Presentations, panels, breakout sessions, and discussions over the course of the workshop enabled participants to describe elements of the ecosystem they viewed as important in fostering convergence, to share lessons learned and remaining challenges, and to provide suggestions and ideas for future actions to strengthen the pathways for supporting and conducting research that draws on a convergence approach. The themes and key messages that arose during the workshop are presented thematically below.
The core structure of the current research enterprise is built on a delineation of knowledge into disciplines, with this disciplinary organization reinforced by the organization of universities into departments, by many of the components that affect researcher advancement and career trajectory, and by the organization of many federal funding agencies. Although the discussion of how to enable convergence and the identification of systemic practices to support it is important, several participants noted that it is critical to recognize the value of the current U.S. system for funding, conducting, and managing scientific research. As noted by one participant, the university system and associated disciplines serve as repositories of knowledge and teach investigators “how to think,” and it will be important not to lose this aspect of training. As a participant
remarked, “the system is structured to be resistant to change for good reason.”
On the other hand, numerous participants noted that the creation of disciplinary silos is a human construct. Convergence, by pulling together knowledge from multiple domains, is seen by some participants as embodying a natural conception of how science can be used to tackle challenging questions and problems that would not otherwise be addressed. Convergence is seen as one necessary approach in the research enterprise and incorporating the cultural elements that foster it is a question of “not if, but how.” These views are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Many participants recognized continuing roles for research within a discipline, research carried out using modalities other than convergence, and research based on convergence. This convergence research ecosystem includes curiosity-driven research to address fundamental scientific questions and goal-oriented or problem-driven research. If neither convergence nor disciplinary siloes of expertise are intended to be the only approach supported within the U.S. research system, one participant suggested a possible compromise—that convergence supports “gilding the structured domain.” A number of open questions remain, however, including what mix of research approaches may be most effective for each institution or agency. Many students and faculty want their research to have positive impacts for both science and society. Bringing disciplines together is the norm in many industry settings, providing opportunities to compare, contrast, and learn from the practices of academic and nonacademic research settings.
Numerous participants raised the point that the culture of an organization is crucial to the success or failure of convergence. Elements of investigator and institutional culture that were described as enabling convergence are summarized in Box 3-1 and explained further in the following sections.
The leaders of an organization play important roles in creating and supporting cultures of convergence within their institutions. To enable convergence cultures, leaders need to convey that they value convergence and that it is a priority to them and to the institution. They also need to be responsive to an interest in convergence arising from their researchers, including helping to remove institutional barriers and providing support. Participants suggested that having confidence in an organization’s
leadership, environment, and resources serves as an important pull to attract and retain people. The subset of innovative faculty and students interested in working across disciplinary divisions are seeking this convergence environment. A culture cannot be changed by fiat; however, creating and sustaining convergence cultures thus entails top-down vision as well as motivation from multiple points across an institution.
The leadership role was seen by many participants as necessary to integrate convergence into the “soul of the institution.” But numerous participants emphasized that changing institutional cultures is neither a fast nor an easy process. Leaders committed to culture change would
likely need to remain at an institution for multiple years (perhaps as many as 10 years) in an era in which the tenure of many university presidents and provosts is decreasing. There is also an element of risk associated with many convergent research projects and the likelihood that some will fail. Numerous participants suggested that institutional leaders would need to be tolerant of this fact and able to defend continued work by embracing a risk management approach rather than seeking to minimize failure.
Having a Transdisciplinary Orientation
The concept of a convergence “phenotype” emerged during the discussions. The suite of traits associated with convergence includes having a transdisciplinary orientation (see Box 3-2) as well as characteristics of fearlessness and risk tolerance.
As described by Dr. Stokols, the five factors of a transdisciplinary orientation include having a value system that is open to other perspectives, and beliefs and attitudes that are conducive to working on convergent projects and in team settings. Transdisciplinary attributes
also include engaging in behaviors that expose one to unfamiliar ideas, such as going to conferences or reading journal articles outside of one’s primary field(s) of expertise, and the achievement of a base of conceptual skills and knowledge that set one up to successfully engage in expansive, convergent work. As other participants noted during the workshop, having expertise in one or more areas along with broad interests in multiple areas contributes to a desire and ability to work on convergent projects. Several participants also suggested that convergence types often have a motivational drive to barrel through barriers as well as a willingness to accept the risk (and potential failure) associated with convergent projects.
