Enabling divergent and convergent thinking in cross-disciplinary graduate students

By Gemma Jiang

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Gemma Jiang (biography)

How can we enable graduate students to think in ways that open new possibilities, as well as to make good decisions based on diverse cross-disciplinary insights?

Here I describe how we have embedded 14 graduate students in a research team with nine faculty from four academic institutes, representing six disciplines (for simplicity only three disciplines – engineering, economics, and anthropology – are considered here). Our research addresses the circular economy. I have developed a three-step model (summarised in the figure below) to operationalize the “divergence-convergence diamond,” which is key to our teaching method.

The “divergence – convergence diamond” is widely used in design thinking. The divergent mode helps open new possibilities while the convergent mode helps evaluate what you have and make decisions.

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Six ways facilitation skills can improve cross-disciplinary team leadership

By Manal Affara

An Arabic version of this post is available.

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Manal Affara (biography)

What facilitation skills are useful for leading teams in cross-disciplinary projects?

Facilitation and leadership are usually considered to involve different skills, but in a recent article Carrie Addington (2020) examined how facilitation skills can improve leadership. I take this one step further to examine how facilitation skills can improve leadership of cross-disciplinary projects.

Collaboration is central to cross-disciplinary research, requiring facilitation to engage partners, unlock their potential, organize the project, and encourage continuous learning, as well as applying insights from that learning.

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Setting an agenda for transdisciplinary research in Africa

By Basirat Oyalowo

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Basirat Oyalowo (biography)

Why is transdisciplinary research important for the advancement of African countries? What are the key issues that need to be taken into account in fostering such research?

This blog post presents key lessons from the ‘Transdisciplinary Research Workshop: Rethinking Research in COVID-19 times’, held in August 2020, in which we brought together academia, government, civil society, industry and development agencies to delve into how researchers might navigate the new terrain wrought by COVID-19 in Africa and use it to further the development of transdisciplinary research. Although the focus of the workshop was urbanization and habitable cities and on adjusting to COVID-19, the lessons for enhancing transdisciplinary research are more broadly generalizable.

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Responding to unacknowledged disciplinary differences with the Toolbox dialogue method

By Graham Hubbs, Michael O’Rourke, Steven Hecht Orzack

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1. Graham Hubbs (biography)
2. Michael O’Rourke (biography)
3. Steven Hecht Orzack (biography)

Have you collaborated with people on a complex project and wondered why it is so difficult? Perhaps you’ve asked yourself, “Do my collaborators even conceive of the project and its goals in the way I do?” Projects involving collaborators from different disciplines or professions seem almost ready made to generate this kind of bewilderment. Collaborators on cross-disciplinary projects like these often ask different kinds of questions and pursue different kinds of answers.

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Do we need diversity science?

By Katrin Prager

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Katrin Prager (biography)

Where do the benefits of diverse teams come from and how can those benefits be unlocked? What are the pitfalls to watch out for in constructing a team that is greater than the sum of its parts?

To boost innovation and creativity in teams I suggest we need to develop diversity science, which has 5 elements:

  1. identifying the right kind of diversity
  2. avoiding homophily
  3. avoiding dominance hierarchies
  4. fostering appropriate leadership
  5. building and protecting trust.

Let’s unpack each of these elements.

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What is 3-dimensional team leadership?

By Bradley L. Kirkman

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Bradley L. Kirkman (biography)

It is useful to think about teams as having three dimensions:

  1. the team as a whole
  2. the individuals in the team
  3. the subteams within the overall team, or the smaller subsets of team members who cluster together to work on specific tasks. With teams taking on more and more complex tasks, it is not uncommon for members with similar skills to tackle various assignments over a period of time and then integrate their outputs into the larger, overall team.

How does a leader know when to focus on which dimension?

The secret lies in knowing how a particular team best carries out its tasks, specifically a concept known as interdependence.

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Interdisciplinary competencies and innovation

By Colleen Knechtel

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Colleen Knechtel (biography)

What interdisciplinary competencies are required for innovation? How can such interdisciplinary competencies be implemented to foster innovation?

