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Challenges of Scholarly Collaborations

In this article Clemens discusses Challenges of Scholarly Collaborations.
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© This work by Clemens Blümel is licensed under CC BY 4.0.

The current dominating evaluative regime in the sciences is extremely competitive and the evaluation of scholarly research – though a bunch of diverse measures exist – are rather narrowly applied and bound to publications and citations as the most rewarded outcome (Allen, Jones, Dolby, Lynn, & Walport, 2009).

What is more, evaluation regimes dominate the career of scholars at almost every stage (be it advisory committees for professorships or stipends) and lead to a strong orientation towards publications. It is hence not surprising that current measurements of scientific collaboration are also focused on co-authorships. There are only little incentives for collaborations not leading to publications (in peer reviewed journals) as the primary outcome within a short time frame.

That means, engaging in collaborations that presuppose more engagement of different positions, terminologies, methodologies and values are often perceived as more risky, since an engagement with unknown scientific terrain can be costly in terms of time and resources.

These difficulties are particularly apparent in the practices of interdisciplinary research collaborations (Weingart, 2000). While interdisciplinary research is highly demanded and often valued politically (Klein, 1990; Lyall & Fletcher, 2013), collaborations can be difficult to implement and are not incentivised by current promotion and tenure regimes (Klein & Falk-Krzesinski, 2017). Interdisciplinary collaborations also face barriers due to different disciplinary cultures (Turner, 2000).

Evaluations of inter- and transdisciplinary research have shown that an intense negotiation of knowledge claims and methodological cooperation does not often take place (Fiore, 2008; Laudel & Origgi, 2006) even in the context of specific funding schemes. Oftentimes, different groups work in a rather independent and isolated fashion. Working package results are “puzzled” together at the end of a project: Collaboration with little interaction is the result.

Moreover, collaborations focusing on outputs other than publications, such as attempts to establish resources for organizational knowledge management (such as Wikis) or collaborations focusing on establishing scientific infrastructures (for instance data or code repositories) are much less incentivised by the current evaluative regime and less visible (Archambault et al., 2013; Fecher & Wagner, 2016).

It is however, these types of knowledge production that demand more integration and interaction and oftentimes involves different competencies and roles. More recently, the approach of studying the research practices of teams in science (Falk-Krzesinski et al., 2011) has led to a more intense discussion about collaborative patterns and practices in the sciences, taking into account and acknowledging the diversity of roles and epistemic practices within a collaborative setting (Barjak & Robinson, 2008).

Research into the collaborative practices of scientists have shown that current research problems increasingly demand the absorptive capacity, division of labour and working dynamics of strong and sustainable, yet diverse teams in science (Guimera, 2005; Wuchty, Jones, & Uzzi, 2007).

Collaborations of scholars beyond academia, with partners in industry are also difficult to establish, given the differences in the reward systems of both spheres. From the perspective of firms, collaborations with scientists are uncertain, since they are bound to qualification and certification cycles which may pose a challenge for the short-term application of results and cross-sectoral collaboration (Blümel, 2008; Kaufmann & Tödtling, 2001).

© This work by Clemens Blümel is licensed under CC BY 4.0.
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