Using the Right Combination to Seed the System
In addition to personal traits, there is a systems component to putting the right people together to move a convergent idea forward. This system can include team-oriented extroverts and researchers motivated to defy barriers, as well as younger researchers who bring new perspectives.
One view expressed during the workshop was that for convergence projects that rely on teams, diversity can be viewed as an asset in bringing together team members with different approaches and different backgrounds. Some participants reported becoming increasingly intentional about bringing together the people who give them the greatest chance of success. For example, Dr. Serber discussed how his approach to hiring complementary scientists has evolved over time to include a mix of those with deep scientific and technical expertise in strategic domains, team-oriented extroverts who help to form and maintain community connections, and individuals with expertise across multiple disciplines who strengthen the ability to translate across areas of knowledge. Sometimes one person can embody all three characteristics. In other cases, these are distinct people and not every person at a company or organization needs to be transdisciplinary in orientation.
Although those highly motivated to pursue convergence are often willing to push through impediments in pursuit of their goals, restrictive, inhibitory structures can disincentivize the complementary work that develops within teams. The suggestion was made that universities identify convergent thinking faculty, connect them with each other, and provide institutional endorsement of their efforts. Establishing faculty connections provides visibility and builds an interest group or community of practice. Leadership encouragement, such as through the provost or senior research officer, further conveys that convergence is seen as a valid and valuable approach to research. Such efforts can help to mini-
mize barriers to collaboration and facilitate the undertaking of convergent research projects.
The interests, incentives, and disincentives of senior faculty, junior faculty, and trainees are commonly also different with regard to convergence. It was noted that senior, tenured faculty have greater freedom, but that not all are interested in how transdisciplinary or team-based research can contribute to convergence. Junior faculty reportedly tend to be more interested in these approaches, but the current academic tenure structure may not support them in such efforts. Finding ways to facilitate the ability of junior faculty to conduct convergent research may be a valuable investment. In addition, several participants identified trainees as important “bridging people” who identify, create, and foster connections across individual laboratories and disciplinary fields. However, trainees may be constrained by the need to meet their program requirements, which has implications for the structures and goals of such education and training.
Fostering Education and Training for a Convergence Workforce
Workshop discussions raised several issues to consider in relation to education and training for a future workforce able to engage in effective convergence. As one speaker stated, convergence within his organization could be enabled by combining people with complementary areas of expertise, along with those who could bridge across fields. Several participants noted that the development of such skills and interests could form part of undergraduate and graduate training, although the workshop did not explore this dimension in detail. As expressed by a participant, these questions ultimately relate to who is selected for what in academia, how those brought into the system are acculturated, and how they are incentivized. One consideration is where and how students form their identities, which have traditionally been centered in disciplines. Participants expressed differing opinions on the ongoing role of disciplinary-based training, though many supported the need to achieve expertise in one or more disciplinary domains as well as a desire to create arrangements that can explicitly support a convergence approach to knowledge generation. It was suggested that early student exposure to convergence experiences, especially as undergraduates, could productively influence later interests and interactions with the academic system. Other participants pointed to the distinctive role of principal investigators (PIs) in shaping the culture and expectations of their own laboratories. Investigators can play significant roles in encouraging convergence cultures, and several participants encouraged PIs to “start at home” by building cross-disciplinary knowledge within their own groups.
The development of clear career trajectories for those interested in convergence was also noted. Field-specific differences emerged from participant comments regarding the supply and demand of trainees, academic faculty positions, and private-sector hiring. Several participants suggested that existing challenges, particularly in the biomedical field, could remain as barriers to convergence. One suggestion was to consider changes to the typical large and hierarchical laboratory structures in some of these fields, decreasing the numbers of students and trainees but providing greater visibility and reliance on nonfaculty technical staff within laboratories and in expert core facilities. Such highly trained personnel, as well as other types of important support personnel, provide institutional memory and continuity and can help speed convergent innovation by reducing the need to reinvent the wheel. However, many participants noted that sufficient support for technical personnel and research community recognition of this role as a valued career path would be needed.
