NCI partners with MSU’s Toolbox Dialogue Initiative Center to build capacity for collaboration

NCI’s September Newsletter

NCI's workshop with MSU’s Toolbox Dialogue Initiative Center
NCI's workshop with MSU’s Toolbox Dialogue Initiative Center

Earlier this year, an NCI news article spoke to the importance of partnerships. “Partnerships help us expand our capacity, try new things and extend our networks.”  

You may have also read about the National Charrette Institute (NCI) being part of a multidisciplinary team that was awarded a grant from the NOAA RESTORE Science Program to co-design a decision-support tool for the Gulf of Mexico.


That project was all about collaborative partnership and is groundbreaking because it brought together natural resource managers and researchers to build the framework for a decision-making support tool. It was also an all-virtual project. 


It is unique in another way. It was the first time that MSU’s Toolbox Dialogue Initiative Center was used in advance of a charrette to help build the capacity of participants for transdisciplinary collaboration. And it was magical. 


Michael O’Rourke, Director of the Center for Interdisciplinarity and Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University, explains that, “dialogue-based workshops help groups identify beliefs and values that influence team interaction. Through structured dialogue and associated co-creation activities, Toolbox workshops enhance the capacity of groups to coordinate their activities and achieve their project objectives.”  


One of the foundational principles of NCI and its Charrette System curriculum that is taught across the world is collaboration. “Building capacity for collaboration and working across boundaries whether they be academic, cultural, etc. is important, critical work and we were excited to partner with TDI on this project and hope for many more. The TDI workshop was the perfect way to prepare us for collaboration in the charrette,” said Holly Madill, director of NCI.


"The charrette process is an excellent vehicle for enabling a group to do substantive work quickly, but it requires deep engagement that can be challenging if the group is especially diverse,” said O’Rourke. “The Toolbox dialogue method can help prepare a group for a charrette by enhancing mutual understanding of the ways in which collaborators are similar and ways in which they are different.” 


“The NCI team played a critical role establishing a productive dialogue among the Natural Resources Managers and the researchers. They successfully helped the full team create a practical framework and design for the decision-support tool. This was a challenging endeavor due to the large size of the team and the disparity of the technical jargon used by the various disciplines involved. I believe NCI put together a clinic of how to break down silos and work across boundaries and disciplines,” said Ehab Meselhe, principal investigator and professor in the Department of River-Coastal Science and Engineering at Tulane University. 


For more about TDI, visit or contact Michael O’Rourke at For more about charrettes and using them in unique ways, visit or contact Holly Madill at

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