Tag Archives: workshop

Angles to be addressed by any initiative in population-based health intervention research

Participants in a January 2013  workshop in Toronto on designing new initiatives in population-based health intervention research were asked in a session that I facilitated to identify six principles or questions to be addressed by any initiative.  I discerned the categories below in the responses and extract some quotes to illustrate, suggesting that any initiative would need to make room for development in each category and for cross-challenges among them.

  • Knowledge
    • e.g., “Starting point must be full understanding of existing evidence”
  • Infrastructure
    • “Build upon or leverage existing infrastructure which includes cohorts” / “Encourage collaboration across sectors and disciplines to help garner the infrastructure and support needed for large nested RCT cohorts.”
  • Objectives
    • “Address a significant health issue”
  • Methods & conceptualization
    • “Can built environment and other contextual variables be creatively translated into experiments? (What exemplars are there to learn from?)”
  • Audience/motivation
    • “Practitioners and policy makers (decision makers) should be involved in setting priorities” / “An honest account of the formation of Ontario Health Study (and how it has not yet included an intervention arm) would help clarify what needs to be done to get an intervention agenda adopted and funded.”
  • Participants
    • “Can intervention studies be a way to empower cohort study participants? (Passivity -> activity)”
  • Multi-dimensionality
    • “Encourage collaboration across sectors and disciplines to help garner the infrastructure and support needed for large nested RCT cohorts.”
  • Social health
    • “Equity concerns and impact should be built into any intervention study designs – e.g. differential impact of interventions.”
  • Scale
    • (pilot community projects not at scale to have power)

Scaffolding Scientific and Social Change: Workshop in May 2013

Location: Old Fire Station, Woods Hole MA, USA
Dates May 19 (8am) – 22 (2pm)

In this workshop participants will create spaces, interactions and support in formulating plans to extend our own projects of inquiry and engagement in scientific and social change. In making such plans, we will also be exploring and developing the idea of “scaffolding” the efforts of current and potential collaborators. Activities will, as they have at NewSSC since 2004, build on what the particular participants contribute and employ a range of tools and processes for “connecting, probing, and reflecting.” One new feature is that the four days will follow the sequence of a “Collaborative Exploration,” an extension of Problem- or Project-Based Learning in which participants address a scenario in ways that allow them to shape their own directions of inquiry, at the same time as they support and learn from each others’ inquiries. The scenario for this workshop is described at http://sicw.wikispaces.com/NewSSC13Scenario.

Applications are sought from teachers and researchers (including graduate students) who are interested in facilitating discussion, reflection, avid learning, and clarifying one’s identity and affinities in relation to scientific and social change. The Collaborative Exploration format will allow for a limited number of participants over the internet. Newcomers and return participants are welcome. (more…)

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

Early in the year some epidemiologists who had found me on the web, got in touch about helping them with a workshop on Creative Thinking in Epidemiology during a conference in June.  They were interested in how researchers could find fresh directions for their work.  That workshop did not happen, but they were happy to host workshops I offered to lead at their own institutions.  These will happen in September.  Here is the description:

This workshop explores ways to open up new directions in epidemiological thinking and research. Participants will be introduced to tools and processes for individual reflection and group interaction designed to produce the insights and to deepen the people-connections valuable for seeing new paths and generating new opportunities. The workshop facilitator, Peter Taylor, directs the graduate programs in Critical and Creative Thinking and Science in a Changing World at the University of Massachusetts Boston and teaches a doctoral course on epidemiological thinking for non-specialists. His personal goals in leading this workshop are to learn more from epidemiologists about what shapes their practice in research and public health while developing his approaches to stimulating creativity and reflective practice among scientists.

In the posts that follow I present a draft of a discussion paper for a session in the middle of the workshop.  For that session, I give a brief introduction, then participants take turns, say 5 minutes each, to relate how the paper intersects with or stimulates their own thinking (while the author stays quiet, listening).  I join in at the end.  The emphasis is on participants teasing out their own thinking more than on digging into what the author thinks.


I work on the margins of epidemiology.  My contributions to the topic of this workshop do not come from a position of expertise and deep experience.  I am not someone who assembles and analyses epidemiological data, advises policy makers, secures research grants, or leads a research team.  These limitations, however, also give me the freedom to raise questions and stimulate your responses without having to provide the answers.  In this way, I hope this discussion paper and the workshop as a whole succeed in turning my limitations into something positive.

