Changing Research, Teaching and Society: A one-day “open spaces” workshop

A one-day workshop for academics and postgrads interested in links between academic work and social action. The workshop uses the metaphor of “open spaces” to highlight the value of discussion, reflection, and clarifying one’s identity and affinities with both academic and action dimensions kept in view. The young Karl Marx proclaimed that the “philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point, however, is to change it.” What happens when we allow for more dialogue and deliberation before, or as a complement to, jumping into campaigns for change?
8 February, 2011, 9.30-5.00, University of Wollongong, Australia
(Post extracted from

  • Goals the facilitator had, but made explicit only after the workshop:
    • to create an experience of the 4Rs–respect, risk, revelation, and re-engagement–in the condensed time period of a one-day workshop. (See Taylor et al. 2011, “Cultivating Collaborators: Concepts and Questions Emerging Interactively From An Evolving, Interdisciplinary Workshop” for background to the 4Rs framework.)
    • to give participants an experience of a range of tools/processes conducive to open-space work and hope that they’ll explore these tools/processes further

Facilitator Professor Peter Taylor , University of Massachusetts Boston
Host, Professor Brian Martin

Review of the Day
Workshop description
Ground rules, a beginning

Gift: It’s a gift to the facilitator and the other participants to join in a workshop and in its component parts when the outcome is not clear and the processes are, to some extent, unfamiliar.  And it is a gift to others to listen to them and to yourself to take time to listen and reflect.

Initial activity (guided freewriting on hopes for workshop)
Short introductions
Initial overview of workshop goals

1. Promote Social Contextualization of Research and Teaching
To connect research, teaching and other professional activities into a wider social context beyond the participants’ current disciplinary and academic boundaries.
2. Innovative workshop processes
To facilitate participants connecting theoretical, pedagogical, practical, political, and personal aspects of the issue at hand in constructive ways.
3. Training and capacity-building
To train novice and experienced scholars in process / participation skills valuable in activity-centered teaching, workshops, and collaboration.
4. Repeatable, evolving workshops
To provide a workshop model that can be repeated, evolve in response to evaluations, and adapted by participants.

Autobiographical Introductions – how I came to be someone who would participate in a day-long workshop on links between academic work and social action and the idea of open spaces — 10 minutes each
Gives participants an opportunity to
1. introduce themselves in narrative depth, their current and emerging work,
2. learn more about each other
3. provide diverse material for cross-connections
Peter Taylor will go first to model
10 minutes maximum
Everyone encouraged to take notes on points of intersection, interest, curiosity

Pair discussion of what we might have added/what we omitted and questions we have about the introductions of others.

Tea break

Focus on Detailed Case Study (Theory for activists , Published in Social Anarchism, Number 44, 2010, pp. 22-41, Brian Martin)
Brief intro by author, then participants relate how the paper intersects with or stimulates their own thinking (while author stays quiet, listening) (a variant of the process used in James Scott’s Agrarian Studies seminars, which was borrowed from some feminist group)

LUNCH & Sign up for “Office Hours” (one-on-one consulting)

Office Hours (

Future Idea Retrospective (modeled on applied to the ideal that in 2-3 years time we are really pleased by [approximate wording] our work in open spaces keeping both academic and action dimensions in view. What steps/processes made that happen?

PT’s clusters: 

  • Open questions raised and lead to new open questions
  • Support for Sustaining Self
  • Disciplined pursuit of targets and productivity
  • Well-facilitated communication and group process
  • Collaboration with diverse participants
  • External conditions favorable
    • Afterthought: For the F.I.R. to work, need more time to get participants into the same zone and need an example.

Dialogue Process (introduced in a way that can be taught to a group on the spot, — reviewing (approximately) what we are thinking about open spaces keeping both academic and action dimensions in view.

Closing circle: What we are taking away to chew on from the whole workshop: One Appreciation and Something to be developed

  • Suggestions: Agenda distributed for the day, in visual form, indicating where everything was headed. A concrete example of “open spaces” to make the process less abstract.
    • (Observation by PT: Various participants indicated what they’d change without giving an appreciation, or giving an appreciation first.)


Collaboration among diverse parties
Cultivating Collaboration


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

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