Building a Transdisciplinary Trading Zone: Knowledge Sharing and Integration in a Heterogeneous Milieu
Rosbach, Derren Thompson
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The numerous transdisciplinary research initiatives currently addressing a variety of complex social issues could benefit from a deeper understanding of the ways in which intellectually diverse groups work together to address problems. This research focused on a small group of investigators in a transdisciplinary institute as they sought to work collaboratively in the domain of infectious disease research. The unit's members described many challenges and successes that provided insights into the character and dynamics of transdisciplinary research, including how members developed a shared conceptual framework. The process proved enormously complex and was the product of long-term interactions among group members. Because participants were rooted in different disciplines and did not share professional trajectories, communication and understanding took extra effort, patience, and the development of a counterintuitive set of cognitive skills. Over time an integrated work process evolved within the group through a combination of strong interpersonal relationships, the mediating role of interactional expertise, and the development of shared boundary objects. Group members began working more closely with other team participants throughout the lifespan of projects. That experience over time allowed individuals to connect the details of their work together with the overarching goals and strategies of the group. This study employed the theory of trading zones to illustrate the ways researchers worked across boundaries to establish shared ideas, values, and goals. It developed and applied the concept of a transdisciplinary trading zone to describe the group's ability to coordinate its action despite both epistemic and communication barriers. Ultimately, the researchers studied sought a balance between being "productive," understood as providing practical tools to industry and government, and generating novel scientific solutions to complex research problems. The group's success in securing a shared research aspiration despite its member's disciplinary and professional differences resulted from an iterative process of interaction that included learning from failed attempts and a constant and persistent negotiation of goals and values among those involved.
- Doctoral Dissertations