I promised to post some reflections from my own experience managing crossdisciplinary teams. Note that this has been in the context of team grants - I have managed projects involving as few as two or three researchers to others involving hundreds - so there are issues around budget transparency, but given the discussion around the cooperative, this still seems relevant so I have left these points in. Also, I added a separate list for managing art-science collaborations. Hope this is useful,
Cross disciplinary collaboration
- bring assumptions to surface (not easy) - what are basic tenets of your discipline/area? - what things are important to you?
- identify what your own goals/needs are, so you aren’t subverting processes designed for the group to meet personal goals (a form of transparency)
- work on definitions but don’t try for unanimity - agree to disagree - definitions matter, but if you understand someone else’s definitions, even if you don’t agree, you can work together
- I usually interrupt (politely) and ask team members to explain concepts or terms, even if I think I know how they are being used. I don’t mind being the “dummy” for the group, the one who needs everything explained - I know from experience, there is usually someone who doesn’t understand the term/concept but may not want to intervene
- take ownership over assertions, don’t project them onto other people
- make sure budgets are transparent, but also ensure they do the job mandated (sometimes this may mean divvying up funds, but other times, funds need to be centrally managed)
- be open with people, especially if you are doing something that concerns them
- make sure all pertinent team members are invited to participate in publications
- projects come and go, but your relationships, for good or bad, endure - don’t jeapardize a relationship for a project, no matter how attractive the latter seems
- as facilitator, be accommodating to all participants, rephrase/restate when clarity is needed (restating is always a good idea, except, maybe, sarcastically), summarize points after discussion (this allows the discussion to move along to the next point as well as restating/encapsulating, and also serves a ritualistic role as a marker), calm things down if they get out of hand (call for silence, or reset another meeting after tempers have cooled, etc.)
- opportunities to present the work of different team members to each other are necessary to advance the collective process
- for structured meetings, announce and follow a timed agenda, but not necessarily « by the book »
- meeting notes/summaries are highly useful, but often don’t capture important points raised by individuals that aren’t picked up by others ; video recordings compensate for this problem, but the two are complementary
Note that collaborative writing is hard, whether in science or in fiction - I have succeeded only about 30-40% of the time, despite sometimes the best intentions. Your weaknesses have to work together (like in a good marriage), not just your strengths.
Regarding art-science collaborations :
- expect to spend oodles of time working out a common perspective - there is nothing « quick and easy » about this process
- note that there is a need to provide safe spaces where artists can take on the mantle of scientists, and scientists can take on some form of shared artistic practice - this is the only way I know to really get teams to integrate the two kinds of practice
- scientists tend to want to consolidate ideas before moving on to new areas of inquiry ; artists, on the other hand, tend to use multiple perspectives to advance their artistic practice, and hence will seem to “flit around” from one area to another. Both tendencies are destabilizing for the other group - scientists find artists seem to abandon topics before the work is finished, while artists view scientists as often overly rigid in sticking to a particular frame of mind. Each needs to understand the constraints of the other - this is partly why safe spaces for cross practices are important
- on the plus side, scientists often find entirely new areas of inquiry if they listen to their artist collaborators (and the burgeoning artists within themselves), while artists are fascinated by the cogent, detailed systems perspectives of scientists (and their own burgeoning scientist selves)
- don’t try to « push things along » - the process of collaboration is quirky, highly non linear, and needs lots of breaks, silences, steppings away and coming backs. If you wait patiently for things to happen in their natural rhythms, you will be gob-smacked by the work that emerges… trying to rush things will only forestall such revelations
- it is unfortunately all too easy to drop back into an « art in the service of science » or a « science-informed art », and lose track of hybrid practice, which is harder to do and requires sitting with its built-in uncertainties, rather than cleaving back to familiar processes of either art or science
- another unfortunate element is to confound science with technology - many efforts that call themselves art and science integrated are actually art and technology integrated. This is not the same - science calls upon raising new questions or new modes of understanding/knowledge, technology is more about technique, how things are done.
- you can always backtrack if you end up locked into one of these traps, however - usually someone in the group will notice you’ve lost your way
- there are no fully developed hybrid art-science research methodologies, although there are several partial efforts in this direction (phenomenological initiatives, Whiteheadean-Deleuzian initiatives, cognition-based approaches, others) - this makes progress difficult to measure
- assessment of outcomes is hence tricky - by whose measuring stick is assessment carried out? and how is it done? should it even be assessed?