While collaboration has been an integral part of research for a long time, the nature of collaboration appears to be evolving from one of conducting research within departments/disciplines/institutions to newer areas necessitating partnerships across departments/disciplines/institutions and increasingly context (e.g. academic, government, private industry). This type of interdisciplinary/multi-contextual collaboration has stoked the pace of research and encouraged the development of innovative and groundbreaking strategies in investigating increasingly novel, complex and convoluted areas.
There are a number of factors driving the trend toward increased collaboration. Most of the identified factors involve addressing a genuine need toward the rapidly changing context of research. This section discusses the justification for collaboration and their impact on the responsible conduct of research (RCR). These include:
- Preferences by funding sources
- Demand for expanded capacity
- Division of labor
- Ability to share resources
- Opportunity to learn from other disciplines
- Risk management
- Opportunity to engage in collegiality
- Opportunity to lend credibility and validity to project
- Technological advances facilitating communication
- Impact on RCR
Preferences of funding sources
Funding agencies, such as government, private foundations, are increasingly structuring request for proposals (RFP) to favor the involvement of interdisciplinary research teams, "The federal government, including the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, now supports projects that ask for researchers in different disciplines to work together. The NIH's road map, a project that is determining the agency's future extramural and intramural research mission, has defined certain areas for study, such as nanomedicine and structural biology, which will involve research within and across disciplines, and, in some cases, with industry" (RCR Collaborative Science, 2005).
Some funding agencies encourage collaborations that foster a cross-fertilization of ideas and methodologies (Collaborative Research Grants, 2005). As one funding agency noted , " By bringing together some of the best and most creative minds in the country, new scientific and technological challenges can be tackled; business can go on to develop innovative and commercially successful products, processes and services, and other benefits can be achieved such as a positive impact on the environment (Link, 2005).
Thus, research teams comprised of members, each with an expertise in a relevant discipline, may offer greater options in obtaining research funding. Additionally, universities are increasingly supportive of focusing on collaboration between researchers who offer different and complementary perspectives, knowledge, experience, and skills that can result in innovative approaches to problem solving.
Demand for expanded capacity
According to Shamoo and Resnik (2003), contemporary research requires a great deal of collaboration among scientists. Collaboration can address the demand for expanded capacity that is required of research projects demonstrating suitable scope and complexity. Some research questions can only be addressed in this manner. It is noted that breakthroughs are often more likely to come from collaboration across disciplines than by adherence to tried and true methods (RCR Internet Instructions, 2005). For example, the Human Genome project, international in its scope, utilizes more than one thousand investigators from diverse disciplines (Macrina, 2000). Collaboration is well suited to investigating research questions that cross over the parameter of multiple disciplines. Investigators, working on the same research team, may be studying different aspects of the same problem. Thus, collaboration can:
- facilitate conducting research with a grander scope
- invite experts from diverse yet relevant disciplines
- handle larger number of study subjects
- permit research to be conducted at disparate locations either at a national or international level
A research project may cover a wide range of methodology, technology, product and sector areas through a number of programs. For example, the U.S. Agency for International Development, (USAID) recognizes the importance of strengthening the agricultural sector of developing countries to build a firm base for economic growth (Collaborative Support Programs, 2005). The Collaborative Support Programs identifies nine Collaborative Research Support Programs currently in operation to help build sustainable capacities of the National Agricultural Research Systems of developing countries so that they can solve problems of agricultural production and utilization over the long term. The scope of this kind of endeavor is likely to be far beyond the research capabilities of a single researcher, and demands a carefully orchestrated effort between multiple research groups.
Division of labor to complete tasks in a timely fashion
Research collaboration can also be useful when devising a division of labor scheme to complete project tasks in a timely and efficient manner. This is particularly important when tasks are sufficiently differentiated to require orchestrating efforts with collaborators having diverse research interests, skills, and specialization. For example, in the sequence of research activities, some members of the team may engage in data collection, others may specialize in data handling and preparation, and yet others may perform data analysis and reporting. Given the nature and demands of each project, certain specialized tasks will remain in the domain of select experts, while more generic tasks may be shared by others. By dividing the workload according to collaborator skills, completing the work may become more manageable. A tacit assumption and expectation from the practice of 'division of labor', is that since each assigned activity targets team members with the appropriate experience and expertise, the tasks will be performed with greater efficiency.
Ability to share resources
One important justification for collaboration is the enhanced ability to share and exchange resources. Resources have been defined by Shamoo and Resnik as "data, databases, ideas, equipment, computers, methods, reagents, cell lines, research sites, personnel, and many other technical and human resources" (2003). Benefits from collaboration may include cost savings, and the potential to facilitate scientific progress. An example of this would be the exchange of reagents or cell lines in the biological sciences. Thus, resources found to be deficient with one member of a team or institution may be readily available from willing collaborators within or between institutions.
An example of a mutually beneficial arrangement of sharing resources would be a research team, seeking to improve upon a particular medical or social intervention, agreeing to collaborate with another research group that can provide access to a study population or database. Both parties may stand to benefit from this sharing of resources.
Opportunity to learn about other disciplines
Research collaboration may provide opportunities for investigators to learn how approaches from complementary disciplines may be applied to existing problems, and lead to the development of innovative solutions. This may occur when discussions among colleagues stimulate new ideas. Collaboration between academia and private industry may also allow investigators to see real world application of research. These types of collaboration may result in social and economic benefit to society, science, and private industry.
