A Four-Phase Model of Transdisciplinary Team-Based Research: Goals, Team Processes, and Strategies

Transl Behav Med. 2012 Dec 1;2(4):415-430. doi: 10.1007/s13142-012-0167-y.


The complexity of social and public health challenges has led to burgeoning interest and investments in cross-disciplinary team-based research, and particularly in transdisciplinary (TD) team-based research. TD research aims to integrate and ultimately extend beyond discipline-specific concepts, approaches, and methods to accelerate innovations and progress toward solving complex real-world problems. While TD research offers the promise of novel, wide-reaching and important discoveries, it also introduces unique challenges. In particular, today's investigators are generally trained in unidisciplinary approaches, and may have little training in, or exposure to, the scientific skills and team processes necessary to collaborate successfully in teams of colleagues from widely disparate disciplines and fields. Yet these skills are essential to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of TD team-based research. In the current article we propose a model of TD team-based research that includes four relatively distinct phases: development, conceptualization, implementation, and translation. Drawing on the science of team science (SciTS) field, as well as the findings from previous research on group dynamics and organizational behavior, we identify key scientific goals and team processes that occur in each phase and across multiple phases. We then provide real-world exemplars for each phase that highlight strategies for successfully meeting the goals and engaging in the team processes that are hallmarks of that phase. We conclude by discussing the relevance of the model for TD team-based research initiatives, funding to support these initiatives, and future empirical research that aims to better understand the processes and outcomes of TD team-based research.

Keywords: cross-disciplinary; research process; team science; team-based research; transdisciplinary.