Gabriele Bammer, Leader of SESYNC's "Building Resources for Complex, Action-Oriented Team Science" Theme and Professor in the Research School of Population Health at The Australian National University (ANU).
by LISA PALMER
Fellow for Socio-Environmental Understanding
A scholar in the 1990s played a hunch and is now giving rise to a new field of study focusing on enhancing complex team science--including socio-environmental research and education--through the synthesis of practices and theories.
No academic discipline in multidisciplinary studies existed when Gabriele Bammer received her joint BS in biology and BA in psychology/geography at Flinders University in Australia in the 1970s. But she was excited when her professors announced, “Multidisciplinarity is the way of the future!” She remembers, “At the time, no one was talking about multiple disciplinary studies.”
After receiving her Ph.D. in behavioral pharmacology, Bammer spent the next 20 years trying to find where, exactly, these shared scholarly approaches lived at universities. She found that they were fragmented across many areas of study. Because scholars and decision-makers would ultimately benefit from a unified repository of knowledge, she developed a formal name for it: Integration and Implementation Sciences, which seeks to improve research impact on complex real-world problems. She and 26 other scholars are currently writing a paper advocating for the development of this joint knowledge bank.
Bammer is leading a new theme at SESYNC that uses Integration and Implementation Sciences to build resources for studying complex, real-world problems. The theme focuses on effective team science and addresses problems that may arise from complex, action-oriented research. For example, researchers may encounter trouble communicating both qualitative and quantitative data across academic disciplines because of differences in language or specified concept. The aim is to build a repository of knowledge so that new collaborations can accelerate discovery. “Researchers won’t need to reinvent the wheel each time,” Bammer says.
Bammer’s insights have emerged over time. She has integrated ideas, data, and methods across diverse disciplines while researching and teaching. She researched and taught in the neurosciences, where she focused on behavioral pharmacology; human sciences, where she helped students integrate the theories of Darwin, Marx and Freud in a course; and occupational health, where she investigated an upsurge in repetition strain injuries—better known in the U.S. as carpal tunnel syndrome—associated with the introduction of computers into offices. It may be no surprise to learn she moved from department to department—six different times—at The Australian National University (ANU) until she finally landed an appointment in 1989 to ANU’s National Center for Epidemiology and Population Health, where she remains today.
The research process Bammer advocates gained prominence in the 1990s when she directed a study that spanned multiple fields while investigating the feasibility of prescribing pharmaceutical heroin to dependent heroin users as a new treatment option in Canberra, the capital of Australia. The work engaged a wide range of disciplines, including epidemiology, economics, anthropology, pharmacology, criminology, philosophy, political science, demography, and clinical science. It also engaged with stakeholders, including illicit drug users and ex-users, their families, police, drug treatment and other service providers, and policy makers. After five years of investigating every conceivable aspect, and two additional years of political debate, a limited trial was approved only to be overturned 18 days later. But all was not lost. The research informed successful trials in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
The field of Integration and Implementation Sciences is poised to gain further traction with socio-environmental synthesis. Bammer is convening a meeting this month with one of the three Pursuits SESYNC supports under this research theme. SESYNC is also inviting proposals for synthesis projects focused on tools, methods, and other practices applicable to actionable team science. Multiple teams will be supported, and together their syntheses will contribute towards the development of new toolkits, roadmaps, curricula, and other practical advice. Applications are due May 16.
The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, funded through an award to the University of Maryland from the National Science Foundation, is a research center dedicated to accelerating data-driven scientific discovery at the interface of human and ecological systems. Visit us online at www.sesync.org and follow us on Twitter @SESYNC.