The forum is a weekly meeting that was initiated in 2016, based on the Greek definition of a forum as ‘A gathering place of great social significance, & often the scene of diverse activities, including political discussions & debates, rendezvous…’. It was initiated to develop social skills that are often left underdeveloped within a rigorous technical space. Aristotle defined rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Engineers and academics are more familiar with the art of discourse than rhetoric, which has been greatly neglected. However, rhetoric is a powerful tool, and essential in today’s modern world where the art of persuasion can change the course of a nation. The multi-disciplinary nature of the work that scientists do requires the ability to communicate one’s ideas and persuade those from a non-technical background.
The forum has a few central objectives:
- creating safe space for dialogue
- building trust
- improving communication
- learning to listen
- learning from new cultures and perspectives
- developing social contextual understanding
The topics for discussion in the Thursday Forum have varied widely, but there has been an underlying focus on culture, beliefs and values. Documentaries discussed were the ‘Miners Shot Down’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’. Particularly memorable were the discussions around the anniversary of the Marikana massacre.
Developing T-shaped practitioners and researchers also requires non-formal development of a more personal nature. This includes helping individuals to deal with complexity, diversity, conflict, innovation and creativity. All of these are non-negotiable skills required to provide higher-order problem solving. The Thursday Forum provides one key platform where students, lecturers and other stakeholders can engage in an informal yet structured safe space to reflect on common challenges.