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.

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 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

Toolbox @ The West Michigan Climate Resiliency Conference

October 1, 2014 at 7:36 pm

Next week in Grand Rapids, the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum is hosting The West Michigan Climate Resiliency Conference. We at the Toolbox Project are excited about this conference since they have invited us to be a significant part of the event. We will conduct a large-scale deployment of a unique Toolbox instrument during the conference.

Over the past year and in conjunction with the Rock Ethics Institute, we have interviewed a large number of individuals associated with the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum to assess what topics and issues regarding climate resiliency in West Michigan. We’ve taken this data and created a unique Toolbox instrument specifically for this audience. We will conduct both facilitated and non-facilitated workshops will all of the conference participants.

If you’re already coming the conference, we look forward to seeing you there. If not and you’re in the Grand Rapids area, you can show up that morning to register, so come.

Departing Post-Doc: Chad Gonnerman

July 3, 2014 at 4:26 am

cgonnermanWe are happy to announce that our Chad Gonnerman (who has been a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at Michigan State working on the Toolbox) will be moving on to greener pastures. He has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Indiana.

We are thankful that though he’s leaving Michigan State, he is not leaving the Toolbox Project. He plans to continue all the terrific research he started this past year.

New Website

May 1, 2014 at 4:23 am

We are excited to unveil our new website here at We’re still migrating some material from our old site, so please be patient as this site gets up and running. We’ll be adding content regularly.