Partnerships and Collaborations
When foreign institutions are involved in collaborative projects the importance of personal relationships and networking cannot be underestimated. Utilize your institutional partnership agreements, urge your researchers to participate in a community of practice built around his/her area(s) of expertise, and showcase your international projects at your institution. 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. Ultimately, collaboration is a process, not an event, and always plan on projects taking longer than anticipated.
When collaborating internationally, some key things to take into account (and remind your investigators of) are:
- The form of your partnership.
- Is it based on mutual advantages/capacities, complementary strengths, or perhaps grounded in individual specializations? Having a shared understanding of your type of research arrangement and how the cultures involved view such work and arrangements of labor is key. Always try to understand the cultural and institutional context of potential partners when agreements are negotiated (see Section 6.3 here).
- Is your partnership advantageous to all parties involved?
- Do you personally know your collaborators? Do you have similar capacities and motivations? How do the institutions and cultures involved handle conflict? How do the academics between the institutions involved compare?
- Communicate clearly and often.
- Agree on common research vocabulary and meanings, and have regular meetings between researchers and research administrators at all partner institutions. Be clear about differences and commonalities of institutions, resources, and research approaches. Clearly define project expectations, funding, responsibilities, reporting requirement, and deliverables. Know the capacity of each collaborator involved – at the research and administrative levels. Remember to plan for the worst, but hope for the best.
- 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/requirements exist in all partner institutions?
- Will a formal agreement and/or contract be necessary?
- How will project participants be paid? Will this collaboration have an exchange component (faculty or students)? How far into the future does the collaboration expect to be extend? What risk is involved with signing a formal partnership contract?
- Get a formal legal opinion if you can to ensure that a minimum of cultural misunderstandings occur.
Research administrators can help the collaboration process by:
- Organizing open houses, workshops, retreats, and networking events to facilitate knowledge-sharing between senior and junior faculty, staff scientists, graduate students, and post-doctoral scholars.
- Finding funding to help international graduate students and post-docs facilitate collaborations between foreign and host institutions or to “seed” partnerships and strengthen personal networks.
- Seeking to manage collaborations jointly with partner offices.
- Involving university deans and members of senior leadership teams who can help ensure project implementation.
Material above sourced from Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration, the International Research Projects Start-Up Guide, and Ten Ways to Energize Research Collaborations.
A key aspect of successful funding and collaborator searches comes from knowing and understanding your researcher and institutional synergies. For example, does your department/office offer travel funds to conferences where a researchers could arrange to meet project/potential collaborators? Does your researcher have a NSF grant that could be partnered with a colleague with a NSF-China grant? Can a Fulbright Award be leveraged to initiate an ongoing collaboration or host a visiting researcher?
Some good sites for international funding searches and collaboration opportunities include:
Global Connections Fund (for connecting Australian researchers to international small and medium enterprises)
- An Overview of Canada’s Funding Agencies and Their Collaborative Initiatives | Presentation from the 2017 SRA-I International and Canadian Section Meeting by Carina Hernandez, University of Guelph, and Devin Kreuger, University of Toronto.
- Courting, Meeting, and Engagement – Embarking on International Research Partnerships | Presentation from the 2017 SRA-I International and Canadian Section Meeting by Cliona Geraghty and Dan Douglas, Fanshawe College.
- Global Research Practices: Making Them Work | A good presentation on best practices within international partnerships from a multinational point of view. Presentation from the 2017 SRA-I Annual Meeting by Silke Blohm, SOAS University of London, Susan Gasson, Queensland University of Technology, and Sandra Nordahl, San Diego State University Research Foundation.
- Best Practices in Research Collaborations for the Innovation Economy – Canadian and UK Pathways | Presentation from the 2017 SRA-I International and Canadian Section Meeting by Marcel Mongeon, Mongeon Consulting Inc., Cathy Garner, Knowledge Economy Innovations, and Philip Ternouth, Lancaster University.
- European Research Council (ERC) Gone Global: What They Mean with Excellence | Presentation on ERC Grants and institutional best practices from the 2016 SRA-I Annual Meeting by Javier Arévalo, University of Helsinki.
- Current Trends in Strategic International Partnerships | Presentation from Matthias Kuder, of Freie Universität Berlin, on identifying and forming strategic international partnerships.