Tag Archives: creative thinking

Creative Thinking in Epidemiology (Day 3 of Learning Road Trip)

On Sept. 21, the Creative Thinking in Epidemiology workshop was run again, this time with researchers associated with Cancer Care Ontario and the Epidemiology Department at the University of Toronto. Continue reading


Creative Thinking in Epidemiology (Day 1 of Learning Road Trip)

Today is the first of 20 days of what I am calling a “Learning Road Trip.”  Each day’s post will present the planned activity and be revised later to indicate how it went.

Creative Thinking in Epidemiology is a 4.5 hour workshop on 19 Sept hosted by ENVIRON in Amherst, MA, with participation from UMass Amherst. Continue reading

Creative Thinking in Epidemiology: 5. Alternatives to some statistical conventions & 6. Agent-oriented epidemiology

5.  Alternatives to some statistical conventions: As I have developed my ability to read the epidemiological literature and explain the methods and controversies over methods to others, I have taken note of approaches or perspectives that depart from statistical conventions.  The third Appendix includes some items from my mixed grab bag of alternatives.  There is no grand theory linking them.  Readers might have objections to some of the alternatives and the thinking behind them, but they might also be stimulated to explore their implications further.  Continue reading

Creative Thinking in Epidemiology: 4. Wider discussion among researchers

4.  Wider discussion among researchers: As mentioned in the introduction, my Epidemiological Thinking course (http://ppol753.wikispaces.umb.edu) is designed with a view to more non-specialists becoming conversant with the methods, results, and controversies in social epidemiology and related fields.  I envisage a form of epidemiological literacy in which specialists can be drawn into conversation or collaboration by other researchers who appreciate epidemiological concepts even if they lack the technical skills to analyze the data themselves.  Indeed, I hope my course engages students who would either avoid a biostatistically oriented epidemiology course or would lose their grip on most of the technical details after struggling through such a course. Continue reading

Creative Thinking in Epidemiology: 3. Epidemiological thinking in public discourse

3. Epidemiological thinking in public discourse:  We do not fully understand an idea until we are able to explain it to the common person—something to that effect was proposed by, I think, the geographer and anarchist Peter Kropotkin.  In this spirit, epidemiologists might try using epidemiological thinking to clarify issues that arise in the media or public discourse.  In addition to the deeper or perhaps revised understanding, epidemiologists could build from such exercises a basis for a more public role and that might lead eventually to greater support for epidemiology and public health. Continue reading

Creative Thinking in Epidemiology: 2. Tools/processes and connections

2.  Tools/processes and connections:  Participants in a workshop can expect the processes of the workshop and the connections made among participants to add something unavailable from reading a paper on the same topic—otherwise, why have a workshop?  The tools/processes and connections should help participants generate insights about the topic and help them learn from contributions that others make.  When the topic is “Creative Thinking in Epidemiology” participants might also hope that the workshop tools/processes and connections can be carried over so that they continue to use them to help generate insights after the workshop and make changes in practice (i.e., not simply continue along previous lines).  Indeed, my thinking about workshops and other “organized multi-person collaborative processes” (Taylor 2001) is that

a) the carry-over of tools/processes and connections should be valued as much as the contributions to the official workshop topic; and

b) in the carry over from the here and now of the workshop to what goes on subsequently, what is important is the positive experiences, not only the tangible products.

These considerations, which inform the program for the workshop, are summarized in the following schema.

With the goal of producing positive experiences, the workshop program is built around four principles:

a) Participants always bring a lot of knowledge about the topic, so allow that to be brought to surface and acknowledged;

b) What you really learn from a workshop or participatory experience is what you integrate with your own concerns;

c) There should be reflection on each phase that leads to one concrete product to take into next phase; and

d) The workshop should unfold according to the sequence of “4Rs,” that is, a well-facilitated collaborative process keeps us listening actively to each other, fostering mutual Respect that allows Risks to be taken, elicits more insights than any one person came in with (Revelation), and engages us in carrying out and carrying on the plans we develop (Re-engagement).  What we come out with is very likely to be larger and more durable than what any one person came in with; the more so, the more voices that are brought out by the process (Taylor et al. 2011).


These considerations also inform the program for the workshop.  The 4Rs lies at the center of the following elaboration of the first schema.

Tangible & Experiential Objectives for a Workshop



Process as Product

Product in Conventional Sense



Tools & Processes





Contributions to Topic




Here & Now



Tangible Outcomes

Learn or refresh tools.

Participate in processes.

Practice facilitating processes (optional).

Establish or thicken connections among participants. Probe, clarify, expose open questions.

Insights about new directions for participants’ research, writing, teaching, outreach.



Respect->Risk->Revelation –> Re-engagement

(through Learning, Interacting, Sharing, Connecting, Communing)



–> Enthusiasm, Hope, Resolve, Courage Sustained



Tangible Outcomes

Cultivating ourselves as participants, collaborators & question-openers.

Adopt, adapt, evaluate & develop tools & processes.

Connections maintained & developed.

Local (i.e., participants’ current realms) kept in tension with trans-local connections.

Individuals move in the new directions.

Compilation of reflections throughout the workshop

—> Programmatic overview?



  • What tools or processes and connections have you carried over from previous workshops or collaborations?

Creative Thinking in Epidemiology: 1. An image

Contribution 1.  An image: To be interested in creative thinking in epidemiology is to accept that it is “no longer possible to simply continue along previous lines” (to quote a foreign participant in a past workshop).  Now, it makes good sense to continue along previous lines—to apply the techniques we are skilled in, seek grants from the sources that have funded us, address the problems we are recognized as experts in, collaborate with colleagues who have worked well in a team before, and so on.  Moreover, continuing along previous lines does not mean we do not change, but that change builds on what we are comfortable with.  Yet, an interest in not simply continuing along previous lines means we seek perspectives, problems, tools, connections, and audiences that make us feel troubled when we do continue along previous lines.

Question in preparation for the workshop:

  • What factors have influenced you in the past to shift your original direction of research or even your career (if this has happened to you)?