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Examining cross-disciplinary communication's impact on multidisciplinary collaborations: implications for innovations

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Many research organizations are shifting to networked structures to foster the creation of innovation. However, the study of the network form of research organizations is rare and the collaborative process in such networks has yet to be revealed. This study analyses the relationship between networked structure, disciplinary diversity, and multidisciplinary outputs. Using social network, co-authorship, and interview data collected from the GRAND NCE, a Canadian research network, this paper examines how researchers’ memberships in multiple projects, diversity in their communication networks, and researchers’ personal interests in developing cross-boundary ties with other GRAND members influence the production of multidisciplinary outcomes. Using a new framework to study the complex relationships between factors at the organizational, project, and individual levels, this study shows that the diversity in the communication network has a direct impact on the number of multidisciplinary outputs and the diversity in co-authorship networks, which could be the source of future innovation. The analyses also indicate that the network structure can facilitate boundary-spanning communication, and this allows researchers who are interested in multidisciplinary collaborations to carry out their desires. Furthermore, the qualitative data show that collaborators would work together in cross-disciplinary ties to identify common research topics, exchange advice, and help solve problems. Such activities are considered to be the activities that lead to multidisciplinary outcomes.
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Keywords: Diversity; co-authorship; collaboration; networked organization

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Institute of Communication, Culture, Information and Technology, University of Toronto Mississauga, Mississauga, ON, Canada

Publication date: May 3, 2016

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