The TRANSIT Bridging the Gaps programme underpinned the development of the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA) YCCSA is a vibrant, dynamic and evolving research environment, one that readily absorbs and adapts to new ideas and processes, making it an excellent test-bed for experiments in bold and innovative cross-disciplinary working. (see www.yccsa.org.) Established in 2004, YCCSA is a distinctive model of interdisciplinary research: a community of researchers (~80 residents and a broader range of non-resident affiliates) bringing together groups from across the science and social science departments with research interests in the development of novel mathematical, computational, and conceptual tools for the analysis, simulation and implementation of complex systems. YCCSA supports a wide range of research into complex systems, including novel hardware and software engineering, and modelling of physical, biological, and social complex systems at multiple levels of detail. Many members hold joint appointments across departments. YCCSA’s ethos is collaborative and collegiate maintaining low barriers to engagement. YCCSA has proven to be a highly successful model for nurturing and exploiting interdisciplinary research. In November 2011 YCCSA moved into new accommodation, including purpose-built cross-disciplinary interaction spaces, as part of the University of York’s £500M campus expansion on Heslington East.
The TRANSIT programme was structured around 3 principal areas of activity aimed at fostering interdisciplinarity (“coming together”, “thinking together” and “working together”).
ENGAGEMENT (“coming together”)
* Interdisciplinary Seminar Series: TRANSIT enabled YCCSA to establish an interdisciplinary seminar series that runs on Fridays (“TRANSIT Day”) on the “odd” weeks during term time and throughout the vacations. These are 2h slots, aimed at a broad audience, with time for informal presentations, refreshment and discussion. The series is videotaped and we have established a growing archive of seminars via web-based streaming. (http://www.york.ac.uk/yccsa/activities/news-events/seminar-archivel)
* Workshops: Cross-disciplinary events focused on bringing together researchers in specific areas of interest, including: Collective Dynamics; Systems Biology; The Art of Modeling (3 events at end of project)
* Training Events: Peer-led staff training events in scientific/technical skills, including R statistical programming system; network analysis; statistical thermodynamics. (5 events at end of project)
* Show and Tell: Showcase events of research capability and interests for other members of the University e.g. in Complexity in Management (on-going)
* Away Days: An annual away day for YCCSA members, focusing on strategic issues, case studies and interdisciplinary vision. Highly interactive: a mixture of facilitated and peer-driven activities. (on-going)
* Reflections: Communal events focused on reflection on cross-disciplinary activities, to provide feedback and improvement for future activities: e.g. grant proposals, seminars, workshops etc. (12 events at end of project; ongoing)
* Recruitment: A researcher invited to give a TRANSIT seminar was subsequently awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Fellowship to work in YCCSA and is now a full and active member of YCCSA, and has recently been awarded a Lectureship. Two additional researchers became full members of YCCSA as a result of TRANSIT activities.
* Virtual Research Environment (VRE): Initial efforts on developing a web-based VRE did not lead to a system that was widely adopted by the interdisciplinary research community. Through the programme, a number of collaborative on-line environments have been evaluated. Currently, a simple Wiki system is proving to be the most effective collaborative tool. We are continuing on-going developments in this area, in collaboration with the University of York’s Collaborative Software specialist. Recent developments are a YCCSA twitter feed and a Google+ Community.
CREATIVITY (“thinking together”)
The TRANSIT programme has helped YCCSA to develop an open, creative culture that supports creativity, innovation and risk-taking. YCCSA has gained significant experience in facilitating cross-disciplinary meetings and workshops, including proposal development.
* Structured Thinking: We have been investigating the use of structured thinking methods (e.g. de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats and Lateral Thinking) to increase effectiveness (creativity, productivity) of staff interactions. To date, the YCCSA Administrator (an accredited de Bono trainer) has trained ra wide cross-section of research (and some administrative) staff at the University of York. A special course was run for representatives of BTG programmes from other institutions. Feedback on these courses has been consistently excellent. (194 people trained to date)
* Facilitation: We have explored the use of facilitation in orchestrating engagement in a variety of cross-disciplinary settings, where a key challenge is levelling out professional hierarchies and bridging gulfs in operational cultures. We have found facilitation to be particularly useful in the early stages of research proposal development, and in meetings relating to resource allocation. (11 Facilitators trained at end of project)
Institutional Uptake: The University of York has adopted de Bono Six Thinking Hats as part of its Professional and Organisational Development Training Portfolio. (See http://www.york.ac.uk/admin/hr/courses/theme.cfm?t=PERSNL)
WORKING (“working together”)
* Summer Scholarship Programme: TRANSIT provided the support for summer internships to work on interdisciplinary feasibility projects, supervised by cross-disciplinary supervisory teams. Targeting high-achieving undergraduate students entering their final year of studies, we developed a cohort-based programme, providing the students with a mentor, research training and dedicated seminars. YCCSA continues the programme drawing together students and projects funded from a variety of sources. (See http://www.york.ac.uk/yccsa/activities/summerschool/)
* Venture Fund: The Venture Fund was a flexible resource for responsively funding a variety of interdisciplinary research activities – principally short feasibility studies. These typically involved the support of a research student or RA for periods of 1-3 months. Applications were reviewed by a cross-disciplinary panel, with the process characterised by strong feedback to applicants. The Venture Fund supported activities in diverse areas including Cancer Research, Environmental Policy, Non-standard Computation and Drug discovery. (18 applications funded)
* Collaborations: Through the TRANSIT programme within YCCSA developed interdisciplinary research collaborations with staff from the Cancer Research Unit, University of York (http://www.york.ac.uk/biology/units/cru/); Centre for Immunology and Infection, University of York (http://www.york.ac.uk/cii/), Stockholm Environment Institute (http://sei-international.org/) and Stockholm Resilience Centre (http://www.stockholmresilience.org/), Goldsmiths College, University of London (http://www.gold.ac.uk/sociology) and the Technical University of Delft (www.tudelft.nl).