Understanding interdependence

It is important to look beyond the surface and perceived novelty of the coupling to note the potential of art and science to facilitate meaningful and transformative exchanges that are mutually beneficial for researchers from both disciplines (Kratz and Gowers, 2017).

The second interdisciplinary skill, understanding interdependence, brings students together to discuss and present their respective strengths and weaknesses – always looking towards meeting their shared interdisciplinary goal.

Students discuss and assign roles in the group based on who is best suited to work on which elements of the shared goal. Understanding interdependence also:

  • allows the team to share their awareness of the subject strengths and limitations
  • develops an understanding of the expert knowledge available and what is required to meet the shared goal
  • focuses on the respective roles and contributions toward the shared goal – ‘who knows what?’
  • sets a foundation for developing mutual respect and translating expertise outward.

Translating expertise outward

Translating expertise outward (TEO) means learning how to explain elements of one’s subject expertise to others in a way that builds strong interdisciplinary collaboration. The aim is neither complete understanding nor oversimplification of expert knowledge, but helping others understand how it is useful or necessary for meeting the shared goal. First, this gives others a reason to trust the value of their knowledge and skills. Second, it ensures that others grasp it accurately enough to see how it fits with their own role or tasks.

This puts the responsibility for expert understanding and work on the experts themselves.

TEO also explicitly aims to avoid students creating a shared pool of communally understood knowledge between subjects. Along with mutual respect, the aim is to build a shared awareness of ‘who knows what’ and ‘who is working on what’. Research has shown, in a wide range of settings, that this is a reliable way to achieve high quality interdisciplinary outcomes.

Mutual respect

Without consideration, the flows between disciplines can also be rather one-sided with artists relying on the expertise of scientists to develop their work with little creative input and limited benefit to their own scientific research (Kratz and Gowers, 2017).

The need to develop a sense of mutual respect and trust for effective teamwork is not a new idea. The key feature of mutual respect in learning interdisciplinarity is its place within the sequence. By moving through the skills in order, each skill doesn’t just build on the previous ones, but is justified by them as well. This is most clear with mutual respect. It is each student’s ability to translate their expertise to others that provides a reason for others to trust them.

For interdisciplinary work, mutual respect is an active skill. It is not merely accepting that students from the other subject(s) are capable or useful for reaching the shared goal. Rather, mutual respect demands students engage with the TEO of others and to give feedback until the respect and understanding is effectively earned.

Developing mutual respect requires students to:

  • listen effectively to their peers’ explanations of their different expertise and contributions (TEO)
  • provide appropriate feedback so their peers can know if/when they’ve been understood
  • recognise when they need to know more and resist trying to know more than they need
  • avoid spending time on parts of the other subject that do not relate to the shared goal.

Students need to understand enough about the other subject’s contribution to see how it compliments or fits together with their own contributions (or help shape what their contributions should be).

As our study explains, interdisciplinary working teaches you to be understanding and create an environment of respect.