Collaborative research is defined as endeavors taking place between investigators/scholars/researchers with assigned roles conducting research. This may also include sharing the responsibility for establishing the theoretical and methodological direction of the research.
Steneck (2003) notes that the degree of research collaboration can range from a single investigator simply sharing a reagent or techniques with another investigator to a complex series of clinical trials involving multiple academic institutions, private/industry research labs/hospitals, or government agencies. Research collaboration can involve one principal investigator directing research staff within a single project, or a set of researchers with equal status working on a multifaceted investigation. The greater scope and complexity of collaborative research, compared with research conducted by a lone investigator, is likely to require both additional research staff and resources.
While observation of scientific progress reveals many advances achieved by independent researchers engaged in solo endeavors, more recent observations reveal a trend toward an increasing percentage of investigations involving larger research groups and collaboration between research groups (RCR Internet Instructions, 2005). This trend is further reflected in an increase in the average number of authors in publications observed in numerous disciplines (Mussurakis, 1993; Khan, Nwosu, Khan, Dwarakanath, Chien, 1999).
The challenge to researchers engaged in collaboration is a need to understand what the project's main goal is, and what role each collaborator must play in order to achieve that goal. While collaborators may work independently from each other at certain stages of the research, they should always be cognizant of what the larger picture of the project is. Factors that can increase the likelihood of positive collaborative outcomes include:
- clearly delineating roles and responsibilities,
- developing effective management plans, and
- fostering a high level of cooperation,
- developing trust, collegiality, and a profound sense of fairness and accountability
There is a greater potential of a negative impact on the responsible conduct of research when these factors are largely absent from collaboration. Unless addressed proactively, a number of issues may compromise the integrity of research. A partial listing of issues could include 1) a poorly delineated policies on authorship, 2) lack of compliance to research protocols, 3) improper attribution of credit, and 4) disagreement regarding sharing time, work, data and resources, and 5) disputes over disseminating findings.
This module describes a number of collaborative research-related topics critical to the responsible conduct of research. For the purposes of this module, collaborative research-related topics have been organized into the following sections that reflect the developmental stages of collaboration:
- Need for Collaboration
- Types and Format
- Stages of Collaboration
- Establishing the Relationship
- Working Together
- Identifying/ Resolving Challenges
- Concluding or Continuing
Ideally the collaborative research endeavor enhances the researcher's ability to explore an expanded scope of research, pursue projects having greater levels of complexity, and accommodate the demand for expertise from multiple disciplines. There are numerous configurations for collaborative relationships (e.g. Individual researchers, research groups, academic/government/industry institutions, international, interdisciplinary, etc.). Any successful collaboration requires great effort in establishing the relationship in order to ensure all parties involved are able to work together effectively. Preferably, all participants benefit from this relationship, whether the collaboration is a one-time activity or intended to be a continuing enterprise. However, collaborators should be aware of potential problems in conducting collaborative research incurred by more complicated logistical demands, increased interactions with collaborators having a different set of research priorities, values, culture, and demonstrated readiness and ability to address a host of other challenges that may impact the research effort. Researchers new to collaborative research should gain familiarity with these important issues.
Khan, K.S., Nwosu, C.R., Khan, S.F., Dwarakanath, L.S., Chien, P.F. (1999). A controlled analysis of authorship trends over two decades. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 181(2): 503-507.
Mussurakis, S. (1993). Co-authorship trends in the leading radiological journals. Acta Radiologica, 34(4): 316-320.
(RCR Internet Instructions, 2005).Accessed on August 11, 2005. http://ethics.ucsd.edu/courses/rcrec_internet/assignments/collaboration.html
Steneck , N.H. , Zinn, D. (2003). ORI Introduction to the Responsible Conduct of Research. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Secretary.
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