Eight institutional practices to support interdisciplinary research

By Margaret Palmer, Jonathan Kramer, James Boyd, and David Hawthorne

margaret-palmer
Margaret Palmer (biography)

How can institutions help enhance interdisciplinary team success? We share eight practices we have developed at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) which was launched in 2011 with funding from the U.S. National Science Foundation.

jonathan-kramer
Jonathan Kramer (biography)

The center supports newly formed research teams from anywhere in the world to work collaboratively at its facility. The teams synthesize existing theories and data to advance understanding of socio-environmental systems and the ability to solve environmental problems.

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Five steps for managing diversity to create synergy

By Doug Easterling

doug-easterling
Doug Easterling (biography)

How can we address social, environmental, political and health problems that are too big and too complex for any single person, organization or institution to solve, or even to budge? How can we pool our wisdom and work collaboratively toward purposes that are larger than ourselves?

In theory at least, co-creation generates innovative solutions that transcend what would otherwise be produced by the participants acting on their own. In other words, co-creation can foster synergy.

To maximize synergy, a co-creative group should include participants who understand the problem from all the relevant perspectives. The more complex the problem, the greater the number and diversity of stakeholders who should be included in the process. A broader range of perspectives and ways of thinking allows for a richer and more comprehensive analysis of the problem, as well as more innovative solutions that address more of the underlying factors.

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Facilitating multidisciplinary decision making

By Bob Dick

bob-dick
Bob Dick (biography)

Imagine this scenario. You are confronted by a wicked problem, such as the obesity epidemic. You know it’s a wicked problem – many previous attempts to resolve it have failed.

Suppose that you wish to develop a plan to remedy obesity. You have identified as many relevant areas of expertise and experience as you can and approached appropriate people – researchers, health practitioners, people with political influence, and so on.

You bring them together to pool their expertise—only to find that you now have another problem. Encouraging them to work collaboratively is more difficult than you expected. They talk in jargon. Their understanding is narrow. Their commitment is to their own discipline. Some of their understanding is tacit. Some of them are argumentative. And more. What are you to do?

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Working together for better outcomes: Lessons for funders, researchers, and researcher partners

By Kit Macleod

kit-macleod
Kit Macleod (biography)

As a community of interdisciplinary practice we need to share our collective knowledge on how funders, researchers and wider research partners can work together for better outcomes to address pressing societal challenges.

Funding interdisciplinary research: improving practices and processes

Seven key challenges to funding interdisciplinary research include:

  1. No agreed criteria defining ‘excellence’ in interdisciplinary research.
  2. Poor agreement of the benefits and costs of interdisciplinary ways of working.
  3. No agreement on how much or what kind of additional funding support is required for interdisciplinary research.
  4. No consensus on terminology.
  5. No clearly delineated college of peers from which to select appropriate reviewers.
  6. Limited appropriate interdisciplinary peer review processes.
  7. Restrictions within funding organisations concerning budget allocations and support for interdisciplinary research.

A guidance note for research funders then suggests ways forward from the pre-call stage to evaluation of completed research projects.

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