By Yulia A. Strekalova and Wayne T. McCormack
How can we ignite discovery conversations and foster open, psychologically safe conversations among researchers from different disciplines who have not met previously?
This blog post is based on the findings of a workshop with pre-doctoral trainees (Strekalova and McCormack 2020), but is likely to have broader relevance. The workshop was structured around the initial steps of Strategic DoingTM (Morrison et al., 2019), a disciplined approach to facilitating complex collaborative projects. The conversations in the room progressed by addressing five key PROBE-Action questions.
Question 1. What personal expertise and interests are represented in the room?
When they introduce themselves, ask the participants to think about themselves as members of a community of practice who bring particular expertise that contributes to methodological knowledge shared by the members of their community. By listening carefully for the patterns in the tapestry of research interests, facilitators can then help to identify smaller groups for subsequent conversations.
Question 2. What resources are available and can be freely shared?
This question opens up an actual collaborative conversation. Two considerations are key in facilitating a discussion around resources. First, interests and sources can represent different types of assets, such as connections within and outside an organization, access to software, skills in using particular equipment and technologies, conceptual and methodological knowledge, and many others. However, these resources need to be available for sharing, and this is the second key message.
Question 3. What opportunities for collaboration emerge?
Once several resources are identified and shared, ask participants to think through opportunities to collaborate. Participants are encouraged to propose how two resources can be used together and how more resources can be added. The aim is to have a conversation around merging the resources identified by different people, exploring the qualitative connections that may exist among them, and labeling the emerging opportunity. Facilitators can also ask participants to consider three to four different combinations of resources. This step allows prospective collaborators to stay in the exploration stage, practice shared leadership and consider different combinations of available resources.
Question 4: What are the Big Easy collaborative opportunities?
Participants are then asked to evaluate emerging opportunities, by rating each collaborative opportunity based on its impact for their academic development and program of research, and also based on how easily it could be implemented. Facilitators use these ratings to trigger a new conversational activity. The starting point for conversations is where the same opportunity is given significance ratings of “1” and “5” by different participants. Such rating leads to a discussion about differences in assumptions and expected outcomes for the opportunity. This is followed by a similar discussion about ratings of ease of implementation, which provide an opportunity to discuss methodological assumptions around collaborative opportunities.
Question 5: What specific small action will take place in the next 14-30 days?
It is essential that the conversations in the room are followed by action. At the end of the workshop we ask participants to note a specific step or action to take in the next two to four weeks. We also ask participants to consider setting up a time for follow up conversations before leaving the room.
In conclusion, we would like to leave readers with a few questions to reflect, ponder, and comment on. What strategies have you used to guide collaborative conversations and connections? How are they similar to and different from the process described here? If you have not used a systematic approach before, do you think it might help you?
Morrison, E., Hutcheson, S., Nilsen, E., Fadden, J. and Franklin, N. (2019). Strategic Doing: Ten Skills for Agile Leadership. John Wiley and Sons: New Jersey, United States of America. See also the Strategic Doing TM website: https://strategicdoing.net/
Strekalova, Y. A. and McCormack, W. (2020). How to start a strategic research conversation with a stranger. (Online): https://medium.com/@yuliastrekalova/how-to-start-a-strategic-research-conversation-with-a-stranger-c4335367f651
Biography: Yulia A. Strekalova PhD MBA is Assistant Research Professor of communication at the University of Florida and Director of Educational Development and Evaluation at the University of Florida Clinical and Translational Science Institute in Gainesville, Florida, USA. Her research intersects health communication, adult education, and social interaction, and she is particularly interested in the role of communication in collaborative and experiential learning in virtual and interpersonal environments. As a trained coach and facilitator, she translates her conceptual knowledge and applies it to guide complex conversations around biomedical research and healthcare delivery.
Biography: Wayne T. McCormack PhD is Distinguished Teaching Scholar and Professor, Department of Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine, and Director of Doctoral Programs at the Clinical and Translational Science Institute at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida, USA. Becoming involved in administration rather early in his career, he has been involved in virtually every facet of graduate program planning, curriculum development, recruiting & admissions, and administration. His research efforts are focused on education-related projects, including team-based learning, responsible conduct of research training, team science, and competency-based assessment of science PhD training.