Research Think Tank: "Complexifying" International Communication and Communication Technology

By Thomas, Gail Fann | Business Communication Quarterly, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Research Think Tank: "Complexifying" International Communication and Communication Technology


Thomas, Gail Fann, Business Communication Quarterly


Researchers within the ABC are an eclectic group, scattered geographically and unusually varied by discipline. They draw from diverse theoretical frameworks and regularly publish in the journals of other fields and academic associations. While ABC publications and conferences have long provided formal opportunities for dialogue, occasions for informal, face-to-face discussions - particularly with Association colleagues who work from different perspectives - have, until recently, been a matter of personal initiative. This changed when former ABC Research Committee Chair, Jone Rymer, introduced the Research Roundtable, a conference event allowing researchers to share questions and concerns emerging from their research-in-progress. To complement the Roundtable and to provide another venue for intimate dialogue among researchers from diverse disciplines within the Association, the Research Think Tank was introduced as a forum in which experienced ABC researchers could challenge each other to think in new ways about emerging research issues while enlarging their network of research colleagues within the Association. "By meeting once or twice in an informal, intimate small-group setting," said Research Committee Chair Priscilla Rogers, "perhaps we, as ABC researchers, can realize more value and potential in our diversity and thereby use our diversity to explore together the complexity of our field."

History Of the Think Tank

Supported by the ABC Board and sponsored by the Research Committee, the first ABC Think Tank was held in November 1994 at the International Conference at San Diego State University's Faculty Club. Through a series of structured brainstorming exercises, facilitated by Susan Kleimann, attending researchers addressed the question "What is significant about significant research?" Resulting was a list of sources that have inspired ABC researchers in their work and categorized characteristics of significant research (Rogers, March 1995; Rogers & Sherblom, June 1995).

Although the Think Tank was originally conceived as a one-time event, the Research Committee decided to try it again at the ABC International Conference in Chicago. Held at the University of Chicago Executive Education Center, the 1996 Research Think Tank was intended to be less structured procedurally, but more focused topically than the first Think Tank. As John Sherblom, one of the Think Tank facilitators, explained, "We hoped not only to identify, but also to 'complexify' significant research questions." In other words, rather than generating a linear, systematic, and tightly worked-out research agenda, the purpose was to "complexify" relevant research questions by teasing out complexities from the variety of disciplinary perspectives represented. The result was intended to be a collaborative, multidimensional outcome that would allow each participant to take away one or two new ideas for thinking about his or her own research.

1996 Research Think Tank Focus and Participants

To explore complex differences in approachs and procedures, the 1996 Think Tank participants focused around two critical areas of communication research: international communication and communication technology. Participants identified several key research questions in these areas and shared their individual methodological approaches, and theoretical frameworks. A kaleidoscope of perspectives included, but was not limited to, history, rhetoric, linguistics, management, philosophy, social constructionist, and critical theory. Four participants from outside the United States were quintessential to the dialogue, bringing into the idea pool non-American and non-Western views. Participating researchers were: Rebecca Burnett, Geoff Cross, Linda Driskill, Gail Fann Thomas, Janis Forman, Christine Kelly, Bobbie Krapels, Kitty Locker, Leena Louhiala-Salminen, Jeanette Martin, Charles Mirjaliisa, Tuija Nikko, Karen Powell, Priscilla Rogers, Jone Rymer, William Sharbrough, John Sherblom, Jim Suchan, Joo-Seng Tan, Charlotte Thralls, and Michele Zak. …

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