Many pressing problems are complex in that they require to be addressed in a cross-disciplinary manner. An emerging literature on the challenges of cross disciplinary research emphasizes the critical importance of effective communication. How this is to be achieved is less well understood. In this project, an explicitly philosophical approach is adopted to develop the intellectual common ground that is requisite for effective communication in cross disciplinary collaborations. The need for a philosophical approach stems from the disparate views about the nature of objects studied (metaphysics) and methods of knowing them (epistemology) favored by different disciplines. The premise of this proposal is that a carefully structured process of identifying, understanding, and incorporating philosophical dimensions will serve to facilitate effective communication between cross disciplinary research team members.
The approach to be taken here is to use a set of questions that probes the epistemological and metaphysical aspects of scientific research. In a workshop setting, CDR participants examine these questions as individuals and share their views within their team. The proposed project will extend and improve the toolbox-based method through several distinct activities involving cross disciplinary research including the development of a description of the diversity of existing research collaborations for which the method can be effective, an analysis of knowledge construction and communication in predominant types of research teams, and an adaptation of the toolbox method for greatest effectiveness in these teams. It will also include a test of the revised toolbox with working teams, the use these test sessions to study communication processes and dynamics within this type of research, and the dissemination of the findings of this project to the community of cross disciplinary research practitioners and students through publications, a conference, and an edited volume.
The project will improve the practice of cross disciplinary research in diverse types of collaboration. Its impacts will therefore be felt across the range of activities in which such research is required. Some of these areas of collaborative research are critical for guiding policies aimed to improve human wellbeing, such as those concerning sustainable natural systems and complex public health issues. Others are part of expanding interdisciplinary research at the forefront of discovery, such as computational biology, neurosciences, and nanotechnology. In addition, the project aims to advance epistemology and the philosophy of science by incorporating insights from scientists engaged in cross disciplinary research, therefore, is not merely a resource for this project but a direct beneficiary of it. It will also promote teaching, training, and learning by improving the sophistication and skills of graduate students directly involved as workshop participants and those who work as research collaborators. The conference/workshop and project deliverables will reach the growing international audience of students and scientists seeking to build their capacity for cross-disciplinary collaboration.