Caffeine and creativity

February 20, 1998

An east coast Canadian university is finding that many higher education innovations can be realised by simply sitting four people around a table, writes Philip Fine.

The University of New Brunswick has been holding "cafes" as part of the institution's renewal process. With overwhelmingly positive reaction from students, faculty and staff participants, the cafes have become a welcome alternative to the ubiquitous university board meeting.

They are based on small group discussions that explore and evaluate the future of the institution. A roomful of four-person tables has been the springboard for several ideas in the university, as well as the surrounding community, including an integrated technical support centre and a student success campaign. The day-long sessions are not concerning themselves with the weightiest issues on campus. Those have a place in other parts of the renewal process.

The cafes begin by trying to heighten the participants' listening skills so they can understand their table mates' proudest accomplishments. Through that they then can begin to draw on the unique combination of talents in the group and propose a project that is eventually presented to the larger group.

One organiser, Ian Methven, said the cafes had become an effective way for the university to engage in communication.

"Institutions are full of creative people but their systems seem to get in the way," he said.

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