Form: The Toolbox Project examines the use of structured, philosophical dialogue as a means of facilitating the enhancement of collaborative communication in research that crosses disciplinary and professional lines. The project has two components: outreach and research. Since its inception in a team-based Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship project at the University of Idaho, the Toolbox Project has aimed to use philosophical concepts and methods in an outreach effort designed to enhance the ability of collaborators to communicate efficiently about their shared project. In conjunction with this, the project has conducted research concerning the impact of philosophical dialogue on communication dynamics in collaborative science and the value of structured dialogue as a method of evaluating epistemic integration in the context of inter- and transdisciplinary projects.

Means: The Toolbox approach has two primary components: a survey instrument and a workshop. The survey instrument—the “Toolbox”—is a structured set of prompts organized in modules. Each prompt expresses a fundamental assumption one might make about aspects of research activity, and an associated Likert scale allows collaborators to indicate whether this assumption figures into their own research or professional worldview. Together, the prompts cover a wide range of epistemic, metaphysical, and axiological assumptions. The survey instrument is distributed and completed by collaborators in a workshop setting. The bulk of the workshop is devoted to a lightly facilitated dialogue among collaborators about their research and professional worldviews, structured by the categories of assumptions contained in the Toolbox instrument. Data of several different types are collected before, during, and after the workshop, providing the project with insight into any effect the experience has on participants.

Ends: The leading idea behind the Toolbox approach is that structured dialogue about research and professional assumptions will enhance self- and mutual understanding, thereby leading to more effective and efficient communication about the collaborative project. In addition to enhancing the communication dynamic of participating teams, the approach has been used to evaluate the ability of teams to communicate effectively across disciplinary and professional lines.

Outcomes: We have conducted 98 Toolbox workshops around the world, with a variety of cross-disciplinary groups at several levels (e.g., undergraduate, graduate, professional). To date, we have produced three distinct Toolbox instruments: the original instrument that focuses on STEM research, one that concerns translational health science, and one that concerns transdisciplinary climate science. In addition to NSF funding, we have received support through partnerships with several large, transdisciplinary initiatives around the United States. Evidence collected to date indicates that participation in the workshop has a salutary impact on self- and mutual understanding of research approaches (Eigenbrode et al. 2007; O’Rourke and Crowley 2012; Schnapp et al. 2012).

(With thanks to Michael O'Rourke for this contribution)


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