Interdisciplinary Team-Based Mixed Methods Research

Interdisciplinary Team-Based Mixed Methods Research

Interdisciplinary Team-Based Mixed Methods Research

We are in the midst of a health care research revolution. Ways of conducting health care research projects are dra- matically changing as the range of scientific problems and delivery of health care become increasingly complex, often requiring the shifting of research inquiry from dis- cipline-specific to collaborative interdisciplinary team- based research models (Loeb et al., 2008). There is a growing belief that the creation of an open set of interdis- ciplinary research relationships and structures will encourage innovative research environments that can offer possibilities to ask new research questions and bring together researchers who possess a diverse set of methods and technological tools.

Mixed methods research is positioned to play an important role in interdisciplinary research inquiry. The synergistic potential of mixed methods research provides the flexibility and power of inquiry needed to tackle com- plex analytical and interpretative issues, given its multi- methodological pragmatic approach and wide range of applications.Interdisciplinary Team-Based Mixed Methods Research

Engaging in interdisciplinary research means that indi- vidual researchers housed in disciplinary environments begin the process of “de-disciplining” and re-integrating their research praxis and identities as they shift their research inquiry to a collaborative model of research—a revolutionary inquiry shift. They experience what it is to work the tensions that lie within the space between disci- plinary borders. This type of work may remove them from their methods and paradigmatic/theoretical comfort zones.

To engage with interdisciplinarity is to navigate and negotiate with differences at many levels. At the disci- plinary level, university structures that once primarily supported disciplinarity must shift their mission to accommodate, support, and reward this collaborative type of work. This may create tensions at the structural level, as disciplines fight for their turf and as colleges, universities, and others like funding agencies and

634304QHRXXX10.1177/1049732316634304Qualitative Health ResearchHesse-Biber research-article2016

1Boston College, Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, USA

Corresponding Author: Sharlene Hesse-Biber, Professor of Sociology, Boston College, McGuinn 419, 140 Commonwealth Ave., Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA. Email:

Doing Interdisciplinary Mixed Methods Health Care Research: Working the Boundaries, Tensions, and Synergistic Potential of Team-Based Research

Sharlene Hesse-Biber1

Abstract Current trends in health care research point to a shift from disciplinary models to interdisciplinary team-based mixed methods inquiry designs. This keynote address discusses the problems and prospects of creating vibrant mixed methods health care interdisciplinary research teams that can harness their potential synergy that holds the promise of addressing complex health care issues. We examine the range of factors and issues these types of research teams need to consider to facilitate efficient interdisciplinary mixed methods team-based research. It is argued that concepts such as disciplinary comfort zones, a lack of attention to team dynamics, and low levels of reflexivity among interdisciplinary team members can inhibit the effectiveness of a research team. This keynote suggests a set of effective strategies to address the issues that emanate from the new field of research inquiry known as team science as well as lessons learned from tapping into research on organizational dynamics.

Keywords teamwork; health care; interprofessional; methodology; power; empowerment; qualitative

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journals with requirements for publication, all must re-calibrate their reward systems. The degree to which they will negotiate this new set of rewards will dictate the growth of a vibrant interdisciplinary research community.

Take a hypothetical example: You are called upon to tackle the growing problem of resistance to antibiotics in hospital settings. You need to address a range of critical issues stemming from the recent outbreaks in your geo- graphical region, which will require changing the antibi- otic-prescribing patterns of clinicians. In addition, you will figure out how to reduce the public’s demand for antibiotics, as well as exploring alternative treatments. You must approach the overall issue with a multifaceted approach, one that will be the interdisciplinary link between biologic, bio-behavior, and health researchers, and maybe the expertise of a medical sociologist. You gather a team of experts together to tackle this complex prevention and control of the antimicrobial problem, yet we know that interdisciplinary team engagement is not always effective: “The increasing rates of antimicrobial resistance may be a reflection not only of increased host susceptibility, but also of the need for more comprehen- sive interdisciplinary approaches including the social and biological sciences” (Larson et al., 2005, p. 411).

To answer such complex issues, we find the need for interdisciplinary approaches and mixed methods–appro- priate tools. If we know interdisciplinary mixed methods research teams fail to live up to their research promise, why do we lack structures that can train the next genera- tion of scholars in this type of model? Although there are some exciting new interdisciplinary research models and trainings that receive funding from foundations and gov- ernment agencies, these initiatives remain at the margins of universities and wider research communities.

An even more striking concern is that interdisciplinary teams often do not understand which interdisciplinary structures promote vibrant team dynamics. Models that explicate this are often sequestered in schools of manage- ment offering specializations in organizational team dynamics. In addition, a new guide to this problem may be found in the discipline of team science, an emerging field focused on the evaluation of collaborative initia- tives. Team science explores factors associated with suc- cessful, multilevel scientific collaborations by utilizing a variety of micro-, meso-, and macro-level analytic strate- gies (Luke et al., 2015).

Potential Mixed Methods Interdisciplinary Challenges

I argue that researchers do not practice interdisciplinarity well. This is because, in part, they do not actively seek out ways to tap into the potential synergy of a team-based

mixed methods project. They ethnocentrically do not see past their own comfort zone or horizon for theories, ques- tions, and methods. I further argue that there is a lack of conscious reflexivity on the part of the research team; instead, the team often buys into the idea of “inherent” synergy contained in these types of research configura- tions and designs. Working in a group does not necessar- ily mean that you are working as a team. Vogel et al. (2014) cite conceptual and scientific challenges as well as discipline-based differences in values, terminology, methods, and work styles as two major challenges to the undertaking. Through facilitating factors such as initia- tive characteristics that support team science and bridge- building activities in research centers, groups can overpass these obstacles. Team skills require practice and development, and success is measured by the achieve- ment of the team as a whole.

First, what do we mean when we say we are participat- ing in interdisciplinary research? It is often the case that researchers working in teams are maintaining an illusion of interdisciplinarity without working together. It is important to define interdisciplinary research, as this term has often been confused with another term: multidis- ciplinary. Interdisciplinarity is a process that combines knowledge from one or more disciplines and occurs when scholars collaborate with the goal of synthesizing new knowledge from other disciplines. Interdisciplinary work involves creating of ideas, tracing reasoning, and seeking multiple understandings, whereas disciplinary engage- ment consists of taking a specific action, converging ideas, and defending a position. Where interdisciplinarity is process oriented and open to new mixed methods designs to answer research questions, disciplinarity relies on disciplinary methods and linear thinking. Disciplinary engagement is made up of individualistic thinking, whereas interdisciplinary engagement relies on the power of the group. Klein and Newell (1997) define interdisci- plinarity as follows:

Interdisciplinary studies may be defined as a process of answering a question, solving a problem, or addressing a topic that is too broad or complex to be dealt with adequately by a single discipline or profession. Interdisciplinary studies draws on disciplinary perspectives and integrates their insights through construction of a more comprehensive perspective. In this manner, interdisciplinary study is . . . complementary to and corrective of the disciplines. (pp. 393–394)

Contained in this definition are the beginnings of guid- ance for building a way toward an effective interdisci- plinary praxis, one that calls for working in an integrative team-based manner. Researchers working in interdisci- plinary realms must demonstrate a range of relational skills that foster interdisciplinary engagement as opposed to disciplinary engagement.

Interdisciplinary Team-Based Mixed Methods Research