A New Framework for Interdisciplinary Collaboration
Global development actors face challenges in identifying ways to collect and analyze high-quality data to improve date-driven and evidence-based decision making.
Recognizing these challenges, the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis (LISA) at the University of Colorado Boulder has established a LISA 2020 Network of 17 statistics and data science collaboration laboratories (stat labs) in eight developing countries. The goal of this network is to facilitate collaboration among the stat labs in developing and sharing best practices in data-driven innovations.
Thinking about collaboration as a process that involves the five aspects of attitude, structure, content, communication, and relationship can make collaborations more likely to occur and become more productive by revealing areas of strength and opportunities for improving data-driven and evidence-based development solutions.
LISA is applying a new framework for interdisciplinary collaboration, the Attitude, Structure, Content, Communication, and Relationship (ASCCR) Frame. The ASCCR Frame suggests that attention to each of the components is a best practice to promote effective and sustainable collaborations.
A collaborative attitude sets the foundation for an effective collaboration.
Structured engagements reduce the cognitive load of the participants.
Content is the essence of a given collaboration.
Effective communication creates shared understanding between both parties.
Genuine relationships are instrumental in creating effective collaborations.
The attitude that organizations adopt entering into a collaboration with another organization is the first important component of the ASCCR Frame.
Attitudes that enhance collaboration include:
- Aiming to create shared goals that result in win-win outcomes
- Intentions to be helpful to the other party
- Being open, curious, excited, and interested in the other party’s goals
- Respecting the value and unique contributions the other party can bring to the collaboration
- Acting in an ethical manner
Attitudes that detract from collaboration include:
- Being self-centered with an exclusively “What’s in it for me?” attitude
- Having a fixed mindset that one’s abilities cannot change or grow
- Disrespecting one’s own value and potential to contribute (i.e., feeling too small or inadequate)
- Believing that one needs to hide their own agenda (i.e., withholding information or motivations from the other party)
A best practice is to answer some questions before engaging in a collaboration, such as: What is our mission and that of the other organization? Are we committed to helping the other organization achieve its mission? By doing that, will we also be achieving our mission? If the answer to the last two questions is no, then a fruitful collaboration is unlikely to occur.
Having a mutually agreed-upon structure for a meeting can reduce the cognitive load of the participants, allowing them to focus more on the content of the collaboration rather than on the process of a meeting. A best practice for improving collaborative outcomes is the use of the Prepare, Open, Work, End, and Reflect (POWER) structure.
Organizations can apply the POWER structure by preparing a meeting agenda for the other parties, opening the meeting with any modifications to the agenda, working through the meeting agenda items, ending the meeting with a summary of who will be doing what by when, and reflecting results by sending a written summary (notes or minutes from the meeting) to all parties involved.
The content of a collaboration can take many forms. In the context of a technical consultation or collaboration, (e.g., between a statistician and a client), a best practice is using the Q1Q2Q3 process. The Q1Q2Q3 process begins with fully discussing the Qualitative (Q1) aspects of a project before a Quantitative (Q2) solution is proposed. The quantitative results are then translated into the Qualitative (Q3) answer to the original driving qualitative question. For example, the content of the collaboration is derived by determining: What is the driving question (Q1)? What are the technical results (Q2)? What is the answer to the original question and how can that solution be effectively implemented (Q3)?
Communication, with respect to what and how questions are asked during a meeting, ties together other components of effective collaboration in the ASCCR Frame. A best practice is communicating great questions that exhibit a positive attitude in creating a shared understanding around information necessary to complete the tasks of the collaboration. Great questions can also elicit the information necessary to improve the content of the collaboration. Moreover, great questions can strengthen the relationship between both parties.
A best practice is communicating great questions that exhibit a positive attitude in creating a shared understanding around information necessary to complete the tasks of the collaboration. Great questions can also elicit the information necessary to improve the content of the collaboration.
Building relationships—the final component of the ASCCR Frame—is a central, but overlooked, aspect of effective collaboration. This involves expressing authentic interest in the relationship; learning and using the vocabulary of the other parties; respecting and valuing the skills of the other parties; recognizing that building strong relationships requires time, patience, and trust; and acting trustworthy to gain trust.
A best practice in building the relationship between organizations is by using formal documents (e.g., a memorandum of understanding) that explicitly describe the missions of the organizations (attitude), the activities they will conduct to achieve their missions (content), and how the organizations will communicate with each other (e.g., the method and frequency of communication).
The ASCCR Frame has been successfully applied to enhance hundreds of collaborations between statisticians and domain experts from academia, business, government, and NGOs in the LISA 2020 Network.
Thinking about collaboration as a process that involves the five aspects of attitude, structure, content, communication, and relationship can make collaborations more likely to occur and become more productive by revealing areas of strength and opportunities for improving data-driven and evidence-based development solutions. One can apply this framework to individual collaborations or to those between organizations.
Materials and more information are available online at osf.io/xmtce.
ASCCR Frame by Dr. Eric Vance, Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics and Director of LISA, University of Colorado Boulder & Heather Smith, Professor, California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo
LISA 2020 builds statistical analysis and data science capacity in developing countries to transform evidence into action.