Keys to stimulating innovation are cultivating interdisciplinary mindsets and skillsets. Interdisciplinary mindsets involve recognizing diverse knowledge to enable collaboration to enhance collective creativity, whereas interdisciplinary skillsets embrace relational competencies, work experiences, the sciences, humanities, trades and technologies. Integrating such diverse knowledge and skills is key to innovation.

Strategies for implementing interdisciplinary competencies

1. Recognizing prior knowledge and skills

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Navigating paradoxical tensions through both/and thinking

By Faye Miller

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Faye Miller (biography)

How can the many paradoxical tensions that arise in transdisciplinary projects be effectively navigated?

My recent research into how to produce shared understanding for digital and social innovation identifies three key tenets for navigating paradoxes as an emerging transdisciplinary method:

  1. Identifying paradoxical tensions;
  2. Moving from either/or to both/and thinking; and
  3. Working through paradoxes to workable certainty or negotiated understanding.

Identifying paradoxical tensions

A paradox involves contradictory-yet-interrelated elements that exist simultaneously, which morph, shift and persist over time. Increasing our focus on paradoxes fosters the development of creative and innovative mindsets encouraging transdisciplinary researchers to employ both logic and intuition in their approaches.

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The “ABC’s” of interdisciplinarity

By Stephen M. Fiore

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Stephen M. Fiore (biography)

What are the attitudinal, behavioral, and cognitive issues that influence interdisciplinary collaborations?

The illustrations I provide here are based upon 20 years of experience working in research environments with scholars ranging from philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists, to historians, economists, and ecologists, to psychologists, computer scientists, and neuroscientists. This experience has helped to illuminate what creates challenges during interdisciplinary interactions and what also can contribute to effective collaborations and help scholars learn from each other.

Attitudinal issues

Often times interaction is stifled when collaborators maintain some form of disciplinary disdain. The characteristics of disciplinary disdain include lack of respect or a form of contempt for another disciplinary approach, or condescension toward another discipline. An example is the view basic researchers sometimes show for applied research.

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Effectively leading interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations

By Global Leaders of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research Organisations

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Global Leaders of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research Organisations details (biographies)

What qualities and skills do leaders of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations need?

Leaders of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research organisations need the qualities that make any leader successful—creativity, humility, open-mindedness, long-term vision, and being a team player. In addition, we identified eight leadership attributes that are specific to interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary interactions and that help leaders to be transformative with real world impacts. Leaders need to cultivate:

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Interdisciplinarity and synergy in collaborations

By Loet Leydesdorff

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Loet Leydesdorff (biography)

What is the difference between “interdisciplinarity” and “synergy?” Why does it matter? How can indicators of interdisciplinarity and synergy be conceptualized and defined mathematically? Can one measure interdisciplinarity and synergy?

Problem-solving often requires crossing boundaries, such as those between disciplines. However, interdisciplinarity is not an objective in itself, but a means for creating synergy. When policy-makers call for interdisciplinarity, they may mean synergy. Synergy means that the whole offers more possibilities than the sum of its parts. The measurement of synergy, however, requires a methodology very different from interdisciplinarity. In this blog post, I consider each of these measures in turn, the logic underpinning each of them, and I specify the definitions in mathematical terms.

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How librarians contribute to interdisciplinary research teams

By Kelly Miller and Kineret Ben-Knaan

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1. Kelly Miller (biography)
2. Kineret Ben-Knaan (biography)

What can librarians contribute to interdisciplinary research teams working on complex problems? We suggest that librarians add value in the following three ways:

  1. finding and accessing information resources across disciplines
  2. connecting teams to experts and resources, and
  3. improving collaboration and communication strategies.

Our experience comes from being part of the University of Miami’s Laboratory for Integrative Knowledge initiative, also known as U-LINK, which aims to address the world’s most compelling problems through interdisciplinary inquiry. From 2018-2020, teams of scholars from multiple disciplines have received funding to pursue solutions to global challenges.

Librarians have been embedded in each of the teams.

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