Psychological Association's 2004 Conference Promotes Interdisciplinary Community-Based Approach to Alleviate Social Problems

Enhancing interdisciplinary collaboration in community-based research

In May 2004, the Society for Community Research and Action—a division of the American Psychological Association that works to bring together people from various disciplines to promote human and community wellness—sponsored a conference to enhance interdisciplinary collaboration in community-based research.

To make a substantive difference in addressing the compelling social problems of our times—health, education, housing, poverty—collaborative, interdisciplinary inquiry and action are required, according to David G. Altman, PhD, the project director.

However, many barriers have prevented the widespread adoption of interdisciplinary research and training approaches. In addition, although exemplary interdisciplinary efforts exist, they are not well disseminated or utilized.

Key Results

  • The conference, "Enhancing Interdisciplinary Collaboration in Community-Based Research," held on May 20–23, 2004, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., drew 80 researchers, including three interdisciplinary teams working in the field. The goals of the conference were to identify and clarify:

    • The processes that lead to productive interdisciplinary research among research team members and between researchers and community members.
    • The promise of interdisciplinary research, including the breakthroughs in understanding about community-based events and resulting community-based action.
    • The contextual factors that contribute to successful interdisciplinary research and the obstacles that inhibit it, each at multiple levels including the including the department; school, college or university; discipline; and community.
  • The three featured interdisciplinary research teams, and a fourth presenter, discussed the challenges, successes and lessons of their collaborations. The presentations and the resulting discussions indicated that such collaborations are not necessarily easy. However, satisfying, manageable and useful community-based interdisciplinary work is clearly feasible.Conference organizers issued an invitation to the participants to submit papers for a special issue of the American Journal of Community Psychology focusing on community-based interdisciplinary research. The result was a special 139-page issue of the American Journal of Community Psychology (Vol. 38, Nos. 1/2, 2006) entitled Community-Based Interdisciplinary Research: Prospects, Processes, and Approaches.

    The issue contains 12 articles authored by conference participants; representative examples include:

    • "External, Not Internal Challenges to Interdisciplinary Research," by Marybeth Shinn.
    • "Cultural Competence in Interdisciplinary Collaborations: A Method for Respecting Diversity in Research Partnerships," by Stephanie M. Reich and Jennifer A. Reich.
    • "Toward a Science of Transdisciplinary Action Research," by Daniel Stokols.
    • "The Making of an Interdisciplinary Partnership: The Case of the Chicago Food System Collaborative," by Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar and others.