My background is in critical thinking about the life sciences in their social context.  My primary appointment is directing a graduate program on “Critical and Creative Thinking,” in which typically mid-career professionals move their work and lives in new directions.  However, since 2007 I have taught a doctoral course for public policy and nursing students on “Epidemiological thinking and population health.”  I took on this challenge after studying researchers who address the complexity of biological and social influences on the life course development of health and behavior.  Through my research I had become acquainted with a range of methods, results, and controversies in social epidemiology and related fields.  This experience made me want other non-specialists to become conversant with the issues; indeed, “Epidemiological thinking for non-specialists” was the course title the first time around.  This said, I have drawn on the advice of many specialists as I chose the readings.  Yet I did not try to channel their authority when teaching and serve as arbiter between competing approaches or perspectives.  I was more interested in drawing students’ attention to alternatives so they would be more critical or probing when they asked advice from biostatisticians and other specialists.  I was quite open about joining with my students in employing strategies of reading that allowed us to extract take-home lessons even as we skimmed sections of readings that were too technical for us.

I offer the six contributions to follow in a similar spirit to my teaching of the epidemiology course:  I am open to learning from epidemiological specialists who can provide a deeper account of the conceptual and practical issues in any case (and correct my presentation when necessary).  At the same time, I want to draw attention to and invite discussion on contrasting approaches or perspectives so you can be more critical or probing when charting your paths ahead.  However, these six contributions by no means circumscribe the issues you might bring to the topic of creative thinking in epidemiology.

Collaborative production of knowledge: Health, environment, and publics

The workshop “Collaborative production of knowledge: Health, environment, and publics” in Arouca, Portugal aimed to

make sense of the growing attention to the collaborations with the public (or different selection of the public) in the production of knowledge about health and environmental concerns. All research is collaborative-even solitary scientists have to secure audiences if their findings are to become established as knowledge-so why emphasize collaboration in health and environmental research? The workshop will consider the diverse reasons that might be put forward to explain that emphasis. How are different angles on collaboration related in theory and practice? In what ways can scientists, science educators, science shop organizers, and researchers in history, philosophy, and social studies of science conceptualize, interpret, teach about, and engage in the collaborative generation of knowledge and inquiry? What can we learn reflexively from our own experience in an interaction-intensive workshop around these questions?

Applications were sought from teachers and researchers (including students) who are interested in promoting the social contextualization of science through interdisciplinary education and outreach activities beyond their current disciplinary and academic boundaries.

At the start of each day participants undertook daily writing on the theme of the workshop.  My own writing makes up the next few posts.

22 May 2011

The growing attention to collaborations with the public in the production of knowledge about health and environmental concerns represents, I believe, a confluence of a number of streams:

  1. “Science for the People” and similar slogans were promoted by radical organizations during the 1970s.   However, scientists pushed back against local democratic accountability and pushed for the “freedom” for their research to be directed by corporations (and to share in profits).  The growing attention to collaborations with the pubic involves a push back against that pushback.
  2. Environment, health, and environmental health issues in particular involve activists who push for changes in policy, expose or exploit controversies in the science, and, in some cases, become conversant in the science and push for changes in funding priorities and regulations.  Collaboration with the public in this case means collaboration with these activist subsets of the public.
  3. Health and, to some extent, environmental remediation require people to follow advice or guidelines from authorities.  Physicians and environmental managers often lament the “lack of compliance” among members of the public.  Collaboration is valuable so these professionals can see the extent to which lack of compliance is rational resistance, can draw models or best practices from successful communities, and can co-develop policies that are more likely to be implemented and maintained.  In short, collaboration is a pragmatic move for professionals who want their advice to be taken up.
  4. The shifting social, economic, and political conditions means that ongoing innovation, monitoring, and adjustment is needed.  The “unruly complexity” of health and environmental situations does not allow for overarching, once-and-for-all knowledge to be established.

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 (http://k12s.phast.umass.edu/~stemtec/) 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. “

from http://www.faculty.umb.edu/pjt/gallerywalk.html
Updated: 6-17-02, with revisions on 12-6-10.