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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 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 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 brobinson.info]

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

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 (http://asm2015.lternet.edu). 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 (https://www.nceas.ucsb.edu) 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.

Toolbox at NORDP

April 30, 2015 at 1:27 am

On April 29, 2015, the Toolbox Project joined forces with Holly Falk-Krzesinski (Elsevier, Northwestern University) to deliver a workshop, “Collaborative Communication for Team Science”, at the 2015 National Organization of Research Development Professionals (NORDP) Annual Research Development Conference in Bethesda, MD (). The 4-hour workshop involved 35 participants from the NORDP community, who received a “train-the-trainer” exposure to the Toolbox dialogue method. After an opening introduction to the approach, the participants divided into three groups and participated in introductory Toolbox dialogue sessions facilitated by Steve Crowley (Toolbox Project, Boise State), Michael O’Rourke (Toolbox Project, MSU), and Dr. Falk-Krzesinski. The workshop concluded with activities and discussions designed to identify ways in which this approach could prove useful for trainees and investigators at their home institutions.

Toolbox in K-12

April 16, 2015 at 1:58 am

Following up from our presentation and mini-workshop last fall at the Kellogg Biological Station, Brian Robinson (Toolbox Project, MSU) and Michael O’Rourke (Toolbox Project, MSU) returned to KBS for their annual K-12 Partnership Workshop. This event was attended by regional K-12  teachers. Robinson and O’Rourke delivered a mini-workshop, “Science Lost in Translation” with these teachers, in order to present the Toolbox approach and discuss with them how it might be implemented in K-12 classrooms. Approximately 26 teachers attended two sessions of the workshop, and they gave enthusiastic reviews of their experience.

Toolbox at Whittier College

April 3, 2015 at 1:21 am

The Toolbox Project continued its ongoing collaboration with Dr. Paul Kjellberg and the Whittier Scholars Program at Whittier College, Whittier, CA. Dr. Kjellberg has worked with the Toolbox Project since 2012 to develop a version of the Toolbox instrument that is applicable at the undergraduate level across a wide range of disciplines, including business and creative writing. The key innovation in the design of this instrument is the focus on the process of scholarship, which is common ground for all Whittier Scholars. The undergraduates in the Whittier Scholars Program design their own majors, and as juniors participate in WSP 301: Nature, Theory, and Bases of Knowledge, a course in interdisciplinary epistemology. Dr. Kjellberg and Michael O’Rourke (Toolbox Project, MSU) conducted one Toolbox workshop with each of two sections of WSP 301 on April 1 and 2, 2015.