Anna Malavisi joined the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative in January 2017 as a postdoctoral research assistant. Dr. Malavisi holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy and a Masters in Health and International Development. She joined TDI because of the potential impact TDI can have within the area of global development and humanitarian aid. Dr. Malavisi brings 16 years of experience as a development practitioner and is interested in bridging the gap between the theory and practice, particularly between philosophers and development professionals. Her role within TDI is to extend TDI efforts to global research initiatives on the MSU campus and to institutions working in the area of global development and humanitarian aid.

Additionally, she will be focusing on coupling ethical and epistemic issues within global development and humanitarian aid from a feminist methodological standpoint. Her personal research includes the above, however will extend to influence policy, particularly in respect to increasing responsibility and accountability of our social institutions.

Using the Toolbox Method to Prepare the Next-Gen Scientific Workforce for Grand Challenges in Social Work

February 16, 2017 at 4:19 pm

In Gehlert, Hall, and Palinkas’ “Preparing Our Next-Generation Scientific Workforce to Address the Grand Challenges for Social Work” in Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, the authors state in the abstract that “We identify the major challenges entailed in this ambitious agenda and highlight strategies for successfully conducting coordinated team science that spans disciplines and extends across the entire translational continuum.” In the section titled “Strategies for Mitigating Collaborative Challenges and Facilitating Success,” Gehlert et al. mention Hall et al.s’ 2012 ten component collaboration planning framework. The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative, here mentioned by our old name (the Toolbox Project), is discussed as an example tool to help with the seventh component, “conflict prevention and management.”

We extend a deep thanks to the author team for their support of our method as a way to help in the preparation of the next generation of scientific workforce tackling grand challenges in social work and for enabling successful collaborations between members of this generation.

We at the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative are always grateful to our current and former collaborators, colleagues, and participants and always looking for new and exciting collaborations! Please contact us at if you are interested!

Full paper info:
Sarah Gehlert, Kara L. Hall, and Lawrence A.Palinkas, “Preparing Our Next-Generation Scientific Workforce to Address the Grand Challenges for Social Work,” Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research 8, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 119-136.


Toolbox Workshop for Antimicrobial Resistance Mitigation Research at MSU

January 31, 2016 at 2:11 pm

On January 19, 2016, Dr. Vasko facilitated a Toolbox workshop for researchers at Michigan State University who are interested in antimicrobial resistance mitigation (AMRM) research and in collaboratively writing a grant together. We created a Toolbox instrument specifically for this group by using survey data, discussions with grant leadership, and documentation from previous grant efforts. This workshop focused on fostering collaboration and communication within the AMRM research team and on addressing grant specific needs, such as methodology, stakeholders, education, and outreach.   During the workshop itself, Dr. O’Rourke recorded speaking turns and Dr. Robinson observed. The debrief discussion at the end of the workshop focused briefly on impressions of the Toolbox workshop, but was used by collaborators primarily as space to synthesize the ideas that came up in the Toolbox dialogue and create some concrete steps for moving forward with the grant writing process.

We look forward to future work with this community here at MSU!

Toolbox at the Ecosystems Impacts of Oil & Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG)-2 All-Hands Meeting

December 10, 2015 at 4:44 pm

This past weekend, Drs. O’Rourke and Vasko traveled to Athens, GA for the Ecosystems Impacts of Oil & Gas Inputs to the Gulf (ECOGIG)-2 All-Hands meeting. According to ECOGIG’s website, they are “…one of eight research consortia awarded grants by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), a 20-member independent research board created to allocate the $500 million committed by BP for independent research programs following the April 20, 2010, Macondo well blowout.” On Saturday, December 5, Drs. O’Rourke and Vasko facilitated two Toolbox workshops for PIs on the ECOGIG project that focused on fostering collaboration and communication within the ECOGIG PI team. These workshops marked the debut of our new online Toolbox app. An ECOGIG-specific science communication and team communication survey was also implemented during the workshop, with live results presented to participants. Our end of the day discussions brought both workshops together to discuss the Toolbox instrument, the survey, and issues of communication and collaboration within ECOGIG.

Additionally, as part of both ECOGIG and Dr. Vasko’s* commitment to graduate education, Dr. Vasko ran a separate workshop for the ECOGIG graduate students and postdocs on the morning of Sunday, December 6.

We look forward to our continuing work with ECOGIG-2!

*See S.E. Vasko. “The Alternative Career is no Longer Alternative.” Physics Today (6 August 2014).

Toolbox Presentations at the Nanoinformatics Workshop 2015 & Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization Conference 2015

November 18, 2015 at 7:26 pm

Drs. Michael O’Rourke and Stephanie E. Vasko traveled to Portland, OR from November 6-9, 2015 to participate in the 2015 Nanoinformatics Workshop & 2015 Sustainable Nanotechnology Organization (SNO) Conference . O’Rourke’s presented at the Nanoinformatics Workshop, introducing ways that the Toolbox Project could be involved in this community and the contribution, by way of an observation-based survey, of the Toolbox Project to the Nanoinformatics Workshop over the weekend.

Vasko’s talk on the first day of the SNO Conference (“Applying The Toolbox Project for Research Community Building: Early Thoughts and Planning Processes”) introduced the wider SNO community to the Toolbox approach and presented some of the preliminary findings of a short survey on zeta potential measurements, reproducibility, and relevance. The Toolbox Project is looking forward to continuing our interactions with the Nanoinformatics and SNO communities!

Toolbox Response to the Nature Interdisciplinarity Issue (Volume 525, Number 7569, pp289-418)

October 26, 2015 at 1:51 pm

Communication, you maintain, is crucial to successful interdisciplinary research, and we couldn’t agree more. We believe that interdisciplinary collaborators should develop “constructive dialogue skills” that support trust, mutual learning, respectful deliberation, equality, and efficient knowledge transfer. Without these, collaborators will be hard pressed to achieve the integration of perspectives required to address complex problems. However, while the trial and error approach to fostering constructive dialogue may work for some groups (see Nature 525, 315–317; 2015), interdisciplinary collaborations typically involve busy people engaging in complex interactions who don’t have time to wait for the communicative magic to happen. Facilitated approaches to communication—specifically to constructive dialogue—can systematically reduce interdisciplinary transaction costs, enabling collaborators to appreciate alternative research perspectives, understand the distribution of values across an interdisciplinary project, and develop integrative research questions and project goals (see McDonald et al. Research Integration Using Dialogue Methods, ANU ePress, 2009). We are part of a US-NSF-supported interdisciplinary team that has developed a philosophical approach to facilitating constructive dialogue. Combining concepts drawn from the philosophy of science and epistemology with mixed methods social science, our “Toolbox” approach is built around structured dialogue in which collaborators articulate and share their scientific research worldviews (see M. O’Rourke & S. Crowley Synthese. 190, 1937-1954; 2013). In over 160 workshops during the past 10 years, we have deployed the Toolbox approach to increase the self-awareness and mutual understanding needed for team cohesion and effective communication. Our experience supports two conclusions: (1) interdisciplinary teams can systematically and efficiently develop the skills of constructive dialogue by utilizing dialogue-based methods from the outset, and (2) the humanities and social sciences can contribute to the intellectual merit of interdisciplinary science, participating in “genuine” disciplinary integration that is to everyone’s benefit (see Nature 525, 291; 2015).

-Michael O’Rourke, Stephanie E. Vasko, Brian Robinson