Collaboration is widely recognized as being essential to the future of research, and in recognition of this Springer Nature’s new white paper, ‘A Changing Landscape in Collaboration’, brings together insights from five Springer Nature experts on the changing nature of collaboration and how institutions are responding. In this blog post we consider the importance of collaboration, as well as some of the trends, and the challenges to successful collaborations.
Collaboration is the logical choice for institutions and researchers and has become increasingly commonplace. The number of authors per publication has increased across all disciplines since the 1980s, and international collaboration has been found to have increased from 14% to 24% of papers. Collaboration not only helps to drive innovation through the sharing of resources and bringing together a wide range of perspectives, but it also benefits the individuals and institutions with increased impact and citations. This in turn helps to improve institutions’ rankings and reputation as the rankings incorporate collaboration and citation metrics. Most importantly, however, collaboration is essential to tackling many of the complex challenges facing the world today.
Global challenges, the sort encapsulated in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, are not going to be solved by an individual or research institute on their own. Issues such as climate change, global hunger, and clean energy generation require a wide range of international and interdisciplinary perspectives. As Rong Ju, Group Product Manager for Data & Analytics Solutions, Greater China & South Korea, and one of the contributors to the new white paper explained:
“For a single research institution, no matter how strong it is, its researchers’ strength and knowledge coverage will always be limited compared to the broad disciplines, and it’s the same situation with the infrastructure…. with the progress of science and technology, research projects get much more complicated, and collaboration becomes a natural choice from the perspective of time and cost.”
Widening the range of perspectives is not just about including perspectives from different countries, cultures, and academic disciplines but also looking for collaboration outside of academia. Probably the most successful and widely heralded cross sector collaboration in recent years has been the collaboration between industry and academia in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a collaboration that was underpinned by charitable and public investment. The success of this collaboration can be seen in the speed with which vaccines were developed and distributed despite lockdown restrictions, the limitations of virtual communications, and all under the glare of the world’s media.
Collaboration is not just about the academic-industrial response to a global pandemic, it’s also about meaningful relationships with communities, with local people increasingly recognized as partners on projects rather than subjects of study. David Payne (Managing Editor, Careers and Supplements, Nature), another contributor to the white paper pointed to the powerful story of the collaboration in the city of Flint, Michigan, when there was an issue with the water supply after the state government decided to divert the city’s water supply through aging lead pipes:
“…a collaboration focused on an issue a community faced, and they led it, and they motivated researcher colleagues to feel it as passionately as they did, and to come to a solution there.”
Those directly affected by an issue or who are part of the local community can be powerful collaborative partners, and the internet and social media enables online groups and communities to form and become active with the issues that matter to them. It may be that in a local area only a few people are affected by an issue, but nationally or internationally a group can be formed that can have a real impact.
The importance of collaboration is not in doubt, but there are still potential challenges to be overcome at every stage of the collaboration process: from forming collaborations, through cultural and communication challenges, to the distribution of IP rights of the outcomes. While COVID-19 highlighted the potential of collaboration, it also created challenges in forming collaborations. As Simon Baker, Chief Editor, Nature Index, noted:
“A huge challenge with the pandemic was that people just continued on with their existing collaborations, but they weren’t setting up new ones, because you really need that in-person experience most of the time, to establish new relations and connections. That’s a big challenge even post-pandemic where there are less conferences and they’re more virtual, whether the collaborations will be as rich and personally driven as before.”
It’s also a challenge driven by environmental concerns as funders want to reduce the environmental impact of the research they fund and consider the cost of carbon offsetting.
While external political factors can also cause disruptions, whether that’s because of Brexit, tensions with China, or the war in Ukraine, it can also reveal an additional important feature of collaboration. As Simon pointed out “In these times of global tension, science keeps the lines of communication open, where maybe they would be closed.”
As collaboration continues to grow in importance it is essential that research managers and directors can provide the right strategy and support to overcome many of the challenges collaboration faces. To read more about the key to successful collaboration strategies and how collaboration can be encouraged and supported, download Springer Nature’s new white paper, A Changing Landscape in Collaboration.