Facilitating Collaborative Work

Leading any collaborative project requires management skills and support structures. When the collaborative project also spans multiple institutions the "scale-up" means even greater attention to the following:

Learn to become a skilled facilitator.

Heather Petcovic makes the following recommendation to be a skilled facilitator of collaborative work in her Idea Paper:

  • Set clear project goals and working style. Is everyone working on the same problem? Is the work distributed across the institutions, or to be done at one location? Will we go separate ways once the data are collected?
  • Set clear roles and expectations for the project team. Designate a project leader and make their responsibilities clear (will they convene group meetings? take the lead on publications? do the reporting and HSIRB compliance? settle disputes between group members? set the agenda and direction for the group?). Designate roles and tasks, even deadlines for the group members. It's up to the leader to enforce responsibilities and deadlines, yes, even that sucky job of once again reminding your colleagues that their work is due.
  • Have a mechanism for dealing with disagreements (or outright conflict). Should a team member or leader be designated to handle conflicts? Should there be time at meetings to discuss issues? Yes, these will happen so prepare.
  • Maintain regular communication, in person if possible. Virtual meeting technology is a life-saver. Personally I prefer virtual meetings to conference calls so I can SEE my colleagues and read their expressions. Plus I don't read long emails, so why should anyone else?
  • Have an authorship agreement and revising it regularly. What is the criteria for authorship? Who decides what can be published from this project? These are critical conversations to have early with the full project team.
  • Know what is possible (and what is not) at each of the participating institutions. Maybe one does not have an HSIRB. Maybe one does not have the equipment or personnel needed. Maybe one is an ideal site for the study.
  • Make sure that each collaborator (and each institution) is gaining something from participating in the study. Sure, you can ask for a favor and rely on good will. But if the collaborators and their institutions are all truly invested (for whatever reasons) they are more likely to stick with the project.

Nurture the 'community' nature of collaborations.

Collaborations necessarily involve individuals working towards a common goal. The group of individuals essential becomes a community. Understanding what nurtures a healthy community of practice can help facilitate collaborative work in GER.

Recommended readings:

  • Kim Kasten's systems dynamic model for what drives successful communities of practice emphasizes the importance of feedback looks in supporting both the individual's capacity and the group's capacity for the community's ratchet up over time as the CoP activities play out. She applys this directly to the GER Community of Practice in her essay in the GER Toolbox Starting Point.
  • Foster-Fishman, P-G., Berkowitz, S. L., Lounsbury, D.W., Jacobson, S. and Allen, N.A., (2001). Building Collaborative Capacity in Community Coalitions: A Review and Integrative Framework. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29 (2), 241-261.

Ensure there is technical and logistical support for multi-institutional data collection and management.

When a project spans multiple institution you may need to contract with outside sources (e.g., hire a web manager, or contract with SERC) to help ensure online data collection and management is consistent and reliable. For example, in the GER Community Synthesis and Planning Project we needed to to collect data via online surveys, download it in a form suitable for analysis, support and record notes from virtual meeting, support and record notes from simultaneous working group, and develop and maintain a website. By contracting with a partner (in our case SERC), these technical and logistical needs were met by experts in those areas, which strengthened the project overall.

Kim Kasten's Idea Paper provides another example of the need for technical and logistical support in a multi-institutional study; Kim serves as the external evaluator for the InTEGrate project. In order to manage the deployment and collection and archiving of survey data from 100+ classes across the country, dependable technical and logistical support is essential. She does not do this alone, but depends on the services from the technical and office staff at SERC.

Identify appropriate funding sources to support the scale of your project.

Multi-institutional projects in GER generally require greater funding than projects that take place at a single institution. Funding agencies recognize that to scale-up project projects towards the goal of transformative change in GER at the national level, multiple tiers of funding must exist to support project initiatives. For example, one of the primary sources of funding for GER is the National Science Foundation program for Improving Undergraduate STEM Education (IUSE). In its most recent solicitation, the IUSE program had two tracks: (1) Engaged Student Learning and (2) Institutional and Community Transformation, with two tiers of projects exist within each track: (i) Exploration and Design and (ii) Development and Implementation. reading the program solicitation to determine where your potential multi-institutional project idea fits within the scope and scale of potential funding sources, such as the IUSE, is an important step in designing a successful multi-institutional study.

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