Opening Space for Multi-Disciplinary Projects

Harrison Owen hhowen at
Fri Dec 10 04:44:46 PST 2004

Peg's question brought to mind one of the odder facts of academic life.
Everybody talks about multi-disciplinary research, but rarely if ever does
it happen. And that is a profound shortcoming. The basic problem is that
life does not come in packages marked Economics, Education, Physics, etc -
despite what the academics from those disciplines may say. And when life
(our life) is diced up into such discrete units - it usually dies - which is
normally what happens when you get cut to pieces.  And here in lies (I
think) a large part of the pathology of University life which renders it
(the university) less than useful. Anyhow, in my experience, OS can provide
a marvelous antidote for this illness.

Several years ago a professional association which served Family Businesses
came to the astounding conclusion that even though the several disciplines
represented in the association all had a part to play - the way they were
playing their parts often was disastrous to the clients. Specifically, there
were lawyers, accountants, psychologists, and Organization Development folks
- who in particular situations often seemed to be working at cross purposes.
Anyhow we did an Open Space for 500 - and to the surprise of just about
everybody but me, they all seemed to work together. 

I think there may be several lessons here. The fact that Peggy would even
have to ask the question she did is indicative of the fractured nature of
the academic community. And the answer, at least my answer would be - Of
course OS will work in the Academic environment - in fact it may be one of
the few things that might actually work.

I over stated a bit (as usual) by suggesting that multi-disciplinary
research (and other activities) rarely happens in Academe. It actually
happens quite a bit - at the coffee stand, bar, pub, etc. So guess what -
they are already using Open Space. Why should there be any problem?


Harrison Owen
7808 River Falls Drive
Potomac, Maryland   20845
Phone 301-365-2093

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