On Living Our Values While Under Stress (and Preparing for Workshop One)
With six weeks to go until our first workshop, it was a somewhat tense HuMetricsHSS team that met up at the Social Science Research Center in Brooklyn in early September. We didn’t exactly relieve the tension by starting with a conversation about living our values as a team: how can the seven of us, scattered from Utrecht to New York, Michigan to Minnesota, live our own values as we work our way through what is often a difficult process? Like any team, we all have our preferred working styles and communication styles. They may not align. And then there’s the fact that this project is additional labor beyond our day jobs — a labor of love, but labor nonetheless — for all of us, and we all have lives, and families, and commitments, and bodies, and hormones, and frustrations that might come into play at any point. We thought through what candor and collegiality might mean for a remote team, how we might better communicate with one another in open but collegial ways. Spilling curry sauce all over the SSRC carpet and into a colleague’s bag was not, in retrospect, my proudest “embodying the team values” moment.
As a fiery-tempered, stubborn Irish lass, I realize that I haven’t always lived the shared values that this team came up with last October — but I want to. I hadn’t necessarily been thinking about the application of this framework outside the academy until fairly recently, and now its existence is beginning to permeate all areas of my life. I’m finding the preliminary framework invaluable: it’s a checkpoint of sorts (I’ve even put up a copy of the infographic on my wall at work), a reminder to double-check before I speak, write, agree, organize: Am I being constructive? Am I thinking about inclusivity and community as I put together any kind of team? Am I thinking about them when I agree to be on any kind of panel or board? Am I working in a transparent and reproducible way — is my process open? — or am I keeping my knowledge and workflows to myself? Am I collegial and candid in my dealings with my colleagues and peers? Am I willing to be accountable for my mistakes, and to learn from them too? (My partner might have a thing or two to say about that!) As a team, we’re working on it.
But the preliminary framework against which we’re trying to double-check ourselves only represents the shared values of a small group of people who met in North Carolina last October. The real work begins in Michigan this week, when an insightful group of thinkers — faculty members of all ranks, teaching in any number of HSS disciplines at all kinds of institutions, along with administrators, graduate students, university publishers, and librarians — has agreed to come together to rip apart, interrogate, and rebuild that values framework, to come to a consensus on the values we share as a larger group. We’ll be opening that conversation up on Twitter, too, so please feel free to follow along and share your thoughts at #hssvalues.
Our Brooklyn meeting quickly turned to conversations about what we want to achieve during this workshop and how we might hope to achieve it. We’ve all experienced loosey-goosey thought forums where participants come together without much structure and separate without much sense of what exactly they were doing — and why. And we’ve all attended overly structured, deliverable-driven meetings that ask the participants to do the work of the project, rather than interrogate and criticize that work. We know what we don’t want, then.
We’re asking our participants to complete an assignment before they join us: breaking down a given scholarly practice (such as creating a syllabus) into the set of micro-practices that go into its creation (compiling a reading list, choosing assignments, writing a code of conduct) and the objects that might be produced by it (student work, a bibliography, etc.). When we’re together in East Lansing, we’ll try to think about what a values-based approach to that practice would look like. You can take a look at the agenda here — and again, if you aren’t joining us in Michigan, please follow along and participate using the #hssvalues hashtag.