By Ayush Choudhary, Amity Law School Centre-2, Noida
Editor’s Note: In an era of incerasing academic engagement that includes several disciplines under one subject, it is imperative to understand the nuances of multidiciplinary research to engage with academia. This paper explores the meaning of research, the meeting of several disciplines under one heading and the need for multidisciplinary research.
Man has traversed a long way in his endeavor to advance in each and every field. All the achievements man has attended can be attributed to the curious and inquisitive nature of man. With the help of his innovative character and inquisitive tilt, man has discovered many mysteries and secrets of the earth. As a result, today our modern society is full of astonishing advancements and magnificent inventions. Academically our progress is par excellence. But still, we have to go a long way. Apart from scientific developments and inventions, the concept of globalization and liberalization, have given rise to many problems and challenges. All these problems are peculiar and enormous in nature. They are the subject matter of various disciplines. Evidently, a solution to these problems cannot be reached at with the help of research in only one discipline. Rather, they need concerted effort of one and all disciplines. Therefore, though basically they belong to one discipline but necessarily transgress into the periphery of other disciplines too. This overlapping leads to a strange situation, because these problems demands assistance, co-operation and involvement of all the foreign disciplines. This paper highlights the need, significance, problem and prospects of multidisciplinary research approach.
WHAT IS RESEARCH?
Research, in common parlance, refers to a search for knowledge. It is a scientific quest for certain information of a specific topic. Research refers to the systemized method consisting of defining a problem, collecting the facts, formulating hypothesis, analyzing them and reaching at certain conclusions. Increasingly, policy makers and research-policy nexus networks are calling for a greater focus on research utilization.[i] It is a tedious march for discovery- a movement from known to unknown. The voyage of research probe and try to attain the fuller understanding of the facts.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN DISCIPLINES
When discussing about the differences between disciplines the main recurring idea was that people have noticed a clear difference of working and building concepts between experimentalists and theoreticians. This is considered as an obstacle to overcome but some people also consider it as an advantage because it provides more approaches to resolve a same problem.
It is often reported about the differences in research objectives between fundamental researchers and applied researchers. The former ones tend to do their best to understand a phenomenon in detail and set-up theorems not always applicable while applied researchers do their best to find concrete solutions to solve problems without being interested much than necessary by details. Indeed the aim of fundamental research is to gain knowledge and understanding of the world, without regard to whether or not the knowledge discovered will be of any practical use. While the goals of applied research is to carry out scientific investigation in order to solve a practical problem. These differences in research objectives can lead to major misunderstanding and difficulties in collaboration.
WHAT IS MULTIDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH?
There is little literature on the characteristics of research collaboration involving different disciplines. Definitions of terms such as “multidisciplinarity”, “interdisciplinarity” or “trans-disciplinarity” are vague and not well differentiated. The distinctions between these concepts revolve around the degree of collaboration and cross-fertilization between the disciplines. Multidisciplinary research can be considered as a subset of research collaboration.
Multidisciplinary research is a pursuit of truth with the help of numerous specialized branches of learning which aims at achieving a common aim with the aid of knowledge of other disciplines.
Multidisciplinary research is an investigation or inquiry to a problem for ascertaining the hypothesis combining many academic approaches, fields or methods. Further, it can be defined as a search for knowledge through objective and systemic method for an original contribution to the existing stock of knowledge involving a combination of several disciplines and methods.
Molteberg and Bergstrom have argued that “Multidisciplinary Studies addresses current, actual problems, focusing on solving them – it tends to be applied and action or policy-orientated”[ii]
Multidisciplinary approach is very much in vogue in developing countries to solve the problem. It represents a progressive scholarly method. Multidisciplinary approach means that knowledge of several disciplines are used to a given problem and are supplementary to one another in such a way that it is possible to draw clear cut conclusion, free from being branded as isolated or partial one. In multidisciplinary research a number of fields are involved in a certain line of inquiry which is specific to a problem or region. But the individual findings of the disciplines involved are only brought together in a cumulative. Therefore, modern research is tending to be more and more multidisciplinary.
