HSD: Collaborative Research: Data-Driven Analysis of Interdisciplinary Research Teams
Debra Street Principal Investigator
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Collaborative Research for Data-Driven Analysis of Interdisciplinary Research Teams<br/><br/>Because expectations are that the 21st century research workforce will consist of collaborative teams rather than individual investigators, understanding how social dynamics contribute to collaboration mechanisms is an important component of initiating and maintaining effective research teams. Interdisciplinary research teams play a critical role in advancing science through collaborations that integrate ideas and techniques from two or more specialized bodies of knowledge with capacity to address complex societal problems. This research studies the social dynamics of interdisciplinary research groups in naturally occurring field settings from the perspective of academic researchers already working to advance science in interdisciplinary working groups. The focus is twofold: 1) to understand how social processes within the group and relationships between the group and other organizational units contribute to or impede collaboration; 2) how social dynamics within groups change over time or differ among groups of varying longevity and disciplines. <br/><br/>Systematic study of the social dynamics of interdisciplinary research teams in the field is rare; theory and evidence identifying social structures and roles that optimize interdisciplinary team efficacy are underdeveloped. This study uses data from several sources to design and adapt objective and subjective measures to create instruments for standardized data acquisition from a spectrum of academic interdisciplinary team types - differing in composition (disciplines, faculty rank, gender), research focus, activity level, and duration of collaboration (new groups and established teams). Such standardized instruments will provide evidence and promote theory-building relating to the social dynamics of such groups. University at Buffalo and Kansas State University, the two research sites for the project, encompass a range of academic interdisciplinary research teams of varying "age," size, composition and complexity, making them sites appropriate for maximizing variation in this exploratory research.<br/><br/>The project will advance knowledge of the increasingly common practice of interdisciplinary research, promoting scientific understanding of the social processes that affect interdisciplinary research teams, creating tools for future larger-scale studies and practical applications. There are also practice and policy applications. Practical application would seek to identify and enact similar dynamics to promote success when implementing interdisciplinary teams; this could inform practices for the larger organizations within which teams are located and practices within the interdisciplinary teams themselves. From a policy perspective, findings may suggest design of mechanisms that promote trust-building among interdisciplinary teams or minimize conflict arising from "naturally occurring" power differentials. Implementation of empirically-derived mechanisms could become as routine a project management function as work-tracking. <br/><br/>The merit in developing tools to better apprehend the social dynamics that contribute to successful multidisciplinary-integration models extends beyond federally-funded programs on university campuses. The research will identify evidence-based best practices for structuring social relations in interdisciplinary teams. Although a framework for problem-free social dynamics in any type of group is elusive, the study will identify optimal social processes that enhance collaborative scientific advancement. Consequently, theories and instruments developed in this research will likely have substantially broader general application to other types of interdisciplinary teams. Teams outside of academic research venues, such as disaster response or damage mitigation teams, will be able to apply lessons learned from evidence-based identification of social processes that optimize team formation and success, since efficient interdisciplinary collaborations are critically important beyond contributions they make to scientific breakthroughs.