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. Read more of this post

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