The reason is increasing dominance of problem solving, project oriented applied research. The growing research canon is to apply knowledge of various disciplines to the solution. Of current problem or at least understand it in totality for which it is important to understand the multi facet concepts of the problem. . It can be said that multidisciplinary approach has become the need of hour to solve the current problems. Since current problems are of complex nature requiring knowledge of all its aspects such as economic, social, political, psychological etc. therefore their solution through research asks for multidisciplinary approach. An effective multidisciplinary process is likely to require some ‘softer’ human skills – like teamwork, leadership, tolerance of difference and ambiguity, and selflessness[iii].
Therefore a team of individuals specialized in various fields can be invited so that each aspect of a problem could be analyzed by a particular specialist in order to arrive at an appropriate and desirable solution to the problem. In ‘participatory research’ and ‘cross cultural research’ multidisciplinary approach can be applied to know all about any particular situation. This can be done by a multidisciplinary team. “The members of multidisciplinary research team should have different skills and backgrounds. The different viewpoints of team members shall complement each other and shall provide a more comprehensive picture and deeper insights.
All members of team should be involved in all aspects of study: design, data collection and analysis. Multidisciplinary research is a learning experience in which the participants also learn from each other. Multidisciplinary studies have acquired prominence in present time. Today it is difficult to keep a study of research separate from other disciplines like anthropology, sociology and psychology.
Multidisciplinary research is a technique of research in which the tools of different sciences and disciplines are utilized to find an explanation to the issue under study. ‘Multidisciplinary research is needed to solve many, if not all, of the next decade’s major research challenges.’ This co-operative and co-ordinated research uses experts of different disciplines. They all pool their knowledge together for solving any problem. “
Many Academic institutions nowadays are largely organized in ways that promote the advancement of individual disciplines, or sub-disciplines. Policies that govern hiring, promotion, and the allocation of resources often work against interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary research[iv].
In practice, multidisciplinary teams are composed of individuals coming from various disciplines. This means that they may not share the initial set of norms and values, and a time-consuming task of developing new norms for the team must take place. This task requires skills and flexibility both from leaders and team members. A solid foundation for building the new norms is a problem-solving orientation of the team and a clear shared goal.[v]
If multidisciplinary research is to flourish in academia, then the reward systems in academia have to recognize the different pace with which interdisciplinary research may proceed and the fact that it is often a team rather than individual accomplishment[vi].
Multidisciplinary approach also encourages the study of phenomena in unified fashion. Thus it avoids the defect of isolated approach. It gives way to comparative study and at the same time helps in maintaining objectivity. It creates the feeling of understanding and sympathy among the experts of different fields.
When we refer to a multi-disciplinary, trans-disciplinary or inter- disciplinary research team, collaboration between people from different disciplines is implied. Thus, the concept of multi-disciplinary research team can be considered as a subset of the collaborative research’s concept. Let’s first understand collaborative research before apprehending multi-disciplinary research.
According to the literature on collaborative research the benefits of collaboration[vii] are:
- Access to expertise via the sharing of knowledge skills and techniques.
- Formal division of labor. Sharing tasks, pooling specialized teams to complement each other while performing a project which would not be able to fill by single individual.
- Transfer of knowledge and skills. Collaboration is even more interesting when the knowledge is tacit and not already published.
- Collaboration leads to a cross-fertilization of ideas and a confrontation of points of view which should in turn stimulate creativity.
- Collaboration brings less isolation for researchers.
- Researchers gain an increase in their respective network of contacts in the scientific community through collaboration.
- Increase of the visibility of the work through dissemination actions at both sides of each collaborator.
- Access to equipment and resources.
- Share financial costs and pool resources.
