Complex social, economic, political and environmental challenges as well as new research areas that cut across disciplinary, institutional and national boundaries are catalyzing a rapid increase in geographically distributed work groups. At the same time, advanced information technologies designed to facilitate effective communication and collaboration among remote colleagues are having a dramatic impact on social and professional relationships and organizational structures and forms. The practice of science is one of the domains that are undergoing significant change as a result of this trend toward increased collaboration. In this chapter we describe our efforts to promote collaboration among geographically dispersed multidisciplinary science teams in the NASA Astrobiology Institute. The lessons learned regarding the importance of recognizing and addressing the complex and inter-related dimensions of collaboration have implications not only for science but also for many other contemporary domains of activity.
Background: Scientific Research And The Challenges Of Remote Collaboration
Collaboration among researchers has always been part of the scientific endeavor. Students undergoing their training together, senior and junior scientists in mentoring relationships, or colleagues at the same institutions who then relocate, develop close working relationships maintained across distance and time. Collaborations based on shared research interests also develop through professional societies, conferences, and other meetings. However, most of these formal and informal interconnections among scientists have historically occurred within the same or similar disciplines. What is more recent within the scientific realm is the increasing occurrence of collaboration across a wider array of diverse specialties and disciplines, institutions, and national boundaries.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Collaborative Science: Scientific research carried our collectively by two or more scientists.
Electronic Collaboration: Performing work with a colleague or work group using communication and collaboration tools and technologies.
Culture of Collaboration: Assumptions, values, and behaviors shared by an organization or group that promotes and supports knowledge exchange and collective work.
Astrobiology: The study of the origin, evolution, distribution, and future of life on Earth and in the Universe.
Virtual Organizations/Virtual Teams: Organizations or teams with a shared mission, task, or agenda whose members are geographically dispersed.
Communities of Practice: Groups of individuals with a shared intent who intentionally come together to exchange knowledge and learn from one another, often within the context of a larger organization.
Collaboratory: A laboratory without walls where scientists can access instruments, data and one another across distance.
Cyberinfrastructure: Infrastructure based upon distributed computer, information, and communication technology.