While most research may entail some risk or hazard, the degree of risk and its concomitant costs will depend on the nature of the research conducted. Risk management is defined as d ecisions made to accept exposure or to reduce vulnerabilities by either mitigating the risks or applying cost effective controls (UTMB Information Services, 2003). Collaboration may be viewed as a strategy for the risk management of a research project. Research activities that may knowingly or unknowingly expose investigators, participants (human or animal), or the public to some degree of danger, can not be conducted unless the risks are abated or eliminated. Collaborative partners may differ in the experiences and expertise of risk management skills for relevant areas. An example might be found in collaborations between 'clinical' research and 'basic' science groups. For example, clinical researchers should be aware of the requirement to provide full disclosure to patients when collecting specimens from them. By obtaining informed consent, specimens are able to be studied. In addition, basic science investigators must comply with government regulations to inform and provide protection to laboratory staff members who may be handling biologically hazardous materials. Ensuring that risk management procedures are followed at both site protects both clinical and basic researchers who are considered complementary members of the research team.
Opportunity to engage in collegiality
According to Merton, collegiality represents one of the four norms of science (1973). Its function is to maintain a social environment promoting cooperation and trust. Shamoo and Resnik (2003) further note that researchers who treat one another as colleagues are more likely to trust one another to cooperate. In pursuit of a common goal, researchers engaged in collegiality treat each other with respect providing constructive criticism as well as assistance (Shamoo, Resnik, 2003).
Collaboration may be seen as a mechanism to promote greater collegiality between colleagues, departments, and institutions. This can be particularly useful in opening dialogue between researchers from distinctly different disciplines where previous research efforts were in divergent and perhaps unrelated directions. Collaboration can also be useful in establishing innovative alliances between research teams from academic, government, and private industry. These alliances can result in long term research relationships benefiting science, society, with broad-based economic interests. Both science and society are best served by collegiality and open collaboration (Magnus, Kalichman, 2002).
Opportunity to lend credibility and validity to project
Collaboration can be beneficial when researchers invite the participation of investigators having more experience in a desirable area of research. This experience could include a history of successful proposal submissions, insightful and innovative approaches to problem solving, and significant publications in the field. Collaboration with such experienced researchers can lend credibility and increase validation to most project and may increase the chances of a successful submission. This alliance can both facilitate successful ongoing research efforts as well as future collaboration.
Technological advances facilitating communication
Collaboration has been increasingly facilitated by advances in communication technology. The ability to learn about the work of others has greatly been enhanced by access to online databases. Databases from numerous disciplines offer both up-to-date information as well as opportunities to search past publications. Relevant information can be obtained or exchanged through phone, e-mails, faxes, shipping (one-day delivery), teleconferencing, or through institutional/individual websites. Researchers may be better able to learn about each other's works as well as sustain collaborative efforts as a result of available communication technology (RCR Internet Instructions, 2004). However, while collaboration using these technologies can be more efficient, save time and resources, and provide a sense of immediacy in responding to queries, researchers should be wary that use of communication technology may not guarantee better communication.
Impact on RCR
This section reviewed various justifications for research collaboration. These justification or needs included structural determinants (preferences by funding sources), changes in research paradigms (demand for expanded capacity and an opportunity to learn about other disciplines), enhanced efficiency (division of labor, ability to share resources, risk management), relationships (demonstrate collegiality, lending credibility), and technology (advances in communication). While science can benefit from the practice of collaboration, investigators should be aware of both the positive and negative impact on the responsible conduct of research. For instance, while working with a larger staff can enhance the investigation of multifaceted aspects of a research question, logistical challenges in dealing with a more complex project, as well as disagreements about the appropriateness of methodologies and analyses, can result in acrimony. Adding a recognized name to a proposal in order to enhance a submission's credibility must be followed-up by real participation, rather than in name only. Relying too heavily on technology to promote communication is no substitute for a shared commitment to accountability in following through on all assigned tasks. The next section will describe the types/format of collaboration.
Collaborative Research Grants, 2005. Accessed on July 15, 2005. http://www.getty.edu/grants/research/scholars/collaborative.html )
Collaborative Support Programs. Accessed on August 1, 2005. http://crsps.org/
Link, 2005. Accessed on July 30, 2005. http://www.ost.gov.uk/link/info.html
Macrina, F. (ed.), 2000. Scientific Integrity, 2 nd ed. American Society for Microbiology Press, Washington , DC .
Magnus, P.D., Kalichman, M. (2002). Collaboration. RCR Education Resources - Online Resources for RCR Instructors. Accessed July 17, 2005. http://rcrec.org/r/inde.g.php?module=ContentExpress&func=display&meid=79&ceid=45
RCR Collaborative Science. Accessed on July 15, 2005. http://ori.dhhs.gov/education/products/columbia_wbt/rcr_science/introduction/inde.g.html
RCR Internet Instructions: Assignments (2004). Accessed on August 15, 2005. http://ethics.ucsd.edu/courses/integrity/assignments/collaboration.html
Shamoo,A.E., Resnik, D.B. (2003). Responsible Conduct of Research. Oxford, Oxford University Press Inc.
University of Texas Medical Branch Information Services, 2003. Accessed on August 15, 2005. http://www.utmb.edu/is/security/glossary.htm
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