Fritz on creating (in contrast with ICA and Schwendener)

Continuing a series of posts on the development of the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change within the framework of Ben Schwendener’s Seminar on Creativity.


12 June ’11
Notes on R. Fritz, The Path of Least Resistance

  • Result you want to create (for its own sake; love the creation)
  • What currently exists
  • Take action (invention, not convention)
  • Rhythms of creative process
  • Creating momentum

Tension between what you want to create and what currently exists seeks resolution, rather than oscillates in the reactive-responsive orientation/mode

Contrasting with:
ICA process
Group does brainstorming (“cardstorming”) of a practical vision, clusters the items and gives them names. The group then repeats the process but this time for obstacles to realizing that vision, resulting in clusters with names that convey the underlying obstacles. These then point to strategic directions. (This approach allows the vision to emerge rather than be identified at the outset.)

Ben Schwendener’s approach
When the elements of the vertical unity are identified, change flows from that unity. (The elements seem like the strategic directions of the ICA process.)

14 June ’11
Q: How to identify the elements?

Possible variants of the ICA process:
a. Start with a single vision, e.g., the Collaborative, then use Future Ideal Retrospective to tease out a more multifaceted (re)vision, then proceed as above.
b. Start with cardstorming about all the different tasks on one’s plate in the messy present, then Strategic Personal Planning, which identifies multiple strands, out of which a single vision emerges, then proceed as in a.
Try the variants for myself and see how they work in practice,

Q: What coaching is needed to keep one at the ICA task? (I ask this because it’s been on my to-do list since the 1st June and I am procrastinating.) A: Doing it with others in a course. Protecting some hours each day for it.

Probe—Create Change—Reflect: A spin-off blog

The name “probe, create change, reflect” comes from the logo below (with “probe” replacing “inquire” to suggest that we need to look beyond first answers):

The logo is that of the Critical & Creative Thinking graduate program where I work, helping mid-career or career-changing students to “develop reflective practice as we change our schools, workplaces, and lives.” Posts on this new blog are in the same spirit. Posts specific to complexity in environment and biomedicine continue to be made on the companion Intersecting Processes blog (from which the first four months of this new blog have been extracted). I am imagining that most readers with science and complexity interests will prefer to peruse blogs in that area when they visit the other blog and ditto for readers with reflective practice interests when they visit this new blog. Cross-posting will lead readers from one area of interest to the other, if they are inclined.

Related to this new blog: tweets, wiki on critical thinking and reflective practice

Why a blog? As before:
1. To make sure I write every morning (even if the post is drawn from past work) before the busy-ness of teaching and administration takes over my day.
2. To see if these daily bits of writing and thinking (and recalling past writing and thinking) combine in ways that lead to new insights.
3. To expose my work more widely, including unpublished work, in the hope that kindred thinkers might come across it and make contact.

Q: What constitutes a kindred thinker for this new blog? A: Someone who wants to promote critical thinking and reflective practice through teaching, groups processes, institutional change in the academy, and more broadly.

(Taking this new blog and the Intersecting Processes blog together, a kindred thinker would be someone who is interested in addressing complex situations “that cut across scales, involve heterogeneous components, and develop over time” and in extending this interest to the interpretation of the researcher-in-social-context and to engagements that modify the directions that researchers take—including their own.)

One-on-one consultations within a group that meets over an extended period

One-on-one consultations within a group that meets over an extended period (aka Workshop “Office Hours”)—an alternative to the ad hoc, and clique-prone discussions that often happen between the sessions at conferences and workshops

This activity can be slotted into a meeting or workshop when there is 45-60 minutes to spare. It may be repeated with a new sign up sheet for each time.

• Provides opportunities to solicit advice one on one.
• It can be enlightening to see who asks you for advice and what you find yourself able to say.

