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Build Your Team

Build Your Team

A well-rounded team with the right skills, expertise, and resources is critical for executing a successful collaborative science project.

Traditional research projects tend to focus on building teams according to what is required to address scientific questions. For collaborative science projects, it is equally important to recruit and allocate enough time and resources to team members who can design and manage the collaborative process and have excellent project management and communication skills.


  Tip: Ensure that your team has capacity to fill all the needed roles


“...having that driver, that backbone role to keep pushing things forward…that was a key part...”

Hear more from a federal senior research scientist »

As you are planning a project, and later as you are launching it, make sure all roles and major tasks that are relevant to your project have been assigned to someone with enough time, interest, and skills to do the work. In addition to finding team members with relevant experience and expertise, it is advantageous to recruit people who have existing relationships with key users or other stakeholders.

The boxes below outline potential responsibilities associated with three key elements of collaborative science — project management, the collaborative process, and the technical approach. Those elements are broken down into distinct roles to help teams confirm that they have identified the right people and allocated enough time for the required tasks.

Common roles and responsibilities for collaborative science teams

Project Lead(s)

Responsibilities related to project management

Core tasks

  • Provide project and team leadership
  • Adapt project plans as needed
  • Manage the budget

Associated tasks

  • Coordinate team meetings
  • Manage project documents

Details about these tasks »

Collaborative Lead(s)

Responsibilities related to the collaborative process

Core tasks

  • Develop a process for engaging users
  • Nurture relationships between project team and intended users
  • Ensure communication between team and intended users is maintained
  • Ensure the project is responsive to users

Associated tasks

  • Facilitate meetings with team and intended users
  • Design social science instruments
  • Document and respond to intended user input
  • Develop outreach and communication products

Details about these tasks »


Technical Lead(s)

Responsibilities related to the technical approach

Core tasks

  • Provide content area expertise
  • Develop and oversee the research approach
  • Ensure the quality of the science

Associated tasks

  • Lead and support components of research approach
  • Manage project datasets
  • Integrate project results
  • Develop research summary products and tools

Details about these tasks »

Fiscal Lead/Fiduciary Organization

Fiscal Responsibilities

Fiscal tasks for the project lead

  • Plan the project budget
  • Revise the budget as needed

Fiscal administrative tasks

  • Review budgets
  • Develop subcontracts
  • Process financial support to participants
  • Invoice the sponsor

Details about these tasks »





“…he is really good at explaining [the science]… and he's so excited about his work… enthusiasm just spreads.”

Hear more from a city council member »


Not all of these tasks will be relevant to all projects. For smaller projects, a few project leads can take on the relevant project tasks. For larger projects, additional personnel — including a project manager, graduate students, and technicians or other outreach specialists — can support some of the associated tasks.

In identifying and assigning team roles, think about personality and communication styles too. For example, depending on the project, you may need someone who can appeal to and communicate with a wide range of intended users.


Tool: Mapping Team Roles and Responsibilities

The editable template Mapping Team Roles and Responsibilities (Google Doc) provides a checklist and chart for mapping out the roles and tasks needed for your collaborative science project. It can help you estimate the time and budget necessary to support each team member.

En Español: Elaborando Posiciones y Responsabilidades del Equipo

There are many ways to engage and collaborate with project intended users, including inviting their input at key moments through a workshop or survey or inviting representatives to join a project advisory group (see the subsection "Setting Project Processes to Engage Users Meaningfully," below). Project intended users can also fill a variety of roles within a project team, including serving as lead or supporting technical or outreach elements, which can help ensure the project is tightly aligned with intended user needs.

Intended users should not be added to a team roster merely to demonstrate their interest to a potential funder. Incorporating intended users into the project team makes sense if they will be contributing significant time, expertise, or other resources to project activities. The role of all team members, including intended user representatives, should be explained in grant proposals. If their time is not being supported through the grant budget, this should be fully explained in the budget narrative and confirmed through a letter of commitment.


Project example: Including community leaders on the team

In some cases, intended user representatives can become key members of a project team, and opportunities for deep engagement can result, as one team from New Hampshire discovered when they reached out to a local municipality. See the case study or visit the project page.