Collaboration in a Distributed Research Program: Islands of Intensity in a Sea of Minimal Interaction

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Purpose – Researchers need to collaborate to address grand challenges such as climate change, poverty, and sustainable food production. We investigate how the researchers in a globally distributed research program interact to move their research forward.
Design/methodology/approach – We interviewed 14 participants in the research program.
Findings – In spite of the spatial distribution of the researchers the output from the research program is predominantly collaborative; as much as 79% of the publications are co-authored by researchers from multiple countries. However, the researchers mostly work alone on their contributions to their joint work and spend minimal time interacting. This strategy of minimal interaction is punctuated by islands of intense interaction when they occasionally meet in person. Interaction feels natural, productive, and satisfying to them when they are co-located but less so when they are distributed, probably because they experience technology-mediated interaction over a distance as somewhat impoverished. The interviewees mention that the minimal-interaction strategy incurs the risks of cracks in common ground and of misconstruing minimal interaction as lack of commitment. But the strategy is generally well-liked.
Research limitations/implications – The experience of technology-mediated interaction as impoverished points to an explanation for the finding of less interaction in distributed than co-located research. It should be noted that the study is restricted to one research program.
Originality/value – By questioning widely touted recommendations for ongoing, regular, and sustained interaction this study provides a fresh look at scientific collaboration.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Documentation
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)334-348
Publication statusPublished - 2019

    Research areas

  • Faculty of Humanities - Scientific collaboration, Global research, Team science, Distributed work, Minimal interaction

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