Monday, 4 April 2011
What lessons learnt from herding cats?
“A new vision is required to promote organisational learning for interdisciplinarity within and across the Research Councils.”
So said Catherine Lyall, when she presented at a Royal Society workshop on Challenges in Policy Relevant Interdisciplinary Science.
To conclude her talk, she floated five ideas as to what RCUK might do to facilitate greater organisational learning around interdisciplinarity based on findings from a recently-concluded project funded by NERC and conducted with Innogen colleagues Ann Bruce, Wendy Marsden and Laura Meagher.
An interdisciplinary reviewers’ college, consisting of individuals expert in a range of interdisciplinary areas, could address the challenge of finding reviewers who, as Lyall put it: “are both sympathetic to interdisciplinary research, and understand how to evaluate it both rigorously and appropriately”.
The team’s idea of sharing administrative resources for interdisciplinary investments would draw administrators from across RCUK who would bring with them their experience in the particular requirements of interdisciplinary research and research training.
Looking to promote shared learning, she suggested creating an Interdisciplinary Funders Forum; envisioning something similar to the former Environmental Research Funders Forum (which is now part of LWEC) or the UK Strategic Forum for the Social Sciences.
Hosting community-building events across different interdisciplinary capacity-building schemes and investments would help facilitate the development of a cadre of early career (and perhaps more senior) interdisciplinary researchers, whilst an Interdisciplinary Portal (analogous to the current RCUK Knowledge Transfer Portal) would co-ordinate and consolidate access by the research community to information about funding, training and other forms of support dedicated to ID researchers.
It is clear that capacity-building (in a variety of forms) is critical to the growth and longevity of interdisciplinary research in the UK, and as the Innogen team has pointed out, this poses challenges for funders and research leaders alike - to ensure that learning from past experiences of interdisciplinary investments becomes embedded within collective organisational memory.
A number of these issues are addressed in the series of Short Guides to Interdisciplinarity which are available from the Innogen website.
Interdisciplinary Research: A Series of Short Guides