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Intervention by Denise Caruso Read Intervention by Denise Caruso, Executive Director of the Hybrid Vigor Silver Award Winner, 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards; Best Business Books 2007, Strategy+Business Magazine


by ~ December 30, 2008.
Permalink | Filed under: Collaboration and Sensemaking, Hybrid Vigor, Policy and Decisions.

Going through old files the other day, I came across a MacArthur Foundation Occasional Paper that had a profound effect on my thinking about interdisciplinary research and collaboration.

Now 15 years old, An Experiment in Scientific Organization by Robert L. Kahn, is finally available online. It details the history and practices of the MacArthur Foundation’s long-running Research Networks — “a sustained experiment in the organization of scientific research,” as Kahn states in the paper’s introduction.

His observations are just as fresh and important as when An Experiment was published in 1993.

Anyone who has had difficulty making an interdisciplinary or cross-sector collaborative project work should prepare to have their mind blown by this paper. While there’s a lot of talk about the importance of collaboration across disciplines, there’s very little research activity that delivers on the promise. Interdisciplinary research is difficult, messy, and operates on an entirely different set of cultural rules than traditional research.

But through years of trial and error, the MacArthur Foundation finally hit on a network design that reliably produced significant results. Kahn’s paper details the process by which the Foundation came up with the right elements for a successful collaboration.

He also lists the developmental stages that a collaborative network goes through in order to hit its stride and start producing useful results, as well as the elements of a collaboration that have proven to be critical success factors.

No one really argues against Kahn’s point that “collaboration, within disciplines and between them, can enlarge scientific understanding, accelerate scientific achievement, and increase the contributions of science to well being.”

But while others pay lip service to the concept, his paper provides the guideposts for  designing a successful collaborative endeavor. It’s a tremendously useful document for anyone who is serious about making an interdisciplinary collaboration yield fruit.

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