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A QUANTITATIVE SYSTEM FOR THE ASSESSMENT OF INITIAL ORGANIZATIONAL NEEDS IN TRANSDISCIPLINARY RESEARCH

A Thesis Presented to the Faculty of the College of Natural Science Michigan State University

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree Master of Science

by David Gordon Gossman

June 1979

CHAPTER IV

ORGANIZATIONAL QUALITIES OF DIFFERENT RESEARCH METHODS AS RELATED TO MAJOR ORGANIZATIONAL THEORIES

I. ORGANIZATIONAL QUALITIES

Table IV-1 provides a subjective comparison of a variety of organizational qualities of four different organizational research methods. The four research methods are interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and disciplinary, all as previously defined. The organizational qualities are:

  1. Complexity
  2. Communications
  3. Up-down structure
  4. Side-side structure
  5. Formal structure
  6. Informal structure
  7. Vocabulary barriers
  8. Philosophical barriers
  9. Applicability to basic research
  10. Applicability applied research
  11. Difficulty
Finally, the relative comparison of the research methods will be done using the following scale: Impossible / High / Some / Low / None / Variable

TABLE IV-1 COMPARISON OF RESEARCH METHODS WITH ORGANIZATIONAL QUALITIES


 
Research Method Interdisciplinary Transdisciplinary Multidisciplinary Disciplinary
Organizational Quality
Complexity High High Some Low
Communications High High Some Some
Up-down 

Structure

None Some High Variable
Side-side 

Structure

High High Low Variable
Formal 

Structure

None High Some Low
Informal 

Structure

High Low Variable Variable
Vocabulary 

Barriers

High Some Low None
Philosophical 

Barriers

High Some None None
Applicability to 

Basic Research

Some Low Some High
Applicability to 

Applied Research

High High Some Low
Difficulty Impossible High Some Low

Scale - Impossible / High / Some / Low / None / Variable

Complexity. The organizational complexity can be considered to be a non-trivial combination of the other organizational qualities; communications, formal structure and informal structure. The scaler values of high, high, some and low for the respective research methods presents no surprises.

Communications. The amount of organizational communication which occurs is probably best thought of as the relative percent of time spent attempting to communicate with respect to total man-hours. It should be kept in mind that the relative values of high, high, some and some is a comparison not of the effectiveness of organizational communications, but rather of the time spent communicating, or attempting to communicate.

Up-down structure. The amount of up-down structure is a reflection of the amount of hierarchy present in an organization. The respective values of none, some, high and variable show a strong contrast, particularly between the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research methods.

Side-side structure. An organization with very little hierarchy must usually have a good deal of horizontal or side to side structure. This is evidenced in the close inverse correlation between the side-side structure values of high, high, low and variable, and the previously mentioned up-down structure values.

Formal structure. The formal structure of an organization is a reflection of the written organizational chart which details who works with whom and for whom. This quality's values of none, high, some and low are quite basic to the nature and definitions of the respective research methods.

Informal structure. The informal structure in an organization is reflected by the communication network in an organization. An informal structure which does not fit well with the formal structure of the organization can result in a great deal of organizational strain. The informal structure values of the respective research methods are high, low, variable and variable.

Vocabulary barriers. Vocabulary barriers will exist in a research organization to the degree to which individuals must communicate with other individuals from totally different specialty areas. The vocabulary barrier values of high, some, low and none vary in a nearly linear fashion with respect to the research methods.

Philosophical barriers. The existence of philosophical barriers within an organization is based on different disciplines and specialty groups operating with different paradigms of scientific investigation. This can cause organizational problems similar to those caused by different vocabularies. The relative values for this organizational quality (or problem) are high, some, none and none.

Applicability to basic research. The applicability to basic research, although not strictly an organizational quality, is crucial to a functional comparison of the four different research methods. The values for this quality are some, low, some and high. The high value for the disciplinary research method is notable although not to be unexpected. The existence of at least a little applicability of all the other research methods should not be ignored.

Applicability to applied research. The initial comments made concerning the quality of applicability to basic research apply to the quality of applicability to applied research as well. The values of high, high, some and low are strongly indicative of the reasons for the move towards interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research methods in this day of numerous applied problems such as those of the environment and energy production.

Difficulty. The organizational difficulty as a quality of the research methods shows a major surprise. The values of low, some and high for the research methods of disciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary are to be expected and to a large extent are the averages of the values of the other organizational qualities in this analysis. However, the value of "impossible" for interdisciplinary research may seem a little out of context, particularly in light of the comments so far concerning the need for interdisciplinary research. The logical necessity of this value is based on the definition of interdisciplinary research and the general understanding of what a discipline is.

Referring back to Figure I-2, it becomes easy to see that if the cross communication among the disciplines occurs to the extent deemed necessary to produce "continuously integrated research", as is called for in the definition, then instead of a number of disciplines doing interdisciplinary research there exists one new discipline doing simple disciplinary research. This has happened on numerous occasions, with some of the most notable new disciplines being bio-chemistry, geophysics, and sociobiology. As the nature of interdisciplinary research as a non-sequitur becomes evident it is quite clear that the role of transdisciplinary research is both large and strongly needed.

II. MAJOR ORGANIZATIONAL THEORIES

There are a number of major organizational theories now in use by management and communications specialists. A number of these theories correlate closely to the four different research methods with respect to the organization qualities of each.

Disciplinary research - Harvard School human-relation theory. Disciplinary research most closely corresponds to the Harvard School human-relations theory of organization. This correspondence is certainly not absolute. This author, for example, know of at least one disciplinary research group which more closely corresponds to Max Weber's Bureaucratic Model.

Multidisciplinary research - Simon's administrative-behavior theory. Multidisciplinary research closely corresponds to Simon's administrative behavior theory. Simon's model is in particularly close correspondence both in terms of formal structure and the degree of up-down structure.

Interdisciplinary research - Rensis Likert's System IV. Despite its non-sequitur nature, interdisciplinary research does closely correspond to at least one organizational theory. This theory, Rensis Likert's System IV, is as might be expected, generally considered to be an unobtainable "ideal" theory.

Transdisciplinary research-contingency theory. The idea of transdisciplinary research and the organizational literature's contingency theory are virtually identical. This is because of their common roots in general systems theory, and is a good example of the parallel evolution of an idea by two different groups of researchers.

This root in general systems theory is also where the rest of this presentation will hinge since now the question must be asked; what are the guidelines, i.e., the system model for the initial organization of transdisciplinary research?

Continue to Chapter V