Interdisciplinary Research and Evaluation

Our study of expert interdisciplinary work examined interdisciplinary research practices among individuals and groups working in leading research institutions. Included in our sample were researchers and administrators from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab, the Santa Fe Institute, the Arts and Science Laboratory in New Mexico, the Center for the Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technologies (CIMIT), and the Research in Experimental Designs (RED) group at XEROX-PARC.

Analysis of interview data (N=55) and expert work enabled us to understand issues such as: (1) The institutional conditions that favor and hinder effective interdisciplinary collaborations; (2) How expert interdisciplinary researchers define their problems of study and the strategies that allow them to integrate disciplinary views; (3) The challenges and options involved in assessing the results of interdisciplinary research when individual disciplinary standards do not suffice; and (4) The multiple forms of cognitive conceptual blending taking place in interdisciplinary work.

This study enabled us to identify research evaluation as the “Achilles Heel” of interdisciplinary research. We focused our analysis on qualities of quality interdisciplinary research and convened a seminar with leading scholars at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Our work informed the National Academies of Science, Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research report.

Our study of experts at the frontier, which we viewed as “end-state performances” in interdisciplinary work, also yielded our initial holistic framework of interdisciplinary research (i.e. research that is purposeful, disciplinary informed, leveraged by integration and overall reflective). This work served as an empirical foundation for our studies of interdisciplinary education. Furthermore, our initial recognition of non-epistemic factors involved in interdisciplinary research ranging from passionate intellectual commitment and disciplinary identities served as a precursor of our study of successful collaborations.

Our Interdisciplinary research and evaluation studies were generously funded by the Atlantic Philanthropies.