The way an institution is structured and how it operates affect the ability of its researchers to undertake convergent activities.
Enabling Competition as Well as Collaboration
Both researchers and research institutions compete with peers for resources and recognition. Competition is part of the system. But one participant noted the tension between a focus on individual success and convergence, which prioritizes coordination among partners. As a result, the incentives and the norms and behaviors created by those incentives do not necessarily align with the cooperation necessary in a convergence environment. One suggestion for future work would be to identify which structures of competition can be reworked to support collaboration and coordination. In some cases, for example, this might mean identifying additional metrics of success or new types of career trajectories.
Creating Nimble Structures Within a Larger Organization
One of the most common approaches for enabling convergence within academic research settings continues to be the establishment of thematic or cross-cutting institutes and centers that overlay the discipline-based (usually department-based) core. These centers and institutes become homes for convergence within larger university structures. Such smaller structures within a larger university can be nimble, flexible, and serve as
a “skunkworks” for innovation.1 The ability of such structures to support convergence is not limited to academia. The analogy was drawn, for example, to the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) serving a similar role for the U.S. Department of Energy or to skunkworks teams within private-sector companies.
The existence of centers for convergence within larger organizations can help to reduce the lag time in getting a convergence project under way, such as by providing transdisciplinary and team science-based advice and consultation or providing skilled project management support for complex collaborations. It was suggested, for example, that consulting such experts during planning could be valuable in refining the design of projects and launching them more effectively. Another suggestion was for universities to create convergence “incubators.”
As indicated by numerous participants, venues such as cross-cutting institutes and centers provide flexibility to investigators to incubate new ideas, and there may also be resources such as shared facilities and seed funding associated with these structures They also provide benefits from co-location, enabling faculty with different perspectives on an issue to interact and form connections. Some participants cautioned, however, that there is a need to be purposeful in defining center or institute goals and retiring themes or structures that are no longer effective.
Making Use of Shared Facilities
Multiuser facilities or shared, core facilities are increasingly involved in numerous research projects and can facilitate the ability of larger numbers of researchers to undertake convergent projects. These facilities are frequently maintained, at least partially, through user fees. In regard to how universities think about supporting convergent research at scale, several participants elevated the need for institutions to rethink how they build, operate, and support such shared core resources. A point raised by several participants was the need for access not only to advanced instrumentation, but also to affiliated, highly skilled technical staff who are able to run the instruments across a broad array of research applications. Such staff can help to foster convergence by reducing the extent to which researchers involved in convergent projects require familiarity or skill with every instrument.
1 The term “skunkworks” was used in the workshop to refer to the concept of establishing a mechanism (such as a unit, team, or project) that has the goal of producing innovative ideas and is often more flexible or less encumbered by an organization’s usual systems and constraints. Use of the term in this context is based on the “Skunk Works” research and development program established at Lockheed Martin during the middle of the 20th century.
Considering Financial Support Models
In many academic research institutions, financial support models reflect external research grants and contracts expenditures. Attribution of such research grants and contracts expenditures (and the associated reimbursement of facilities and administrative costs) can raise tensions between academic units that then affect the incentives or disincentives for convergence. If a central university office such as the Dean of Research or the Provost receives a share of facilities and administrative (F&A) reimbursements, these can be deployed to stimulate convergence efforts or smooth issues that may complicate integration across sectors of a university (for example, where different schools have different salary or teaching requirements). On the other hand, if a home department receives all indirect funds associated with a faculty member’s grants, the department is penalized when a member wants to be part of a project through a different center. This financial disincentive can create resistance to convergence. Participants shared a number of experiences with models for the allocation of research grants and contracts expenditures, and one message arising from the workshop is that these policies vary by organization. The most common formula identified by academic participants was splitting funds between a home department and an affiliated center. F&A reimbursement incentives and disincentives can be different still in nonuniversity research settings such as stand-alone research centers, national laboratories, or industry.
