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February 08, 2013

What are the Benefits of Bringing Together a Mixed Team of Experts to Solve Common Research Problems?

By David Gitonga, TMCnet Contributing Writer

For a while, researchers have held to the notion that successful research only arises from the efforts of a team exclusively made of experts in the field in question. This school of thought, however, stands challenged after the release of a study that reveals improved efficiency upon the creation of a team composed of experts in different relevant fields.

In this spirit, researchers from Harvard Medical School, Harvard Business School and the London Business School accomplished a seemingly impossible feat of developing a big-data analysis algorithm by collaborating with algorithm specialists and software developers from a global crowd sourcing platform, TopCoder.

The jumbled-up team came up with a system capable of analyzing gene and gene mutations that form the building blocks for antibodies and T-cell receptors. With the possible variations being huge and unpredictable, the system had to be able to sift through huge amounts of data and draw conclusions from them by using the simplest, cheapest yet most effective algorithm possible.

With a team of medical experts and financial experts on hand to provide the needed knowledge and checks on system complexity to manage overall project costs, the program proved that crowd sourcing from different schools of expertise is practical. The resultant system from the experiment exhibited remarkable speed and levels of accuracy giving a go-ahead to such projects in future.

Commenting on the results, Eva Guinan, HMS associate professor of radiation oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, said, “This is a proof-of-concept demonstration that we can bring people together not only from different schools and different disciplines, but from entirely different economic sectors, to solve problems that are bigger than one person, department or institution.”

The study proves that by working with a team made up of experts from different academic areas, achieving higher levels of efficiency and results is possible. Kevin Boudreau, an assistant professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at London Business School, expressed the overall excitement in the whole team upon realization of the fact that ideas from economics and management can be useful in a medical research project.

By adopting this method, researchers from different fields of knowledge now have the power to fast track the completion of projects while improving on accuracy and efficiency. The experiment cements the fact that no discipline can ever be self-contained and that by borrowing knowledge here and there, attaining superb and amazing results within a reasonable budget will no longer be a dream.

Edited by Rich Steeves
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