From the start, we’ve found it hard to balance our faculty members’ commitment to patient discussion and exchange with some of our non-academic members’ desire for more rapid action. Faculty members sometimes feel rushed toward decisions; community members wonder whether the professors will ever stop talking.

We’ve developed some useful ways to narrow down our priorities, including focus groups and three large surveys currently underway. But to make our plans more concrete in the closing weeks of our efforts, we turned to one of our planning committee members from the local business community, Matthias Jonas, a SCRUM Master and facilitator in agile workplace environments, and a consultant with Northwestern Mutual. Matthias led a three-hour session in which he took over a classroom, covered the walls with colorful charts, and guided us through activities designed to make our abstract planning more concrete. We came out of it with a prototype sample, as Matthias calls it, which we then distributed to the entire planning committee for comment. It felt like a huge step forward.

This is one example of a way in which humanities academics—including professors—can learn from practices outside the academy. How much training have humanities faculty had in design thinking methodologies or workflow management, after all? More contact with the world beyond the academy could benefit our departments too. And although participants did not entirely agree on the nature or scale of the benefits of the prototyping process, many of us were struck by how closely it resembled an active learning classroom in the humanities. In their training, facilitation, and management methods, some businesses today are working in ways that would not be unfamiliar to our doctoral TAs.