Reflections on Collaborative Research

Collaborative research can be very rewarding, but the opposite can also be true. An internet search quickly shows that others have also written about this.

A 1998 paper (Guidelines for Research in Partnership with Developing Countries) written by the Swiss Commission for Research Partnership with Developing Countries, lists 11 principles of collaborative research as follows:

  1. Decide on the objectives together
  2. Build up mutual trust
  3. Share information; develop networks
  4. Share responsibility
  5. Create transparency
  6. Monitor and evaluate the collaboration
  7. Disseminate the results
  8. Apply the results
  9. Share profits equitably
  10. Increase research capacity
  11. Build on the achievements

The Responsible Conduct of Research website also provides guidelines for collaborative research.

Both these sources of information say similar things and both appear to be providing guidelines for funded research projects.

Very little of the research I am involved in is funded. I usually work voluntarily, in my own time, to satisfy my own interests. Because I am an independent consultant, it follows that time I spend on this research, also means that it is time that I am not earning by working on a paid project. This is my choice, but perhaps it necessitates a different type of collaboration, or throws up some different issues.

I have done enough collaborative research now to know when it does and doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t when there is no real sense of working together, when there are ‘egos’ involved, when one of the team claims personal ownership over some aspect of the research, when there is lack of mutual respect, when there is lack of communication, and worst of all, when there are issues around whose name should appear as ‘lead’ author. It occurred to me that it would be great if a research team’s names were presented as a circle, so that there was no way of getting into these ‘lead’ author issues.

For me collaborative research is rewarding when there is a genuine partnership – a ‘Pas de Deux’ relationship as one of my research colleagues called it, i.e. that colleagues provide complementary strengths. This of course requires knowledge of and respect for each other’s strengths which takes time to develop. Two ‘Cs’ are very important in this – courtesy and frequent, open communication.

For me collaborative research also works best when partners are equally enthusiastic about the research topic and have a genuine desire to dig deep, i.e. it’s more than a jumping through hoops exercise to meet an externally imposed target. The rewarding bit of the research for me is in the discussions that can take place, possibly over many months or even years about the ideas being researched. The actual publication is simply the icing on the cake.

Finally, for me the most rewarding research collaborations have been those where the discussion doesn’t end simply because the paper has been submitted for publication – the discussion has been rich enough to generate too much to say in one publication and ideas for further research immediately spring to mind.

6 thoughts on “Reflections on Collaborative Research

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