An experiment for the science of team science

Science of Team Science
1st annual conference

Bill Trochim spent some time at the poster on “Bringing the Social to Team Science,” wondering out loud if it is possible for some kind of “social concerted action” to come out of this conference. I posed the question to the folks I had dinner with: “If we were to actually come up with something to do together – collaboratively – out of this conference, what could it be?”

Download the (large) poster PDF here.

Intellectual Liberation

One of the cool features of this conference is the permission to say, “I don’t understand.” A Trekkie clued me in to this emergent feature of the social interactions here, and I checked it out with my dinner companions. They explained that because people attending this conference are from such disparate fields the usual assumptions that one is ‘supposed to already understand’ are suspended. It is rare to be with a whole bunch of highly educated people who are asking all kinds of questions that you hadn’t yet thought to ask.

We’re all on the continuum somewhere

The process of panel presentations has provided an impressive amount of information, but it isn’t clear what we can actually do with this knowledge. If we were to consciously build a network that gets beyond sizzle to move an agenda and challenge implicit norms (such as the division between practitioners and researchers, or that team science occurs only inter-disciplinarily), we have to do something more/different than what has occurred so far. Are we here just learning or are we in a process to generate new knowledge?

Tackling Team Science’s Wicked Problem

Because everyone has their own thing that they’re into, whether its research or administration or whatever, we would have to come up with “a meta-thing” as a goal or aim that everyone – or at least a solid cadre of us – could get behind. What if we decided to answer the process question? Instead of focusing on, “What is ‘the what’ of team science?” which takes as its mission connecting the science; we propose an examination of self-reflective case studies in order to identify “what works” and thus be able to explain and train people in the skills and techniques of effective team science.

6 thoughts on “An experiment for the science of team science”

  1. OK, I need to get a little more specific sense of what you might be suggesting here. It sounds like what you want is to put together a consortium of people engaged in team science who want to band together to develop some good case studies. In effect a collaborative technology-based multi-site case study methodology. Is that what you have in mind? Have we got enough of a critical mass of people still at the conference and participating in this blog or the twittering who would be interested in doing this or do we need to think about strategies for raising this possibility through other channels such as the post-conference website?

  2. Here’s another suggestion. One of the things we have been trying to do in team science is to use technology to enable potential scientific collaborators to find each other. A type of match-com or Facebook or meetup for researchers. But what I’m seeing at this conference is a group of team science practitioners who want to know what might work in encouraging the formation and support for scientific teams. It is not their first impulse to go to the community that does research on teams and who can tell them whether the intuitively sensible interventions they want to try have any basis in research. For instance, one team science practitioner asked me if I thought the best approach to a complex multidisciplinary team might be to structure it in smaller disciplinary subgroups where the subgroup leaders meet as an interdisciplinary team. I don’t know. Seems sensible to me. But my advice to her was that she begin by contacting an expert on research on teams (might be someone from the Kellogg School of Business where they study things like homogeneity/heterogeneity of team structures) and ask them what we know about that that might inform her need. But, how do we find the basic researcher on teams for her to talk to. If we can’t figure out how to do that amongst ourselves in team science how can we expect we can do that for other scientific teams? So, how might we use this conference — both the people involved and the technologies discussed — to help our own community collaborate on team science research and practice? That’s an issue that would have immediate relevance for us (and hopefully people would be highly motivated to participate). Just a thought.

  3. It will be interesting to see what kind of things come from the conference. There was a lot to digest. It seems to me that the big lessons were:
    1. Need to understand what we do, why we do it and how teams can play the role;
    2. Team science requires some resources to ‘grease the wheel’ both at the start and to continue;
    3. The environment for team science is changing and becoming more positive, but the standard models for promotion, tenure, rewards still favor acts by individuals;
    4. Evaluation is important and part of a quality appraisal process that can benefit scientists and help legitimate team science;
    5. These results need to be shared — even the negative ones.

    That’s my take. For now. A nap, some food and time might produce something else.

  4. Bill, I’ve been seeing and hearing the same thing: “…a group of team science practitioners who want to know what might work in encouraging the formation and support for scientific teams.”

    The Q&As and individual conversations shows that a gap exists between supporting extant teams and fishing around hunting for new ones. Adding to Cameron’s list of learnings, I think there is a conflation of terminology in the main discourse of the conference:

    the “team” in “team science”
    seems to really mean “network.”

    Of course we know (as a matter of definition) that these are not the same things, but language use during the conference is not keeping them distinct.

    As to practical next steps, one is recognizing that the answer is not only finding “team researchers” for team science practitioners to talk to; it is finding the people who know how to give training in managing group processes! These are not necessarily the same person (although they could be). I’m reminded of people who are fluent in more than one language – the fact of bilingualism does not mean they can function as an interpreter, but to be an interpreter, one must have a fairly balanced command of each language.

    My dream – possibly put out prematurely but I tend to work spontaneously like this – is to get myself (and others with similar interests/skills as me, for instance Joann Keyton) embedded into some current teams and start to track their processes. Maybe we combine training? For instance, if we were able to spend a week with this team, and a week with that, for maybe five or six teams over the next year, maybe even with return visits, then we would be able to begin to build a corpus of very specific and grounded experience from which to design practical, hands-on training for facilitators of teams in team science.

    If we do this via the upcoming Community of Practice website or by other forms of networking (solicitation, recruitment, promotion etc), or all of the above, is good by me! I realize that I was hoping some people would jump up and say, “I want to involve my team in this kind of study!” and then we’d figure out how to pay for it in the short-term, in order to build a case and prepare all the necessary materials to get it funded properly.

  5. fyi, just to make things easy to track, the original action research poster proposal that James and I submitted is here.

    and I thought it would be easy to extend or revise for any particular team, which is what I suggested in What if…we start now?.

    Whether we call it a consortium or something else is fine.

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