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Networking for Effective Research: Developing and Sustaining Collaborative Alliances

This project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Swinding, UK. Grant reference no. GR/L 42356

Collaborative inter-disciplinary, inter-institutional research work, is currently being promoted by major research funding bodies. 'Networking for effective research' is a three year project which focuses at a micro-level analysis of the opportunities and problems of precisely this kind of research. The project is ongoing and sponsored by EPSRC and employs a part-time research assistant. Whilst inter-institutional, inter-disciplinary research networks offer the potential for ground-breaking research through synergistic processes of knowledge creation, there is also the danger that such collaboration will produce only conflict, especially when the group contains individuals with vastly different epistemological perspectives.

One key element that the literature highlights as being essential to a productive networking relationship, is trust. Trust is a binding element in situations of risk and uncertainty, holding the network or team together. The literature highlights different types of trust, although there are three which appear in most typologies: companion trust which relates to trust built on long-standing friendships ('I trust you because I like you'); competence trust which relates to trust built on a belief in the competencies or skills of those one is trusting ('I trust you because I know you have the ability to do what is needed to deliver on this project'); and commitment trust built on a belief that the other is committed to the ultimate goals of the network ('I trust you because I know that you want this group to be successful and will therefore put the necessary effort in'). An important aspect of this research is to understand the dynamic interactions among these different types of trust over time and their impact on networking relationships and knowledge outputs.

To investigate these issues this project is examining one focal inter-institutional, inter-disciplinary research network over its life-cycle, from the early days when the team came together to work on a research proposal, through to the completion of the research. The nine individuals involved in the focal research network are being interviewed yearly over the life of the project, team meetings are being observed, and email and other forms of communication are being analysed. The results to date illustrate that there are indeed problems associated with such collaborative research networks and that the dynamic interactions of the different types of trust can help in understanding the operation and success of such networking.

Research Output

journal articles

Newell, S. and Swan, J. (2000). 'Trust and interorganizational networking'. Human Relations, 53(10), 1287-1328. 

Newell, S., Swan, J. and Kautz, K. (2001). 'The Role of Funding Bodies in the Creation and Diffusion of Management Fads and Fashions'. Organization, 8, 1, 97-120.

Newell. S., Robertson, M. and Swan, J. (2001). 'Management Fads and Fashions. Editorial'. Organization, 8(1), 5-15

Conference papers

Newell, S. and Swan, J. (1999). 'The University Metamorphosising from a House of Knowledge to a House of Cards'.  presented at Re-organizing Knowledge: Transforming Institutions. University of Massachussetts, Amherst 

Newell, S., Swan, J. and Preston, J. (1998). 'Trust and inter-organisational networking', presented at the 14th EGOS colloquium, July, Maastricht.

Project Team:

Sue Newell
Jacky Swan
J Preston