By Dan Stokols, Judith S. Olson, Maritza Salazar and Gary M. Olson
How can an ecosystem approach help in understanding and improving team science? How can this work in practice?
An Ecosystem Approach
Collaborations among scholars from different fields and their community partners are embedded in a multi-layered ecosystem ranging from micro to macro scales, and from local to more remote regions. Ecosystem levels include:
- individual members of teams;
- the teams to which they belong viewed as organizational units;
- the broader institutional contexts (eg., universities, research institutes) that support multi-team systems; and,
- their community and societal milieus (eg., science policies and priorities established by national and international agencies and foundations).
The success of team-based scholarly and translational initiatives depends on circumstances and events at each of these ecosystem levels and the extent to which they are aligned. For instance, the capacity of a science team to create and apply new knowledge is dependent on the task-specific abilities, interpersonal skills, training, and diverse attributes that individuals bring to their teams. Similarly, the viability and productivity of the team is impacted by the support it receives from institutional leaders and research funding agencies.
The Team Science Acceleration Lab at the University of California, Irvine
We focus especially on the university-institutional level of the ecosystem and describe an initiative at the University of California, Irvine, USA designed to promote successful cross-disciplinary collaboration on our campus.
We recognize the interdependencies that exist among initiatives undertaken at an institutional level and other facets of the ecosystem, including the importance of articulating university team science programs with the concerns and priorities of community partners and national organizations. The national level is illustrated by the fact that many funding agencies now require cross-disciplinary applicant teams to submit collaboration plans as part of their research proposals. These multiple facets of the team science ecosystem are shown in the figure below.
Establishing a campus culture that supports cross-disciplinary team research requires a comprehensive approach—one that eliminates potential barriers to effective collaboration, and creates structural supports to incentivize inter-departmental, inter-school, and university-community partnerships. From an ecological systems perspective, there are several different “leverage points” within institutional settings that can be aligned so that, together, they exert a positive synergistic influence on faculty and administrators’ efforts to promote cross-disciplinary team science. Six facets of the university-institutional ecosystem that we are initially targeting are:
- Ensuring that campus-wide long-range plans emphasize excellence in team science as a strategic institutional goal;
- Implementing new promotion and tenure criteria that recognize and reward collaborative contributions to scholarship and translational research, and tools to assist faculty candidates in articulating their contributions to collaborative research as an integral part of personnel reviews;
- Establishing equitable criteria for sharing credit among multiple investigators on inter-departmental and inter-school extramural grants;
- Allocating seed funding to support the development of new team science initiatives and research centers;
- Consulting with facilities planners on the design of team research spaces; and,
- Designing and implementing team science workshops and certification courses for faculty and students.
Specific examples of our activities at the Team Science Acceleration Lab include:
- Working with the university’s Task Force on Interdisciplinarity to ensure that excellence in team science is reflected in the allocation of graduate research and teaching stipends to doctoral candidates working with interdisciplinary research centers and training programs on campus;
- Planning a campus-wide “Team Science Celebration” event to draw attention to the importance of collaborative scholarship and translational research;
- Consulting with campus planners on the design of a collaborative research building for the Applied Innovation Institute, which promotes university-community partnerships;
- Helping develop and implement equitable credit-sharing accounting strategies to incentivize faculty participation in the development of inter-departmental extramural grant proposals and research centers;
- Developing a new website of team science resources for faculty, students, and administrators;
- Creating and evaluating a Collaborative Contributions List to help faculty engaged in collaborative scholarship articulate the ways that they’ve contributed to team-based projects as they compile their dossiers for promotion and tenure reviews; and,
- Presenting team science workshops and courses for departmental and school research directors, members of cross-disciplinary centers and teams (both existing and emerging), and other interested faculty, graduate students, and postdoctoral trainees.
By adopting an ecosystem model for advancing successful team science, we hope to achieve greater synergy toward establishing a campus culture that supports cross-disciplinary discovery, teaching, and translational research. Do you have relevant experience to share? Do you have suggestions for a longitudinal, multi-method study that we’re planning to assess our institution’s cumulative progress toward strengthening cross-disciplinary scholarship, training, and implementation research? We welcome your comments and suggestions.
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We thank University of California, Irvine’s Office of Research, Office of Academic Affairs, and Institute for Clinical and Translational Science for their support of this initiative.
Biography: Dan Stokols is Chancellor’s Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Irvine, USA and served as founding Dean of the university’s School of Social Ecology. His research spans the fields of social ecology, environmental and ecological psychology, public health, and transdisciplinary team science. He is author of Social ecology in the digital age and co-author of Enhancing the effectiveness of team science.
Biography: Judith S. Olson is the Donald Bren Professor of Information and Computer Sciences Emerita in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, USA. For over 20 years, she has researched teams whose members are not collocated. She co-authored (with Gary Olson) Working together apart: Collaboration over the internet.
Biography: Maritza Salazar is an assistant professor at the Paul Merage School of Business at the University of California, Irvine, USA. Her research focuses on learning and innovation in teams and organizations, especially enhancing the competitiveness of firms, the effectiveness of teams, and the quality of the work experience for individuals. She serves as President of the International Network for the Science of Team Science (INSciTS).
Biography: Gary M. Olson is Professor Emeritus and formerly Donald Bren Professor of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, USA. The focus of his work has been on how to support small groups of people working on difficult intellectual tasks, particularly when the members of the group are geographically distributed. He co-edited (with Ann Zimmerman and Nathan Bos) Scientific collaboration on the internet.