Instructions about Signing Up
(Before circulating this sign-up sheet, the coordinator of this activity fills in the left-hand column with everyone’s names.)
• You can sign up to consult with other people by putting your name on their line for a time slot that is empty for both of you. Then put a cross on your own line for that time slot (which prevents someone signing up to consult with you at the same time).
• Give everyone a chance to sign up once before you sign up for a second or third consult.
• If you want to sign up to consult with a person who is already signed up to consult with you, sign up in a separate time slot for a consult with them. (That is, don’t assume that you can split the original time with them.)

Person to be consulted (below) Time Slot 1 Time Slot 2 Time Slot 3

More Logistics/Guidelines
• If two people do not have a consultation for any time slot, the office-hours coordinator will pair them up and they will split the time in mutual support. Suggested “supportive listening” guidelines can be provided before the office hours start.

• There will be N/2 “stations” consisting of a pair of chairs. (These stations will be spaced widely to minimize distractions from other conversations). At the start of the time slot, find the person you signed up to consult with and move to a vacant station. Then start consulting!

extracted from Taking Yourself Seriously: A Fieldbook of Processes of Research and Engagement


Gallery Walk (ice breaker activity)

The Gallery Walk is an icebreaker activity that exemplifies the principles that people already know a lot, including knowing what they need to learn, and, if this knowledge is elicited and affirmed, they become better at learning from others.

As participants in a course or workshop arrive at the first meeting, they can be given marker pens, grouped in 2s or 3s, asked to introduce themselves to each other, and directed to one of a number of flip chart stations. Each flip chart has a question. Participants review the answers already contributed by any previous groups and add their own, then move on around the stations. When the first groups returns to where they began, volunteers can be recruited to summarize the main themes and contrasts on the flip charts—one volunteer to each flip chart. They present these to the whole group, with the aid of an overhead transparency or simply as they stand by the flip chart in question. A sheet listing the flip chart estions can be distributed for participants who want to take notes.

Example 1: Gallery Walk Questions for Class 1 of a course on Educational Change

  1. What changes (big & small) are being pursued in teaching, schools, and educational policy?
  2. What kinds of experience prepare teachers, administrators, and policy makers to pursue change in constructive ways?
  3. What things would tell us that positive educational changes had happened?
  4. What do you hope will come from this semester’s experience?

Example 2: Gallery Walk Questions used at the start of a year long professional development course for math and science educators to promote inquiry and problem-solving in a watershed context.

  1. What factors (big & small) are involved in maintaining healthy watersheds?
  2. What watershed issues might translate well into math. and science teaching?
  3. What pressures & challenges do you see facing teachers wanting to improve math. and science teaching?
  4. What has helped you in the past make improvements successfully (+), and what has hindered you (-)?
  5. What things would tell you that positive educational changes had happened?
  6. What kinds of things do you hope will come from this course/ professional development experience?

Here are the specific reasons for using the Gallery Walk given by the hosts of the STEMTEC workshop ( where I first experienced this activity:

“A useful classroom practice–

  1. Breaks the ice and introduces students who might otherwise never interact.
  2. Begins the community-building process so central to cooperative learning and emphasizes the collaborative, constructed nature of knowledge.
  3. Suggests to students their centrality in the course, and that their voices, ideas, and experiences are significant and valued.
  4. Allows for both consensus and debate – two skills essential to knowledge-building – and facilitates discussion when the class reconvenes as a larger group.
  5. Enables physical movement around the room, an important metaphor for the activity at the course’s core.
  6. Depending on the gallery walk questions, provides one way for the instructor to gauge prior knowledge and skills, and identify potentially significant gaps in these.
  7. Depending on the gallery walk questions, provides a way to immediately introduce students to a central concept, issue or debate in the field.
  8. Through reporting back, provides some measure of closure by which students can assess their own understandings. “

Updated: 6-17-02, with revisions on 12-6-10.

