statements or questions after the workshop introductions

“After all the intros, extract from our sheets of connections 5 statements or questions”

(feel free to contribute more statements or questions)

  • How can we engage people earlier on to introduce public health careers – like epi and biostats ­– especially focusing on students who have strength and interests in science, calculus, math in high school & early college years?
  • Need to find mentors, guide them on how to identify and find a good fit and continue some relationship long term.
  • Interest in teaching others how to use epi – esp. clinical people, show how it contributes to xx relevant public health impact.
  • Our workplaces emphasize innovation without defining it or saying how to recognize it.  We wonder if creativity is innate or if tools can be taught & also wonder how to apply innovative ideas to our work.
  • We all work in groups & provide different amounts of consulting.  We want to work in groups more effectively.
  • We share frustration with standard methods & questions and would like to find ways to expand the range of things we do and the ways we do them.
  • How do you bridge clinical medicine with epidemiological research?
  • How can epidemiological work be more immediately impactful?
  • A challenge is to go beyond creativity to stimulating others to appreciate epidemiological thinking.
  • Another challenge is to create a dynamic relationship between those who take easily to biostats and those who find it difficult.
  • Commonality: Made a move from individual clinical approach to having broader population health impact.
  • Difficult tension between analyses based on sufficient data and more immediate response to human health issue.
  • Life experiences of moving between places leads to interest in exposures over the life course.
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Gathered thoughts from 9/9/12 workshop, shared

1. Name one incident/comment/reaction/quote that stands out from this project as a whole.

  1. ask the people being measured what measures are important to them
  2. common thread to help educate colleagues–junior & senior and non-epidemiologists — on what epi can do (or be in innovation)
  3. creating an aopen space with relevant stakeholders
  4. “The Edge of Chaos” at U. Alabama
  5. great interaction & creative
  6. freewriting
  7. autobiographical histories/introductions
  8. how to measure
  9. The idea that as epidemiologists we need to think outside the box
  10. providing time & space for critical thinking
  11. open spaces fosters creativity
  12. the article did not have a response (as Nancy noted)
  13. Open mind by Cxx
  14. How do you measure innovation?

2a. What excited you?

  1. we share many of the same challenges & questions
  2. great transition time for me-new staff being hired to help me.  fall is new beginning — I can take this home & follow up and do something
  3. the depth & diversity of ideas
  4. measuring success
  5. nature & steps of presentation & discusion
  6. group interaction
  7. the idea of implementing creative/innovative thinking into dialy work routine
  8. idea that what we measure is sustaining of reflective practice in relation to self-defined aspirations that can evolve over time
  9. Hearing people’s thoughts on innovation — ideas & possible strategies
  10. something new wkl(?) is not used everyday
  11. hearing other’s innovations that can apply to my situation
  12. dialy writiing & pet projects
  13. One to one consultation
  14. Innovation based on Epi background and toolbox

2b. What frustrated or perplexed you ?

  1. we share many of the same challenges & questions!
  2. I am more senior than some folks here & have more resources & support.  I feel for the junior people.
  3. not having clear solutions to some of the obvious challenges identified
  4. recurring theme of not having space & time
  5. visual aid
  6. the tools, processes or connections are not specific
  7. the issues surrounding administrative buy-in
  8. time policing -> everything was too quick to reflect on & digest
  9. Roadblocks to getting something initiated that goes against or is different from the status quo
  10. no straight or perfect answer on how to accomplish providing time & space for critical thinking
  11. why are senior management not focused on fostering creativity?
  12. how hard it can be to reach through with new ideas
  13. Not as such..
  14. Barriers, obstacles and non-stimulating environment and management

3a.  What ideas are you going to chew on, develop, inquire into, or put into practice?

  1. -ways to make space & time to engage more people on a broader range of topics  -office hours after group meetings  -how to model these behaviors & atitudes and will that make them self-sustaining?
  2. -Time for myself–change thinking on priorities–whose are they & are they real?  -a thank you to senior people who have supported me  -intro autobiography & brainstorming writing: share this with junior people
  3. how to get senior management’s sustained interest & buy-in
  4. measuring success from the individual’s point of view
  5. use some of the tools provided by Dr. R. Ness in my practice w.r.t. asking the right question at the right time
  6. understand the proposed tools & adapt them to work situation
  7. -work on creating space to be creative, asking for time & making the case  -the edge of chaos
  8. -how to run a workshop that gets to epidemiological themes?  -how to support translation (as well as discussions about support for translation)
  9. Put into practice: freewriting & take time to be creative
  10. -letting people have time & space to do critical thinking & reflecting  -letting those people be empowered to institute change
  11. drawing from other disciplines for ideas to apply in my own
  12. daily writing + follow up question
  13. One to one consultation.. Eorganising from the tools mentioned in the article. Having dialogue  with bosses.
  14. How to translate discussion through mentorship.  Creating innovation through data

3b.  For the group as a whole, what patterns or trends did you see in our CONTRIBUTIONS to the TOPIC of the project and in the questions or lines of INQUIRY opened up?

