Facilitating Renal Disease Researchers in Constructing and Sharing Team Knowledge Across Disciplines and Geographies audioicon

The science of team science examines a spectrum of factors related to such questions as:  “What makes scientific collaborations work when specialists come from multiple disciplines, institutions, and geographies? How do interdisciplinary and international teams construct, share, and apply knowledge effectively for discovery when research projects extend over time and alternately emphasize methods and content from different sub-specialties?” In renal disorders a prominent example of team science is systems-level research into molecular influences of disease-related processes.

From the perspective of studying this systems level team research, diverse factors determine success, including for example:  team dynamics – team processes, leadership, team organization; institutional support; technology infrastructures; resources – available data, tools, and knowledge; training; and evaluation criteria. Additionally, in this type of renal disease research, teams of renal disease investigators often interact with teams of bioinformatics systems developers – aiming to improve tools for the demands of constructing, sharing, and training in team knowledge. Given that success factors distinct to the team-based nature of translational research projects affect the quality, content, and impact of research outcomes, renal disease researchers can benefit from understanding the dynamics of various factors and then strategically enacting them toward effective ends.

Studies in the science of team science offer insights into success factors for building, sharing, and applying team knowledge; and classify factors by categories, such as team dynamics, team organization, institutional support, professional development and evaluation. However, studies of team science rarely examine the sets of interrelated factors across categories or team-to-team interactions that affect outcomes. In actual interdisciplinary research many interrelated factors across categories do, in fact, affect the direction and outcomes of research. For example, there is an interplay between collaborative readiness among cross-disciplinary team members (team dynamics); shared language among members within and across teams (team organization); the availability of tool-based resources that facilitate knowledge construction and sharing (institutional support); and training that assures collaborators understand the shared knowledge that comes from software-supported exploratory analysis, including how  tool constraints affect this knowledge (professional development). 

In the Applied Systems Biology Core (ASBC) of the Michigan O’Brien Renal Disease Center, we have found many of these interrelated factors in play in team science.  They are evident in our qualitative case studies of renal disease researchers’ system-level investigations of possible disease mechanisms – investigations that extend over many months. In the field, we studied investigators’ explorations of a narrowed down set of experimental genes in order to uncover novel functional interactions in biological contexts potentially influencing a targeted renal disorder. This talk will describe relevant multi-factor relationships for one key dimension of team knowledge in this type of renal disease research. The dimension involves collaborators sharing knowledge and methodologies within and across geographical boundaries. For the knowledge work pertaining to this type of research, renal disease specialists often communicate across teams, interacting with developers to guide tool designs toward useful support for actual analytical and collaborative practices. Within teams renal disease specialists continuously share, vet, and extend emerging findings from tool-supported explorations with their biomedical collaborators from diverse sub-specialties. For further validation and insight they also have remote collaborators (who are studying a portion of the given problem) conduct similar analytical methods on the same or analogous data. 

The talk will examine the interplay between important interrelated success factors for this specific type of team science research. Factors span categories and include available tool-based resources, apt tool improvements, expedient training, and common language across disciplinary boundaries. I will explain the effects of the interplay of these factors on efficient team knowledge sharing and skills in re-producing knowledge. I will conclude by briefly explaining a project within the ASBC that aims to enhance collaborative knowledge sharing and skills in re-producing knowledge through innovative approaches to analytical activity tracking and sharing.


This was presented at the ISN Forefronts Symposium event “Systems Biology and the Kidney” that took place from 7-10 June 2012 in AnnArbor , Michigan, US.

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Last modified on Saturday, 22 March 2014 20:30

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