NEED FOR MULTIDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH
Research at present has become the most viable and efficacious way to solve the problem. In this era of fast moving society, numerous types of socio – economic problems, having relation to other disciplines like politics, anthropology, psychology, have arisen which demand comprehensive approach to get their solution. Economists for example may focus on cost-effective mechanisms; Sociologists on empowering the poor and addressing social inequity; Anthropologists on acknowledging local customs, practices and social structures; Psychologists on attributions of responsibility, or individual relations at work[viii] and development practitioners, on relations with the local community [ix]Without inclusion of these diverse perspectives, and the interaction of economic, sociological and anthropological/cultural variables etc, the risk of confirmation bias becomes, logically enough, elevated[x]
This has resulted in adoption of multidisciplinary research which is in practice not only in developed countries but all over the globe. The need of multidisciplinary research can be enumerated as follows –
- Human being is the building block of society. All researches are directed to betterment of human being. Human life is regulated and determined by the knowledge of various disciplines. A number of researches are going on worldwide for human welfare. These researches cannot be conducted in isolation. They are naturally tempted to ask assistance from other disciplines because not only the social, economic and political aspect of human being is inter- related but even physical sciences like chemistry, physics, mathematics and engineering have importance in man’s way of life.
- Various type of incidents – natural and man – made, are taking place all around. It is not possible to study them in isolation. They can be studied in true sense of word, in an integral manner that is with the help of multidisciplinary research.
- Objectivity and accuracy is the first and foremost goal of research. This purpose can be served by the help of multidisciplinary research. Actually this approach gives ample opportunity to study the problem with different viewpoints. At the same time it gives way to comparative study. All these minimize the chances of defects in the outcome.
- The most important feature of multidisciplinary research is that in this era of complicated life style it makes the study quite easy and comprehensive.
- Multidisciplinary research helps in an overall study of the problem from various outlooks. It alleviates the chances of ‘biasness’ and ‘monotonous’ results.
- Multidisciplinary research aims at avoiding the defects of incompleteness. Today’s problems are of such a nature that their solution in isolation would give incomplete or no result. Therefore, due to intermingling nature of problems, the need for this method arises.
- No discipline can be sufficient or complete in itself. At the same time, it cannot assert about its capability to solve all the problems. Therefore, each and every discipline is bound to take the help of other discipline in order to reach at a suitable conclusion.
- In the field of law, multidisciplinary research is of utmost significance, because law is not confined to one aspect of human being. It deals with all the aspects like social, political, economic, cultural etc. of this day to day life.
IMPORTANCE OF MULTIDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH
Multidisciplinary research has a lot of importance to study all aspects of a problem. Lawrence A. Baker has described ‘multidisciplinary research as a potential pot of gold’. It minimizes the partial or one sided result of the issue. As it has been pointed out earlier that human life is influenced by various factors, therefore, studying any aspect in isolation, that is, in absence of other disciplines would not give the clear cut picture. Disciplines are separate from each other but this is true academically only. Actually, they are not. Overlapping is there at many points. Therefore, study of any issue necessarily demands recourse of other disciplines. The approach of multidisciplinary research in this connection reveals its importance to find out the overall aspect.
In theory, multidisciplinary research offers an opportunity for the international development research community to become more broadly consistent with the key principles in development policy as a whole. Linking development policies to multidisciplinary research practice also presents an opportunity to minimize the risk of “confirmation bias”.[xi]
SWOT ANALYSIS OF MULTIDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH
The SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) is a strategic planning measure developed from Marketing Science, and applied to assess the strategic potential of a development-related research[xii].
It has been widely applied to diagnose challenges and opportunities in development practice, including; for example, direct budget support[xiii].SWOT analysis has been found to result in superior decision-making compared to relatively unstructured methods “brainstorming”[xiv].
The benefit of multidisciplinary research which was the most cited is that it provides different approaches and perspectives on problems. It provides fresh view point, cross-fertilization, exchanges of methodology. In turn it helps enhancing one’s disciplines thanks to the feedback generated. Multidisciplinary research enhances the vision of researchers on their own discipline.
