Recent COVID-related events have significantly disrupted many international teams, especially those focused on basic and applied research in developing countries. Collaborative groups at all stages of development are impacted, including long-standing teams, recently established teams, and groups in the making. While impromptu transitions to online, video conferencing have allowed basic communications to continue as a stopgap measure, significant knowledge gaps remain in building resilient, adaptive and innovative research teams into the post-COVID future. Traditionally, international research teams have been built based on efficiency in satisfying funding priorities, past alliances, ease of communication and similarity of institutional culture. Such teams may not be inclusive and diverse beyond a superficial level required to be competitive by funding priorities.

We hypothesize that international research teams can be designed to be more resilient and that inclusiveness and diversity are key considerations in building resilient teams. We propose to study three exemplars of trans-disciplinary research groups, all working in Africa on complex socio-ecological issues ranging from food security, land use planning and ecosystem services. (1) Large, successful, well-established teams, (2) Recently established teams (FY 2020) disrupted in their first year with COVID-related limitations and (3) New teams attempting to form in the post-COVID, “new normal” of closed borders and virus hotspots. Team resilience will be quantified using semi-quantitative (Resilience Matrix after Linkov et al., 2013) and quantitative (Network Science) approaches. The Resilience Matrix approach integrates multi-criteria decision analysis (MCDA) to integrate disparate sources of quantitative and qualitative information regarding team resilience in Respond/Recover/Adapt phases of resilience across different domains of collaborative activities (physical, cyber and social). Instead of utilizing aggregated metrics, a network science approach would represent team connectivity across the same domains as networks interconnected by links and nodes. These interconnected networks will be stress-tested through disruption of link and node connectivity or degradation of functional recovery, efficiency and adaptation capacities. Subsequently, team designs and connection structures will be compared for emergent qualities related to team performance. Our goal is to quantify resilience in several research teams and assess how the inclusiveness and diversity results in better research outcomes along with recovery and adaptation to the COVID-19 crisis.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
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Cassandra Dudka
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University of Florida
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