Scaffolding, Vertical Unity and Future Ideal Retrospective

A proposed method for you to define “scaffolding”( that:
a) has a vertical unity, from which changes horizontally flow;
b) can be revised or repeated readily in different situations;
c) is not so much taken away once the structure is built as internalized and thus gets built on;
d) integrates your personal perspectives with those of others (while not attempting to span the various levels of social action in intersecting social worlds). Read more of this post


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.

Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change

Ben Schwendener, a musician, composer, teacher of music and composing, began teaching a graduate Seminar on Creativity online May 31.  As director of the Program (Critical & Creative Thinking) I was invited to listen in and even participate as a student.  The project I decided to develop during the course is the Collaborative for Exploration of Scientific and Political Change.  The posts to follow will show the unfolding of my thinking.

1 June 2011
Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change
My current understanding of Ben’s critique of method is that to work from method is to pursue the horizontal without attention to the vertical unity of elements upon which change flows naturally. An example of this problem might be a curriculum that says topics A-H must be covered, in contrast to identifying the six themes that underlie the subject matter (as proposed by science educator Paul Jablon, Lesley University) or my 4R’s (Respect->Risk->Revelation->Re-engagement) of developing as a collaborator or the many Rs of developing as a Reflective Practitioner during the CCT program of studies. Another way of stating this example is to consider the desired outcome. The student who has taken the required subjects is assumed to be able to draw on the knowledge (subject to an inevitable decay if the knowledge is not used), but a student who appreciates the six themes approach has a coherent, integrated perspective from which to address future areas of learning.

What doesn’t yet fit in this understanding of the Vertical/unity and Horizontal/change are the themes that emerge from Strategic Planning or the Future Ideal Retrospective activities. These themes are the names given to clusters of brainstormed items and, in my teaching, the names should denote movement or change—how this cluster of items speaks to moving us towards the future ideal. I wonder, could these movement-change themes be elements of a vertical unity (even though change, as I understand it, is supposed to be associated with the horizontal)?

  • B.S. 6/14 email: -yes. Consider as ‘Supra-Vertical’ or Formal Elements functioning as active components of the whole.

For the Collaborative, the elements might be the tools and processes used in PBL and the connections made through addressing the PBL scenarios when these tools, processes, and connections produce participants who can take them into new situations. (I call this flexible engagement: “An ideal in which researchers in any knowledge-making situation are able to connect quickly with others who are almost ready—either formally or otherwise—to foster participatory processes and, through the experience such processes provide their participants, contribute to enhancing the capacity of others to do likewise.” [Unruly Complexity (2005, p. 225)].) This is in contrast to thinking of change as referring to any real-world issue contained in the PBL scenario. Although PBL could be designed for a group that is prepared to act, CESPOC stays clear of claiming to convene or be the basis for such groups. Instead, it is learning and developing support for learning that would go into CESPOC’s still-to-be-clarified vertical unity.

(I wonder if this last distinction is like Parker Palmer’s realization that he was a teacher more than a social change activist [Let Your Life Speak, 2000]. His do-ing is to teach clarifying practices that others might use to prepare themselves to do something to change education or, more broadly, society.)

Future Ideal Retrospective, a new variant incorporating silent clustering by the group

A future ideal retrospective  activity “collaboratively contributes to each participant generating a practical vision for future developments based on evaluations or on statements, questions, and/or reservations concerning a certain challenge.”  The following variant incorporates a) a silent group clustering process (thanks to elizaBeth Simpson of School for Designing a Society) and b) coaching the group in naming clusters in an active, direction-indicating way.  It was developed by Felicia Sullivan and me at a recent workshop in Portugal on collaborative production of knowledge (thus the specific wording in the steps to follow).

1. Imagine May 2014, you meet someone and you are telling them: “I am very pleased with my work as a researcher concerned with collaborative production of knowledge (in some area of) the life sciences and public engagement.” The person asks you to tell them what happened over that last three years to bring you to this state->Prepare 5 items (in large block letters on 11″ x 3″ sheets of paper).

2.  Silent Grouping of the items.  (Feel free to move any single item or group of items, even breaking up someone else’s group, but take time to notice the clusters that emerge—don’t rush.)  [While this is happening, an assistant types up the items so each participant can view their own copy of the items during step 6.]

3. Naming of the clusters (together as a group).  (Avoid nouns and categories.  Instead, invent a phrase that captures how the cluster moves us towards the future ideal, e.g., not “humor” or “scramble,” but “Kept humor about the scramble needed to keep things going.”)

4. Repeat 2 & 3

5. Review of a previous F.I.R. to provide guidance for step 6.

6. Individual grouping of items and naming (including discussion in pairs of initial attempts). [See my clusters for the specific case in step 1.]

7. Review of the different clusterings and namings.

Areas for more further development:

a.  Instructions for the naming process.

b. Distinguishing clusters (which may overlap) from classification (which involves dichotomies).

c. Extending beyond this first Future Ideal phase phase to identify the underlying obstacles and eventually strategic directions.

Ethics of participatory process, in relation to linking environment, science, and action

Notes from a discussion group at “Linking Ecology and Ethics for a Changing World: Values, Philosophy, and Action,” 14th Cary Conference
Facilitated by Peter Taylor (using tools from Taylor and Szteiter 2010)

Special emphasis in initial proposal to the conference organizers about the discussion group:

  • “…the challenge of bringing into interaction not only a wider range of researchers, but a wider range of social agents, and… the challenge of keeping them working through differences and tensions until plans and practices are developed in which all the participants are invested” (Taylor 2005, 199)

Read more of this post

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

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