The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative Center Opens at Michigan State University
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The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative Center Opens at Michigan State University

The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative Center Opens at Michigan State University

In June 2021, the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative (TDI) Center was created to provide research-based capacity building services to teams and communities around the world. Using dialogue-based workshops and similar activities, TDI Center works with groups interested in improving their ability to collaborate. With partners that include several programs at the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), the European Commission, and multiple universities, the TDI Center will serve as a hub for ongoing capacity building and an engine for developing new projects. Led by Executive Director Michael O’Rourke and Associate Directors Dr. Edgar Cardenas, Dr. Chet McLeskey, and Dr. Marisa Rinkus, the TDI Center is a self-supporting service center that builds on 14 years of work by TDI, including the past four years as part of the MSU Center for Interdisciplinarity (C4I).

TDI is a research and outreach program that focuses on understanding and facilitating communication and collaboration in interdisciplinary research. It has been based in C4I since 2017 under the direction of O’Rourke, although it traces its origins back to 2007 at the University of Idaho. It began as an attempt to use philosophical dialogue to address concerns in an NSF-funded Integrative Graduate Education and Training project and has grown into an internationally recognized approach to collaborative capacity building. TDI has increased its profile and influence through outreach and research, conducting over 400 workshops around the world with more than 3,500 participants and publishing over 40 peer-reviewed articles. Over the past five years, TDI has been awarded $2.7 million in grants primarily from NSF and NASA to support its facilitation and research activities.

​​Collaborative groups face many challenges when bringing together diverse perspectives. Attention to these perspectives can be crucial at the early stages when building momentum is critical and later on as groups work to sustain that momentum. Developed by TDI, the Toolbox dialogue method is an evidence-informed facilitation approach that surfaces implicit assumptions and diverse perspectives in complex, cross-disciplinary research projects for joint consideration and coordination. TDI has conducted workshops with research teams, research communities, undergraduate and graduate courses, training groups, community-based organizations, and ad hoc groups of participants interested in the approach. These workshops have taken place both virtually and in-person with participants in 26 states and 16 countries on 6 continents. Most have involved scientific teams, although TDI workshops have been conducted for university courses, community organizations, and university-community partnerships. You can learn more about our work at https://tdi.msu.edu/.