The second most cited benefit of multidisciplinary projects is that they are a way to acquire insights on other disciplines. Therefore multidisciplinary collaborations contribute to the lifelong learning of researchers. Moreover this knowledge is the most up-to-date and practical one. There is more shared knowledge by working together. Multidisciplinary projects facilitate exchanges between labs. Also, while reading papers from other disciplines you are limited by the content of what is published. While working in collaboration with researchers from other disciplines you can better understand what are their hypotheses and methodologies. It is much richer.
Most people agreed on the fact that multidisciplinary projects are a way to acquire a new network of researchers and to approach people from other disciplines. Multidisciplinary projects help gaining good contact with colleagues in other disciplines. These contacts would not naturally occur outside the scope of multidisciplinary research. Multidisciplinary projects increase considerably the network of contacts especially for young researchers. There is also a multiplicative effect for setting up new projects. It provides more opportunities of getting new funding contacts. Multidisciplinary research leads to an increasing impact and visibility of one discipline’s progress.
Another strength of multidisciplinary research is that the motivation of researchers increases because their own expertise can be applied to other areas. It is linked to more reconnaissance of one’s work.
Multidisciplinary research helps setting and exploring new ideas or investigates neglected areas. Many interviewed people said that interacting with people from your own discipline can generally just bring incremental innovation whereas collaborating with people from other disciplines can potentially lead to the generation of new ideas and breakthrough technologies.
Multidisciplinary projects allow pulling expertise from different disciplines to solve specific issues. In the case of applied research most people said that the collaboration was necessary because only one partner did not have the sufficient expertise to do the entire work by himself.
Moreover, multidisciplinary research is seen as indispensable nowadays to tackle complex problems which cross boundaries of disciplines. Nevertheless some people acknowledged that there is still a debate between pros and cons of having, for instance, computer science inspired by biology. In any case, there is certainly a need for developing more sophisticated artifacts which is in favor of multidisciplinary research. [xv]
Also the advantage of multidisciplinary research is that research can converge more rapidly. Researchers are more efficient if they are able to sum their expertise to solve problems. Indeed it would take longer time for just one laboratory to gain the required level of expertise in another field.
Another opportunity of multidisciplinary project is that it can serve as a bridge between fundamental and applied research. Indeed fundamental researchers can confront their knowledge to real problems and applied researchers can benefit from the most advanced knowledge.
Also, the return on investment in funding the research in one discipline is augmented in the case where the knowledge of one discipline can be applied in another discipline. It also applies for the use of tools or methodologies of one discipline to solve problems of other disciplines.
Therefore multidisciplinary research offers the opportunity to open new areas of research, tackle complex problems and cover investment in research by opening the use of knowledge, tools, methodology and solutions generated in one discipline to other disciplines.
The weaknesses of multidisciplinary research are mainly linked to problems of communication between people from different disciplines. These problems require more time to be settled down than conventional research projects would require. [xvi]
Also most participants said that they had to read more and invest more time in order to learn about the new disciplines. Therefore multidisciplinary research implies more investment of researchers in learning new disciplines.
For these reasons, most people said that in multidisciplinary projects there is a high initial cost to pay to reach a good level of comprehension between the partners. The time to get rid of the major misunderstanding is sometimes considered as long as 1 to 2 years. This is why many people ask for different funding periods in the case of multidisciplinary research. Maybe there is also a maximum duration after which the efficiency of the cooperation decreases.
Also physical proximity of partners is primordial via frequent meetings or exchange of students. It is more important than in the case of mono disciplinary projects because people have to learn more about the other disciplines, not only in terms of knowledge but also in terms of methodologies, tools and constraints. In fundamental research it is considered as vital to reach a good level of interaction. Therefore costs of travelling are more important than in the case of mono disciplinary projects.
