Spatially Situated Case Studies

Building Climate Resilience in Africa & South Asia: Lessons on Membership, Organization & Collaboration from Four Transdisciplinary Research Consortia

Dr. Bruce Currie-Alder, International Development Research Centre; Lucia Scodanibbio, University of Cape Town; Katharine Vincent, Kulima Integrated Development Solutions; Anjal Prakash, Teri School of Advanced Studies; Nathalie Nathe, Overseas Development Institute

More than one billion people live in deltas, semi-arid lands, and glacier-dependent river basins in Africa & South Asia, hotspot regions that are the most vulnerable to climate change. During 2014-2018, the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) sought to build resilience in these hotspots by supporting four transdisciplinary research consortia involving more the forty institutions across fifteen countries. The intention was to inform adaptation policy & practice by supporting science at a scale commensurate with the problem, linking local actions across similar landscapes. Drawing on the experience of these four consortia, this paper identifies lessons in membership, organization & collaboration for team science.

On membership, each of the participating institutions brought in complementary skills, expertise, & competencies bridging research, policy & practice, including connections with stakeholders and academia. Each of the CARIAA consortia consisted of up to five core institutions, with additional participants taking on distinct roles such as in-country activities, outreach, or engagement. Intellectual leadership was vital and benefited more from fewer full-time positions rather small shares of time among many people. Consortia had to mediate power differentials within and between members, working across cultures and time zones, and the entry and exit of members over time. Trust among members was facilitated by clear roles, often formalized through partnership agreements and periodic ‘health checks’. Consortia identified the different incentives that motivated participants, and intentionally provided opportunities for a range of career paths spanning academics & practitioners.

On organization, there is no perfect model for a research consortium. Despite common terms of reference, each consortium was unique in terms of work packages, distribution of responsibilities, and geographical coverage. Each produced a unique mixture of outputs, reflecting their memberships and seeking to reach diverse audiences. Bigger is not always better, as transaction costs of administering and coordinating the consortium increase with size and complexity. Consortia facilitated working across disciplines, by establishing agreement on units of analysis, ontology, methods, and research questions. CARIAA consortia permitted some tailoring of methods and datasets between work packages or regional nodes, which limited data comparability and aggregation. Consortia required mechanisms to hold participants to account for the work done. Internal communication served to ensure transparency & sense of belonging among members, helping to include participants that were less able to travel to in-person meetings.

On collaboration, CARIAA encouraged consortia through the provision of extra resources & budget to support cross-consortia work. Opportunistic collaboration arose from specific synergies once consortia were into their research, notably research on gender & migration, which proved more dynamic and successful than thematic topics identified at the beginning of the programme. Collaboration within and across consortia was driven by relationships between individuals rather than institutions, and require time for these relationships to flourish over time. Annual learning fora encouraged consortia to “up their game” in a spirit of friendly competition, rather than merely seeking to satisfy the funder’s expectations.

These lessons are feeding into the design of a new climate resilience research framework programme being designed during 2019.

SciTS Presentation: Building climate resilience in Africa & Asia: Lessons on membership, organization & collaboration from four transdisciplinary research consortia


A Scholar-Practitioner’s Guide to Global Virtual Teams

Ms. Lejla Bilal-Maley, Antioch University

The relationship between scholarship and practice is a reciprocal one. The scholarship supports the practitioner’s experience, and the practitioner lens often informs the research and its identified problems in practice. Theory and practice go hand in hand to create engaged scholarship (Van de Ven, 2007). This presentation will offer both perspectives from a scholar-practitioner in regard to working on and leading global virtual teams (GVTs.).

The demands of leading in an era of escalating globalization are fast and furious. GVTs help manage and coordinate a global market, which is very diverse in nature. Culturally diverse work teams are increasingly common in the workplace (Gibson and Cohen, 2003; Stahl et al., 2010; Zimmermann, 2011). Because these teams consist of individuals with very different cultural backgrounds, assumptions and approaches to work, organizations must be well equipped to create structures and processes that promote their success, which will include growing awareness of the challenges they face, and how best to support their productivity.

