Improving cross-disciplinary collaboration with strategy knotworking and ecocycle planning

By Nancy White

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Nancy White (biography)

How can cross-disciplinary teams improve their project results and cross-team learning, especially when they are part of a portfolio of funded projects?

I have worked with cross disciplinary teams in international agriculture development, ecosystems management and mental health. For the most part, these are externally funded initiatives and have requirements both for results (application of the work) and for cross-team learning. Often there is not useful clarity about how funder and grantee agendas work in sync. And there is rarely opportunity or support for shared optimization and exploration across different portfolios of funded work.

I have used the six knotworking questions plus ecocycle planning from Liberating Structures to make it possible for a group to look back critically, assess the current state, and prospectively generate options to move forward.

The six knotworking questions are:

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Dealing with differences in interests through principled negotiation

By Gabriele Bammer

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Gabriele Bammer (biography)

How can the interests of a diverse group of researchers and stakeholders tackling a complex societal problem be understood and managed?

Interests arise when a person has a stake in something and stands to gain or lose depending on what happens to that something:

  • researchers commonly have a stake in advancing their work and careers,
  • stakeholders affected by a societal problem generally have a stake in improving the problem, and
  • stakeholders in a position to do something about a problem generally have a stake in improving outcomes for the problem through their sphere of influence.

Interests relate not only to personal conditions or stakes (self-interest), but also to principles such as reducing inequities and promoting justice.

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Resolving disagreements by negotiating agreements in the right way

By Lawrence Susskind

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Lawrence Susskind (biography)

How can interdisciplinary teams avoid getting stuck on questions like:

  1. What kinds of data do we need to collect?
  2. What methods or techniques should we use to analyze our data?
  3. How should we handle gaps or incongruities in our findings?
  4. What are the policy implications or prescriptions that follow from our findings?

I want to share some lessons I’ve learned about handling disagreements on these four questions.

Research Design

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Advancing considerations of affect in interdisciplinary collaborations

By Mareike Smolka, Erik Fisher and Alexandra Hausstein

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1. Mareike Smolka (biography)
2. Erik Fisher (biography)
2. Alexandra Hausstein’s biography

Have you ever had a fleeting impression of seeing certainty disrupted, the impulse to laugh when your expectations were broken, or a startling sense of something being both familiar and foreign at the same time?

As social scientists engaged in collaborative studies with natural scientists and engineers, we have had these experiences repeatedly while doing research.

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Collaboration agreement template

By L. Michelle Bennett, Edgar Cardenas and Michael O’Rourke

1. L. Michelle Bennett (biography)
2. Edgar Cardenas (biography)
2. Michael O’Rourke (biography)

As scientific research continues to move towards collaborative knowledge production, scientists must become more adept at working in teams. How can teams improve their chances of collaboration success? What is a good way to facilitate dialogue about shared values, norms and processes of collaboration? Are there ways of anticipating, identifying, and addressing obstacles as they arise?

We have designed a collaboration agreement template to assist teams in:

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A process for generating new cross-disciplinary projects

By Gemma Jiang

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Gemma Jiang (biography)

What is a good way for researchers in large cross-disciplinary science initiatives, who may not know each other well, to generate viable project ideas?

This blog post introduces a field-tested “double helix” process that leverages the benefits of idea generation by a large group and idea refinement in small groups.

This double helix process is most helpful in large cross-disciplinary science initiatives that meet at least one of the following three characteristics:

  • Tackling wicked problems with both scientific and societal significance
  • Requiring deep integration across multiple disciplines that will eventually lead to new meta-disciplines
  • Consisting of more than 20 core research members.

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Understanding diversity primer: 9. Team roles

By Gabriele Bammer

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What is the range of roles that members of a team need to cover in order for the team to be effective? What strengths and weaknesses are associated with each role?

Teamwork is common in research on complex societal and environmental problems. The Belbin team roles identify nine clusters of skills that need to be included within a team for it to be most effective. An individual can bring more than one cluster of skills to the team, with most people having two or three Belbin team roles that they are comfortable with.

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Clarifying incentives and expectations in research collaborations

By Alisa Zomer and Varja Lipovsek

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1. Alisa Zomer (biography)
2. Varja Lipovsek (biography)

In which areas do research collaborations between academics and practitioners often run into trouble? What difficult questions can we ask ourselves and our partners at the outset of a research collaboration that can set us up for a successful partnership? How can we learn from past successful and failed aspects of research partnerships?

In our experience four areas where collaborations can have problems are:

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Understanding diversity primer: 8. Personality

By Gabriele Bammer

primer_diversity_8_personalityWhat is a useful way of understanding personality and why is it important? How could personality affect how problems are framed, understood and responded to? How does personality affect how well those contributing to the research work together?

Personality is one of the most evident ways in which people differ. A useful way of coming to terms with this aspect of diversity is to focus on traits that predict behaviour. The HEXACO model is considered to be valid across cultures and focuses on 6 traits:

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Managing risk and equity in collaborative research

By Alisa Zomer and Selmah Goldberg

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1. Alisa Zomer (biography)
2. Selmah Goldberg (biography)

How do the perceived costs, benefits and risks that researchers envision compare to reality when a project is implemented? How can we best support equitable exchange and decision-making for all actors involved in research study design and implementation?

We have developed a risk and equity matrix to stimulate systematic consideration of potential impacts for stakeholders, researchers and others involved in a research process, to ensure that risks and benefits of research collaborations are distributed in a more equitable manner.

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Understanding diversity primer: 7. Culture

By Gabriele Bammer

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How can we begin to understand cultural diversity? How does culture affect how problems are framed, understood and responded to? How does culture affect how well those contributing to the research work together?

In this primer, the term ‘culture’ is used to describe the social behaviours and norms of groups in society. There is, therefore, overlap with values, but culture and values are not identical. Cultural differences are commonly thought of in relation to the inhabitants of different countries, but can also apply to occupations, religions, age-groups, members of different social classes and much more.

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Understanding diversity primer: 6. Interests

By Gabriele Bammer

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What are interests and why are they important? How do they affect how problems are framed, understood and responded to? How do they affect how well those contributing to the research work together?

What are interests?

Interests will be familiar through attention paid to ‘conflicts of interest,’ ‘vested interests’ and ‘interest groups.’ Yet interests are challenging to pin down.

The common definition of interests as things that a person is curious about has some relevance for research. It needs to be rounded out by another aspect of interests, which is about having a stake in something and standing to gain or lose depending on what happens to that something.

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