Enabling Researcher Recognition and Advancement
The current structure of academic advancement generally rewards independent work, with success largely defined by using metrics such as numbers of proposals and grant dollars obtained and numbers of primary author papers in leading disciplinary journals. A common message from many participants was the need to revisit and revise these metrics to also support achievements based on convergence.
Many participants suggested that peer review is a conservative process and tends toward “safe bets.” These participants also suggested that it will be important to identify review criteria and pathways to evaluate the potential of highly convergent projects, even when these may appear more risky. Peer reviewers who have deep expertise in a certain area may not have sufficient expertise across the areas involved in a proposal to
fully evaluate its merit, methodology, and anticipated outcomes. As a result, convergent projects often require evaluation by more reviewers across more fields and this poses time and logistical burdens. It may also pose personal burdens on researchers who are seen as especially interested in or good at convergence, since they are tapped to assess or join multiple efforts. Several participants noted the importance of having the right mix of reviewers involved and of providing reviewer training for assessing convergence projects, as well as the usefulness of funders having the flexibility to discount some review comments when making funding decisions. An additional suggestion was to discuss convergence with colleagues and at conferences as part of efforts to “convince your peers” of the value provided by convergence, since these colleagues will form the primary reviewer pool. Another suggestion was for institutions to develop training resources for applicants on how to create effective convergence-based proposals.
Peer-reviewed journal publication remains a primary currency of success. For convergent efforts that involve interdependent teams, a number of participants identified the need to understand and capture researcher contributions to overall success as part of full authorship lists, rather than simply as first or last author. As with funding proposals, journals may increasingly need to develop a peer review process and review criteria that can accommodate efforts combining multiple fields as part of cutting-edge research, including multiple areas of science, engineering, medicine, and social and behavioral sciences.
Promotion and Tenure
The same issues of allocating credit on collaborative publications and recognizing the impact of integrative publications outside the primary disciplinary journals used by a researcher apply to the evaluation process for promotion and tenure. Many participants suggested that researchers whose projects cross disciplines deserve a process for obtaining credit when doing so. One participant described the tenure process as a choke point in the academic environment. In general, numerous participants stated a need to be more explicit about what is involved in convergence and which criteria can be used to measure success. How scientists judge other scientists is critical to the culture of the community, and many participants voiced support for reshaping processes for intellectual credit, peer review, and advancement to support convergence. One question for debate is whether to create new kinds of tracks—for instance, team
science, transdisciplinary, or convergence-focused tracks—or to change promotion and tenure criteria to encompass a greater variety of career trajectories. If pursued, significant further stakeholder engagement would be necessary to design a convergence tenure track.
Considering Criteria for Institutional Recognition
The success of universities and departments is also judged by a variety of metrics, including published rankings and criteria used by state governing or legislative bodies that affect perceptions of leadership performance or university funding levels. Numerous participants suggested that such criteria remain discipline-focused or do not sufficiently recognize convergence. Updating departmental ranking criteria and other institutional metrics of success would thus provide important incentives toward creating cultures that enable convergence. For example, identifying measures that reward institutional and cross-institutional collaborations or that recognize aspects of an entrepreneurial start-up culture (such as giving more weight to generation of patents) were some of the ideas suggested. Future work could include an effort to gather more information about ranking criteria and about how states use institutional metrics to allocate funds for research.
As highlighted by Dr. Conn of The Kavli Foundation in his introductory remarks, the U.S. scientific enterprise rests on support provided by research institutions (“indirect philanthropy”), private philanthropy, and federal funding. Private-sector funding also provides an important source of support, particularly for applied, translational research and development, although this topic was not discussed in detail at the workshop. From a funder’s point of view, solving a deep scientific question is usually the goal and convergence represents an approach to accomplish that result. Many participants emphasized the role of federal agencies in changing research cultures and behaviors toward convergence because these agencies provide major sources of funding. There was also recognition among participants, however, that the issue will not be addressed by federal agencies alone and that contributions to convergence from institutional, philanthropic, and corporate sources will be critical.
