By Gary M. Olson, Judith S. Olson, Dan Stokols and Maritza Salazar Campo
In this blog post we review the benefits and difficulties of working in teams before introducing a new web site whose goal is to help those carrying out collaborative interdisciplinary projects to solve problems and be more effective.
Benefits of working in teams
Working in teams has at least five major benefits:
What can you do when a national funding umbrella organization asks you to add a new partner to a collaborative project, especially when that partner has a poor reputation for collaborating?
Here I share lessons based on my experience of leading a multi-million Euro grant, where two interdisciplinary language sciences laboratories, which had worked together successfully for 8 years, were preparing a bid for a 5-year continuation in funding. In the process of preparing that bid, our national umbrella organization suggested that a third language sciences laboratory that had strong links to neurosciences join the consortium.
By Steven Lam, Michelle Thompson, Kathleen Johnson, Cameron Fioret and Sarah Hargreaves
How can graduate students work productively with each other and community partners? Many researchers and practitioners are engaging in transdisciplinarity, yet there is surprisingly little critical reflection about the processes and outcomes of transdisciplinarity, particularly from the perspectives of graduate students and community partners who are increasingly involved.
Our group of four graduate students from the University of Guelph and one community partner from the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario, reflect on our experiences of working together toward community food security in Canada, especially producing a guidebook for farmer-led research (Fioret et al. 2018). As none of us had previously worked together, nor shared any disciplines in common, we found it essential to first develop a guiding framework for collaboration. Our thinking combined the following key principles from action research and transdisciplinarity:
What options are available to researchers for engaging stakeholders in a research project? What responsibilities do researchers have to stakeholders over the course of that project?
Despite increasing inclusion of stakeholders in research, there seems to be little guidance on how to do this effectively. Here I have adapted a framework developed by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2 2018) for examining how the public are engaged in government decision making. The research-modified IAP2 spectrum, written from a researcher perspective, is shown in the figure below.
What is open team science? What challenges does it deal with and how?
What is open team science?
In our experience, projects are commonly disrupted by socio-psychological boundaries, particularly at the initial phase of team building. Such boundaries are often generated by asymmetric information, knowledge, wisdom (wise use of knowledge; Bellingen et al., 2004), values, socio-economic status, and power among actors.
We have developed a theoretical framework that considers open science as an open scientific knowledge production system, which can be interlinked with transdisciplinarity as a driver of boundary spanning to develop a new research paradigm. We call this open team science.
Can we develop a shared understanding on how to engage in an interdisciplinary setting that will be useful in addressing current and future grand challenges?
Advice provided by interdisciplinary experts from 25 countries, across all continents, and with over 240 years cumulative experience (Kelly, et al., 2019) is combined here into succinct guidance that aims to empower researchers wishing to engage in interdisciplinary endeavors. The ten tips are also summarized in the figure below (focused on socio-ecological researchers).
We know that reflecting can make a marked difference to the quality of our collective endeavour. However, in the daily busyness of inter- and trans- disciplinary research collaborations, time for reflection slides away from us as more immediate tasks jostle for attention. What would help us put into regular practice what we know in theory about prioritising time to reflect and learn?
Discomfort sometimes provides the necessary nudge in the ribs that reminds us to keep reflecting and learning. The discomfort of listening to the presentation of a colleague you like and respect, but having very little idea what they’re talking about. Or, worse, failing to see how their research will make a worthy contribution to the collective project. The discomfort when an intellectual debate with a colleague turns personal. The discomfort of watching project milestones loom, knowing you’re seriously behind schedule because others haven’t done what they said.
What is co-innovation and how can it be applied in practice in a research project?
Co-innovation is the process of jointly developing new or different solutions to a complex problem through multi-participant research processes – and keeping these processes alive throughout the research.
Our experience has been applying co-innovation as a research approach to address complex problems in an agricultural context, however, the principles apply well beyond agriculture. Co-innovation is most suited to hard-to-solve technical, social, cultural and economic challenges. Such challenges have no obvious cause and effect relationships, as well as many different players with a stake in the research problem and solution. These include policy makers, industry, community members, first nations representatives and others who are involved in the research as partners and stakeholders.
A research consortium is a model of collaboration that brings together multiple institutions that are otherwise independent from one another to address a common set of questions using a defined structure and governance model. Increasingly consortia are also being joined in cross-consortia networks. How can connections be made across the institutions in individual consortia, as well as in cross-consortia networks, to ensure that such collaborations are more than the sum of their parts?
What is the groan zone in collaboration? What can you do when you reach that point?
As researchers and practitioners engaged in transdisciplinary problem-solving, we know the value of diverse perspectives. We also know how common it is for groups to run into challenges when trying to learn from diverse ideas and come to consensus on creative solutions.
This challenging, often uncomfortable space, is called the groan zone. The term comes from Sam Kaner’s diamond model of participation shown in the figure below. After an initial period of divergent thinking, where diverse ideas are introduced, groups have to organize that information, focus on what’s most important, and make decisions in order to move forward into the phase of convergent thinking.
What sort of research culture underpins effective research impact on policy and practice change?
As part of a research program on inclusive economic growth in low-income countries, we commissioned four case studies to help understand how researchers had engaged with policymakers and practitioners and what happened as a result. We were particularly interested to understand whether specific types of knowledge activity (simply providing the information, translating knowledge, brokering it within the policy environment, or facilitating innovative approaches to engagement) led to different types of impact.
We found no clear links between the type of knowledge activity and type of impact. Instead, five cross-cutting issues emerged that we think speak more to how getting the research culture right can foster different and sometimes unexpected types of impact.