I’ve run into a few situations this week where the importance of establishing a collective understanding was particularly important. I think we often make assumptions about certain knowledge being a definite.
This issue actually came up again earlier in the week during a curriculum development meeting. For months, our team has been debating our approach to the development of a specific assessment tool. Everyone had a very strong opinion on how the framework for this tool should or should not be structured- particularly on the way we wanted to measure student progress. It finally came to light that the team did not have a collective understanding of one of the key characteristics of this tool; even though everyone was using the same terminology, they were not referring to the same thing. I think the issue was compounded by no one wanting to appear to lack knowledge by asking people to clarify what they mean.
This situation just reminded of how important it is to go back to the basics and make sure that all participants in a discussion do have a shared understanding. I think a big piece of this is using visualization, prototypes, mock-ups, scenarios, etc. in order to take a discussion from the abstract to the concrete. These can be a useful tool at any point in the discussion and should not merely be the outcome of a stage. In fact, in the issue I mentioned above, it wasn’t until I went to implement a couple examples of the assessment tools that we realized that there was such a huge gap between the understanding that each individual had about the project and the actual (as yet un-) finished product.