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Wednesday, July 29 • 13:31 - 15:00
"Interdisciplinary Teams in Social Media Research: Challenges, Possibilities and the Role of Policy"

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Authors: Anabel Quan-Haase, Lori McCay-Peet and Kim Martin

At the center of debates around motivations for creating interdisciplinary research (IDR) teams lies the belief that “putting large teams of diverse researchers together who have a common goal will lead to groundbreaking coherent research findings” (Balakrishna, et al., 2011). Research questions may be addressed by a lone scholar or a scholarly team working within a single discipline. However, complex problems do not always conform to disciplines, which are somewhat arbitrarily constructed. As the complexity of research problems increases and with this their significance, there is a greater need for IDR approaches because these problems require the integration of multiple methods, theoretical perspectives, expertise, and knowledge. In terms of social media, this raises a number of questions: What challenges do social media IDR teams face? What opportunities does IDR present? And given the challenges and opportunities, what policies are needed to support social media IDR? 

The objectives of this paper are threefold. First, to demonstrate the importance of engaging in a discussion about the value of interdisciplinarity in the social media research community to avoid reinventing techniques and approaches that have worked in other interdisciplinary fields. Second, the paper aims to identify challenges and opportunities that result from IDR teams to help inform social media IDR. Finally, we take a close look at current policy to analyze its impact on the building of IDR teams. 

We conducted a comprehensive literature review, integrating research from the field of interdisciplinary studies with studies on networked scholarship. Our approach also included an analysis of how current research funding and academic policies impact the building of IDR teams in the field of social media scholarship.  

We found interdisciplinary teams face a myriad of challenges, including developing needed technical expertise, providing discipline appropriate graduate student training, issues with data management, and stark differences in the use of theories and methods among disciplines. Many of these challenges, however, also present important opportunities. For example, while the leveraging of knowledge and skills within interdisciplinary teams is difficult (Aragon et al., 2012, n.p.), if successfully implemented this can have a significant impact on research outcomes and graduate student training. Current policy within universities and funding bodies does not fully reflect the complexity of interdisciplinary research. The main barrier to good policy development is a lack of awareness of the challenges and opportunities inherent in the building of IDR teams. There is also a dearth of knowledge on the best practices of interdisciplinary research in the context of social media. 

Future Work: 
Three gaps were identified. First, ethnographic work is necessary to discern the day-to-day working practices of IDR teams in the context of social media. Second, an analysis of current policy is needed to learn about the role of IDR teams in promoting the training of graduate students. Third, we identified a tension between challenges and opportunities in IDR teams. Theoretical and empirical work can help determine how challenges in interdisciplinary social media research can potentially result in innovative academic work if successfully exploited. 

Aragon, P., J.G., N., Kaltenbrunner, A., Kappler, K., Laniado, D., Ruiz de Querol, R., Ullod, C., & Volkovich, Y. (2012). Bridging the gap: A reflection on an interdisciplinary approach to social media research. In 21st International World Wide Web Conference (WWW2012) (pp. 1–6). 

Balakrishnan, A.D., Kiesler, S., Cummings, J. N., & Zadeh, R. (2011). Research team integration: What it is and why it matters. In Proceedings of the ACM 2011 Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work - CSCW ’11. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 523-532523–532. doi:10.1145/1958824.1958905 

avatar for Lori McCay-Peet

Lori McCay-Peet

PhD Candidate, Dalhousie University
Dalhousie University, Canada
avatar for Anabel Quan-Haase

Anabel Quan-Haase

Professor, Western University
Looking forward to hearing about novel methods in the study of social media, new trends, and social activism. I am also curious about interdisciplinary teams and how they work. Any success stories, best practices or failures?

Wednesday July 29, 2015 13:31 - 15:00
(7th Floor) Room TRS1-129 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

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