Better Understanding Options for Federal Agency Support
Federal agencies have the ability to provide significant funding for research, although agencies differ in their missions and practices, as well
as in which particular segments of the research community they support. As a result, federal agencies play an important role in influencing their research communities through identified priorities, solicitation topics, cross-agency collaborative opportunities, and funding requirements (or as one participant put it, in “stirring the tea”). The participants discussed challenges and opportunities for how federal agencies can evaluate and fund convergence.
It was suggested that federal agencies need a way to deal with convergent proposal submissions. Several participants suggested that this could be accomplished through creation of a nimble mechanism that is different from the funding programs that support individual PIs and would not draw from the same pool of resources. As previously noted, the use of joint proposal solicitations (across multiple agencies as well as public–private solicitations) was suggested as a useful opportunity to pursue. Some participants further suggested making use of programs that would support people rather than projects—making an investment in researchers who are expected to make interesting, convergent advances rather than in specific proposals.
There can be a perception that federal funding agencies have low risk tolerance, and that convergent projects do not fare as well in the usual grant funding process. Multiple participants raised the need to develop appropriate review criteria and identify a pool of qualified reviewers for convergent proposals. The suggestion was made that evaluations partly consider the importance of the proposed problem or scientific question and partly consider whether the proposal has engaged the right people to address it. It was noted, however, that team science-focused review criteria may not always be the right fit for convergence—a team-focused proposal is not necessarily convergent and a convergence proposal may not necessarily rely on multi-laboratory collaboration.
Some participants suggested that proposals embodying convergence are likely to require longer time scales to show results, particularly if these proposed projects involve a requirement to develop intellectual cohesiveness across disciplines that differ in analytical scales and approaches (what Dr. Stokols referred to as challenges of “vertical integration”). Closer and more frequent communication among agency program managers and investigators could also help ensure that convergent projects remain on track. Additional resources directed toward the support systems for a project may also be valuable. For large convergence collaborations, funding that allows or even mandates support for a project manager role may be important to maintaining the effective management of complex integrative collaborations. Traveling to enable team building on collaborative efforts may also be important in contributing to project success by facilitating team cohesiveness and continued agreement among
team members of shared aims and next steps. Other participants named funding for components such as instrumentation, associated technical staff, and physical space as contributing to the success of some convergent research projects. Finally, several participants highlighted the importance of identifying metrics of success for not only the input evaluation side of projects but also for the outcomes of convergence projects. One participant commented that at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, for example, the focus of institutional evaluations of success was on what had been produced by a project rather than on proposal stage metrics. At the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, it was reported that one achievement metric is “synergy,” in which success is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Measures such as co-PI grants, co-mentoring of students, and co-publications could contribute to helping document synergistic results.
Several open questions and potential areas for further work were also discussed. These included the need expressed by some participants for new mechanisms and additional federal resources to support convergence, along with a fuller articulation of processes and criteria. Would creating dedicated “convergence panels” of reviewers at agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation (NSF) be useful, or would other structures such as sending each proposal to multiple reviewers based on its topic and the set of expertise incorporated in the project better enable reviewer expertise to be closely tailored to submissions? What types of expenses would be covered and what project lengths are expected? As suggested during the discussions, do agency program managers need to engage in more active curation for convergent projects? Federal agencies have levers they can use to influence culture change in their communities, but they need to balance multiple priorities in determining which to use and when. One participant suggested that an assessment be undertaken of prior funded projects that exemplified convergence. The aim would be to collect and analyze data to inform a better understanding of the time horizon required and the overall impact of such projects to serve as a more informed basis for developing solicitations and refining input and output performance criteria. Others suggested that creating a “convergence cabinet” that brings together key personnel from multiple interested federal agencies would help advance progress on convergence at the federal level.
