Playing nice with research partners

“Working in partnership for research is the way of the future” Professor Warwick Anderson CEO National Health and Medical Research Council, Australia.

There are as many good intentions to work in real partnership as there are barriers to working in partnership. Common concerns about partnerships include:

  • The protection of ideas and knowledge;
  • The time and skills required to find and manage the partnerships;
  • The governance of those partnerships, particularly around decision making.

The power of partnerships and collaboration is in appreciating and considering the views, lived experience, and opinions from partners or advisors, particularly when these are multidisciplinary or between academic and non-academic knowledge producers and users.

Whilst the development of real partnerships may seem to be a daunting and difficult task, there are dividends to be paid. Aside from the multiple funding opportunities for specific partnerships where money and resources can be shared, there are several added benefits.

  • Buy-in from partners that facilitate future changes to policy, practice or behaviour;
  • Two way exchange and learning of information, strengthening the relevancy and use of your research outcomes;
  • Planned and incidental research funding from alternative sources, something that is always ideal.

How can we involve and manage the collaborating academic and non-academic partners within the research process? Every situation and partnership will require a tailored approach to ensure that each partner’s needs and expectations are met. When deciding on the tools and solutions, work with your partners to determine what will work for them and the level of involvement they would like or expect. Some partners will want regular involvement, feedback and participation whilst others may not.

The following considerations will help you to start creating and managing your partnerships successfully:

  • Develop a presence – Having a good presence in online platforms like ResearchGate or Academia.edu can facilitate this process when seeking academic partners. Remember to think multidisciplinary as well, there may be other applications for your work.
  • Use existing networks – Non-academic partners and collaborators can be more difficult to establish and will depend on your existing relationships or possible links to people through your networks.
  • Be willing to listen and share – When creating partnerships with non-academic organisations, it is vital to remember that it is a two-way exchange of knowledge and ideas. Be willing to listen and change your ideas based on the experience and knowledge of others. If you talk at someone as “the expert” they will not hear you. Instead ask questions, you need to genuinely want their input and knowledge or the partnership is not real.
  • Use a knowledge broker – When time and skills are a concern for development of relationships it can be useful to use an expert to do some ground work for you. A broker can spend the time to find out who the possible partners are, and their level of interest in discussing your ideas and in being part of the research process. Brokers can also manage expectations of both parties prior to formal introductions.

There are several tools available to help facilitate and manage these relationships. Examples include:

  • Development of an advisory panel/board
  • Full day planning and strategy meetings with partners
  • Communities of practice
  • Use online platforms to manage and create content, e.g. Google Drive, WriteLaTeX, Wiki’s, BasecampHQ

 

There are many ways to engage your partners in the process and no matter what mechanism, remember the importance of discussing this with them. There are no right or wrong answers or hard and fast rules but definitely consider the value of the process you choose and the time and resources required.

What do you think, do you agree or disagree and can you suggest alternative solutions that have been valuable in your own work?