Workshop on Making Spaces for Connecting, Probing, Reflecting, Creating

“Most workshops are dysfunctional—this one wasn’t!” read one evaluation from the first New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC) workshop in 2004. Appreciative feedback like that may feel like validation for any workshop or collaborative processes that you facilitate, but how well can you articulate or support the principles or theory about personal and group change that underlie those processes? Moreover, how would you lead people who experience the dysfunction in many workshops, collaborations, conferences and meetings into making the effort to create something more fulfilling?

This four-day workshop is intended to allow participants to delve into the principles or theory that underlie their own workshop or collaborative processes and develop plans to make those processes more effective in some sense(s) that they deem important….
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Compilation of links distributed to Thinktank on Science and Social Justice education

“…Bringing critical analysis of science to bear on the practice and applications of science has not been well developed or supported institutionally. Given this, I have contributed actively to the development of society-at-a-small-scale, through new collaborations, programs, and other activities, new directions for existing programs, and collegial interactions across disciplines and regions…” (from Intersecting Processes: complexity and change in environment, biomedicine and society) Read more of this post

The schema of open spaces workshops, extended

In brief, the schema of open spaces workshops consists of three contrasts or movements: Here & now vs. Subsequently; Tangible outcomes versus Experiential; and Process as Product (Tools & Processes and Connections) versus conventional Products.



The idea of flexible engagement is that people’s experience of engagement prepares them to seek out and pursue other engagements in a similar manner.  In the same spirit, people’s experience of contributing to the topic, such as, creative thinking in epidemiology or any of the themes of the NewSSC workshops, could prepare them to support others to contribute to the topic.  Indeed, the same schema could apply to projects and endeavors other than workshops.  Where contributions to the topic in the schema for workshops refer to insights about new directions for participants’ research, writing, teaching, outreach, we might also consider policy-making, activist-campaigns, media-production, etc.  The same idea that the experiential dimensions make it more likely that the here & now (during the workshop) continues on to the subsequently (after the workshop) apply.

Guided tour of my service and institutional development work II

I. Building a Basis for Interdisciplinary Science, Health, and Environmental Education and Research

(continuing a guided tour of my work presented in the spirit that service and institutional development can also be practically and theoretically coherent)

A. Beyond UMass Boston

1. For discussion of my service and institutional development beyond UMass Boston, refer first to a recent wikipage prepared to support a nomination for a service award for the International Society for History, Philosophy and Social Studies of Biology (ISHPSSB). In brief, ISHPSSB was the most significant venue for my work outside my formal appointments in the 1980s and 90s. Although I continue to organize sessions at the Society’s biennial meetings, my ISHPSSB-style efforts have shifted more to the smaller and more focused New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC), with spin-off workshops this spring in Australia and Portugal.

2. The NewSSC workshops represent an integration of my research—in science and interpretation of science in its social context—with teaching and service—in the form of critical reflection on concepts and practice by researchers and students (consistent with the framework presented in my 2005 book, Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement). The opportunity and challenge of teaching—or fostering the reflective practice of—the diverse adults who come through the Critical and Creative Thinking Graduate Program gave me sufficient experience and confidence to push further in putting that framework into practice with diverse international researchers through NewSSC. The innovative, interaction-intensive NewSSC workshops were designed to facilitate discussion, teaching innovation, and longer-term collaboration among faculty and graduate students who teach and write about interactions between scientific developments and social change. The ongoing evolution of the workshops has been stimulated not only by written and spoken evaluations (linked to the webpages for each workshop), but also by an extended debriefing immediately following each workshop and advisory group discussions, such as one in 2008 that addressed the question of what moves people develop themselves as collaborators. Our conjecture was that this development happens when participants see an experience or training as transformative. After reviewing the evaluations we identified four “R’s”—respect, risk, revelation, and re-engagement—as conditions that make interactions among participants transformative (see Taylor et al. 2010 for elaboration and supporting quotations from the evaluations).
The integration of critical thinking about science and reflective practice is also evident in the daily blog I began at the end of the summer last year and its recent spin-off.

3. Roles in interdisciplinary educational, professional, and program development (outside UMass Boston, since 1998) — see list and associated links at

Discussions in which participants take turns to connect the reading to their own work and questions

This post provides an enriching variant of the discussion format used in James Scott’s Agrarian Studies Program at Yale University.  (I have heard that the format was borrowed from a feminist discussion group, but I have not tracked down the source.)  For the Agrarian Studies Program’s weekly seminars a paper has been precirculated and a primary discussant leads off with a prepared 10 minute response.  Participants other than the author then take turns to comment on the paper or follow up on comments others make.  Only after the first hour has passed is the author permitted to speak.  At that point it’s scarcely possible for the author to respond by addressing each comment from the previous hour.  Instead, typically, the author makes a semi-organized, extended contribution to the discussion, which then continues for a second hour with them as a participant.

Some years ago, at the annual New England Workshop on Science and Social Change, we initiated a variation on the Scott-feminist response format.  Again a paper has been precirculated and the author has to listen before having a chance to speak.  At NewSSC, however, there is no primary respondent.  Everyone is given an equal amount of time—10 minutes—to describe how the paper connects with their own work and how it stimulates their own thinking and questioning.  The author often does not receive direct comments on their exposition and argument, but is nonetheless enriched by the experience of listening to everyone’s personally centered responses, as is evident in the comments the authors have made when they got their chance to speak.  Equally important, the participants are put in a space where they can listen well, for this format eliminates the common pattern of our holding on tight until we get our chance to make an incisive point on, say, the middle paragraph of page 5.  Also, by listening to how the other participants connect to one text, everyone gets to know each other in deeper ways, thus enriching the basis for subsequent interactions during the workshop.

At NewSSC, this activity starts the second of four days, where the first day consists mostly of extended autobiographical introductions, but the same format can be used in a 90-minute faculty seminar or a classroom discussion of a reading (where, usually of course, the author is not present to respond at all).

The discussion facilitator’s role is to ask for a volunteer to take first turn responding, make sure everyone takes a turn before a general discussion is opened up, and keeps everyone to the 10 minutes—Quite interesting insights emerge whenever someone who claims after, say, 6 minutes, to have said all they need to say is given the space to be quiet and then continue when ready.

I hope the unidentified feminists who Scott borrowed from would be pleased with this evolutionary descendant of their approach.

An example of a generative, reflective meeting

To provide an example of a generative, reflective meeting, this post shares some notes from a monthly, conference-call discussion among past participants of the New England Workshop on Science and Social Change (NewSSC).  In these notes, its not so obvious how the series of items built one from the other or added up to new directions.  And these meeting are to stay connected, not to formulate action plans, so do not provide a model for action-oriented meetings.  However, the leads were interesting enough (and often new) to me that they seem worth sharing.  (The notes have been stripped down so as to remove information that might identify the participants.)

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