Monday, January 23, 2012

The Science of Team Science

The individual scientist has been largely replaced by the collaborative scientist as the demands of today's complex problems require the concerted effort of individuals with diverse expertise. The aim of the upcoming Science of Team Science (SciTS) Conference is to produce “evidence-based effective practices for scientific teams.” It will take place April 16-19, 2012 in Chicago. For information about similar conferences, see my previous blog post on interdisciplinary collaboration.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Collaborative Tensions

Many authors have written about the paradox(es) of collaboration. I’m not sure that the following qualify as paradoxes, but they certainly contribute to making collaboration difficult, as attention is focused on one end of a spectrum of concern at the expense of the other. I call them collaborative tensions.

Plan efficiently ↔ Involve everyone

Is it true that a collaborative meeting should be planned collaboratively? Convening a collaborative is often a non-collaborative activity. To engage others, conveners have to provide enough information about the purpose and plan of the collaborative – but not so much as to be perceived as predetermining its definitive purpose, scope, or outcome. The more complex the issues, the more collaboration is needed and the more difficult it is to get everyone involved, so conveners start with a smaller, less diverse group and then invite others – who might be offended or put off by the work that was done in advance. How do you plan enough but not too much?

What's in it for me? ↔ What's in it for them?

If there weren’t anything in it for me, I wouldn’t bother trying to establish this collaborative effort in the first place. And it’s the same for everyone else, too. If there isn’t something in it for them, why should they join? Thinking through “what’s in it for me” as well as “what’s in it for them” is key to building a collaborative. To get what I want, I have to figure out how they can get what they want.

Process ↔ Outcome

When a collaborative forms, it is usually because the participants want some outcome, some change from the status quo. However, there are usually differences in the outcomes desired by the various members, some are compatible and some are less so (or downright contradictory). So it is the job of the collaborative to come to an understanding of all of those desired outcomes and their underlying bases and to develop a set of outcomes that all can agree to. Collaborative leadership advocates process, not outcome, but leads to outcomes for, by, and of the collaborative as a whole.

Short Term ↔ Long Term

In the short term, we want to fulfill the purpose for which the collaborative was formed. However, in complex situations, it may simply take more time. Nonetheless, short term products may be more important to strengthening the process – by demonstrating to participants that the collaborative can be productive – than to actually providing products of importance or lasting value. In the long term, the most valuable thing may be the collaborative itself, enabling its members to address emerging issues and produce outcomes that were not initially anticipated.

Your Organization ↔ Our Collaborative

Once an organization (or an individual) makes an investment in forming a collaborative, it identifies with and feels ownership of the collaborative and expects to receive benefits from it. An organization might want to guard its investment and be reluctant to accept newcomers into the collaborative, even if having additional members would contribute to the collaborative’s success. How can the organization protect its investment in the collaborative while enabling newcomers to join – and reap its rewards – without having made the same investment in it?

Proprietary Information ↔ Shared Information

Often, the success of a collaborative effort depends on sharing information. How can individuals and organizations share their privately-gained information and make it available where everyone in the collaborative can benefit from it?

Building and maintaining collaboratives is time consuming and frustrating because we have to work through these collaborative tensions. What makes collaboration necessary is what makes it difficult.