A simcha, not a class, on participatory research

When Larry Chu, the executive producer of Stanford Medicine X, asked me to lead a “master class” at the 2013 meeting, I thought, “No, I’m still a student, not a master!” But I took a deep breath and thought about what I love best about my work, what I feel compelled to share with my colleagues. It is the principle that researchers should “listen, more than ask” and respect the context of people’s lives as we seek to learn from them. I struck upon the idea of leading a discussion about “participatory research” since it would allow me to learn more about it as I prepared for the class.

I also thought about other daunting events in my life, such as moving cities, changing jobs, or planning a wedding. I decided to approach the class in the same way my husband and extended family approached our wedding. In Jewish tradition, the celebration or simcha begins the moment of the engagement. Every dinner, every planning session, every party is part of the wedding, which takes the pressure off the actual Big Day. If you’ve had a good year of celebration, the wedding itself is just the capstone, not the be-all and end-all.

In practice, for the class, this has meant sharing my ideas about participatory research over the last year, here on the blog, on Twitter, and in a Storify collection of resources.* I have learned more from this process than I could ever have hoped to, thanks to the generosity of many, many people who commented, replied, and sent links.

Thank you, Larry, for the invitation to dream and to dance with ideas.  I can’t wait to share and learn from my classmates on Sunday.

* Another way to put it: I “flipped” the class, just as I flipped my Families USA presentation and our 2014 Stanford Medicine X panel.

6 thoughts on “A simcha, not a class, on participatory research

    • Thanks, Scott! I hit “publish” and then jumped in a cab to catch my flight West, so I’m only now getting to reply. I’m sorry to miss your talk, but we will definitely connect. So excited for this next few days of magical Medicine X!

  1. What an honor it was to lead that class. I’ll upload my introductory slides when I’m back in DC later this week. You can peek at the tweets using Symplur:


    Or search today for mentions of me (@susannahfox) from yesterday.

    Or look at the tweets shared by (for example):



    Lesson for me: I thought some people weren’t engaged, that I wasn’t reaching them as I spoke, but it turns out they were practically transcribing the session as tweets.

    Let’s keep the conversation going!

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