Interdisciplinary group process as an indeterminate zone for collaboration and technical communication: a case study of proposal writing for an immune building and test bed
Gooch, John Casey
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This research on interdisciplinary collaboration and technical communication explores how communication in a non-corporate setting influences collaboration and the preparation of written discourse. The case study example represents an indeterminate zone or unfamiliar situation for collaboration due to both the participants' different backgrounds and the reasons for which they collaborate. Problems as complex as biological and chemical terrorism require collaborative solutions and interdisciplinary communication, and these experts bring different disciplinary perspectives and literacies to the collaborative writing situation. Bakhtin's centripetal forces, which create cohesion within a group, and centrifugal forces, which disrupt group process, are present in this collaborative writing situation. Geoffrey Cross has used these Bakhtinian concepts in his research of writers within an insurance corporation; however, these findings and subsequent conclusions expand the scope of Cross's study by examining how the group leader's role, the mediating artifact, and consensus building operate to create centripetal forces for collaboration. Effective interdisciplinary collaboration can share three basic characteristics. First, the different disciplinary professionals use mediating artifacts to focus the task and define goals. These artifacts can include diagrams, graphics, and pictures as well as previous documents that help create a new document. Furthermore, the artifacts constitute and reconstitute social and institutional structures; the artifacts also represent tools that participants have used before thereby reinforcing the culture from which the tool originated. Second, experts must work to overcome sometimes competing disciplinary perspectives. At times, the architect and the engineer do not see things the same way because they both use a different approach to problem solving. Third, a strong leader should emerge to unify the group and manage the various disciplinary points of view. For this case study, the leader of the group created stability so that they could effectively complete the proposal writing task.