Complexity Leadership Theory and the Leaders of Transdisciplinary Science

Elina I Mäkinen
Informing Science: The International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline  •  Volume 21  •  2018  •  pp. 133-155

Given that leadership has been shown to play a key role in knowledge-producing organizations, leaders of transdisciplinary science have received surprisingly little empirical attention. This study addresses the research gap by examining leadership in the context of a new transdisciplinary research organization.

Drawing on complexity leadership theory—a framework developed for identifying behaviors that facilitate creativity, learning, and adaptability in complex adaptive systems—this study examines leadership roles and practices that affect the generation of adaptive dynamics in transdisciplinary science.

The study is based on a longitudinal, qualitative in-depth case study on a newly formed transdisciplinary research center and its leadership team. The data includes ethnographic observations from leadership meetings and interviews with leaders.

This unique empirical case contributes to the study of transdisciplinary science by shedding light on the actions of academic leaders as they try to support transdisciplinary conversation, learning, and collaboration in a new center.

The analysis shows that the leaders relied on both enabling and administrative leadership practices in a way that made them the focal point of transdisciplinary knowledge integration and thus jeopardized the creation of adaptive dynamics throughout the organization.

The study highlights the importance of having knowledge brokers and hybrid scholars in strategic positions at different levels of the transdisciplinary research organization already in its early stages.

Longitudinal qualitative case studies that rely on different types of data provide rich information on how new leadership conceptualizations are implemented in organizations and the complex ways in which they relate to knowledge creation processes and outcomes.

Transdisciplinary science has the potential to find cures to complex diseases. Understanding leadership in transdisciplinary science can help in maintaining transdisciplinary research activities in the long run and thus make it more impactful.

The use of leadership roles and practices will be examined at different developmental stages in the transdisciplinary research process.

transdisciplinary science, medicine, collaboration, research center, complexity leadership theory, knowledge integration
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