  1. theme of measurement–how to identify an innovative idea(s) & choose to act on it
  2. see #1 above (common thread to help educate colleagues–junior & senior and non-epidemiologists — on what epi can do (or be in innovation))
  3. (a few individuals expressed their thoughts so I wonder what ideas had by those who were silent)
  4. people building upon previous contributions rather than moving off on tangents
  5. diverse suggestions & opening up of things in the dialogue section
  6. creative thinking is dynamic and difficult to crystallize
  7. issues surrounding measurement of creativity & buy-in from others
  8. sustainability & agreement from persons in charge is needed
  9. we all had similar needs, wants, opinions, ideas & concerns
  10. people should develop their own measurement tools to measure their own job performance
  11. people are usually eager to share (?) ideas in smaller groups than in larger groups
  12. Progressive trend.
  13. Variety of ideas  Expression  Freedom of thought

3c.  For the group as a whole, what patterns or trends did you see in the PROCESS of our INTERACTIONS and contributions?

  1. processes of sharing respectfully
  2. need for buy-in, support => all spoke of how necessary this is
  3. everybody contributed either in the general discussions or breakout groups
  4. less real listening than I’d hoped (from some)
  5. listening to individuals is fulfilling in the field of innovation
  6. quite easy to get self-selected participants to participate in these workshop activities
  7. common barriers to creativity
  8. the process was fair & balanced & equal without pressure or recourse
  9. “structured” free dialogue is an interesting concept because it is counter-intuitive but works in groups settings in a professional field
  10. Interesting.
  11. Allocating resources for innovation

4. What requests/suggestions/support needs do you have as a learner-participant in this project?

  • I need to commit to trying these techniques in my daily life.  I wonder if some group commitment to support one another in applying these techniques might be helpful.  This could be monthly email check-in or “e-dialoguing”
  • -maintenance  -access beyond today  -tracking like is done with grad. students: what are we doing with this in 1, 2,..3 years from now?
  • take an example of real-life challenges and attempt to brainstorm
  • deciding on an activity that is sustainable
  • give feedback report in writing
  • to understand how these methods are applied in other fields such as sociology, public health, politics, and others that affect public health
  • i would like to hear everyone’s autobiographical background -> understand where viewpoint/concerns are coming from -> would like to hear more of this
  • It is great for the facilitator to have assistants
  • published session stories would be gear to read & share with others
  • I wish the link was forwarded by email I would have prepared better ways before hand. There should be more integration among participants,
  • Having participants send in advance bio.  Also individual concept of innovation and workshop concept


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Program for 4-hour workshop on Creativity & Innovation in Epidemiologic Research

Workshop, American College of Epidemiology, 8am-12.15pm, 9/9/12

led by
Peter J. Taylor
Graduate track in Science in a Changing World
University of Massachusetts, Boston, MA 02125, USA.
Assisted by:

  • Nancy Kreiger, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto
  • Sandra Sulsky, ENVIRON International Corporation, Amherst MA

(This document has live links at

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. A special emphasis will be on support for translation of tools, processes, connections, and insights back into our specific work settings.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. The assistants, Nancy Kreiger and Sandy Sulsky co-led a discussion on this topic at ACE 2011, hosted workshops by Peter at their workplaces last fall, and prepared a report published in the ACE newsletter this summer.


Process themes vs. epidemiological themes -> Process themes 1 & 2 [see summary at end]
Initial activity (guided freewriting looking ahead on the workshop, then share one question or idea with neighbor)
Overview of workshop goals [see above and Process themes 3-5 near the end below] and schedule

Autobiographical backgrounds: “How I came to the point where I would want to join in a workshop on creativity and innovation in epidemiological research”

  • Gives participants an opportunity to
    • 1. introduce themselves in narrative depth, their current and emerging work,
    • 2. learn more about each other
    • 3. provide diverse material for cross-connections
  • Peter Taylor goes first to model, then 5 minutes each (in small groups, given the workshop size)

Everyone encouraged to take notes on points of intersection, interest, curiosity.
After every third introduction, stop to draw connections (on a large sheet of paper) and discuss with a neighbor what is emerging.
After all the intros, extract from our sheets of connections 5 statements or questions (copies submitted to be circulated after the workshop).

