Innogen  ·  Publications  ·  Working papers
Getting it Together: Building Capacity and Adding Value in Large Scale Interdisciplinary Research Initiatives

Marsden, W   Lyall, C   Bruce, A   Meagher, L

April 2011

Abstract

Interdisciplinary research is often called upon to generate innovative solutions to complex, multi-dimensional, policy-related problems on a regional, national or global scale. The ability of large scale research programmes to deliver solutions to such challenges increasingly requires integration across disciplines. But, there is uneven guidance on the conduct of interdisciplinary research. This paper reports on an empirical study which aims to promote organisational learning and generate benefits broadly applicable across future efforts to tackle complex, multidimensional challenges, by drawing transferable lessons of relevance to new interdisciplinary programmes. There are key practical organisational steps that large scale interdisciplinary research initiatives could take to promote and support collaborative working and integration. We argue that focusing on network and community building in the early stages of a research initiative greatly contributes to the degree and extent of integration and the research outcomes. This adds value to the research investment and develops long-term capacity for interdisciplinary research. Active management is also crucial right from the start and should be maintained throughout an interdisciplinary initiative in order to achieve genuine and consistent interdisciplinary integration. Awareness of these critical processes can benefit funders as well as practitioners if interdisciplinary research is to achieve its potential.

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