Reflections on Collaboration

Posted on April 05, 2018

Increasingly universities requires researchers to embark on collaborative research with local and international researchers. As the principal investigators on a National Research Foundation (NRF) and Swedish Foundation for International Cooperation in Research and Higher Education (STINT) Science and Technology Research Collaboration  funded  project we have had the opportunity to  reflect on the processes of doing research collaboratively. 

Collaborative research resonates with the African proverb: “If you want to walk fast walk alone, if you want to walk far, walk together”.  When embarking on this journey of collaborative research it is important that one select ones walking companion carefully. The person should have the qualities of being good company, having common interests, being trustworthy and have great communication skills.

Collaboration in research refers to the action of working together to produce new knowledge. It usually implies an equal partnership between two academics who are pursuing mutually interesting and beneficial research. Collaborative research enables cross discipline research, research between young and more senior researchers. Often collaborations require more than the two principal investigators and includes research staff members, under and postgraduate students, doctoral students, post -doctoral fellows and administrative support.  

Whilst the benefits of collaboration are eluded to in the literature – it is interesting to note that 50% and 75% of all inter-organisational collaborations fail. And failure is expensive. The most common challenge of collaborations relate to authorship and ownership of ideas. We found that it is important that these issues are discussed openly and upfront when initiating projects and during the project. Fundamental to successful collaboration is trust and open communication.

The most common benefit of collaboration relates to the proverb “Two heads are better than one”.  Having a group of researchers involved in the project enables a diversity of strengths to be harnessed. As project leaders it is important to identify individuals’ strengths and enable them to lead in areas of their strength. We also found that sharing resources and skills such as online teaching platforms can be useful in enhancing international research projects. Equally important is the understanding that collaborations require a hybrid of virtual contact as well as face to face meetings and discussions. It also requires hard work to keep collaborations going and time to build relationships. After all, collaborations are based on relationships.  

Co-authored by: Associate Professors Shakila Dada (CAAC, University of Pretoria) and Prof Karina Huus (CHILD group, Jönköping University)


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- Author Prof. Shakila Dada and Prof. Karina Huus
Published by Primarashni Gower

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