Make notes on how to adapt or adopt freewriting and the autobiographical background activity into our own settings.

Focus on Discussion paper (precirculated and read in advance) related to the workshop topic.

  • Ness, R.B. (2012). “Tools for Innovative Thinking in Epidemiology.” American Journal of Epidemiology 175(8): 733-738
  • Supplementary reading: blog entries
  • Participants relate how the papers intersect with or stimulate our own thinking. (The author, if present, stays quiet, listening. After that author joins in the discussion, which continues for the time remaining. The emphasis is on participants teasing out their own thinking more than on digging into what the author thinks.)

Make notes on how to adapt or adopt into our own settings this form of response to a shared reading.

Break, including sign up for one-on-one consultations.

One-on-one consultations (a.k.a. “Office Hours”)

  • an opportunity to consult with a specific individual to pursue questions, air ideas, or make connections with a view to “explor[ing] ways to open up new directions in epidemiological thinking and research.”

Make notes on how to adapt or adopt into our own settings this form of one-on-one consultations.

Dialogue Hour (introduced in a way that can be taught to a group on the spot) on: what support do we need if we are to translate tools, processes, connections, and insights from the workshop back into our specific work settings and to open up new directions in our epidemiological thinking and research

  • Gather thoughts to be shared (on (top link) [using smart phone or wireless laptop] or on paper)
  • Closing circle: One thing we are taking away to chew on or put into practice (recorded)

End of formal workshop
Make notes on how to adapt or adopt into our own settings the Dialogue hour format.

Further discussion over lunch at TBA (possibly Chicago’s Magnificent Meal; 520 N Michigan Ave)

Post-workshop, using

  • Post the 5 statements or questions extracted from our sheets of connections
  • Post the gathered thoughts and transcript of closing circle
  • Join the wordpress blog to share inquiries & resources, plans for practice, requests for collaboration or support, themes about the workshop topic, process themes.

Supplementary reading: Taylor, P. and J. Szteiter (2012) Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research and Engagement. Arlington: The Pumping Station (online as paperback or pdf from or as paperback from other online booksellers).

Process themes

to be supplemented on the blog
1. Participants always bring a lot of knowledge about the topic, so allow that to be brought to surface and acknowledged.
2. What you really learn from a workshop or participatory experience is what you integrate with your own history and concerns.
3. The challenges of a workshop are: a) for the tools and processes and for the connections made among participants to yield new insights about the topic; and b) for what happens in those 3 areas to carry over from the here-and-now of the workshop into our work and life situations.
4. The workshop should unfold according to the sequence of “4Rs”: 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 each of us develops (Re-engagement).
5. There should be reflection on each phase to take into next phase.
6. Emphasize inquiry—seeking clarifications and deeper understanding—more than advocacy, making a statement, or establishing shared conclusions.
7. In any go around, it is OK to pass.
8. Facilitators (“leaders”) shouldn’t try to do so without arranging assistants and support.
9. Be proactive to retain space for your own generativity in an unfair world where other people discount your contributions and waste your time.


Epidemiological themes

to be supplemented on the blog
1. Novel types of information are potentially relevant to epidemiology include data derived from a) basic biology and genetics, including the “-omics”; b) changing methods of practicing, delivering and documenting medical care, including the use of electronic medical records and their linkages to health systems; and c) wholly novel data sources and information technology, including social media. (from task force report; see
2. It is clarifying to consider alternatives to conventions of statistical practice, especially conventions that frustrate us. (from blog:


Guided (topic-based) freewriting

an exercise to clear mental and/or emotional space and to allow ideas about an issue to begin to come to the surface before you simply push ahead.

In a freewriting exercise, you should not take your pen off the paper. Keep writing even if you find yourself stating over and over again, “I don’t know what I’m expected to say.” What you write will not be read by anyone else, so do not go back to tidy up sentences, grammar, spelling. You will probably diverge from the topic, at least for a time while you acknowledge other preoccupations. That’s OK- one of the purposes of the exercise is to express what is distracting you is. However, if you keep writing and do not stop for seven to ten minutes, you should expose some thoughts about the topic that had been below the surface of your attention-that is another of the aims of the exercise. There is no expectation about how much gets clear in this exercise-there will be plenty of time yet and opportunities for being stimulated by others. Reference: Elbow, P. 1981. Writing with Power. New York: Oxford U. P.

