In the back of our minds was this question: how might our Sandpit (aka Ideas Lab) methodology work for a development problem? Instead of different scientific disciplines, could you invite a diverse line-up of stakeholders, aide organizations, NGOs, local partners and businesses and people – why not include the people for whom the solution is meant to impact – to use our process to get to uniquely novel ideas?
Funding agencies issuing large grants are favoring bidders who can demonstrate their ability to work as a team. Except scientists aren’t really trained to work in teams. If anything, scientific training is becoming hyper-specialized. It’s not that individual scientists can’t solve important challenges, but they may not recognize how their skillset could address other challenges outside of their own domains.
In our workshops, we’ve interacted with participants of all sorts of behaviors. Though we encounter our fair share of personality traits and quirks, it is important to recognize that many of the behaviors we come across are simply human nature – and yet not at all conducive to deliberate innovative thinking. We like to test the assumptions about the “best practices” that human beings have learned to employ and demonstrate how they can actually be bettered by workshop facilitators, mentors, and organizers.
In 2014, KI to facilitate a Mentoring Strategies Workshop for ASM-Link, during which we used an Appreciative Inquiry (AI) approach to focus on what worked for participants when they were mentoring others. We came out of that workshop with several stories and an urge to gather more. With a grant from the NSF, we were able to do just that. Over the next year, we set up interviews with academics, researchers, and scientists across the country to gather insight about what works when mentoring underrepresented minorities
This raised our attention to the fact of how much we rely on language to convey meaning, and that if we don’t have a shared understanding, it’s harder to work together and collaborate creatively. Even the creative collaboration has its own language. Just as the scientists arrive with their own lexicon, so do we facilitators. We’ve learned, over time, that the syntax of our métier has been crafted to aide innovation. By using our language deliberately, we can be induce more creative responses.
A 5-day event, like an Ideas Lab or Sandpit, pushes people to their creative and collaborative limits. The experience can be profound and inspiring: identifying new challenges, discovering and developing with breakthrough ideas, meeting and working intensely with academics from other disciplines. But it’s not always easy. An intense workshop like this also has its challenges. It may require navigating a few tricky moments.