Multinational Research Collaboratives, Interaction Costs, and Time to Productivity: An Empirical Model to Support Success

Sunday, 30 July 2017: 3:50 PM

Betty A. Rambur, PhD
College of Nursing, University of Rhode Island, Kingston, RI, USA


To illuminate promising practices in multinational research collaboratives that may guide research initiatives that range from interprofessional, to multi-site, to international.

Research to effectively address complex global problems may require the composition of equally complex, diverse, multidisciplinary research teams. Indeed, collaboration among professions, disciplines, institutions, and nations may offer a means to address society’s most vexing problems. Although intuitively attractive, collaboration also creates intricate interplays of personal and scientific values, norms and expectations. This research was undertaken to better understand promising practices in the potentially most complicated research collaboratives, those that span nations.


Because individuals in different regions of the globe may experience the same constructs in unique ways, a qualitative, inductive exploration of the perspective of those leading or managing research collaboratives that span nations was undertaken. A snowball sample of 15 cases drawn from research-intensive institutions in four continents served as exemplars for further exploration. Open-ended exploratory interviews were done to elicit narrative data. A grounded theory, constant comparative methodology was used for data analysis.


Five distinct domains of collaboratives emerged, along an axis of progressive complexity at the operational interface, each with increasing time to research productivity. Identified domains were: parallel facility sharing; data sharing; bridging peers; differing scientific languages and academic cultures; and human subjects or politically/culturally sensitive themes. Each of these domains reflected increasing interaction costs that imped productivity, with productivity slowed not by the complexity of the research per se, but the complexity of the interface between individuals and organizations. Notability, in the last two domains, differences were often not fully understood until research was well underway, thus creating compounding complexity and challenges. Thus, on further analysis, these five domains could also be further categorized in a simplified dichotomy of “deceptive differences” and “deceptive similarities.” In the former, collaboratives were among institutions in which there appeared to be great differences due to geography or other factors, but initiatives were framed within similar scientific cultures and expectations. Distinguishing characteristics were comparatively little risk to the individual scientist, with risk held at the institutional level. Funds were an effective catalyst to spur productivity, and an administrative champion was essential. In contrast, collaboratives characterized by “deceptive similarities” were more unstable and reliant on individual connections, with resulting risk to the individual researchers. Funds were not a reliability effective catalyst and an administrative champion typically had little influence.


Such interaction costs may contribute to Hsiehchen, Espinoza, and Hsieh, (2015) findings that the growth of multinational clinical trials has remained “stagnant” in the last two decades. Implications for research collaboratives that range from those with teams within a single discipline to multinational efforts are detailed, with an emphasis on necessary supports for broad collaboratives spanning nations and diverse perspectives. Issues for consideration in proposal development inclusive of essential activities before the perceived beginning of the research are detailed