I realize that teamwork analysis was a pretty hot topic in the late 1990s and the early 2000s, but a group of investigators say more work specifically needs to be done to optimize the work of interdisciplinary scientific teams, such as the ones ceramists and other materials scientists and engineers frequently find themselves a part of.

They even have a name for this area of research: the science of team science, a.k.a. SciTS (pronounced like “sights”).

Joann Keyton, a communications professor at North Carolina State University who coauthored a paper on the topic in Science Translational Medicine, says that more work in her field is needed because research initiatives increasingly involve researchers in different disciplines, at different institutions and, often, in different countries. She says, in an NCSU news release, that one goal of the paper “is to let the research community know that the dynamics of team research are now a recognized field of study, and that they are increasingly important to both public and private research funding agencies.”

As many readers of this blog know from the experience of applying for grants, funding agencies want more and more information spelled out about interdisciplinary collaborations. Keyton agrees. “This is going to affect policy,” Keyton says. “When people apply for grants, they’re going to be asked to demonstrate that they understand how teams can effectively work together. Simply assembling a team isn’t going to be enough for funding agencies anymore – funding agencies want to know that the team will be adequately supported and able to function successfully.

“Team science raises new challenges,” Keyton says. “Language is often a problem. For example, scientists in different disciplines may use the same term to refer to very different things. There can be a major misunderstanding between researchers on the same research team, and they won’t even know it.”

Keyton and her colleagues, who come from  Indiana University, Northwestern University, the University of Central Florida, the National Cancer Institute, the University of California – Irvine, and Cornell University, say their paper represents the first time that physical scientists, life scientists and social scientists have come together to address SciTS.

Their hope is that communications and social scientists will help identify, characterize and resolve problems related to working collaboratively. “We can help investigators determine the best way, for example, to facilitate communication among team members, make consistent and informed decisions, and evaluate how well the research team is performing,” Keyton says.

I haven’t had a chance to read the whole article, but look forward to it. For what it’s worth, another coauthor is Indiana University’s Katy Börner, who has been doing some great work in the field of visualization of information.