8023 Understanding Virtual Scientific Organizations Using the Transdisciplinary Index

Sunday, February 19, 2012
Exhibit Hall A-B1 (VCC West Building)
Arsev Umur Aydinoglu , University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Suzie Allard , University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN
Scientific grand challenges confronting society are being investigated by multiple domains of science. This creates the potential for a more complete picture of threats and solutions but requires coordination between domains and disciplines in widely distributed locations to empower integrative data intensive science. Understanding the complex scientific research organizations that are emerging to address these challenges is essential to nurturing their success and encouraging others. This research studies one such organization. A case study was conducted on DataONE, an NSF funded multi-domain, multi-institutional distributed scientific collaboration focused on data about life on earth and the environment that sustains it. Data for this study was generated through 15 semi-structured interviews with leadership, 51 responses from early members to an online survey, and participatory observation over 2 years. The Transdisciplinary Index’s seven elements were used to analyze the data. Leadership/governance: DataONE has participatory governance. Although there is a leadership team, members value the balance between tight and loose. This fosters creative problem solution, commitment to project goals, and maximization of limited resources. Communication: Leadership was selected to the project according to their reputation and ability to communicate across domains. DataONE employs multiple strategies to communicate with internal and external audiences such as email, e-meetings, online collaborative space, face-to-face meetings, and reports. Engagement: Due to the fluid organizational structure, members engage in different tasks from administrative to technical. Purpose: Consensus is attempted and individuals are empowered to set and achieve goals that help both them and the organization. Integration: Not only different disciplines (computer science, earth sciences, library and information science, etc.) but also different sectors (federal agency, university, national lab, library etc.) and roles are integrated for the success of the project. Adaptability: DataONE is organic and demonstrated its ability to adapt to external (funding environment, advances in technology) and internal (personnel and organizational) changes. Context: DataONE’s emergence is a direct result of the needs identified by the scientific community and the igniting energy of its members. The resulting “organizational biography” is firmly rooted in the societal and scientific context. Science is getting more complex and self-organizing into interdisciplinary organizations that allow scientists to do the work they need to do. These new organizations meld different cultures of science and observations of different levels. The tools, such as TI, help us understand the new interdisciplinary organizations and can help assess success of organizations and possibly help design new ones.
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