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Module 2: Commencement and Collaboration – Putting Ideas Into Practice

1.2 Potential points of difference with collaborators

Below is a list of areas that can become points of difference in both research partnerships and collaborations. While you can never foresee all issues that will arise, it is important to discuss these issues with your potential collaborators/partners before you submit grant applications together.

A. Ownership of intellectual property and other complex legal issues

Ownership of intellectual property (IP) generated by a collaboration is a matter that should be resolved prior to the commencement of your project. In making decisions about how to manage issues of intellectual property, you will need to consider how best to achieve the objectives of the project, and ensure you meet your contractual obligations (if applicable) while adhering to your university's intellectual property policy.

It is important that you negotiate and consider collaborator/partner interests in any IP generated as part of the research project. If applicable, consideration must be given to the background IP that collaborators and other stakeholders bring to the project. Appropriate protection and guidelines for the use of project IP and background IP should be negotiated as part of agreements that are entered with the project collaborators and other stakeholders (including funding agencies).

Your decisions surrounding IP protection will derive from motivations such as whether you want to control knowledge-flow through agreements about ownership of intellectual property, or whether you want to maximise the availability of any new approaches and knowledge generated as part of the research project by being more relaxed about the use of the intellectual property created as part of your research project.

Special consideration should also be given to the intellectual property of any students involved in your research project. It is particularly important to consider any restrictions by partners on the use of project intellectual property that may limit or inhibit the ability of a student to have their thesis examined or published.

It is important to know the policies and resources available through your university which can guide you in your planning and consideration of intellectual property issues at the commencement of your project.

B Budgeting and funding

Managing your research project budget may entail funding transfers to collaborators and other stakeholders. These financial arrangements should be agreed on in principle before the project grant is submitted. It is important to meet with the relevant stakeholders and collaborators, and document it in an agreement (e.g. collaborating parties agreement, multi-institutional agreement) to ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the financial management and funding arrangements for the research project.

C  Marketing and badging

Check the University's policy on branding, website, marketing, and media. Design a team template for presentations and encourage members to use this template, but ensure it is not contrary to university policy. A consistent public presence can be very effective in conveying your message, particularly to stakeholders. Agree on the formula for acknowledgements (where and who) in any of your public material and always err on the generous side in this regard – it helps avoid unnecessary conflicts.

D Communication, record keeping, and decision-making processes

Successful project management relies heavily on establishing, maintaining, and managing stakeholder relationships. These relationships must be managed with good communication strategies that minimise the possibility of things going wrong. Consideration should also be given to the options available for dispute/conflict resolution.

You will need to identify the processes for the collection, storage, and dissemination of information in the initial stages of the project. You will also need to communicate with all stakeholders and collaborators to determine which stakeholders need information, when it is required, and the format it will be delivered in. The correct, consistent, and timely flow of information is vital to the success of any project and research team.

E Ethical use of data

When the collection of data has required approval of a human ethics committee, there will likely be some restriction on how the data should be collected, stored, and archived. When seeking human ethics approval, you should include a statement on the storage of data; this should be brought into play when planning a data management plan at the outset of the project.  Make sure you understand the different requirements that may be made on your collaborators if they come from another institution.
Ensure you complete Topic 4 ‘Managing your Research Records’ of Module 3 that covers data management in more detail.

International collaborations

These introduce a further set of challenges. The European Association of Research Managers and Administrators identified the following issues and concerns in international research collaborations.

Issues and concerns in international research collaborations

These are some of the challenges and potential areas of tension that have been initially identified in international research collaborations.

Cultural differences
In many instances, differences in culture are a root cause of significant challenges when forming international research collaborations.

Differences in ethical standards
These may stem from both cultural and economic differences. For example, standards for the protection of research participants and the proper care and use of animals must address both internationally accepted ethical concerns as well as local customs.

Responsible conduct of research
Public confidence in academic research is essential, regardless of where it is carried out. When research is perceived to be biased or influenced by financial, political, or other pressures, public confidence in research is eroded. The necessity to train and teach the broader concept of objectivity in research is also crucial.

Intellectual property
International systems of IP protection are varied, despite efforts to reach a common global approach. There are some areas too where IP protection is questioned or ignored.

Liability and insurance
Working between states in the US can be challenging on this front – difficulties with global arrangements expand exponentially.

Research integrity
This is meant in a general sense, but also in connection with data manipulation and fabrication. There is a recognized international challenge to meet in universally defining, investigating, and prosecuting cases of scientific misconduct.

Safety and security
Conducting international research in locations subject to a certain level or social and political instability or natural disasters immediately raises issues of safety and security.

Currency and other financial issues
How do they impact international research projects, particularly in the current economic circumstances when the world economic system is under severe stress?

Export controls
For the US, the transfer of American knowledge and technology overseas is a hot topic. Needless to say this issue has international implications.

Reference:   (pg 10-11)

Further information can be found at:

Reflective activity:

Take 10 minutes to reflect on the following questions and make a note of your responses. You can draw on your experience of previous collaborations – or on your current perceptions of collaborations happening around you.

Why collaborate?
  • What, if any, are the strategic advantages of collaborations?
  • What are the personal advantages?
  • What are the potential pitfalls?
What to look for in a collaborator
  • List the characteristics you believe go towards the making of a successful collaboration.
How to find collaborators?
  • Internally (where are the synergies within your faculty and within the university?)
  • Externally (where is the potential – i.e. the funds – and where is the interest in my area of research?)
  • How have you found collaborators in the past – how have you seen successful collaborations formed?
  • What examples of unsuccessful collaborations can you think of – what were the causes and what should you avoid?
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