There is also more effort to provide as an individual. People have to be more patient. Sometimes, they have to explain things several times. They have to be trained to communicate efficiently the basic of their discipline and make themselves understand. They should also be able to adapt to the custom of other disciplines
Multidisciplinary research also implies a cost in educating people to the different disciplines involve
In multidisciplinary research projects it can be difficult to reach the step where everybody has the feeling that he is gaining something (win-win situation).
Different competencies mean also different approaches to problems, which can generate conflicts. Therefore the management of such projects is crucial.
Some people said that in the case of participation in multidisciplinary research, there is a potential risk to jeopardize one’s status in one’s disciplines. The researchers involved in multidisciplinary research risk to lose respect in their own discipline. So, multidisciplinary research projects can be seen as risky in terms of researcher’s career. Some people even considered that multidisciplinary research could slow down the career of researchers. Also, multidisciplinary research can be judged as a non productive work due to the long hours spent trying to understand each other.
The evaluation of multidisciplinary projects, either from evaluators or peer researchers, can lead to under-evaluation if not reviewed by people with multidisciplinary background.
Time is a crucial element of a multidisciplinary research project. Therefore many people consider that there is a high risk to fund such a project for 3 years and then lose all the benefits of such collaboration if no continuation is allowed
Some people consider that it is risky to provide funds to a group of people who do not know each other before the project because you do not know in advance if the collaboration would evolve smoothly. So they propose that while funding projects made of large consortia it is better to have people who know each other at the center of the consortium and new entrants at the periphery.
Thus, it can be rightly concluded that despite having a number of merits, multidisciplinary research suffers from problems which can only be removed with care and caution. Indeed, ‘there is a lot of encouragement for multi-disciplinary research, from policy makers and research funders, and it is generally seen as a ‘good thing’. Yet the reality is that this is often very difficult to execute. For instance, the definition and the evaluation of the outputs (e.g. prototypes, patents or papers) vary across the disciplines, and the results of multi-disciplinary work might well be regarded as below the standard that each individual discipline seeks to impose on its own work. Consequently, those engaging in multidisciplinary work lose rather than gain credibility in their own ‘home discipline’
Educational Institutions, NGO’s, various department and schools of University are emphasizing multidisciplinary research, nowadays, for complete and deep study of any problem. For this purpose, serious and special attention is being paid towards discussion and deliberation regarding selection of problem topic. Today’s world has become knowledge- driven and expertise-based. Efforts are on to make the life of man smooth running and comfortable. Consequently, it is endeavored to touch each and every aspect of human life. The nature of problem has become multi-dimensional and multi-pronged involving knowledge of numerous disciplines and subjects. These specialties and peculiarities have added to the significance of multidisciplinary research. Therefore, it can be said that today Multidisciplinary has been evolved to stay. For encouraging this approach in true sense of word, funds are essential in abundance. Since this approach of research involves experts of various fields for long duration for reaching at a conclusion, therefore, it demands abundant pecuniary support apart from patience, perseverance and dedication. In absence of these basic requirements, the object behind multidisciplinary will not be attained and the entire work will be proved futile and in vain. Therefore, to eschew failure or rolling back in the midway, proper management and layout of the plan should be made in advance. Further utmost care should be taken to work out and implement that plan literally. Problems in today’s world have become complicated and complex. This anomaly can be attributed to the giant leap man has taken in all the walks of life. The process of industrialization, urbanization is about to complete. These have given rise to problems and challenges of different character and nature. The human society at present has embraced the process of globalization, liberalization and open door policies. This approach has added quality and convenience to our life. But at the same time, they have brought many challenges which are quite complex and full of intricacies. The solution of such challenges cannot be reached at in absence of multidisciplinary research. Therefore, the recourse of multidisciplinary approach for research is must and essential.
