Knowledge Sharing At The Crick: Interdisciplinary Cooperation At The Crick Institute

Kate Arnold and Frank Norman, The Crick Institute

The Francis Crick Institute is a research institute ‘dedicated to understanding fundamental biology underlying health and disease’. A distinctive feature of the Crick vision is the emphasis on multidisciplinary collaboration and this has engendered the drive to ‘develop ways of working that are receptive to new techniques and approaches and unconstrained by traditional disciplinary boundaries.’ 1 The Crick vision influences the internal management structure, the organisation of seminar programmes, the design of a translation programme and the design of the building created to house the Institute:

“… for Paul [Nurse], the task of getting the Crick’s scientists to connect is also a sociological one, and he’s thought about how to solve it on many levels – from how to persuade people to come out of their labs into the interaction spaces on each floor (“if you want to go and have a pee, or go to the lift, or get coffee, you have to go through them”), to the design of the furniture in the interaction spaces …, to the flat management structure of the Institute”. 2

Facts and figures on the Crick3

People & structure Income & activities
1,500 people Income: £160.6 million
94 research groups Publications: 450+ peer reviewed papers published
More than 200 PhD students Outreach: 7,830 primary school children reached with science activities
14 Science Technology Platforms (STPs) provide access to state-of-the-art equipment Two spin-out companies

Building design

The Crick believes that proximity helps multidisciplinary research4. By 2019, there will be about 120 research groups, covering a range of biomedical and other disciplines. Putting multiple disciplines into close proximity, alongside an ethos of collaboration and sharing, is expected to encourage new collaborative approaches.

The building has four quadrants, linked by two atria running the length and breadth of the building. On each of the four laboratory floors there is a central area with breakout and collaborative space, refreshment facilities, and an administrative hub. The breakout spaces are a key feature of the lab floors, providing space for small meetings and discussions and for refreshment breaks. The building structure is very open, with few solid walls and extensive use of glass for walls and doors. As a result, researchers have a visible connection with colleagues working in different parts of the building. The building is designed to encourage mixing, particularly through the collaboration spaces.

Plan of a typical laboratory floor.


View from the fifth floor looking down the atrium.

Interest groups

The Institute has a flat management structure. Research groups are not grouped into ‘Divisions’ or ‘Departments’; there are no administrative barriers between disciplines. There are nine interest groups, open to any Crick staff, and these are the basis of seminar programmes, which run on a regular basis. These include external invited speakers and internal seminars by junior researchers. Their aim is to help “Crick scientists to interact with one another and with the wider scientific community”. One of the Crick’s Assistant Research Directors is responsible for ‘scientific discourse’, including these interest groups. There are also more informal clubs that have smaller memberships.


Interest groups Clubs
Cancer Artificial Intelligence
Cell Biology and Signalling Image Analysis
Chromosome Biology Genome Editing
Computational and Physical Biology Research Buzz
Development and Stem Cells
Structural Biology


Library & Information Services (LIS)

There is no physical library space, but there is a Library & Information Service (LIS). The four-person LIS team is in the Information Technology and Services department, which in turn is part of the Institute Operations section. The collection and services they deliver are largely digital:

  • access to 3,000+ current journal titles, specialist online databases (Scopus, Europe PubMedCentral, Reaxys, SciFinder and Faculty of 1000);
  • approximately 400 document delivery requests;
  • training for staff, particularly for PhD students on searching and citation management;
  • daily curated news feed of science policy and science community stories – a popular feature of the Crick’s intranet;
  • managing Open Access compliance for the Crick; updating and maintaining the organisation’s publication lists on the external website

The collaborative nature of the Institute means that it is easy to work close to scientists in collaborative areas, so overcoming one of the challenges of not having a physical library space. Since moving into the new building in August 2016 the LIS team has worked to:

  • build brand awareness through revamping its presence on the intranet to be more user focused;
  • establish open access and preprint policies and strengthen support for OA compliance;
  • establish the Scholarly Communications Advisory Group, with a senior scientist as chair;
  • carry out user experience (UX) work to better understand user needs.

Working with other teams

As a small team, it is important for LIS to work across departmental boundaries within Institute Operations. We have linked successfully with the Learning & Development, Communications, and Engagement teams, and are beginning to work with the Scientific Computing team (on research data management) and the Translation team. Crick has a novel approach to research translation 5 and we hope to work jointly on the open science agenda.


The LIS team undertook UX training in conjunction with the Communications team on a variety of user experience techniques including graffiti wall, interviews, cognitive mapping, card sorting and usability testing. This collaboration proved to be a very positive experience. It enabled us all to learn more about one another’s skills, experience and work challenges, which in turn led to providing support. For example, the intranet developer in Comms recognised the LIS team’s skills in organising information and asked for help in devising a new taxonomy for the Crick’s intranet. LIS have also led on developing a workflow for researchers to notify LIS, Communications and the Translation team about forthcoming research papers published by the Institute.


The LIS team has worked collaboratively with the Public Engagement team in two areas. It created an activity for the first Crick Late event in May 2017, with the theme of ‘Information without Boundaries’. Themed information journeys were presented on malaria, cancer, influenza, metabolism and CRISPR, and a quiz on open access and publishing was created. The quiz proved very popular as an interactive activity and a good way to start conversations.

Working with the Education team, LIS also provided training for several Nuffield Research Placement students, in searching and referencing skills during their summer placements. Further work with the Education team is planned for next year.


It is still early days at the Crick. After just over a year in the new building, we are still evolving our working patterns, forging new relationships and understanding user needs. The Crick is aiming for steady-state operations in 2019 and we expect that the library and information services will have matured by that point.


  1. Collaborate creatively | The Francis Crick Institute. at <;
  2. “It”s really difficult to be a polymath’ – Sir Paul Nurse on multidisciplinary research – Cancer Research UK – Science blog. at <;
  3. A new home for science and discovery: Annual Review 2016/17. (Francis Crick Institute, 2017). at <;
  4. Francis Crick Institute Named 2017 Laboratory of the Year. at <;
  5. Discussing Open Science with the Head of Translation at The Francis Crick. at <;


K & IM Refer 33 (3), Winter 2017


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