What if . . . we start now?

Science of Team Science
1st annual conference

Discourse patterns and outliers

By all measures, the first conference on the Science of Team Science is a resounding success. The speakers are excellent, the overall mood enthusiastic, questions and engagement from the audience compelling, and the basic organization flawless. I’ve met intriguing people doing fascinating stuff, and I couldn’t be happier with the participation in James’ and my action research project. Here is a preliminary summary of results of the critical discourse analysis of the conference’s group dynamics, culled from the backchannel twitter feed, conversations with participants, and formally presented material.

A tight rein on the social

This is a professional, academic event. The titillation of a problematic moment reconfigured the conference group yesterday afternoon, when a presenter used a sexual analogy to drive home a point. Suddenly we were a slightly more intimate group! I had been intrigued when an audience member asked about the utility of Tuckman’s stages of group development, asking about the possibility of getting through the storming stage quickly. If we are going to have ‘a storm’ here at this conference, it will involve trying to unsettle the normal science paradigm in order to discover and present practical information that is useful in application.

Different languages: Science versus the Social?

In the midst of the main discursive tone of praise and excitement, there have been quiet yet persistent voices of dissatisfaction. The theories, methodological research and analysis tools, and reports of research results are fascinating and … hard to make sense of in terms of practical guidelines for what to do on the ground while working in teams to ensure their success. The social is posed as measures of interaction, not as actual human interrelating. Getting into the nitty-gritty was even discouraged by one example shared from the floor. His advice to “focus on the problem” and “not on the process” was not countered in any significant way.

Applying what we’ve learned

The above summary is evidence confirming the hypotheses posed by our poster, Bringing the Social to Team Science.

  1. The quality of content produced is directly related to the amount of attention paid to process issues.
  2. It is very difficult to pay attention to content and process at the same time.
  3. Nonetheless, events occur during the work of team members that signals the presence of process; these signals can be understood as cues to shift attention from content/task accomplishment to relational/process matters.
  4. Groups and organizations are in a constant state of flex. You need a great deal of organization and energy to sustain continuity. This is accomplished though power relations embedded in the social.

A proposal to extend the scope of the action research project

What if several research teams self-selected, right here-and-now during this first annual conference, to participate in a continuing investigation of how to bring the social into the science? I believe we have the tools; do we have the will? The study could run over the course of the next year, with results to be reported at next year’s conference.

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