Continue where this sentence leaves off: When I think about ways that a 4-hour workshop could help me open up new directions in epidemiological thinking and research, the questions, experiences, and hopes that come to mind include….

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Creativity in epidemiology research, education and practice (ACE task force)

From ACE newsletter, August 2012

Sandy Sulsky

Over the course of some half dozen meetings, a task force of ACE Members and Fellows (Melinda Aldrich, Robert Hiatt, Nancy Kreiger, Richard Rothenberg, and I, as chair) attempted to identify existing barriers to innovation and creativity in epidemiology practice and training. The group had lively discussions and traded lay and scientific reading materials and web links in an attempt to understand the conditions that promote innovation in science. The result is a series of recommendations for ACE that were recently submitted to the Board of Directors.

The task force members found that considering the scientific and societal megatrends now affecting epidemiology helped them to formulate their specific recommendations. Just two of these megatrends, “Big Data” and “Team Science”, provided helpful themes and sparked ideas about new directions for ourselves and our discipline.

Considering the theme of Big Data allowed for fruitful discussions of innovation in information management and analysis methods. Big Data refers not only to the sizes of data sets, but also the novel types of information now available. Examples potentially relevant to epidemiology include data derived from a) basic biology and genetics, including the “-omics”; b) changing methods of practicing, delivering and documenting medical care, including the use of electronic medical records and their linkages to health systems; and c) wholly novel data sources and information technology, including social media.

Team Science recognizes the value of interacting with colleagues whose training was in different scientific disciplines. Articulating this theme led to an examination of the ways in which epidemiology is currently practiced (by groups of epidemiologists) and the limitations imposed by traditionally organized work places and schools with separate departments and specialties, often housed in different locations.

The task force identified actions available to ACE that will expand and support innovative thinking and research among its members. The recommendations note the importance of education, collaborative research, and policy changes that will both foster and reward risk-taking in research, and thus maintain epidemiology at the forefront of science.


For an initial and non-comprehensive list of resources, we suggest:


  • Ignorance: How it Drives Science, byStuart Firestein (2012, Oxford University Press)


  • Two articles appeared in the NY Times on February 26, 2012: Gray Matter: When Truisms Are True by: Suntae Kim, Evan Polman and Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks and True Innovation by Jon Gertner.



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Purpose of the blog

This blog has been initiated to extend a series of workshops that explore ways to open up new directions in epidemiological thinking and research.  In the workshops participants are 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.  This blog addresses the need for ongoing support if tools, processes, connections, and insights are to be translated back into our specific work settings.

Workshop participants are invited to join the blog to share inquiries & resources, plans for practice, requests for collaboration or support, themes about the workshop topic, and process themes. (To join the blog accept the invitation that will be sent to you or email the organizer to get an invite. Feel free to use an online handle. When you decide what to share assume that your posts can be viewed by the general public.)

Items from earlier workshops and discussions will be backdated to the time that they were originally written. Blog members can also submit items by email–contact the organizer to get the email address.

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Tools for Innovative Thinking in Epidemiology

Roberta B. Ness, Dean, University of Texas School of Public Health, has a recent article, “Tools for Innovative Thinking in Epidemiology,” Am. J. Epidemiol. (2012) 175 (8): 733-738.  The abstract:

Innovation is the engine of scientific progress. Concern has been raised by the National Academies of Science about how well America is sustaining its ‘‘creative ecosystem.’’ In this commentary, the author argues that we can all improve our ability to think innovatively through instruction and practice. The author presents a series of tools that are currently being taught in a curriculum developed at the University of Texas, based on earlier evidence-based creativity training programs. The tools are these: 1) finding the right question; 2) enhancing observation; 3) using analogies; 4) juggling induction and deduction; 5) changing your point of view; 6) broadening the perspective; 7) dissecting the problem; 8) leveraging serendipity and reversal; 9) reorganization and combination of ideas; 10) getting the most out of groups; and 11) breaking out of habitual expectations and frames. Each tool is explained using examples from science and public health. It is likely that each of us will identify with and agree with the usefulness of one or two of the tools described. Broader mastery of many of these tools, particularly when used in combination, has provided our students with a powerful device for enhancing innovation.

The article is a synopsis of a book she recently published, Innovation Generation: How to Produce Creative and Useful Scientific Ideas, a quick introduction to which can also be heard on a TEDx talk.

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“no longer possible to simply continue along previous lines”

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, acknowledge institutional constraints, 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 might trouble us—make us feel not so comfortable—when we do continue along previous lines.

Question for readers to comment on:
• 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)?

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