Developing capacity for collaborative research

Research conducted in the 21st century increasingly seems to involve collaboration. We can clearly see this in relation to research across disciplines or in meeting pressing global challenges around the environment, health, world food supplies or energy.

Collaborative relationships are also required when looking to commercialise research or to secure research funding in the first place. Even in the arts and humanities, scholars increasingly work together in a range of less formal ways, as through the increased prevalence of web-based social networking. It’s not surprising, therefore, that there has been a growing interest in recent years in helping researchers to develop the professional capacities that are involved in engaging in collaborative research. The UK organisation that promotes the development of researchers in higher education institutions and research institutes, Vitae, has developed a model for researcher development that includes a focus on working with others. The model is the Researcher Development Framework (RDF).
In relation to collaboration with others, the RDF suggests that researchers move from awareness, to actual collaborative working, and then onto taking responsibility for developing collaborative ventures.  Alongside this, it highlights the increasing importance of working with external partners. But how straightforward is it to move from one level of expertise in this area to another? Two of us here in Educational Development, along with another colleague, recently conducted undertook a study of this territory, building on earlier work in a book Collaborative Working in Higher Education. The resulting paper was published in a recent issue (Volume 3, Issue 1) of the Internal Journal of Researcher Development.  It outlines a conceptual model of collaborative working, and uses it to analyse how the development of capacity for collaborative research is seen in the RDF. We can pull out some of the findings from the paper’s abstract:

The paper highlights the contribution that theory can make to the practice of researcher development … it identifies gaps within the (Researcher Development Framework) that pertain to relational, disciplinary, situational and other elements. The paper articulates insights for the development of the capacity of researchers for collaborative working that prioritise dialogue that is situated within given contexts for research.

For instance, collaborations that incorporate partners coming from particularly disparate settings need to build in opportunities to discuss each other’s vantage points, while individuals with capacities to support this exchange (e.g. familiarity with relevant technology, language skills or prior industrial experience) are well placed to take a lead in collaborative research even at an early stage of their career. Given the widespread use that is now being made of the RDF across the sector and the ongoing need for researchers to develop their capacity for collaborative working, we believe that it is important to explore a range of perspectives on developing capacity for collaborative research.


Peter Kahn (Director of Studies for our fully-online EdD in Higher Education) and Christos Petichakis (coordinator for the university’s researcher development programme)