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Making sense: unleashing social capital in interdisciplinary teams

Lauren H. Bryant (The Friday Institute, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA)
Sherry Booth Freeman (The Friday Institute, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA)
Alan Daly (Department of Education Studies, University of California, San Diego, California, USA)
Yi-Hwa Liou (Department of Educational Management, National Taipei University of Education, Taipei, Taiwan)
Suzanne Branon (The Friday Institute, North Carolina State University, Raleigh, North Carolina, USA)

Journal of Professional Capital and Community

ISSN: 2056-9548

Article publication date: 10 July 2017



Previous attempts to solve complex problems in the field of education have often focused on one disciplinary perspective. This impedes the creation of meaningful solutions and lasting change. While an interdisciplinary approach has the potential for complex problem solving, it has often proven difficult. The purpose of this paper is to apply social capital and sense-making lenses to facilitate complex problem-solving on a large, interdisciplinary, National Science Foundation funded team.


Social network analysis (SNA) and interviews allowed for the examination of the existing underlying social structures of the project team, and the ways in which these underlying structures were impacting the team’s ability to leverage its own social capital.


Findings demonstrated that decentralized, low levels of weekly and daily collaboration may constrain the team’s capacity for collective sense-making and its ability to achieve coherence around project goals.

Practical implications

Using SNA to systematically study the underlying network structure of a team, with the intention to use that data to drive change, can allow teams to shape their networks over time to allow for sense-making and successful collaborations. It may be that, while large teams are studying their intended phenomena, they should also make time to study themselves.

Social implications

Increasing the successfulness of large teams stands to positively impact researchers’ abilities to create workable solutions to intractable problems.


While SNA is a popular approach to understanding school districts and the spread of educational innovations, this study uses SNA to understand the creation of solutions and innovations.



The study was financially supported by the National Science Foundation, NSF Award ID No. 1319293.


Bryant, L.H., Freeman, S.B., Daly, A., Liou, Y.-H. and Branon, S. (2017), "Making sense: unleashing social capital in interdisciplinary teams", Journal of Professional Capital and Community, Vol. 2 No. 3, pp. 118-133.



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