Creating community around the Science of Team Science

By Stephen M. Fiore

Stephen M. Fiore (biography)

How can we create new academic communities? I provide lessons from building the Science of Team Science (SciTS), a rapidly growing cross-disciplinary field of study. SciTS works to build an evidence-base and to develop translational applications to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of team-based research.

I particularly draw lessons from the recent 8th annual conference attended by approximately 200 people. The conference aimed to:

  • disseminate the current state of knowledge in the SciTS field along with applications for enhancing team science;
  • provide opportunities to discuss future directions for advancing SciTS to improve the global scientific enterprise; and,
  • provide opportunities for interaction amongst a diverse group of stakeholders, including thought leaders in the SciTS field, scientists engaged in team-based research, institutional leaders who promote collaborative research, policymakers, and federal agency representatives.

As a young community, SciTS faces the challenge of being both a rapidly growing area of scientific inquiry, as well as a field of practice needing immediate guidance and assistance. The conference committee developed a two-pronged effort to share knowledge around the study of scientific collaboration.

First, was a set of workshops designed to meet the needs of our diverse stakeholder groups. This included workshops on:

  • training for team science;
  • technology for collaboration;
  • methods for studying science teams as complex networks; and,
  • approaches designed to understand and improve communication and collaboration in science teams as well as with stakeholder groups.

Dr. Susan E. Morgan, Associate Provost for Research Development and Strategy at the University of Miami, stated “the conference was a great opportunity for me to synthesize what I had been learning about the field. But, even better, I was able to learn of the latest evidence that, not only does SciTS lead to important outcomes but, that there are specific strategies that are predictive of success. That evidence is helping me advocate for the intelligent allocation of resources to specific strategies for collaboration.”

Bethany Laursen, a Ph.D. student in Community Sustainability at Michigan State University noted: “Attending the SciTS conference was great! It gave me a bird’s eye view of the field so I can begin thinking about where I fit into it. I was encouraged to see that my research does have a niche and will be very useful to this community.”

Second, our invited speakers were specifically assembled to provide insights and unique perspectives from those experienced in ‘doing’ team science as well as those ‘studying’ team science and collaboration. Two examples are:

Dr. Jakob Zinsstag, president of the scientific advisory board of the Network for Transdisciplinary Research (td-net) of the Swiss Academies. Td-net have been spearheading the co-production of knowledge between academic and non-academic partners for societal problem solving, which supports complex forms of collaboration. He noted the importance of fully accounting for the interculturality of transdisciplinary research collaboration in a multilingual context, including the risk of ‘epistemicide’ of linguae francae. Dr. Zinsstag found the conference intriguing because it “offers a unique opportunity to engage conversations with people training teams for missions to Mars and learn about commonalities for research teams working with African pastoralists or others solving problems of sustained environmental services in South-East Asia“.

Dr. Heidi Gardner, from Harvard Law School, and author of Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos, who shared her insights on how to overcome teamwork barriers. Her talk led to a robust discussion about the value of multi-disciplinary collaboration to provide more holistic solutions for today’s increasingly complex scientific problems. Dr. Gardner noted that it was “gratifying to help scientists and scholars of team science understand how to overcome some of the common barriers that limit collaboration’s potential to enrich scientific endeavors.”

The conference also aimed to connect with other organizations that have similar missions to find opportunities for synergy. In addition to the connection with td-net, mentioned above, attendee Dr. Kristine Lund, a senior research engineer at the University of Lyon, noted that “the communities of both the Learning Sciences and the Science of Team Science could benefit from a more strategic exchange as they have many overlapping research topics despite focusing on somewhat differing areas”. As host of the 2019 Computer Supported Collaborative Learning conference, organized by the International Society of the Learning Sciences, she stated one goal as working “with future SciTS hosts in order to explore supporting how scientific teams learn collaboratively, especially in interdisciplinary work.”

Conference sponsors also provided examples of community building activities. These include:

The conference host, the University of Central Florida (USA), promotes a Faculty Cluster Hiring initiative that is specifically designed to enhance scholarly collaborations crossing disciplines and to overcome the challenges faced when research cuts across departments and colleges.

Trellis, a platform provided by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to facilitate scientific teamwork. AAAS also runs a Community Engagement Fellows Program (CEFP) to support engagement managers who coordinate teamwork in scientific associations and research collaborations. Lou Woodley, Director of Community Engagement for Trellis and Program Director for the AAAS Community Engagement Fellows Program said: “Team science forms a key part of the CEFP curriculum and this year’s SciTS conference provided a valuable perspective on team science for myself and several of the CEFP Fellows. I’m excited to continue the ongoing sharing between our program and the various SciTS projects.”

The Templeton Foundation, a USA based philanthropic organization that funds research crossing disciplinary boarders to pursue answers to complex questions  through their ‘”Science & the Big Questions” program. Stephen Fitzmier, director of Planning and Evaluation, noted that, “Having funded interdisciplinary research for years, we’ve witnessed firsthand the growth of science collaboration and the challenges of doing it well. The Science of Team Science conference was very helpful for learning what resources exist to address these challenges and who can help us become more effective in our grantmaking.”

As well as sharing our lessons, we’re keen to learn from others involved in building new academic communities. What activities and strategies have you found to be useful?

Biography: Stephen M. Fiore PhD is Director, Cognitive Sciences Laboratory, and Professor with the University of Central Florida’s Cognitive Sciences Program in the Department of Philosophy and Institute for Simulation and Training. He is Past-President of the Interdisciplinary Network for Group Research and a founding committee member for the annual Science of Team Science Conference. He maintains a multidisciplinary research interest that incorporates aspects of the cognitive, social, organizational, and computational sciences in the investigation of learning and performance in individuals and teams. His primary area of research is the interdisciplinary study of complex collaborative cognition and the understanding of how humans interact socially and with technology. He has contributed to working groups for the National Academies of Science in understanding and measuring “21st Century Skills” and was a committee member of their “Science of Team Science” consensus study.

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