From Social Theory to enactable, contingent social theorizing

In the late 1980s Roberto Mangabeira Unger laid out a “constructive social theory,” which centered on “institutional and imaginative frameworks of social life [that] supply the basis on which people define and reconcile interests, identify, and solve problems.” He went on to note: “These frameworks cannot be adequately explained as mere crystallized outcomes of interest-accommodating or problem-solving activities” (1987, p. 4). Unger sought to present a view of how these “contexts [or frameworks] stick together, come apart, and get remade” (1987, p.5). At the time I was attracted to his efforts but found his work too theoretical, that is, too difficult to translate into practical action. In my thinking about scientific activity I was exploring a notion of representing-engaging, while Unger seemed to be presenting a outside representation of our “society-making powers.”

The same tensions are evident—not resolved—in the summaries I wrote in the notes of Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago, 2005) on social theory in relation to environmental change and the relation of agency and structure(dness), which are excerpted in the next two posts (Social Theory, agency and structuredness).   The tensions also run through my recent thinking about combining Intersecting processes (which has an outside representational emphasis) with Historical scan (produced by a particular group at a particular time) to generate enactable, group-specific praxis.

How so?

1.  I am interested in social theory (but critical of what I call Social Theory) and think that intersecting processes provides an approach that improves on the well-known structure-agency duality (i.e., actions of social agents are enabled and constrained by social structures and, in acting, social agents imperfectly reproduce those structure).

2.  At the same time my preliminary notes on these issues take more of the representational stance I note above in Unger’s work (see next two posts).

3.  I am also interested in people’s problem-solving and path-charting abilities in well-facilitated collaborative processes (which Unger might criticize as putting too much stock on “crystallized outcomes of interest-accommodating or problem-solving activities”), but have wanted to find ways to inject understandings of structures (or Unger’s structure-making) into these processes.

4.  At the same time I am critical both of a. discussions of the kind what Obama should do, what U.S. policy should be etc., as if the speaker (or the listener) could be transported into that position and act true to their principles without having been changed by the process of assuming this role in the structured system; and b. discussions of the dynamics of capital (or fractions of capital, such as the finance sector) dictating what is possible, as if no-one could assume a role within the structured system that could alter the dynamics and as if the human actors were blind to the real dynamics.  These latter discussions don’t address well the heterogeneity of things people do and say, nor the shifting associations and, to borrow Unger’s words, how they “stick together, come apart, and get remade,” nor the shifts in what any one person does and say from one micro-context to another.

5. I am interested in social theory that addresses the preceeding heterogeneity, shifting associations, and contingency–that brings the multiple strandedness of changing social life into the center (as against being the variation or noise around the deeper [more essential] Social Dynamics [capitalization deliberate here]).  That’s why the variety of responses in the on-the-spot, off-the-cuff discussion about race interested me.  And it’s reflected in my recent thinking about combining Intersecting processes (which has an outside representational emphasis) with Historical scan (produced by a particular group at a particular time) to generate enactable, group-specific praxis.

6. Something I would say, at this stage in my thinking, is that the focus should shift a. from shaping a better social theory to allowing for social theorizing, and b. from representing social dynamics to enacting the social theorizing so as to repeatedly define and pursue engagements in the heterogeneous dynamics that intersect in all kinds of society-making.  Enactable, contingent social theorizing maybe unsettled and unsettling, but should social theorizing be more something all that much easier to grasp than society-making?

Consensus–emphasizing the process, not the outcome

Consensus decision-making means learning about and addressing concerns of all before moving ahead.   (This is quite different from the [mis]use of the term to mean a vote was not taken [which may have been because the minority chose not to raise its voice, or to keep raising its voice].)

The implications of this are many:
1. The majority needs to inquire about and come to understand the concerns of the minority. If the minority feels heard and understood, there is more of a chance that a path ahead can be found that all sign on to.
2. The majority does not rule, so there is no concept of a minority “blocking” a majority.
3. The leader is not a chief who can decide how to act on this/her own, but a spokesperson and advocate for the consensus.
4. Participants need to be sure about what the consensus is (e.g., through circulation of notes from the consensus-generating meeting) and promptly ask for another meeting if they think the consensus has been incorrectly recorded or if they subsequently develop reservations.
5. Behind-the-scenes departures from the consensus are not helpful.
6. When leaders have to report to hierarchical (i.e., non-consensus) decision makers, they bring dictates/mandates back to the group to develop a consensus about how to respond and be in solidarity about that response.

