Toolbox Dialogue Initiative Creates New Service Center

The Toolbox Dialogue Initiative (TDI) Center, a new service center within MSU’s College of Arts & Letters, is a one-of-a-kind organization that provides philosophically based capacity-building services to research and practice groups locally, nationally, and internationally.

Established in June 2021 and led by Executive Director Michael O’Rourke and Associate Directors Dr. Edgar Cardenas, Dr. Chet McLeskey, and Dr. Marisa Rinkus, TDI Center uses dialogue-based workshops to help members of teams, larger organizations, and communities communicate more effectively with one another and improve their ability to collaborate.

Black and white close-up of a bearded man with short hair and glasses.
Dr. Edgar Cardenas

“Collaborative groups face many challenges when bringing together diverse perspectives,” O’Rourke said. “Attention to these perspectives can be crucial at the early stages when it is critical to build momentum and later on as groups work to sustain that momentum.”

TDI Center is affiliated with the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative, a research and outreach program based at MSU that focuses on understanding and facilitating communication and collaboration in interdisciplinary research. In their workshops, TDI Center employs the Toolbox dialogue method, an evidence-informed facilitation approach developed by TDI that surfaces implicit assumptions and diverse perspectives in complex, cross-disciplinary research projects for joint consideration and coordination.

Black and white close up of a woman with long hair and glasses.
Dr. Marisa Rinkus

With partners that include several programs at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), the European Commission, and multiple universities, TDI Center is self-supporting and builds on 16 years of work by TDI. Since moving its home office to Michigan State University in 2012, TDI has increased its profile and influence, conducting more than 420 workshops around the world with more than 3,500 participants and publishing more than 40 peer-reviewed articles.

TDI has conducted workshops with research teams, research communities, undergraduate and graduate courses, training groups, community-based organizations, university-community partnerships, and ad hoc groups of participants. These workshops have taken place both virtually and in person with participants in 26 states and 16 countries on six continents.

Black and white close up of a clean-shaven man with short hair.
Dr. Chet McLeskey

“The TDI team has established itself as a valuable resource for teams doing cutting-edge science in areas like climate change. When team members from diverse backgrounds come together to work on tough problems, their ability to communicate with one another effectively is essential,” said Bill Hart-Davidson, Associate Dean of Research and Graduate Education for the College of Arts & Letters. “TDI helps these teams overcome a number of potential barriers to coordination and understanding. Agencies like the NSF and NASA trust the TDI team to make sure that some of the biggest initiatives they invest in will benefit from their evidence-based approach.”

Over the past five years, TDI has received $2.7 million in grants primarily from NSF and NASA to support its facilitation and research activities.

For more information, visit the Toolbox Dialogue Initiative website.