From the Field

Team Science

One provocative national report that will influence how spaces for learning and research will be planned is this 2015 report on Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science. Prepared by the Committee on the Science of Team Science at the National Academy of Science, with support from NIH, it outlines the challenges and urgency of building collaborating teams to tackle 21st century problems, embrace the future. Below we present the introduction to Team Science, which proposes a rationale for collaborations that can be translated into a effective policies and practices for teams of academics and architects tackling the increasingly complex problem of designing 21st century spaces for learning and research.

What Is Team Science?

Team science is a collaborative effort to address a scientific challenge that leverages the strengths and expertise of professionals trained in different fields. Although traditional single-investigator driven approaches are ideal for many scientific endeavors, coordinated teams of investigators with diverse skills and knowledge may be especially helpful for studies of complex social problems with multiple causes.

Over the past two decades, there has been an emerging emphasis on scientifically addressing multi-factorial problems, such as climate change, the rise of chronic disease, and the health impacts of social stratification. This has contributed to a surge of interest and investment in team science. Increasingly, scientists across many disciplines and settings are engaging in team-based research initiatives. These include small and large teams, uni- and multi-disciplinary groups, and efforts that engage multiple stakeholders such as scientists, community members, and policy makers. Academic institutions, industry, national governments, and other funders are also investing in team science initiatives.

A growing trend within team science is cross-disciplinary science in which team members with training and expertise in different fields work together to combine or integrate their perspectives in a single research endeavor. Cross-disciplinary team science has been identified as a means to engage in expansive studies that address a broad array of complex and interacting variables. It is seen as a promising approach to accelerate scientific innovation and the translation of scientific findings into effective policies and practices.

The success of team science is influenced by a variety of contextual environmental influences. These factors influence each stage of a scientific initiative, with implications for efficiency, productivity, and overall effectiveness. They include:

  • Funding trends
  • Institutional infrastructure and resources for communication and data sharing
  • Organizational policies—such as promotion and tenure policies—that impact team-based endeavors
  • Team processes, including the existence of agreements related to proprietary rights to data and discovery, as well as mechanisms for feedback and reflection
  • Interpersonal dynamics among team members
  • Team members' collaborative skills and experiences

- Team Science Toolkit



From the Archives

A Team Science Story from the mid-1980's: Planning Princeton's Molecular Biology Building

A “facilities planning” example from the past illustrates the importance of discussion and interaction to the successful realization of the field of microbiology:

 In the formulation of new strategies, molecular research scientists tend to rely on the input and free exchange of ideas from their colleagues and students. Essentially, they act and react as an interdisciplinary and interdependent organism.

The exercise of adapting that strategy for free exchange of ideas is described in an essay, “The Design Process for the Human Workplace,” on the planning of the Lewis Thomas Microbiology building at Princeton University in the mid-1980’s.

The planning team…functioned in a manner strikingly similar to the behavior we hoped the design would support. …In formulating new strategies, we relied on the input and free exchange of ideas from our colleagues.



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