Drawing on Forward-Looking Philanthropic Support
Representatives from foundations and foundation networks emphasized the role of philanthropy in identifying and catalyzing areas of knowledge and noted that many foundations are already actively pursuing
topics that rely on convergence. Foundation participants indicated that they are deliberate in what they pursue, and frequently have time-limited support for a given topic. However, they can provide proof of principle and push forward ideas that contribute to convergence. It was suggested that use of joint federal and philanthropic funding is becoming increasingly common when tackling complex challenges and addressing societal issues, the types of projects often associated with convergent collaborations. Such projects can require creative thinking, however, to bridge impediments resulting from differing policies on direct and indirect cost accounting, F&A reimbursement, data management and privacy, and other areas. Motivation is required to work through such barriers, but this willingness to find workable solutions can make important contributions to fostering convergence. One example identified during the workshop by participants from philanthropic organizations and federal agencies was instrumentation. The question of how to initially fund and subsequently maintain multi-million dollar instruments and associated technical staff to serve as core resources was noted as a challenge for both sectors. It was suggested by several participants that additional instrumentation hubs could contribute to a number of convergent research projects and that this may be an area for further public–private collaboration.
Using Innovative Research Organization Practices
The organizations that conduct convergent research, whether universities, stand-alone institutes, national laboratories, industry, or others, have instituted a variety of practices that can be useful in fostering convergence. Seed funding provides one such incentive. Many participants reported that their university or institute has programs to award relatively modest support to catalyze the development of cross-cutting research projects and collaborations.
The strategic use of university professorships also provides seed capital to reduce the pressure of funding an investigator’s salary and enable them to conduct convergent research that might be difficult to fund through typical external peer review processes. A participant with a current professorship and another who had formerly been in industry both emphasized the value of having some degree of flexibility and freedom from the pressure to raise grants, which had given them opportunities to pursue ideas they otherwise would not have been able to develop. However, capturing the dynamism of convergence through the typical university structure of department-based faculty professorships can remain a challenge. Organizations are making use of strategies such as joint recruitment and shared appointments or identifying and deploying bridging investigators to foster convergent, transdisciplinary thinking. It
was noted, however, that “locking in” a particular model of convergence can be a limitation as the frontiers of convergent knowledge continue to change and advance.
Research organizations are pursuing other strategies as well. The deployment of a team science expert group at the University of California, Irvine, was noted. This group aims to serve as a resource for the university’s investigators in designing collaborative projects, an idea other organizations may wish to consider. Numerous faculty are now involved in developing start-up companies or are interested in pursuing entrepreneurial ventures. Universities are also exploring ways to support faculty as they pursue such interests. Finally, universities are making investments in new buildings specially designed to house convergent institutes and foster interactions across disciplines as well as new types of core facilities that serve as gathering places and resources on campus, along with their associated technical staff. The costs associated with institutional practices to encourage convergence vary. It was reported that there can be value in convening events as simple as pizza get-togethers, while other investments such as new professorships and new building construction are substantial. Support for such large investments is generally raised from a variety of donors and funding sources.
The discussions summarized in the previous sections illustrate numerous incentives and disincentives to convergence that are embodied in the current research culture. These include the role of leadership and peer support in pursuing an integrative research approach, having effective criteria by which researcher and institutional success are judged, and having the necessary personnel, space, and financial resources to undertake convergence. In addition to the “Leadership–People–Structures–Criteria-Funding” scheme of components that comprise a convergence culture, it was suggested by Dr. Gendler and Dr. Thorp that impediments to convergence can be categorized into four broad conceptual types:
- Informational, suggesting a potential lack of information among research communities on what is meant by convergence and what it enables, or that such information is confusing. There may also be a lack of needed information on how to foster it effectively;
- Motivational, including a need for momentum from leadership to drive culture change;
- Material Resources, the necessity of extending beyond the usual type and scale of individual investigator research funds to include
additional funding arrangements that would support convergence, along with resources such as physical space and equipment; and
- Structural and Institutional, indicating the existence of barriers arising from other aspects of the organizational policies, practices, and cultures within which convergence researchers operate.
