Answering big science and health questions requires collaborative and cross-disciplinary approaches. The Science of Team Science field defines conceptual and methodological strategies aimed at understanding and enhancing the processes and outcomes of collaborative, team-based research. In this interview, Kara Hall, a scientist at the National Cancer Institute and specialist of science of Team Science, explains how and why they are doing this.
Kara L. Hall is a Health Scientist. She is currently the director of the Science of Team Science (SciTS) team at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) of the United States and co-director of the Theories Project in the Science of Research and Technology Branch (SRTB), Behavioral Research Program (BRP), Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences (DCCPS). She explains what is hidden behind this concept of Science of Team Science.
What is Science of Team Science?
Science of Team Science is a field that aims at understanding and optimizing the way people, and in this case, scientists, work as a team. We look at the conditions, the process and the outcome. The aim is to leverage the potential of every individual in the context of a collaboration work. It particularly applies to translational research. By this we mean projects that aim to create new knowledge that will quickly be invested for practical applications. Especially in health science the need is strong for the rapid development of new treatment and drugs based on new discoveries. Science of Team Science is a multidisciplinary approach based on social sciences, psychology, management… This kind of approach exists in other fields, for example in the business world, but it had rarely been applied in the context of scientific research.
Where does this concept come from?
In the mid-90s, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other large research institutions launched many initiatives for large-scale collaborations to address the biggest and most complex issues like cancer or multifactorial illnesses. Those problems required a transdisciplinary approach. But scientists are becoming more and more specialized and the tools and vocabulary used in the various disciplines differs a lot. Hence, collaborations between people from different disciplines and between scientists and practitioners face several obstacles. The financial investments in those large projects were significant. Hence questions were asked: Is that a good approach? What is the added value? How to quantify or measure it?
In 2005 I joined the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which is part of the NIH. In collaboration with Dan Stokols, from the University of Irvine and others at NCI, we gathered a group of people to address those questions. We quickly found that there were very few methods or metrics to answer those questions and to the quantify efficiency of the team science. In 2006, during a large open meeting we organized we launched the concept of Science of Team Science. We set out to establish an agenda for moving this emerging field forward. The results of the discussion were published as a special supplement of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine: The Science of Team Science - Assessing the Value of Transdisciplinary Research. It focuses on various aspects of transdisciplinary collaboration in research, training, and translations of science into evidence-based health practices, policies, and community interventions.
What is the benefit of studying this field?
We try to help enhance how our investigators do team-based research. Hence we put efforts into understanding how to evaluate translational and cross-disciplinary research. Of course it depends very much on the issue addressed, but there are common rules. We developed the Team Science Toolkit to share what we, and others, have learned It is available to everyone to use. It provides a forum for exchanging knowledge and connecting professionals. It also provides tools to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of team science. The kit contains several tutorials to help the people work as a team. For example, “pre-nuptial agreements” that help collaborators decide on the terms of their team project (publication issues, data management issues etc.). We also developed metrics to measure outcome from team work and collaborations, which can be found on the Team Science Toolkit.
What role can digital research networks play?
The NIH supported the development of VIVO, the open source research network software. Social networks for scientists facilitate research networking and expertise mining. They help to build collaborations and permit scientists to get out of their isolation, to find colleagues from other fields and other disciplines. Digital networking tools are also helping to fill the gaps created by geographical distances. But they offer much more than this. Research networking systems are valuable tools to track and visualize collaborations and interactions between people. They show the nodes and the links. This provides new ways for us to learn about how people collaborate.
One huge barrier for team science we have seen at the academic level lies in tenure and promotion guideline language. Investigators are incentivized for promotion/tenure on an individual model. Grants and the number of articles authored are the main parameters to evaluate people for promotion. Tenure and promotion guidelines should include language that promotes team projects. For cross-disciplinary approaches and teamwork we have to change the metrics so that individual investigators' interests do not enter in conflict with the team’s progress. Some fields, for example high-energy particle physics, produce publications with sometimes hundreds of authors!
As these tools become more comprehensive, such as the research network called Harvard Catalyst Profiles which contains research profiles for 20,000 faculty members, it may be tempting to use this data, including network structures and productivity, to drive our view policies like tenure and promotion. Of course one should not jump too fast to conclusions regarding this. But rather allow the new information to generate new questions to help us better understand how people work. And allow us to continue to evaluate research as teamwork.
What is the future of the Science of Team Science field?
Science of Team Science should help policy makers to develop science policies favoring collaborations for the benefit of the larger community. It’s a strategic thing to connect people and to get more efficiency out of it. This is especially important now that the funding resources of research are becoming scarce. The NIH is a huge organization. We are trying to apply all this internally to build evidence-based confirmations of our methods.
Find out more :
Science of Team Science exprts blog https://www.teamsciencetoolkit.cancer.gov/Public/ExpertBlog.aspx?tid=4
Science of team science conference website https://www.scienceofteamscience.org/scits-a-team-science-resources
An overview of science of team science by Dan Stokolshttps://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18619407/