Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Improving Interdisciplinary Collaboration - A Hollywood Example

Science on FIRE—Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research and Education, a  symposium sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), recognized that “interdisciplinary research will have to be taken to new levels to address exceedingly difficult challenges” because the demands of complex problems require that experts from different disciplines and backgrounds have to work together, share and integrate information, and develop and test solutions that none of them alone could imagine. And as I noted in Creating a Culture of Collaboration, collaboration is seen as the way to address complex problems, add value, and achieve desired outcomes in fields as diverse as business, science, recreation, health care, social work, engineering, governance, and libraries.

If interdisciplinary collaboration is so important, then we should know how to improve it, and we should have a way a measuring it so we can know if it's getting better or worse.

This was the subject of another AAAS workshop, Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Innovative Science & Engineering Fields. The workshop report noted that in addition to measuring the outcomes of interdisciplinary collaboration we should look at process measures.

Indeed, I have found subjective process measures to be useful. Laura Bronstein's Index of Interdisciplinary Collaboration* uses a 42 item questionnaire to measure five components that give useful feedback to the members of an interdisciplinary team:
  • Collective ownership of goals
  • Interdependence
  • Flexibility
  • Collaborative activities
  • Reflection on process
When I use the Index of Interdisciplinary Collaboration with a group, I usually ask them to complete the questionnaire in advance. When I present the results, I talk about the five components and illustrate them by showing video clips of a highly successful interdisciplinary team: the band of thieves in the 2003 film, The Italian Job. It's a fun way to learn about and reflect on what contributes to successful interdisciplinary collaboration.

If you are interested you can download a handout that briefly describes the five components, shows the questionnaire items for each, and lists the specific video clips I use from The Italian Job. If you would like more information, please let me know.

* Bronstein, L. R. (2002). Index of interdisciplinary collaboration. Social Work Research, 26 (2), 113-126.
   Bronstein, L. R. (2003). A model for interdisciplinary collaboration. Social Work, 48 (3), 297-306.