Putting the focus on strategic thinking
To have a meaningful and durable impact on society — like scholars at the Institute on the Environment aspire to do — one needs not only great scholarship but also laser-focused strategy. And while universities are full of technical experts and remarkably productive people, individuals focused on real-world, impact-driven strategy are harder to find. To provide expert counsel in this space, IonE invited Barefoot Thinking, a UK-based science consulting firm, to host a three-day workshop for its fellows and senior research staff.
Leaders of the late-spring workshop were Peter Redstone and Martin Bloxham, who have been helping environmental scholars clarify their objectives and scrutinize their tactics for a decade. They built their reputation in the United States as trainers in the Leopold Leadership Program for mid-career environmental scientists.
“Martin and I were excited to come to IonE,” Redstone said, noting that they share IonE’s commitment to a future in which people and the environment prosper together. “It was great to spend three days with this outstanding group, sharing strategic tools and practices,” he added. “We’re confident that this experience will further support the excellent interdisciplinary innovation that IonE enables.”
The workshop allowed participants to reflect on their dominant thinking style and focused on the importance of building diverse teams to tackle complex environmental problems. It also provided participants with concrete tools, from mind-mapping as a form of brainstorming to techniques for evaluating competing priorities. Participants also practiced group problem-solving and tackled individual communications and project development challenges through extended analysis and peer coaching.
“I’ve had an opportunity to work with Peter and Martin before, but I needed a reminder of how important it is to use strategic thinking tools on a daily basis,” said IonE Director Jessica Hellmann, who participated in all three days of the workshop. “I was so inspired by the passion and peer support of the participants. It’s that passion and collaboration that makes IonE such a special place.”
Ten of the workshop participants were members of IonE’s inaugural cohort of pre-tenure faculty, known as the IonE Associates. The workshop was one of several activities the cohort is pursuing during a two-year period to increase the depth and breadth of its members’ interdisciplinary and engaged environmental scholarship. Cohort member Diana L. Karwan, an assistant professor of forest hydrology and watershed management in the College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, said that she felt that the best part of the workshop was its “active, participatory nature.”
“I could put the tools to use during the workshop,” Karwan said. “And one week out, I’m still practicing them.”
IonE plans to offer the Barefoot Thinking workshop again in the coming years, and interested participants should contact Avonna Starck to receive notification of the next date and to hold a spot. A call for nominations for new IonE Associates will be announced in late summer 2017.