Five Keys for Managing Large, Transdisciplinary Projects


Transdisciplinary research involves “investigators from different disciplines working jointly to create new conceptual, theoretical, methodological, and translational innovations that integrate and move beyond discipline-specific approaches to address a common problem,” according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In a recent guest editorial in the Journal of Food Science, Dr. Lee-Ann Jaykus, William Neal Reynolds Distinguished Professor, North Carolina State Univ., shared her observations and insights on managing large, transdisciplinary projects that involve four or more investigators affiliated with four or more institutions.

According to Jaykus, the most important features of leadership and collaboration that have led to successful transdisciplinary projects include the following:

  1. Collaboration and networking are at the heart of large, transdisciplinary projects. What makes networking and collaboration successful is a shared mission; the ability to sacrifice one's own agenda for the good of the mission; the belief that the goal can only be reached if everyone works together; some individual benefit to affiliation with the team; functional team dynamics; and strong leadership.
  2. Personality makes a huge difference when it comes to the success of transdisciplinary projects. Choosing the right collaborators is very important. The logical considerations like expertise, interest, track record, availability, and responsiveness matter, but almost more important is the ability to work as a team member and to put aside personal agendas for the good of the cause.
  3. Stakeholder engagement is critical. Stakeholders hold the key to prioritizing activities and assuring they are relevant. But the way in which stakeholders contribute to transdisciplinary projects differs based on sector and corporate culture.
  4. Management of transdisciplinary projects is time-consuming. From establishing an infrastructure (that takes at least a year) to facilitating communication to dealing with myriad administrative issues, the role of support staff cannot be underestimated. The project leader must make difficult decisions that may be to the detriment of some of the collaborators.
  5. Comprehensive and creative evaluation leads to important insights. In some cases, you may want to consider using an outside consulting firm to do your evaluation. They are unbiased, well-trained, informed, and connected with others having evaluation expertise.

Read the editorial here.

Categorized under: Innovation & Insights
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