Science in the Wild Radio Show and Podcast with Hosts Gary Riccio and Nathan Roman

Developing people and organizations: Expertise & knowledge translation

Developing people and organizations: Expertise & knowledge translation


We will redo this interview soon because of technical difficulties with the recording. In the mean time, please excuse the sound quality. We posted it because it is an interesting addition to the flow of recent episodes.

CrystallizationIn this episode, Gary and Nathan talk with Scott Flanagan, Partner at Sophia Speira (Greek for tactical wisdom). They provide service support and R&D in training, education, and leader development mostly for the Army. The conversation with Scott picks up on the prior conversations with Paige Brown about communication between scientists and nonscientists and on the conversation with Morgan Darwin about relationship building in a diverse community. 

Scott talked about the value of experts in a particular practice area working closely with scientists over an extended period of time. Scott’s scientific colleagues, for example, helped him define his approach to training, education, and leader development. This helped him articulate it in a more comprehensive way to senior leaders who retained him to train instructors, and it helped him to be transparent to the instructors he trained. This was important because it wasn’t merely a particular skill they were trying to train.

The approach of Scott and his colleagues developed out of a need they consistently heard from senior leaders that transcended the specific objectives of particular programs of instruction. Leaders needed Soldiers to develop intangible attributes such as personal confidence, initiative, and accountability in ambiguous and changing situations. This need begged the question of how one measures such attributes. Scientists helped Scott assess such intangibles in terms of observable behavior. This made it possible to track progress toward achieving these intended outcomes in the context of broader objectives of the Army.

Scott emphasized the value of formative assessments that, as such, helped him continuously improve his approach as well as its implementation in particular programs of instruction. While summative assessments such as grades provide feedback about success or failure, formative assessments indicate what should be sustained and what can be improved. Often, formative assessments reveal lapses or critical paths in the process of achieving an objective of which the learner may not be aware. The improvement, then, is not simply to execute a different procedure or to remember different steps. Instead it can promote a different kind of awareness that changes the way one thinks about a problem.

The value of scientists to expert practitioners generally pertains to definition and measurement of expertise and the paths to it, especially when actions can be taken with respect to the insights that are revealed. Experts typically are not aware of what makes them special because their skills or habits of thinking have become automatic. Moreover, experts who continually strive to increase their mastery are oriented more on what they can become rather than what they are. Scientists can help reveal the knowledge, skills, and attributes of experts from which others can benefit.  

The conversation concludes with an emphasis on how a mindset of teaching can make a difference beyond knowledge and skills. Scott emphasized that all the interactions between teachers and students (“micro-experiences”) matter in the development of individuals and relationships. Promulgating the sensibilities of a teacher and the art of teaching to everyone, not just to people who have that formal job description or responsibility, can be as important in business and life as it is in a formal educational setting. Translating values into practice is one way science can help bring a mindset of teaching and human development into any organization and its broader business ecosystem.

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Key Terms and Concepts

  • communication
  • relationship
  • intangible attributes
  • formative assessment
  • awareness
  • mindset of teaching
  • values