Abstract: This study is the exploration of the emergence of DataONE, a multidisciplinary, multinational, and multi-institutional virtual scientific collaboration to develop a cyberinfrastructure for earth sciences data, from the complex adaptive systems perspective. Data is generated through conducting 15 semi-structured interviews, observing three 3-day meetings, and 51 online surveys. The main contribution of this study is the development of a complexity framework and its application to a project such as DataONE. The findings reveal that DataONE behaves like a complex adaptive system: various individuals and institutions interacting, adapting, and coevolving to achieve their own and common goals; during the process new structures, relationships, and products emerge that harmonize with DataONE’s goals. DataONE is quite resilient to threats and adaptive to its environment, which are important strengths. The strength comes from its diversified structure and balanced management style that allows for frequent interaction among members.
The study also offers insights to PI(s), managers, and funding institutions on how to treat complex systems. Additional results regarding multidisiplinarity, library and information sciences, and communication studies are presented as well.