Although consensus decision-making can take time (and when pressed for time, voting tends to become a tempting fallback option), the virtues of consensus decision-making are that the participants are more invested in carrying out the decisions.

Consensus decision-making is enhanced by pre-circulation of meeting agenda, all the relevant data, and documents that spell out the implications of alternative positions.

From a wikipage, last edited 17 May ’07, accessible via a collection of “Thought-pieces on working in and changing Academic Organizations,”

Conditions for a successful workshop (or "organized multi-person collaborative process")

During the spring and summer of 2000 I participated in four innovative, interdisciplinary workshops.  A review of  the workshops led me to dig deeper into how workshops work when they do. I assembled a list of heuristics that I include below.  A member of the audience for my first presentation of this review, Tom Flanagan, offered to help me develop a more systematic set of principles for bringing about successful workshops. The process he led me through involved:

a. Defining my criteria for a successful workshop;
b. Rephrasing the heuristics as conditions that might contribute directly or indirectly to these criteria being fulfilled;
c. Answering a set of questions of the form: “Would addressing condition A significantly help in achieving condition B?”
These questions were generated by software that analyzed my responses and then arranged the conditions from “deep” to “top,” where deeper conditions are helpful for the ones above them. This constitutes the structural model.

Tom’s intention was only to introduce me to the concept, not to lead me systematically through the full process so I do not want to overinterpret the outcome. I include below only the deepest three layers and the top of the model to help readers picture a structural model. Let me simply draw attention to the deepest condition, “quiet spaces that occur are not filled up.” It is no small challenge for someone organizing or facilitating a workshop or organized multi-person collaborative process (OMPCP) to ensure that this condition is met. Conversely, if it is not met, it should not be surprising that the criteria for a successful workshop are not achieved. In the same spirit, given that I am interested in stimulating further inquiry about OMPCPs and, more generally, about the relationship between knowledge and inquiry — between product and process — I will say no more at this point.

Conditions for a Successful workshop

a. Criteria of success
i) the outcome is larger and more durable than what any one participant came in with. Durable means

    a) the participants are engaged in carrying out or carrying on the knowledge and plans they develop; and
    b) the knowledge is applied and has significance; and

ii) participants’ subsequent work enhances the capacity of others to flexibly engage, that is, to connect with people who are able to take initiative-or are almost able to-in forming communities of practice/change collaborations that provide their participants experiences that enhance their ability to flexibly engage.

b. Conditions that might contribute directly or indirectly to these criteria being fulfilled

  • it brings to the surface knowledge of the participants that they were not able, at first, to acknowledge.
  • participants get to know more about each others’ not-yet-stable aspects.
  • quiet spaces that occur are not filled up.
  • participants recognize that there is insight in every response.
  • the facilitator invites participants to share the experience of being unsure, but excitable.
  • the facilitator provides participants with the image of a workshop as a journey into unknown areas or allowing them to see familiar areas in a fresh light. (A workshop/journey involves risk; requires support; creates more experiences than can be integrated at first sight; yields personal changes.)
  • participants gain insight into their present place and direction by hearing what they happen to mention and omit in telling their own stories.
  • participants are heard.
  • participants hear others and hear themselves better as a result of being heard.
  • this hearing of others leads participants to examine decisions made in advance about what the other people are like, what they are and are not capable of.
  • participants inquire further on the issues that arise in their own projects.
  • participants inquire further into how they support the work of others.
  • participants’ energies are mobilized by the process.
  • there is a wide range of participants, not only technically expert participants.
  • the plans allow for individual participants to select and focus on a subset of the workshop-generated specific plans or knowlege in their subsequent work.
  • the process, as a learning community, enables participants to ask for help and support during the workshop.
  • the process, as a learning community, enables participants to develop relationships that will enable them keep getting help and support when the workshop is over.
  • participants find opportunities to affirm what is working well.
  • the reflection on each phase leads to one concrete product to take into next phase.
  • the experiences of the workshop enhance the ability of the participants to flexibly engage.