As noted during the workshop, cultural norms and incentives move people toward convergence. Articulating the elements required for convergence cultures and the disincentive barriers that currently exist also helps to illuminate leverage points—potential places in the overall system in which to intervene and foster change. As would be expected, leverage points exist around areas such as what is valued in the culture, who has the power to change things and through which policies and processes, and what are the relevant flows of information and resources that can be used for convergence.
Suggestions to Overcome System Barriers
During the workshop, several general approaches were described as current actions that institutions are taking to facilitate convergence. These actions help provide additional granularity to the call issued to multiple stakeholders in the 2014 National Research Council (NRC) report to identify and address barriers to convergence.
- Using seed grants and related variants, such as university professorships, to mitigate some funding pressures through traditional channels, provide increased investigator flexibility in the types of research projects pursued, and support initial development of convergence-focused proposals.
- Facilitating cross-collaboration by providing opportunities to develop integrative ideas and build a shared language as the foundation of a convergence-focused project. In some cases, these opportunities arise within a single laboratory that combines members who have diverse areas of expertise. In others, the scale and degree of institutional efforts at facilitation range from funding small-scale gatherings to designing permanent shared workspaces and facilities.2
2 In another example, one participant noted that his group maintains an evolving dictionary of terms used by researchers with different disciplinary expertise, helping to foster cross-communication. Others suggested that facilitating cross-collaboration increasingly also involves developing a common understanding of the methods, tools, traditions, and measures of success from the multiple disciplines integrated in a project and how these disciplines and experts contribute to overall goals.
- Enabling spatial adjacency because research suggests that people who interact are more likely to collaborate. The extent to which physical shared space is critical to convergence remains unclear from the discussions, but fostering opportunities to interact appears to be part of establishing many convergence-supportive cultures.
Other examples of efforts undertaken and progress made in fostering convergence are shown in Table 3-1. The first three columns are reproduced from the 2014 NRC report on convergence and represent key messages arising from that report (see also Table 1-1). The final column, “Progress Since 2014,” is intended to capture and map examples of continued activities.
Participants also provided numerous future actions that could be taken to build on this workshop and prior meetings and reports, continue to advance the conversation, and strengthen the culture of convergence in research.
Demonstrating Opportunities for Convergence in Key Areas of Science
An opening workshop session motivated participants to consider what the research community cannot do without convergence, and conversely what a convergence approach enables, as illustrated using several examples drawn from energy and agricultural sustainability. One of the suggestions in the 2014 NRC report is that funders of science and technology innovation should identify scientific questions and problems that would benefit from convergence approaches. Several participants suggested that a desire to make progress toward solutions to modern grand challenges is driving change across the research spectrum and provides a catalyst toward convergence, because such solutions frequently involve transdisciplinary integration. Some participants also discussed areas of science that they felt lent themselves somewhat naturally to the use of convergent approaches, including materials science, artificial intelligence and machine learning, quantum science, and synthetic biology.
Two suggestions for future action arose during the discussions. The first was to collect and disseminate examples of how and why convergence has led to fundamental new knowledge, as well as translational solutions. This information would be useful in more clearly articulating what convergence means and who the potentially interested stakeholders
|National vision-setting body||
|Funder of science and technology innovation||
|Progress Since 2014|
|Industry, medical, or regulatory stakeholder||
NOTE: The first three (shaded) columns of the table are reproduced from NRC 2014b. The final column of the table reflects selected examples of convergence activities identified by participants that have occurred since the publication of that report.
a See, for example, H.R. 6227 National Quantum Initiative Act; the national advanced manufacturing portal at https://www.manufacturing.gov; accessed March 1, 2019, and “Announcing the National Microbiome Initiative” at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/05/12/fact-sheet-announcing-national-microbiome-initiative; accessed March 1, 2019.
are, as part of better engaging those communities in future convergence discussions. As outlined in Chapter 1, recent publications have continued to make progress in articulating what could be achieved in certain fields by convergent research (for example, MIT 2016, APLU 2017, or Dzau and Balatbat 2018); future efforts could help to expand awareness among research communities in other fields. The second suggestion was to consider convening focused discussions on an example challenge area that would analyze in greater depth and specificity exactly which changes to which criteria, structures, policies, or other components would be required to enable effective convergence in that particular area.
