The final day of the IFSTAL Summer School showcases all that IFSTAL is; collaboration, interdisciplinarity, problem solving, communication and reflection.
Each year at our summer school we ask our workplace partners to provide a challenge to the students. This challenge is a real problem, and it is often complex and multifaceted, as many real life problems are. We have 5 challenges for 5 groups who work over 5 days to work up a solution which they then present to the whole group, staff, and guests on the Friday. They also produce a report which is then sent back to the workplace partner.
There are many good reasons for approaching our workplace partners for this element of the summer school. We want our students to be able to enter the workplace with an ability to work with a range of the people and disciplines in problem solving, to be able to work under pressure, to make cross-disciplinary connections, break down complex problems and be able to explain them to non-experts and to apply their technical skills and knowledge to different subject areas. A very welcome (and intended) by-product of this is that we not only strengthen our links with various actors in the food system but we create those important connections for the students which helps them in their journey to becoming professionals in the food systems network.
Problem based learning in interdisciplinary groups facilitates fast and deep learning and fosters critical thinking, problem solving and collaboration skills. In the context of the limited time available at summer school, our interdisciplinary projects based approach work so well because problems are never one dimensional and no one person or discipline ever has the ‘answer’.
The dedication and expertise brought to each of the projects has been outstanding, with participants working together into the night to produce high quality responses. Each project presented was well researched and provided clearly thought-out solutions to their assigned problem. Drawing on skills gained from the week such as communications and group dynamics, participants reflected on their interdisciplinary group work;
“Collaboration may take a little longer to get to there, but when you do it is more satisfying”
“We are all capable of getting our communication wrong, the language we use can very easily be misunderstood, we all make assumptions. We need to genuinely listen and genuinely question everything”
“Being aware of how we even perceive the question from different perspectives is so important with problem solving”
These reflections summarise what is most exciting about Friday at our Summer School- the central role of communication and different perspectives in complex problem solving. IFTSAL Summer School creates an environment that enables epidemiologists to communicate with social scientists and think about the role of development assistance and investments in the global agri-food system, and food policy students to work with veterinarians on how to use policy measures to control and eradicate Descolada virus. They clearly have much to contribute to the food system network and it will be lucky to have them!
The end of another very successful Summer School, thank you to our students, speakers and IFSTAL team.