c.  Extracts from structural model

Adapted from

Collaboration among diverse participants

“…the challenge of bringing into interaction not only a wider range of researchers, but a wider range of social agents, and to the challenge of keeping them working through differences and tensions until plans and practices are developed in which all the participants are invested.”

The quote comes from p.199 of my book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement Chicago UP (2005). In this book, I argue (quoting here from my website homepage) “that both the situations studied and the social situation of the researchers can be characterized in terms of unruly complexity or ‘intersecting processes’ that cut across scales, involve heterogeneous components, and develop over time. These cannot be understood from an outside view; instead positions of engagement must be taken within the complexity. Knowledge production needs to be linked with planning for action and action itself in an ongoing process so that knowledge, plans, and action can be continually reassessed in response to developments — predicted and surprising alike.”

The emphasis on “involv[ing] heterogeneous components” poses a challenge for such a process view of knowledge-making and reassessing, thus the question this session aims to address. The emphasis on “cut[ting] across scales” also sets up a tension that concerns me, namely, taking seriously the participation of diverse people whose livelihood is directly dependent on an ecosystem or city or…, and, at the same time, acknowledging researchers’ professional identities and abilities as people who can contribute analyses of changes that arise beyond the local region or at a larger scale than the local.

A 18 Feb. 2010 faculty seminar addressed these challenges through a post-it brainstorming and clustering (described elsewhere).   In brief, to generate ideas on post-its participants were asked to: “Imagine a project you’re working on or and endeavor you’d like to pursue. It’s 2-3 years in the future. You meet a friend and are telling them how wonderful it is that the project is managing to ‘bring… into interaction not only a wider range of researchers, but a wider range of social agents, and [kept] them working through differences and tensions until plans and practices are developed in which all the participants are invested.’ The friend asks what has contributed to making that possible.”  Each participant then grouped the post-its and named the resulting clusters, then grouped those clusers, etc.  This is my synthesis.

Later, I subject the clusters to back-of-the-envelope “interpretive structural modeling,” in which the cluster is lower in the diagram and linked to a cluster above it if addressing or acknowledging the consideration reflected in the first cluster makes it easier to address the consideration reflected in the second cluster. The result is given in a prezi presentation, in which the clusters are also grouped within three frames as defined in the original synthesis, and these are grouped into one overall theme at the top.*

* This prezi can be viewed as a whole by zooming in or out using the + and – button. Or, by clicking the arrow you can trace the various pathways of the form addressing/acknowledging the lower consideration makes it easier to address the higher consideration. Or, by clicking the More button you can do this automatically and can see a full screen view.

It is interesting to note that addressing or acknowledging that “FEAR IS REAL, BUT WE HAVE HAD SECURE BASES” lies at the root. In the jargon of ISM, it is a deep driver. (Conversely, not taking time/space to address that makes it harder to make progress on the other concerns.)

Why emphasize collaboration in environmental research?

Since the 1990s collaboration has become a dominant concern in environmental planning and management (Margerum 2008), but the need to organize collaborative environmental research can be traced back at least as far as the tropical rainforest ecosystem projects led by H.T. Odum in the 1950s and 60s (Odum and Pigeon 1970).  This emphasis ran through the International Biological Program (1964-74) and the Long-Term Ecological Research projects that began in 1980.  Yet what exactly is it about developing environmental knowledge that calls for collaboration?  A number of different ways to think about collaboration in environmental research can be readily identified (Taylor 2001).  We divide this list into two categories: the first reflecting the simple idea that collaboration aims for a sum of multiple parts; the second, the hope that something greater than the sum of those parts will emerge through their interaction (Box 1).

