2020 CSPS Annual Day: Discovering our Fruits & Roots

The 2020 CSPS Annual Day was held online on 8 October 2020. The interactive session was organised around the metaphor of trees growing together in a forest. Imagine for a moment each CSPS member as an individual ‘tree’ within the broader CSPS and WUR ‘forest’, a superorganism of sorts in which we together grow, adapt and give and receive nourishment. (Give a listen to the science behind the metaphor in the ‘Secret Language of Trees’ To The Best of Our Knowledge podcast episode for the source of our inspiration!) To really see the forest and grasp its form and potential, therefore, it’s essential to acknowledge each tree’s needs and contributions (i.e., their skills, knowledges, passions and interconnections). 

The CSPS Tree drawn by our talented colleague Lisa Trogisch

We kicked off the Annual Day with colleague Jeroen Warner welcoming us on the piano with his rendition of the song Lullaby of Birdland’ (why not listen to a version of it here as you read the rest of the blog post?), helping us leave behind our busy minds, overdue deadlines, emails and feelings of tiredness.

With improved moods and a sense of eagerness, we then dived in to explore our ‘Fruits and Roots’. Working with the tree metaphor described above, we first explored our trees’ canopies and their ‘fruits’ with guided journaling and listening circles to explore the following themes:

  • What drives you in your professional life? What do you deeply care about? What excites and inspires you? What makes it all worthwhile?
  • What do you bring to what you care about? Think of your talents, knowledges, skills, mindsets, etc.
  • What holds you back? What do you need to go forward?
  • What are the fruits of your labour? What does it look like when you’ve used your talents, knowledges, skills and mindsets to honour what you care about? When do you experience the magic moments, the buzz, the fulfilment? 
  • How is it visible to others when you’ve accomplished something that matters to you and when you’ve brought something or someone towards its/his/her potential? 

Some of the marvellously delicious ‘fruits’ we recognised in our harvest from this first part of the day include situations:

  • When we’ve developed meaningful, trusting connections with research participants and research colleagues
  • When we’ve played a role in helping our students succeed/work towards their potential
  • When we’ve produced well-considered, -delivered and -received research output (e.g., paper, presentation, discussion, debate, etc.)
  • When our work is used in teaching by others
  • When we contribute to the wellbeing and an ethics of care within our chairgroups, section and CSPS
  • When we’re growing/learning ourselves and new and creative ideas are able to emerge
  • When we’re supporting and advancing the goals/values/wellbeing of real-world initiatives and groups we care about/are invested in
  • When we’re supporting the voices of marginalised communities and practices

After a wonderful jazzy musical interlude with Jeroen again on piano (and, ooh, that voice!), we next dug downwards and explored our trees’ roots. Participants were encouraged to journal about and sketch out their personal roots systems using the following prompts:

  • First layer, closest to you: Think of individuals, groups and organisations in your everyday professional life (e.g., in teaching, research, writing, community outreach and engagement);
  • Second layer: Think of individuals, groups and organisations who share the same concerns/foci as you do (e.g., people in your scholarly networks, conferences, people involved in the debates and issues you care about that are receptive to what you do); 
  • Third layer: Think of individuals, groups and organisations  who have a stake in things but whom you do not (yet) reach and perhaps cannot see (e.g., those you aspire to reach, those on the margins, those you don’t yet know how to connect to, etc.);

Participants were then invited to take a good look at all the names and kinds of individuals, groups and organisations etc. that they listed. What do they notice happening within themselves when seeing those names and kinds of individuals, groups and organisations etc. on the list? What surprised them? They met up in new listening circles to discuss their insights into their roots systems.

Some of the insights into our ‘roots systems’ that we harvested from this second part of the day include:

  • Who (and what values) do we prioritise in our networks, and why? To what ends? What power relations and hierarchies are imbricated in our networks? In what ways do we sustain and/or challenge them?
  • How diverse are our networks? How diverse do we want/need them to be?
  • Are we reaching the people/audiences we want to touch/impact? In what ways?
  • What are we doing to reach and include those who have often been excluded from our networks or those from whom we’ve typically simply ‘extracted’ data? 
  • How do we nourish our networks? And what are the challenges we face in doing that?
  • In what ways do our networks nourish us? And what are the constraints we experience in accessing that nourishment?
  • What do we need to do in order to expand beyond the confines of our current networks?
  • What kinds of practices are involved with engaging with different people/organisations in our networks?

The Annual Day left us with abundant food for thought, gratitude and a real sense of the potential of ourselves as ‘trees’ and the broader ‘forests’ in which we’re located. Graphic recorder Rooske Eerden from Scratch Graphics provided us with a beautiful visual harvest that helped us reflect on our trees and the emergent CSPS forest.

Our emergent CSPS Forest. Image by Rooske Eerden, Scratch Graphics

So what will we do with all this abundance? What’s next?

As a research centre, CSPS is facing an official Peer Review next year. Besides the indicators of excellence defined by our graduate school, we also have the chance to develop our own unique indicators – ones that reflect our (individual and collective) sense of purpose, in other words our very own ‘Indicators of Awesomeness’! The ‘fruits’ and ‘roots’ collected at the Annual Day form the foundations for these indicators. As a next step, the Indicators Working Group (Lotje, Marleen, Mark, Mindi, Elisabet, Oona, Meghann & Anke) will draft a set of CSPS indicators and share them again with the CSPS community for feedback. Finally, we will invite (a number of) colleagues to do 1-2 stakeholders interviews with individuals, groups or organisations from their networks to help us get stakeholder feedback and input.

A very big thank you to Jeroen, Rooske and all the 2020 CSPS Annual Day participants for making this a day to remember and helping us work towards performing the kind of university we wish to work in!

Anke & Meghann