Global Research Toolkit

Communication, Culture, and Ethics

As stated in the previous section, when foreign institutions are involved in collaborative projects the importance of personal relationships and networking cannot be underestimated. Personal connections are what facilitate communication and sustainability in global projects, and these take time to cultivate and bear fruit. The earlier researchers can build their networks and the more administrators can identify synergies within their institution, the easier successfully collaborating and sustaining projects will be. Communicate often and openly, and try and be sensitive to cultural differences.

Some things to keep in mind:
  • Address issues of authorship, data management, funding expectations, conflicts of interest, reporting requirements, and intellectual property early in any collaboration.
    • Know how culture may affect communication. For example, common American negotiation phrases may have vastly different connotations in other cultures, as well as may delegation “gifts” of good will, gender roles, and holiday and working customs. Do all parties agree on what constitutes “good” leadership, “progress” of the project and how information will be “shared”? How does research administration and reporting chains exist in all partner institutions?
  • Ensure at the proposal stage that all parties’ objectives and expectations are realistic, understood, and aligned/compatible.
    • Consider researching how business is typically done in a target country and any protocol that may be required of your researcher(s) during interactions. The U.S. State Department’s U.S. Bilateral Relations Fact Sheets are a good place to start, as are the Country Profiles and Cultural Advice resources offered by GoinGlobal. USF faculty, staff, and students can log in through USF World.
    • Also keep in mind that foreign collaborators not familiar with U.S. federal reporting standards may need assistance, guidance, and extended preparatory time to fully comply. Bring these issues up EARLY in the collaboration.
  • Agree on common research vocabulary and meanings. Have regular meetings between researchers and research administrators at all partner institutions, and be clear about differences and commonalities of institutions, resources, and research approaches. Define project expectations, responsibilities, and deliverables.
    • Know the capacity of each collaborator involved – at the research and administrative levels. Plan for the worst, but hope for the best.
  • Address ethics and integrity issues early on. Focus more on potential issues that may arise due to differences in cultural expectations or context issues than on behavior that is not considered ethical by a predetermined standard. Remember, ethical differences may not just lie in cultural expectations – differences between “ethical” behavior in government, industry, and university cultures also exist that can create misunderstandings and problems for a project. These are magnified in large international and interdisciplinary projects.
    • Issues of ethics and culture are not abstract topics of discussion. Know how principals are captured within business practices and how the proposed partnership/relationship will function as such. Categorize actions that are “okay,” “recommended,” and “required” to reduce misunderstandings.
    • Ethical considerations in science and engineering practice often revolve around the Paramountcy Requirement, “engineers should hold paramount, the safety, health and welfare of the public in the performance of professional duties,” which may run contrary to the wishes of a sponsoring government or corporation. “The primary ethical concern should be to explicitly address and avoid exploitation,” but to do so in a manner which avoids falling into the trap of paternalism. Foreign post-doctoral trainees and graduate students may serve as a valuable source of cultural information when dealing with these sorts of collaborations. Issues of intellectual property and data ownership can be one form of exploitation here and should be considered.

Material sourced from chapters 4, 5, and 9 from Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration: Summary of a Workshop.