Box 1. Why emphasize collaboration in environmental research?

A. Sum of the Parts

Combining multiple perspectives

• When research is tied together with planning and management that involves meetings and networks of representatives of established and emerging stakeholder groups, the knowledge and questions from the different groups and kinds of research needs to inform the research projects (Margerum 2008, Wondolleck and Yaffee 2000).

• When researchers are concerned about social justice, they can shape their inquiries through ongoing work with and empowerment of people whose lives stand to be most affected by some change in social policy or technological development, such as digging of deep wells for irrigation (Greenwood and Levin 1998).

• When the knowledge and research skills of more than one person/specialty are needed, multi-disciplinary research teams are established.

• When the labor of research, especially in data collection, is beyond any research group, amateurs—”citizen scientists”—can be sought as collaborators (Wikipedia n.d., Barrow 2000).

• Workshops and other organized multi-person collaborative processes in environmental research constitute a self-conscious example of what sociologists of science and technology have called “heterogeneous engineering” (i.e., the mobilization of a variety of resources by diverse agents spanning different realms of social action) (Taylor 2005, 93ff).

Extending over time

• The nature of environmental complexity means that ongoing assessment (as against a one-time analysis) is needed, so an ongoing organization or group is formed to conduct the assessment.  (The need for ongoing assessment is recognized in the field of Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management; Resilience Alliance n.d., Gunderson et al. 1995.)

Spanning distance

• Researchers in separate projects and disparate locations use the tools of eco-informatics to combine their data and thereby generate a larger picture (Halpern et al. 2008).

B. Greater than the Sum of the Parts (i.e., outcomes over and above A.)

Generating new perspectives

• Knowledge and further research questions can be generated that the collaborators (individually or in sum) did not have when they came in (Olsen and Eoyang, 2001).


• Guided by skillful facilitators, collaborators can become invested in the plans, policy, and ongoing collaborations that emerge from the research (Stanfield 2002, 17ff).

Developing capacities

• Collaborators develop skills and dispositions for collaboration in various settings, as warranted by the rise of citizen participation and of new institutions of “civil society” (Burbidge 1997, Taylor 2005, 204ff).

We have expressed the items in the second, “greater than the sum of the parts” category in more generic terms, but we see them as grounded in many of the more concrete objectives of the first category.  At the same time, we recognized that the objectives in the second category raised questions about the theory and practice of collaboration that need not be specific to environmental research:  Why do well-facilitated group processes result in collaborators’ investment in the product of the processes?  How can collaborators (or facilitators of collaboration) ensure that knowledge generated is greater than any single collaborator or sum of collaborators came in with?  How does a person become skilled and effective in contributing to such outcomes?

There is an obvious flip side to these questions.  What can we learn from interdisciplinary workshops and collaborations that fail, for the most part, to generate new knowledge and investment in the product; that do not enhance participants’ ability to contribute to effective collaborations in the future?  Each of us had seen time, energy, funds (and associated carbon footprint) poured into workshops in which the parts competed more than added up to any sum.  Where the pressure for products was allowed to squelch generative processes so that participants perpetuated familiar patterns of defending territory and speaking at cross-purposes.  Where we headed home without being enriched by perspectives and frameworks from other disciplines—and, in many cases, without any products emerging.  Yet, grouching about such frustrating experiences (which seem far from rare) is not productive; the question is how can we do better?

Current Direction of Inquiry: Becoming skilled and effective in contributing to collaborations

Let us pick up the last question that flowed from the “greater than the sum of the parts” objectives: How does a person become skilled and effective in contributing to collaborations?

Excerpt from “Cultivating Collaborators: Concepts and Questions Emerging Interactively From An Evolving, Interdisciplinary Workshop” (with S. Fifield and C. Young) Science as Culture, forthcoming.  (In the meantime, contact me if you want the references.)


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