Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Mobilising and Nurturing Collaboration in Research - the Value of a Focused Imagination1

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Mobilising and Nurturing Collaboration in Research - the Value of a Focused Imagination1

Article excerpt

Establishing and nurturing contacts are important and time-consuming elements of interactive research. It is usually the researcher who has to establish and nurture collaboration with practitioners - a task that is not normally part of traditional research. A mutual interest in the subject of the research is a prerequisite for collaboration, but there are quite often other factors that explain why collaboration begins and endures. On the basis of the experience gained in a number of interactive research projects, we address the conditions required for an effective and lasting interplay between collaborating partners. Theoretical inspiration has been provided by studies of so-called imaginary organisations.

Key words: Interactive research, collaboration, imaginary organisations, strategy map

Introduction

Interactive research is characterised by close collaboration between researchers, funders and the subjects of the study concerned. The term embraces several different methodological approaches but also an attitude to what is positive and desirable research (cf. Svensson et al., in this volume). Instead of distance, the researchers strive to establish a close collaboration in which a common aim is to conduct practically oriented studies that have a high degree of extra-disciplinary relevance. A high degree of interactivity is also expected to improve the researchers' access to important sources of data.

In order to create interaction, researchers need to establish close cooperation with funders and the objects of the study (hereinafter referred to as practitioners). The focus of this paper is on how collaboration is mobilised and nurtured in individual research projects and programmes. Issues covered include how the interests of the researchers and the practitioners can be reconciled, and what the researchers can do to create reasonable expectations on the part of the practitioners and disseminate research results. The discussion is based on our experience from various research collaborations, and two cases in particular are used to illustrate what we perceive as typical challenges in this type of co-operation:

"The housing company ": For more than a year, one of us together with a colleague worked together with a municipality-owned housing company to develop a model to assess whether supplementary services should be introduced for the tenants, and if so which. A long series of meetings with employees of the company and the municipality led to a written report and an article intended for an international journal. Factors such as an ageing population, the ambition to make living in rented accommodation more attractive and new market conditions in the future are making it interesting and possible to offer new services as a complement to only letting flats. The project was initiated by the university, but funding for this particular project was provided by the company.

"The construction company": Over several years, a leading construction company took part in a research project to study housing for senior citizens and the elderly in the future. At the time the project started, the company had set up a business unit with a focus on special forms of housing for the elderly. This unit was under development and the company was very interested in learning more about the market for such housing in Sweden with the aim of developing its own business. The purpose of the project was, therefore, to investigate what engenders a strong position for a player on this market. Field visits to 11 leading players in the sector formed an important part of the project. These visits revealed that successful players had chosen to differentiate their offer to potential tenants - both in terms of the physical design of buildings and the services offered. The research was mainly conducted outside the construction company, but the company took the lead in applying for funding, contributed through its industry contacts, participated in reference groups, and took a keen interest in the results. …

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