Mapping the Social World Boundaries of Interdisciplinary Teams: Processes for Working Across Disciplines
Author(s)Alemanne, Nicole Dolores
Social Network Analysis
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AbstractInterdisciplinary research is often problem-based, arising to serve needs that cannot be fulfilled without crossing domain boundaries. Interdisciplinary researchers face a number of issues such as poor communication, methodological differences, and sources of funding. As any academic team comes together it has to organize, develop work processes, and create deliverables. Teams that form for a relatively short time to accomplish a specific goal (e.g., for the duration of a grant) have the added pressure of a deadline. Interdisciplinary time-limited teams must do all this while communicating and negotiating across disciplinary boundaries, most likely with different disciplinary norms and vocabularies. This study fills a gap at the junction of studies of teamwork processes and academic interdisciplinarity and contributes to theoretical knowledge of the process of academic interdisciplinary teamwork. This study explores an intrinsically transient interdisciplinary research team's process of collaboration across domain boundaries to design an educational technology intervention. It combines grounded theory method and social network analysis, using purposive samples of 4260 team e-mails and eight intensive interviews with key informants. The study takes a social approach to research, using Strauss's social worlds perspective, Kazmer's intrinsically transient social worlds model, and Star's boundary object theory as sensitizing concepts to explore the boundaries of the social worlds of the team and how they segmented and changed over time, the roles of the team members, challenges that emerged and strategies developed to address them, and how the team members bridged the social worlds of the team. The importance of iterative design emerged as a strong concept from the findings and this concept extended to the workings of the team as well. A model of interdisciplinary team technology development in a time-limited setting is proffered that includes inputs (activities, the project goals, and roles and responsibilities as originally understood by the team), outputs (the system, publications, project reports, and applications for new grants), intervening elements (rules, policies, and procedures and technology issues), and strategies to keep progress moving (multiple deadlines, entrepreneurialism, and a flexible role structure). Future research should be used to validate, refine, and expand the theory; to refine the research design and the instrumentation; and to further explore theoretical implications.