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How to talk to strangers: facilitating knowledge sharing within translational health teams with the Toolbox dialogue method


Translational behavioral medicine involves experts from different disciplines and professions interacting to solve complex problems. Coordinating this expertise can be frustrated by the partially tacit nature of expertise and by the various ways in which it manifests in different communities. We describe a method—the Toolbox dialogue method—for addressing these challenges by means of a structured dialogue among team members concerning their respective approaches to complex problems. The Toolbox dialogue method consists of a philosophically grounded questionnaire—the “Toolbox”—deployed in workshops by collaborators from different disciplines and professions. The Health Science Toolbox was modified from an extensively utilized questionnaire designed for Science–Technology–Engineering–Mathematics (STEM) research and has been piloted with translational medicine teams. Eighty-five percent of participants in STEM workshops indicated a positive impact on awareness of the knowledge, opinions, or scientific approach of teammates. In the Health Science Toolbox, 35 % of questionnaire responses changed substantially from pre- to post-workshop, demonstrating impact of the workshops. The Toolbox dialogue method is a relatively brief workshop encounter that can have a positive impact on mutual understanding within translational medicine teams.

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Funding support for this project has been provided through grant UL1RR025014 from the National Institutes of Health National Center for Research Resources, NIH K24 HL068796, and through grant no. 0823058 from the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation. This work arises out of the efforts of the Toolbox Project; we thank the project personnel for their input and participants in Toolbox workshops for their involvement in our work. We are grateful to the Institute of Translational Health Sciences, especially the Education Core, for support, and to those members of the community who participated in the pilot workshops. We would also like to thank the editors of the special section devoted to Team Approaches to Science, Practice, and Policy in Health, especially Bonnie Spring and Holly Falk-Krzesinski, for their input and advice, and two anonymous referees for Translational Behavioral Medicine for very helpful criticism.

The Health Science Toolbox, copyrighted by the Toolbox Project, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit or send a letter to Creative Commons, 444 Castro Street, Suite 900, Mountain View, California, 94041, USA.

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Correspondence to Michael O’Rourke PhD.

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Practice: Structured philosophical dialogue about fundamental assumptions concerning collaborative research and practice in translational behavioral medicine can facilitate negotiation of key conceptual challenges.

Policy: Methods for improving aspects of team science such as collective understanding should be made available to collaborative projects in the translational health sciences.

Research: The method described in this article supports the identification and analysis of a team’s collaborative dynamic.



The Health Sciences Toolbox questionnaire

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Schnapp, L.M., Rotschy, L., Hall, T.E. et al. How to talk to strangers: facilitating knowledge sharing within translational health teams with the Toolbox dialogue method. Behav. Med. Pract. Policy Res. 2, 469–479 (2012).

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  • Toolbox dialogue method
  • Science of team science
  • Philosophy
  • Teamwork
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration