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How has convergence research been conceptualized and implemented?

Understanding convergence research and the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) role in supporting it

Challenge

Convergence research addresses complex problems in research and society through a systems approach involving deep integration of people and ideas and a holistic, rather than reductionistic, approach to problem solving. Growing convergence research at the National Science Foundation (NSF) is one of NSF’s 10 Big Ideas for future NSF investments.

Convergence research is related to other forms of research that span disciplines but goes well beyond them. It is driven by a specific and compelling problem that requires integration of skills, knowledge, and perspectives across communities. It brings together a diverse set of researchers to develop innovative and creative ways of solving complex problems.

Westat is conducting an exploratory study to better define convergence research and lay the foundation for assessing it.

Solution

The study examines the established literature, as well as work carried out by NSF, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and NASA to develop a deeper understanding of the conceptual foundations of convergence research, how it is practiced, and what is meant by success. These activities are designed to lay the groundwork for creating an assessment framework for supporting, documenting, and enhancing investments in the research area.

We have divided our work plan into 3 major tasks:

  • Literature review and bibliometric analysis
  • Semi-structured interviews with key NSF and other agency staff, Principal Investigators of NSF grants, and experts in the field
  • Development of an initial theory of change and logic model

Results

Westat has provided 3 research briefs to NSF. Once completed, Westat will integrate the findings into a report, drawing on all 3 activities described above.

The research will inform the answers to the following questions:

  • What are the criteria for success for convergence research projects or programs?
  • What factors constrain or enable success?
  • What role do funders, universities, and institutions play in supporting convergence research?

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