Since the start of the 21st century, organizations were predicted to rely more heavily on globally dispersed new product development teams versus collocated and solely virtual teams with moderate physical dispersion, approximately 20% (McDonough, Kahn & Barczak, 2000). Such teams have potential to provide companies with more practical and economical services. The economic potential also includes a cost savings for organizations. Research shows that GVTs with a flexible and configurable infrastructure save valuable resources, resulting in increased productivity (Anderson et al., 2007).

The obvious advantages are however accompanied by some challenges. Given the increased challenges of teams working virtually across time and space, their effectiveness suffers and requires special attention. Global virtual teams (GVTs) rely on computer-mediated communication technology due to their geographic dispersion. Being globally scattered suggests a culturally/nationally diverse makeup that can also contributes to miscommunications. In addition, there are different workstyles and learning styles (Kolb, 1984) or learning needs (Lingham, 2010, 2018) when humans engage, all of which must be addressed using technology, as face-to-face may not be an option for team building and conflict mitigation.

My experience working on and leading a GVT is accurately expressed in literature. My team spans multiple countries and national cultures and time zones. All communication is mediated through technology, and although English is the common language, it is not the first for the majority of team members, creating added challenges and the need for negotiation when it comes to appropriate communication media selection. This presentation aims to shed light on the expected challenges working with GVTs, but also to provide lessons learned and tools and approaches grounded in theory and practice to encourage team success in a virtual environment. Such suggestions include a shift from a task-based focus approach to a more relational, shared leadership approach that invites opportunities for innovation and creative problem solving. These approaches help to combat sub group formations and empower individuals as contributors to team success.

SciTS Presentation: A Scholar-Practitioner Perspective on Global Virtual Teams


Using Team Science to Identify Important and Innovative Questions for Cancer Research

Ms. Rachel Chown, Dr. Sarah George, Ms. Pip Peakman, Dr. Robert Bristow, Manchester Cancer Research Centre

The Manchester Cancer Research Centre’s (MCRC) approach to Team Science (TS) is focused on enabling multidisciplinary groups to join forces towards a shared goal – building upon excellence in basic and translational cancer research to ultimately improve patient outcomes.

To identify important and innovative new research questions in different cancer specialties we hold Town Hall meetings at MCRC. Each meeting focusses on a specific tumour type (e.g. breast cancer, melanoma, prostate cancer) and is open to all professionals involved in cancer research, including clinicians, academics, PhD students, nurses, clinical trials professionals, research managers and importantly, patients. The nuances of each disease group mean that each meeting has a unique set of participants and desired outcomes.

The goal of each Town Hall meeting is to catalyse discussions to formulate an exciting research project that harnesses our unique strengths and opportunities in Manchester, and can result in an exciting, game-changing headline in 3 years’ time. The group starts by identifying one or more such projects and then back-fills the scientific research that would be needed. This requires input from all disciplines represented in the room. Several ideas are pitched and our Director (Prof Rob Bristow) chairs an interactive session, until one idea is selected. The work should present an opportunity for added value via a new team approach rather than repeat anything already happening or done before.

Key questions for disease groups:

  • What is best and what is unique about your disease group’s research in Manchester? What could we do here that no one else could do?
  • What would be an enabling Mancunian-driven, high risk, high impact idea that could be accomplished in 3 years?
  • What would the 3-year headline in a newspaper be that would represent the accomplishment?

Underpinning all projects is a ‘One Manchester’ approach: the project needs to use team members from across the city, across our NHS (hospital) trusts, and the University of Manchester. An already established team should not carry out the project, and the new team should look to uplift more junior fellows and scientists to take on leadership roles.

The winning idea undergoes international peer review to assess the innovative and novel nature of the proposal; including whether it is likely to result in a high impact publication, and if the Manchester environment has sufficient capabilities to execute it. Pump-priming funds of approximately £100-150,000 are provided to kick-start the project as well as the promissory of access to real-time outcomes, health economics and biobanking resources, and genomics for 40-50 patients. Groups are strongly encouraged to also seek additional disease group donations and charitable, donor or grant funding where possible.

Within this oral presentation we will showcase our methodology and successful case studies from our TS approach in Manchester using Town Halls. We will discuss some of the challenges, including geographical dispersion, organisational barriers, differences in disease team approaches, working cultures, change management and communication. This ethos is factored into our long-term aim of co-locating cancer teams and aligned disciplines in our new £150million cancer research building.

SciTS Presentation: Using team science to identify important and innovative questions for cancer research