The Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative (SBSRI) is a new group focused on providing the diverse behavioral and social science faculty with new opportunities to enhance collaboration on large-scale, interdisciplinary research projects: The kind of projects that have the potential to change the world.One of the things I've really enjoyed about working in health services research is that it is very collaborative and interdisciplinary. Our researchers have a variety of backgrounds: psychology, neurosocience, economics, nursing, medicine, epidemiology, sociology, library science... As the linked article points out, to study complex social issues requires a multifaceted approach. By bringing together people who look at a problem from different angles, we can get closer to a real solution and hopefully make positive changes in people's lives.
“The Initiative has a number of aims that are intended to help faculty with the proposal development and application process. At the broadest level, we are catalyzing groups of social scientists who might not interact directly because they are housed in separate units,” Roberts explains. “For example, we have a number of social scientists interested in collaborating with engineering researchers to bring their technological creativity and vision to the task of assessing psycho-social phenotypes.”
Of course, it takes more than just bringing those minds together to effect positive change. That is, interdisciplinary teams may be a necessary condition but not a sufficient one. It requires good project management and oversight, or else you risk ending up with a cookie cutter solution: one that includes a variety of different approaches but has no synthesis across them.
This certainly isn't easy. Anyone who has tried synthesizing multiple theories in a single field can tell you how difficult that can be - now try doing that with theories and approaches across different fields. Perhaps initiatives like SBSRI can help determine the best way for integrating the interdisciplinary approaches. Either way, it will be interesting to see the work that comes out of SBSRI and other similar groups.