Engaging New Stakeholders
Although convergence has been a topic of discussion among segments of the research community, many potentially interested members have not yet been effectively engaged. Participants noted that researchers and agencies addressing biomedical, agricultural, energy, and ecosystems challenges have tended to be included in prior convergence meetings. However, major federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) remain missing from the conversations. Approaches such as convergence are relevant to DOT and other mission-focused agencies as technologies such as artificial intelligence are increasingly integrated into vehicles, transportation systems are being rethought to address the needs of aging populations and as part of smart cities, and other innovations are
|Progress Since 2014|
changing numerous fields. In terms of disciplinary knowledge, it was also noted that the computational sciences and social sciences are increasingly important to many complex research efforts but that investigators in these fields have remained relatively more isolated from prior convergence conversations. These represent opportunities for future outreach. Similarly, there was interest in engaging additional philanthropic funders in conversations about what is enabled by convergence. Networks such as the Science Philanthropy Alliance and Health Research Alliance can be resources in reaching out to their members.
A number of participants also felt that it would be valuable to strengthen interfaces with people outside of academia who are engaged in convergence. In particular, many convergence efforts include components of innovation and translation as well as fundamental research, or they include private or national laboratory partners. There was a sense during the workshop that national laboratories and industry create cultures and make use of certain practices, such as task-focused teams, that can contribute to convergence. Comparing and contrasting the needs, opportunities, constraints, and ideas from this wider stakeholder community would be valuable. In addition, it was anticipated by several participants that making further progress in establishing cultures and implementing changes that foster the ability to undertake successful convergence-based research could be enhanced with organizational change. A greater inclusion of experts in areas such as institutional change management could enrich convergence discussions.
Possible Future Actions
Prior convergence reports and discussions have suggested that academic leaders, funders, and industry “address barriers to effective convergence, both within and across institutions” (NRC 2014, p. 10). Numerous ongoing efforts are detailed in the presentation and panel summaries in Chapter 2 and captured thematically in this chapter. Progress toward convergence is driven by dimensions such as the culture and norms for what constitute success and advancement among peer communities, by financial support, and by encouragement from institutional leaders, funders, and others that the approach characterized by convergence provides a pathway for innovative research. To continue this momentum, participants described opportunities and suggestions for further actions. An overarching message expressed in most of these suggestions is the importance of finding more and better ways to develop and share best practices among those interested in fostering convergence. Table 3-2 summarizes these ideas, organized around elements described by participants as characterizing the institutional convergence cultures provided in the chapter.
The actions suggested by participants are aimed at addressing the impediments (informational, motivational, structural, and resource-based) that affect the ability to establish effective convergence cultures. For example, the use of stories was suggested as a way to help internal and external audiences better understand convergence. The suggestions are also aimed at supporting those at multiple levels within an institution (provosts, center directors, researchers, and others) who can drive change and helping them create and share tools to bring their institutional communities along. Numerous potential remaining gaps and strategies that contribute to convergence were also discussed, including more clearly articulating criteria for evaluating success across the research enterprise and facilitating convergence through additional types of funding sources and structures.
The workshop built on prior reports from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine and other organizations to understand progress that has been made in defining the components of a convergence culture and specific characteristics, actions, policies, and practices that support it. The workshop gathered leaders from research, administration, industry, and funding communities to share successes and challenges and foster further interconnections among those interested in advancing convergence. The discussion raised numerous points for consideration. Just as tension points and challenges to convergence remain, leverage points and incentives were examined that could provide oppor-
|Potential Opportunity||Future Actions|
|Build the case for convergence||
|Create networks and communities of practice among those interested in convergence||
|Design structures that support and incentivize convergence||
|Develop criteria for success reflective of convergence||
tunities to overcome barriers and foster convergence-based approaches. Acting on ideas generated by participants may help to achieve more effective cultures of convergence and further the ability of researchers to undertake work that relies on a convergence approach.