Seven tips for developing large-scale cross-disciplinary research proposals

By Gemma Jiang, Jin Wen and Simi Hoque

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1. Gemma Jiang (biography)
2. Jin Wen (biography)
3. Simi Hoque (biography)

What are the key ingredients for successfully developing large-scale cross-disciplinary research proposals? What’s required for a team to successfully work together at the proposal development stage?

Here we provide seven lessons based on our experience, divided into:

  • team characteristics
  • structuring the grant proposal writing process.

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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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Capitalising on incommensurability

By Darryn Reid

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Darryn Reid (biography)

How can we harness incommensurability as a pivotal enabler of cross-disciplinary collaboration?

Effective cross-disciplinary research across multiple traditional disparate fields of study hinges on logical incommensurability, which occurs because, in general, those ideas will have been constructed using incompatible frameworks to solve distinct problem formulations within dissimilar intellectual traditions.

In other words, the internal logical consistency of a discipline’s way of approaching problems is no guarantee of ability to be integrated with another discipline’s way of approaching problems. Incommensurability should come as no surprise to anyone involved in cross-disciplinary activities. What is pivotal here, however, is the view that incommensurability is not an obstacle to be avoided or feared but an enabler.

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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.

This confusion can bedevil cross-disciplinary research. The allure of such research is its promise of solving complex problems by bringing together a variety of perspectives that when combined lead to solutions that any one perspective would fail to find. But combining different disciplinary perspectives also requires undertaking the tasks of translating different technical languages, reconciling different methodological preferences, and coordinating different ways of carving up the world. These tasks are difficult and it’s no wonder that cross-disciplinary research often fails to be truly cross-disciplinary.

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A successful model of integration in an art-science project

By Diaa Ahmed Mohamed Ahmedien

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Diaa Ahmed Mohamed Ahmedien (biography)

How can new-media art-science projects move beyond raising public awareness of science to achieve a high level of layperson involvement in a scientific process? How can such projects use two-path integration:

  1. across multiple academic disciplines, and
  2. including the participation of laypeople?

In 2017, I developed an interactive game, using a holographic scene, where participants had to interact physically with their neural activities to complete the required processes and tasks (see the figure immediately below). A participant was attached to EEG (electroencephalography) monitoring and then, when standing at a table that had a set of holographic plates laid out upon it, they had to puzzle-out a hologram of a toy.

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Can examining cross-disciplinary interactions illuminate unknown unknowns?

By Rick Szostak

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Rick Szostak (biography)

Unknown unknowns are challenges that we will face in future that we do not foresee today.

Here I argue that an important subgroup of unknown unknowns occurs when some phenomenon that we know a lot about has an unexpected effect on another phenomenon that we know a lot about, especially when there are few links between the two silos of knowledge. An example is unanticipated “interactions” between medications prescribed by medical practitioners from different specialities. Here I explore such disciplinary interactions more generally.

Disciplinary scholars focus on interactions among the phenomena that their discipline studies, but usually ignore interactions with phenomena studied in other disciplines.

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Practical actions for fostering cross-disciplinary research

By Yan Ding, Justin Pulford, Susie Crossman and Imelda Bates

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1. Yan Ding (biography)
2. Justin Pulford (biography)
3. Susie Crossman (biography)
4. Imelda Bates (biography)

How can we facilitate cross-disciplinary research in practice? What practical actions are considered important for participating in cross-disciplinary research? How do these actions change at the individual, research team/programme and institutional/funder level?

Cross-disciplinary research approaches allow for the interchange of knowledge and experience to stimulate innovative responses to complex research challenges.

Individual researchers

The individual researcher requires certain personal attributes for effective participation in cross-disciplinary research.

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Strengthening the ecosystem for effective team science: A case study from University of California, Irvine, USA

By Dan Stokols, Judith S. Olson, Maritza Salazar and Gary M. Olson

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1. Dan Stokols (biography)
2. Judith S. Olson (biography)
3. Maritza Salazar (biography)
4. Gary M. Olson (biography)

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).

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Team science glossary

By Sawsan Khuri and Stefan Wuchty

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Stefan Wuchty (biography)
sawsan-khuri
Sawsan Khuri (biography)

As team science gains momentum, we present this glossary to standardize definitions for the most frequently used terms and phrases in the science of team science literature, and to serve as a reference point for newcomers to the field. Source material is provided where possible.

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