Creative Urban Methods Part II: Toolkitting as a Method

Iris van der Tuin

Image: Brainstorms about the ideal post-pandemic neighborhood: CRUM workshop Exploring Present Futures (CRUM website)

This is the second of a series of KWALON blogs (in English) about creative urban methods in which toolkitting as a method is put central.

A toolkit is a collection of tools that is used to consciously activate certain procedures for thinking, making, and doing. Toolkits recognize and work with the constraints of a situation. Alternatively, toolkits themselves set constraints as rules of the game in order to work toward a conclusion, plan or design. Such rules are, for example, a thematic area, a number of participants, a set of ordered steps to take, time limits or the use of certain materials and/or technologies and not others. The goal of every toolkitting scenario is to facilitate the doing of something collectively and to work toward a shared language, grounded conclusions and potentially also plans and designs for engendering change.

Toolkitting is growing in popularity. They can structure and enhance multi- and interdisciplinary, as well as inter-professional collaboration, which is specifically relevant for finding unconventional solutions to complex ongoing problems – a goal that can only come within reach when there is a common ground amongst the participating parties. Toolkits also have the capacity of working toward bridging conceptual, epistemic and/or empirical divides by taking differing preferences, roles, expectations and applications seriously in a conversational process amongst collaborators.

Step-by-step methods are particularly helpful in kick-starting or structuring teamwork. Toolkits help collaborating academics, experts and makers to take the first step toward constructing a shared language by committing themselves as a group to following a number of consecutive modules. These modules contain individual and collective activities ranging from private ‘braindumps’ (the process of brainstorming in order to get existing knowledge, insights and beliefs on paper) to group reflection. The wide and differing use that is being made of toolkitting today has led to initiatives bringing several toolkits together so that potential users can easily navigate their way through the toolkitting landscape and select the right tool or toolkit for situated use given the parameters in play (Pohl and Wuelser 2019; see also td-net’s online toolbox and SHAPE-ID’s online toolkit). Both the popularity of toolkits and the popping-up of meta-toolkits raise questions about the very nature of toolkitting as a method.

Procedure and Serendipity
When a team decides to ‘toolkit’ in their project, the participants settle on thinking, working and/or making procedurally. They do so in the design phase of the project in which they adopt a procedure that was externalized and formalized by others before them or for which they themselves develop a procedure by reflecting on what they think they will need in order to overcome hurdles on the way. Whereas all procedures usually lead to something, and are therefore generative in the broadest sense, a toolkitting scenario is often intended to be generative of something new or unexpected. Toolkits assist their users in fostering creativity by taking serendipity and surprises seriously as springboards for the next step to take in the process of finding a creative solution to a complex problem.

Toolkits provide conditions for exploration, exploitation and reasoning. They create a stimulating setting and a shared mindset that invite participants in a given socio-techno-material environment to making themselves ‘cognitively available’ for serendipity and surprise by helping the participants actively manage and mobilize existing knowledge, insights and beliefs. It is only by managing and mobilizing pre-existing conceptual, epistemic and empirical content that collective findings can fall into place and common grounds can be formulated in the first place. This applies especially to serendipitous and surprising findings as these kinds of findings are quick to disappear when they don’t find fertile soil.

Literature referenced

* Pohl, C. & G. Wuelser (2019). ‘Methods for Coproduction of Knowledge Among Diverse Disciplines and Stakeholders’, pp. 115-121 in: K. Hall, A. Vogel & R. Croyle (Eds.), Strategies for Team Science Success, Cham: Springer.
* SHAPE-ID’s toolkit (stands for Shaping Interdisciplinary Practices in Europe).
* Td-net’s toolbox (stands for Network for Transdisciplinary Research and is hosted by the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences).
* ‘Toolkit’. Online Etymology Dictionary.

Iris van der Tuin is Professor of Theory of Cultural Inquiry in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Utrecht University and Director of its School of Liberal Arts.

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