Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Building Research Collaboration Networks - an Interpersonal Perspective for Research Capacity Building

Academic journal article Journal of Research Administration

Building Research Collaboration Networks - an Interpersonal Perspective for Research Capacity Building

Article excerpt


The development of social network theories has revealed that social structure of relationships around a person, group, or organization affects beliefe and behaviors (Burt, Kilduff, & Tasselli, 2013). For example, in research on innovation diffusion, Ryan and Gross (1943) find that Iowa farmers' adoption of hybrid-seed corn was mostly influenced by their neighbors, even though the farmers first heard the innovation from commercial salesmen. Godley, Sharkey and Weiss (2013) demonstrate that office location is one of the strongest predictors of grant collaborations amongst neuroscientists within an institute. Rogers (2003) further points out that interpersonal linkages among individuals in a social system can influence the communication flow and promote the adoption and diffusion of innovations in the system.

Increasingly, researchers are working in collaborations to address complex research issues. Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) are giving incentives for their researchers to take part in international collaborative projects. Funding agencies also favors collaborative research because it can draw diverse expertise, promote creativity and innovation and therefore lead to scientific breakthroughs. Social networks have been the subject of both empirical and theoretical studies in the social sciences for at least 50 years but has only been recently applied to research collaborations (Godley, et al., 2013; Woo, Kang, & Martin, 2013).

Implicit in social network theory is the assumption that there are outcomes associated with the connections. It is the thesis of this paper that research collaboration networks derive benefits to higher education institutions (HEIs). This author argues that of two hypothetical institutes (Figure 1), Institute Bs intentional connections provide greater opportunity for research collaboration than does Institute A wherein the researchers work in isolation. The author further claims that Institute B has higher research capacity as compared to Institute A.

This paper will focus on three important topics. Are social network theories relevant to research management? Can research institutes be informed by social network theories to promote research collaborations? What limitations do social network theories have when applying to research collaborations? In addition, this paper seeks to provide a theoretical framework for the role of research administration and capacity building through social networks. By linking social network theories with research management, the paper hopes to make contribution to the theory and practice of research capacity building.

To anchor this paper theoretically, social network theories are briefly introduced in the next section. The section does not cover technical details of the social network theories and models. More in-depth review of the theories can be found in the literature of Social Network Analysis (SNA) (Woo, et al., 2013).

Social Network Theories

Social network theories form a major paradigm in contemporary sociology. The theories focus on how people, organizations or groups interact with others in social networks (Burt, et al., 2013). In this sociology paradigm, the social relationships are studied in terms of diagrams of social networks which constitute nodes (e.g., people) and ties (e.g., the relationships among people). The diagrams can be used to understand social capitals (Williams & Durrance, 2008), the advantage that an individual, cluster or a network may gain from social interactions as a result of their location in social networks (e.g., who they are connected with). Theories are developed to explain why people interact, how they interact, at what level of closeness and with what kind of outcome.

The study on social network diagrams has led to multiple theories on social networks. For example, when examining the process of job seeking, Granovetter ( 1973) identifies the strength of weak ties. …

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