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Task Force on Interdisciplinarity

The purpose of this project is to advance interdisciplinarity in the social and behavioral sciences and humanities by identifying, examining, and recommending best practices for its development. The potential for transformative results from innovative interdisciplinary initiatives across the social and behavioral sciences, if they could be implemented and sustained, is widely noted. There are specific examples of success. But the challenges of mounting or expanding interdisciplinary work have too infrequently been met--whether for research administrators, for funders, for scholars and teachers, and for graduate students.

A task force, itself interdisciplinary, was formed to collect and disseminate best practices for promoting interdisciplinary research and teaching. The task force focused on the procedural side of best practices at universities - including incentives (and disincentives) for faculty to engage in this work, the organizational structures that are effective in sustaining it, ways to disseminate resulting scholarship across and within the disciplines, processes that help to sustain interdisciplinary work, techniques to educate students and scholars to work effectively in an interdisciplinary approaches, and collaborate alliances with disciplinary associations. 

Results will be widely disseminated through disciplinary associations, to academic departments, and through societies such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and networks of research vice-presidents, such as that at the American Association of Universities.

A key merit of this project is its emphasis on interdisciplinary practices that work, that can be implemented by the institutions addressed, and that are compatible with building sustained research careers. Broader impacts will follow from our active program to disseminate what we learn in this effort, and of course then from improved interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching that will flow from their adoption.

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Task Force Members

  • Robert Axelrod, University of Michigan, APSA President (2006-2007) 
  • John H. Aldrich, Duke University, Chair
  • Lisa Anderson, Columbia University
  • Karen Beckwith, Case Western Reserve University
  • Lawrence Bobo, Stanford University
  • Matthew C. Moen, University of South Dakota
  • Kristen Renwick Monroe, University of California, Irvine
  • Charles R. Plott, California Institute of Technology
  • Kenneth Prewitt, Columbia University
  • Philip Tetlock, University of California, Berkeley

Summary of Task Force on Interdisciplinarity 

This summary report of the task force, published in 2009, focuses on procedural aspects of interdisciplinary practices currently in use, including incentives, organizational structures, and techniques to educate students and scholars to work effectively in interdisciplinary approaches. The intent is to provide a guide to promising innovations that have worked well, rather than to judge which ones might be the best. Best practices are presented from a wide range of academic fields and institutions. The report is intended to be helpful to an equally wide range of academicians, including reasearchs and teachers themselves, and the directors of institutional stuctures that shape the research and teaching environment. 

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