A well-rounded team with the right skills, expertise, and resources is critical for executing a successful collaborative science project.
Traditional research projects tend to focus on building teams according to what is required to address scientific questions. For collaborative science projects, it is equally important to recruit and allocate enough time and resources to team members who can design and manage the collaborative process and have excellent project management and communication skills.
Tip: Ensure that your team has capacity to fill all the needed roles
As you are planning a project, and later as you are launching it, make sure all roles and major tasks that are relevant to your project have been assigned to someone with enough time, interest, and skills to do the work. In addition to finding team members with relevant experience and expertise, it is advantageous to recruit people who have existing relationships with key end users or other stakeholders.
The boxes below outline potential responsibilities associated with three key elements of collaborative science — project management, the collaborative process, and the technical approach. Those elements are broken down into distinct roles to help teams confirm that they have identified the right people and allocated enough time for the required tasks.
Common roles and responsibilities for collaborative science teams
Responsibilities related to project management
- Provide project and team leadership
- Adapt project plans as needed
- Manage the budget
- Coordinate team meetings
- Manage project documents
Responsibilities related to the collaborative process
- Develop a process for engaging users
- Nurture relationships between project team and end users
- Ensure communication between team and end users is maintained
- Ensure the project is responsive to users
- Facilitate meetings with team and end users
- Design social science instruments
- Document and respond to end user input
- Develop outreach and communication products
Responsibilities related to the technical approach
- Provide content area expertise
- Develop and oversee the research approach
- Ensure the quality of the science
- Lead and support components of research approach
- Manage project datasets
- Integrate project results
- Develop research summary products and tools
Fiscal Lead/Fiduciary Organization
Fiscal tasks for the project lead
- Plan the project budget
- Revise the budget as needed
Fiscal administrative tasks
- Review budgets
- Develop subcontracts
- Process financial support to participants
- Invoice the sponsor
Not all of these tasks will be relevant to all projects. For smaller projects, a few project leads can take on the relevant project tasks. For larger projects, additional personnel — including a project manager, graduate students, and technicians or other outreach specialists — can support some of the associated tasks.
In identifying and assigning team roles, think about personality and communication styles too. For example, depending on the project, you may need someone who can appeal to and communicate with a wide range of intended users.
Tool: Mapping Team Roles and Responsibilities
The editable template Mapping Team Roles and Responsibilities (Google Doc) provides a checklist and chart for mapping out the roles and tasks needed for your collaborative science project. It can help you estimate the time and budget necessary to support each team member.
En Español: Elaborando Posiciones y Responsabilidades del Equipo
Tip: Include end users on your team when it ’s appropriate
There are many ways to engage and collaborate with project end users, including inviting their input at key moments through a workshop or survey or inviting representatives to join a project advisory group (see the subsection "Setting Project Processes to Engage Users Meaningfully," below). Project end users can also fill a variety of roles within a project team, including serving as lead or supporting technical or outreach elements, which can help ensure the project is tightly aligned with end user needs.
End users should not be added to a team roster merely to demonstrate their interest to a potential funder. Incorporating end users into the project team makes sense if they will be contributing significant time, expertise, or other resources to project activities. The role of all team members, including end user representatives, should be explained in grant proposals. If their time is not being supported through the grant budget, this should be fully explained in the budget narrative and confirmed through a letter of commitment.
Project example: Including community leaders on the team
In some cases, end user representatives can become key members of a project team, and opportunities for deep engagement can result, as one team from New Hampshire discovered when they reached out to a local municipality. See the case study or visit the project page.