Global research collaboration strategies that support researchers

By: Saskia Hoving, Thu Feb 15 2024
Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

The increase of global collaborations in research accounts for nearly a quarter of papers being published. International partnerships add complexity to the research process. A recent webinar highlights how bibliometric data is providing insights that could help institutions forge more strategic partnerships and better support researchers in identifying and navigating this increasingly complex collaboration landscape. In case you missed the webinar, here are the highlights.

What can bibliometric data tell us about research collaboration?

Since the 1980s, the average number of authors per publication has been increasing across all disciplines2. In the first half of the webinar, Simon Baker, Chief Editor of Nature Index, described how tracking these authorship trends can illustrate how researchers across the globe are working together – showing how different disciplines, countries, cities and even institutions tend to partner most frequently. Not only can this highlight strategic gaps where a more collaborative approach could drive progress, it also pinpoints where in the world the best strategic partners could be.

Nature Index tracks more than 140 researcher-selected, high-quality journals in natural sciences and clinical medicine, and publishes editorial content sharing actionable insights on research performance. This has confirmed previously reported trends such as the move towards ‘hyperauthorship’ (defined as >50 authors on a paper), This is most pronounced in the physical sciences but is increasingly common on health sciences papers since the Covid pandemic3; Baker shared Nature Index data showing that the number of papers in health sciences with >50 authors rose from 58 in 2015 to 203 in 2021.

In addition to tracking numbers of authors, bibliometric data can reveal patterns in global collaborations. For example, Baker shared that the United States’ most productive research partnership is with China, although their collaborative output has dropped in recent years. And because Nature Index analyses authorship as a share of contribution to the paper, actual contribution from authors in different countries, cities, and institutions – revealing the nature of collaborations between cities in different countries, how researchers are coalescing around the Sustainable Development Goals, or identifying, for example, the top five leading institutional partnerships in cancer research.

"Collaboration is a mechanism to promote equity.” - Rebecca Cooney, Chief Editor, Nature Mental Health

Baker described how Nature Index data is now tracking the extent of collaboration between researchers in the Global North and South. Such data can help to highlight inequities in research, but tracking and analysing it is not without its challenges. While acknowledging that currently available data may be skewed towards natural sciences disciplines that commonly have ‘hyperauthorship’, analysis to date suggests North-South collaborations are increasing, yet only account for a small proportion of total article volume. Even within North-South collaborative articles, authorship contribution is dominated by the North, indicating an issue for global science.

Challenges to understanding the full landscape of research collaboration

Although Nature Index is already providing a rich seam of information, there are still some black spots when it comes to using bibliometrics data to track collaborations. These include the involvement of support staff whose contribution does not result in authorship, collaborations with government and policymakers when not included as authors, complex collaboration networks involving multiple organisations and individuals, and tracking trends in collaboration by author career stage of demographic background.

Similarly, it is difficult to capture the prevalence and contribution of community engagement in research – such as local organisations or patient groups – when this is not included in authorship. Interviewees who contributed to the Springer Nature White Paper A Changing Landscape in Collaboration on global collaborations have observed an increase in these types of collaboration, facilitated by technological advances (e.g. digital engagement) and a move towards impact-driven research assessments. Through its editorial content, Nature Index can identify examples of these collaborations even if it is difficult to track data on them.

The importance of ethical inclusion and recognition of community contributions was also emphasised by Rebecca Cooney, Chief Editor, Nature Mental Health, who provided an editorial perspective on global collaborations in the second half of the webinar. Cooney began by highlighting that “collaboration is a mechanism to promote equity” and emphasised a range of measures being taken by Nature Portfolio to support inclusive collaboration, such as encouraging authors to use The TRUST code (A Global Code of Conduct for Equitable Research Partnerships) and to include Inclusion and Ethics disclosures in their papers.

How to support researchers and future proof your organisation

The variety of collaborators bring unique challenges to research ethics, and managing funding, legal, commercial issues. Additionally, the increase of virtual work adds a layer of complexity. How can you ensure your researchers feel supported?

1. Improve strategic direction of collaborative efforts

All five interviewees for the A Changing Landscape in Collaboration white paper highlighted that analytical tools are enabling institutions to make collaborations more strategic, by allowing them to get a view of their existing network and pinpointing new opportunities in the broader collaborative landscape. A 2021 UK report showed that long-term strategic research partnerships were much less negatively affected by the Covid pandemic than research projects with a non-strategic partner4.

Steps to make collaborations more strategic include:

  • Using bibliometric data review your existing network and identify new potential collaborators in your areas of research priority.
  • Implementing analytical tools to identify potential long-term partnerships and opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration.
  • Building a talent database to help researchers identify new collaborators.
  • Evaluating existing collaboration models and identify areas for innovation.

2. Support and encourage researchers with individual collaborative projects

Different collaborative projects bring unique challenges in terms of research ethics, funding, legal and commercial issues, communication across different cultures and disciplines, as well as navigating the move towards virtual working.

You can ensure your researchers are supported by:

  • Analysing the impact of virtual working on your institution’s research environment and developing best practices for a hybrid world.
  • Training researchers in key collaboration skills such as project management, communication, and negotiation. Nature Masterclasses has a range of online training in collaboration skills aimed at those who are new to collaborating or more experienced and are perhaps leading a collaboration for the first time. 
  • Ensure early career researchers have support in finding new collaborative opportunities, such as attending conferences or joining professional associations.
  • Ensure collaborative science is rewarded, by embedding collaboration into frameworks for researcher career development.
  • Different collaborative projects bring unique challenges in terms of research ethics, funding, legal and commercial issues, communication across different cultures and disciplines, as well as navigating the move towards virtual working.

Additional resources

Explore the insights from the webinar and the white paper to foster impactful and equitable global research collaborations:

  • The webinar “Building Research Collaboration in Global Environments” highlights the crucial role of bibliometric data, particularly Nature Index, in navigating the complexities of international collaborations.
  • The white paper, “A Changing Landscape in Collaboration”, delves into challenges and opportunities to future-proof your organisation and support researchers, leverage analytical tools, evaluate collaboration models, and encourage individual projects.


1. Brendan Maher & Richard Van Noorden. How the COVID pandemic is changing global science collaborations. Nature 94 (2021): 316-319,

2. Danielle Fanelli & Vincent Larivière. Researchers’ individual publication rate has not increased in a century. PLoS One 11, 3 (2016), e0149504,

3. COVIDSurg Collaborative, GlobalSurg Collaborative, SARS-CoV-2 vaccination modelling for safe surgery to save lives: data from an international prospective cohort study, British Journal of Surgery, Volume 108, Issue 9, September 2021, Pages 1056–1063,

4. 9 Tomas Coates Ulrichsen. Innovating during a crisis: The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on how universities contribute to innovation. National Centre for Universities and Business, January 2021, fects-of-the-covid-19-pandemic-on-how-universities-contribute-to-innovation/

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Saskia H

Author: Saskia Hoving

In the Dordrecht office, Marketing Manager Saskia Hoving is chief editor of The Link Newsletter and The Link Blog, covering trends & insights for all facilitators of research. Focusing on the evolving role of libraries regarding SDGs, Open Science, and researcher support, she explores academia's intersection with societal progress. With a lifelong passion for sports and recent exploration into "Women's inclusion in today's science", Saskia brings dynamic insights to her work.