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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Enhancing mutual learning in developing a cross-disciplinary team

By Eric Schearer and Gemma Jiang

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1. Eric Schearer (biography)
2. Gemma Jiang (biography)

How can newly forming cross-disciplinary teams develop effective strategies for working together?

We provide lessons from our experience preparing a cross-disciplinary research proposal for which we leant heavily on the mutual learning mindsets and norms which are the central elements for the Team Effectiveness Model for Science (Schwarz and Bennett, 2021). The principal investigator (Schearer) enlisted the help of a leadership consultant (Jiang).

Mutual learning mindsets and norms

As shown in the figure below, mutual learning comprises a mindset, composed of core values and assumptions, plus specific behaviors derived from the mindset that, together, are essential for effective working relationships.

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Developing facilitation capacities in graduate students

By Gemma Jiang and Robert Hacku

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1. Gemma Jiang (biography)
2. Robert Hacku (biography)

What does it take for graduate students to become good at facilitation? What skills do they need to learn and how can such skills best be imparted?

A facilitator is someone trained in the skill of shaping group dynamics and collective conversations. In cross-disciplinary research, thoughtful facilitation is necessary to enable effective interaction across disciplines and sectors.

We describe an apprentice facilitator program developed in a cross-disciplinary research team comprised of nine faculty and 15 graduate students from four academic institutes, representing six disciplines.

Five apprentices were selected from the graduate students on the team. The program was one semester long and took on average one hour per week.

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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

author_gemma-jiang
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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Idea tree: A tool for brainstorming ideas in cross-disciplinary teams

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

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

How can cross-disciplinary research teams increase their capacity for generating and integrating novel research ideas and conceptual frameworks?

A key challenge faced by research teams is harnessing the intellectual synergy that can occur when individuals from different disciplines join together to create novel ideas and conceptual frameworks.

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