Multidisciplinary Research can be fruitful and result- oriented only when, there is co-ordination, assistance and mutual agreement among various experts convened for the assignment at disposal. Because, the nature and attribute of issue prompted for multidisciplinary research for its solution stresses all these cardinal canons. They are sine qua non for success.
A problem can have many vistas and dimensions. These different aspects can be studied and understood only with the help of multidisciplinary research. All the disciplines have their own peculiarities. Therefore in multidisciplinary research, it is very important that the thrust should be to co-ordinate and secure the chief characteristic of all disciplines.
It has been seen that the centre point of study in all cases remains the same that is man. The difference lies in respect of way of thinking and attitude towards it. The need is to minimize these differences. Multidisciplinary research is a co-operative research, in which it is attempted that all related with it, must agree to work together. Therefore, it supposes and expects a broad outlook and reconciling nature. Multidisciplinary research is utilitarian and it aims at the welfare of people. For example, the problem is to find a solution of growing population. Certainly in this case the help of various disciplines like psychology, economics, sociology and biology has to be sought.
Multidisciplinary research presupposes disciplined, devoted and united person which will never be swept by self-interest or other things because the presence of all these things will harm the object
Multidisciplinary research minimizes the defects of over specialization and biased and dogmatic approach. Multidisciplinary research, in this way facilitates the observation and analysis of intricacy of social, economic forces of modern life. Multidisciplinary research studies in its totality. That is, it takes into account all the aspects of the problem for deep and successful study. Further, it minimizes the shortcomings. The main benefit of multidisciplinary research is that it works objectively without any prejudice or bias or misconceived pre-notion. It promotes reconciliation among various disciplines.
Despite a lot of significance of multidisciplinary research in modern life, it suffers from certain inherent problems. In multidisciplinary research, various disciplines are employed and applied together. Various members although are the members of same group but co-ordination and co-operation among them is not present. This anomaly gives rise to some practical problems. Lacks of team spirit, problems of integrating results, superiority complex are some of them. The problems which are particular to this approach needs special attention. One of the prime objects should be to reconcile these problems. It is the need of hour to inculcate interest and desire in researchers for knowing the techniques and method of other disciplines. Further, special attention should be towards discipline and combined effort.
Every researcher should have respect and sympathy for other and they should refrain from the attitude of criticizing and deploring the other method. These attitude and way of thinking will contribute in direction of constructive results. Therefore, the way of going to solve the problem needs unification and co-ordination. In modern time multidisciplinary researcher’s utility is widely acclaimed and the problems related with it can be sorted out by strong will power and determination.
Today, every society particularly educational institutions have understood the importance of multidisciplinary research. They fully believe that in order to deal more comprehensively the contemporary and future problems, multidisciplinary research is of immense importance. So in this connection, my submission is that a result oriented and problem-free- policy regarding multidisciplinary research should be drafted to give this beneficial approach a desired momentum.
Thus, it can be said that for making multidisciplinary research successful, a meaningful equilibrium must be maintained between individual interest and demand of scientific co-operation. In spite of numerous benefits and advantages of multidisciplinary research, it has its own limitations. This approach can be of immense help only in solving common and practical problems. But it yields when problem of complicated nature having theoretical tilt is brought for the purpose of solution. Such studies always become uncontrollable and deviate from its track. Generally, this approach demands huge sum of money and resources. Sometimes it becomes very difficult to integrate numerous results. Under this condition, to reach at a certain conclusion becomes impossible. Further, it can be observed that the only way to solve the problem of all the developing countries, is taking recourse of multidisciplinary research because of its typical nature involving various disciplines. We know this fact that many problems of the developing countries are indivisible. Their various aspects are overlapping and inter-dependent. In this way it is ample clear that development-research in these societies cannot be possible except with the active co- operation and warm embracement of multidisciplinary research. Finally, it may be concluded that it will allow us to achieve a happier future, avoid the mistakes of the past, and give us a social model of happiness that is enthusiastic, balanced and sustainable.
Edited by Drishti Das
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