The Stammtisch: An exercise in regular collaboration

Blogpost for the AI-MAPS project by ginger coons
Left to right: Friso van Houdt, Gabriele Jacobs, ginger coons

Just as AI-MAPS is a project that spans disciplines, it is also a project that spans (research) cultures. AI-MAPS team members come from fields as distinct as computer science, sociology, and design. In addition to the weekly jour fixe moments which bring together PhD students, their committee members, and others, other regular moments also contribute to the cohesion and productivity of AI-MAPS. One such moment is the work package five stammtisch.

While most of the other work packages in AI-MAPS have a subject-based remit (eg: ethics, law), work package five is responsible for the transdisciplinary collaboration and impact of the project. This means that WP5 is concerned with the spaces between disciplines, and how researchers (and stakeholders) from different disciplines work with one another. With this very broad remit and a mix of researchers, WP5 has found it important to stay in touch and in sync. For this, we have the stammtisch.

The concept of the stammtisch comes from German culture, a table where regulars meet to discuss affairs of the day. The WP5 stammtisch does much the same: a core group of researchers meet for coffee on a weekly or fortnightly basis to discuss the progress of AI-MAPS, and to dream about how this discipline-spanning work package can bring together the diverse strands of activity present in AI-MAPS. The stammtisch has already spawned a pilot study and an in-development MOOC. The informal quality of the stammtisch means that there is no agenda, no minutes, and no hierarchy. Instead, a free-flowing discussion allows everyone to contribute, disagree, and build together. Because the stammtisch is not about achieving specific project outcomes, it provides a space for the wild ideas that might otherwise fall by the wayside.

The stammtisch is a reminder that, while goal setting is important, collaboration also benefits from rapport, social moments, and the space to advance ideas that may or may not work out. As AI-MAPS enters its second year, those are values we hope to foster in the collaboration between workpackage five and the other workpackages, as well as in our interactions with all of the AI-MAPS partner organizations.

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