Mary Tyszkiewicz

Dr. Mary Tyszkiewicz (Dr. T.) documents how small groups implement solutions in high-stakes situations. Everyday, small groups of people help one another when lives are threatened in high-stakes events like accidents, conflicts and disasters. When caring motivates help, people naturally connect as small groups of 16 or fewer people. With the collective creativity of the small group, surprising solutions are discovered instantly.   These small groups follow a natural cycle she calls the Heroic Improvisation Cycle, which describes instant innovation with small groups. The 5-step cycle is Alert, Ready, Connect, Focus and Move. (See cycle at:   The abilities to care and connect in an instant can be practiced using theater improvisation games in workshops designed by Dr. T. and the learning generates laughter and fun!   High-stakes problems require instantaneous service and connection from small groups to generate solutions. All this is documented in her forthcoming book, “Play for Real: How Small Groups Confidently Tackle High-Stakes Problems with Laughter and Connection.” It describes how caring, small groups create community capacity to use in rapid rescues and instant innovation. It is based on her research through case studies and survey data from disaster survivors in the Philippines in 2013, disaster volunteers working in Superstorm Sandy in 2012, and Central American child migrants in short-term U.S. foster care in Texas in 2014-15. WIth this social science research, she shows how small groups (16 or fewer) who care and connect with each other find innovative solutions to urgent problems.   This pattern of small group innovation was discovered through Dr. T.’s 20-year policy analysis career for top leaders in the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Congress, U.S. Department of Defense, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  In her analysis career, Dr. Tyszkiewicz has investigated how public investments today can produce effects in the future. She has studied how public money invested in scientific research today can produce innovations tomorrow and how effective advance preparation for disaster can save lives and money in the future.   She has extensive experience in using research design and qualitative research methods to document program impacts. Through this research, Dr. Tyszkiewicz has a deep understanding of the collaborative processes that shape the future and how collective actions by small groups can improve outcomes.   Dr. T. has brought the Heroic Improvisation Workshop to diverse groups of people like airline staff, child migrant caretakers, conference center staff, disaster survivors, disaster volunteers, emergency responders, indigenous tribes, homeless service providers, and school staff in the US and Philippines.  As lead evaluator, Dr. T. is collaborating with anthropologist, educator and improviser, Brad Fortier and his program, Spontaneous Village. Spontaneous Village uses theater improvisation games to help refugees help themselves with play and laughter to create community with theater games.   (See In 2014-15, Brad and Dr.T. have brought the Spontaneous Village program to child migrants who have travelled to the U.S./Mexico border. They found that child migrants formed community and solved problems catalyzed by the Spontaneous Village games. She uses her Public Administration Ph.D. education from Syracuse University’s Maxwell School every day.