Skoči do osrednje vsebine

Social mechanisms for establishing and maintaining of scientific collaboration




1.3.2016 - 28.2.2019

Range on year:

0.78 FTE | 2016

Project leader at FDV: Anuška Ferligoj

Research activity:

Social sciences

The phases of the project and their realization:

The goal of the proposed project is to study the social mechanisms of scientific collaboration from the viewpoint of: - the factors and mechanisms for establishing or maintaining scientific collaboration, and - two very different scientific environments, defined at the level of the individual researcher and at the level of collaboration among research institutions. The theoretical premises, research questions and hypotheses, the operationalization of the variables, the description of the data sources and used methodology of the proposed project are described in detail below. 1. THEORETICAL PREMISES The investigation of the different types of scientific collaborations, both those deriving from the more standardized co-authorship networks (as an expression of the internal developmental needs of science) and those arising from highly diversified, but outwardly less standardized inter-institutional project collaborations (largely dictated by external public policy and other strategic scientific research frameworks and objectives), will enable new insights into the dynamics and structure of mechanisms for establishing or maintaining scientific collaborations. We will study the macro and micro factors that lead to the establishment or maintenance of ties in co-authorship and inter-institutional networks of collaboration. Although the theory of scientific research does not offer a generally accepted definition of the concept of scientific collaboration, we can nevertheless define scientific collaboration as the interaction between two or more scientists that is based on the sharing of resources and the fulfilment of tasks in order to achieve common goals. The sociology of science and the theory of social networks are especially inclined towards this definition of scientific collaboration (Sonnenwald 2007; Katz, Martin 1997). In the context of our empirical research will largely rely on their theoretical and methodological insights (Bozeman, Corley 2004; Whitley 1984). Previous empirical research of scientific collaboration has devoted by far the most attention to the bibliometric analyses of co-authorship networks, which, due to the availability of data sources, also represent the most recognizable approach to the study of scientific collaboration. Taking into account some of our previously conducted bibliometric analyses of the co-authorship activity of Slovenian researchers (Kronegger et al. 2011, 2012, 2015; Mali et al. 2010; Groboljšek et al. 2014; Ferligoj et al. 2015), we will further expand and deepen this type of analyses in our planned project. But since scientific co-authorship accounts for only part of a wider process of interactions between scientists, which lead to the formation of more or less visible scientific networks or communities, we will further upgrade our study with the analysis of other forms of scientific collaboration, specifically with the study of inter-institutional collaboration in European projects. Our sociological, policy and scientometric analysis of inter-institutional and co-authorship networks of scientific collaboration at the national (Slovenia) and the transnational (EU) level will seek to disclose both more general cognitive and sociological mechanisms, and the broader international policies and institutional frameworks of the initial (informal) establishment, subsequent formalization and eventual consolidation and conservation of scientific ties. The goal of the proposed project is to study the mechanisms for the establishment and maintenance of scientific collaboration in two contexts: in the context of (national) co-authorship collaborations and in the context of (international) inter-institutional project collaborations in the EU. We will empirically test the theoretical hypotheses about the mechanisms and factors that influence the establishment and maintenance of collaboration ties. We will pay particular attention to potential specific (positive or negative) impacts of factors given the status of the tie (e.g. a different impact of the same factor on establishing and on maintaining a tie) as well as given the context (e.g. different impact of the same factor in the context of a co-authorship collaboration between researchers and in the context of project collaboration between institutions). We will start from a division into macro and micro factors, the first of which relate to the economic, political, geographical and other conditions of scientific collaboration (external frameworks over which the researcher or the institution has no direct influence), while the second relate to the expectations of scientists and institutions regarding direct or indirect benefits that collaboration can bring (internal factors, which the researcher or the institution can influence to some degree) (Abramo et al. 2011; Aytaç 2010;Bozeman, Boardman 2014; Bozeman, Corely 2004; Melin 2010). Insights into the mechanisms and factors that affect the scientific ties will provide new knowledge about the structure and dynamics of collaboration both of researcher and of institutions in the working conditions of contemporary "Big Science" (Price 1963), that is, of science, where the infrastructural and financial inputs for some research areas are so large that it is being transformed from an individual cosmopolitan activity into a solidly cemented institutional "transnational community". In this regard, a better understanding of the impact of individual factors on collaboration can be crucial for the further development of science as well as for international collaboration, and especially for the most efficient use of invested efforts and resources, both at the individual level and at the level of institutions and countries. 1.1. Research questions a) The study of mechanisms and factors for establishing and for maintaining scientific collaboration The establishment of scientific ties between different actors represents the basis for collaboration, which can be short-term (e.g. limited to one co-authorship publication or to the duration of one project) or long-term (continues into new co-authorship publications and into new joint projects). A short-term tie (with a dissolution and establishment of a new tie with other actors) infuses the system with a greater degree of dynamism, innovativeness and cross-fertilization of different types of knowledge and expertise, along with increased instability, unpredictability and a possibly lower probability of further developing and extending the results of the short-term collaboration. On the other hand, the maintenance and strengthening of existing ties between actors represents a key element in ensuring long-term stability in social processes that brings a certain level of security and the possibility for long-term development in all areas. Both dynamism and stability can be positive as well as negative. If the system does not occasionally shift out of balance, there is no progress or it is too slow, while if the system is too dynamic, consolidation and development are not possible. Many important discoveries in science and in society have emerged from the transition from a steady and stable state to a series of short (possibly) speculative ties, which, by combining different and new knowledge and experiences, lead to innovation. In the past, we have primarily studied the mechanisms that promote scientific collaboration at the individual level from the viewpoint of the cumulative advantage or the preferential selection theory (Merton 1973; Barabasi, Albert 1999) and the theory of small worlds (Travers, Milgram 1969; Watts, Strogatz 1998). In the proposed project, we will continue and expand this research with new theoretical starting points, including Granovetter's (1973) notion of the power of weak ties, with which we can upgrade the previously used concept of small worlds so that in addition to the network structure, the power of ties is also taken into account. The power partly stems from the network structure, but is partly also "soft" (qualitative) in nature. Regarding the power of ties and their role in acquiring social capital, we can link to the definition that, inter alia, defines instrumental and expressive forms of ties (Lin 2001, 56-58). The first could be described as an expansionist, dynamic and opportunistic collaboration, and the second as "closed type" collaboration, with stronger connectedness, greater security, from the viewpoint of network structure with a high degree of clustering, and perhaps also lower levels of innovativeness. Such discernment is one example of how we will approach the study and differentiation of impacts and factors of establishing and maintaining ties. In past projects we have already engaged in the study of scientific collaboration in the context of dynamic collaborative networks among Slovenian researchers (Kronegger et al. 2011, 2012, 2015; Mali et al. 2010; Groboljšek et al. 2014; Ferligoj et al. 2015). The question that has so far remained unaddressed, however, is what kind of difference exists between the mechanisms and factors that influence the establishment, and the mechanisms and factors that influence the maintenance of ties between actors. Such issues have so far been studied in the context of changes in personal networks with respect to the status of a romantic relationship (Roezera et al. 2015), the link between online social networks and social capital (Ellison et al. 2011) and in the context of preferential selection in the network given the status of adolescents (Smith 2015). According to our knowledge of the literature, nobody has yet delved extensively into such topics in the context of scientific collaboration. An important factor regarding the lack of research in this area is undoubtedly a relatively new methodological approach for the analysis of exponential random networks in time (Krivitsky, Goodreau 2012),which has only recently enabled a separate modelling of mechanisms for establishing and the mechanisms for maintaining ties in a network. In the proposed project we are not referring to the SIENA program, which we have used in our previous studies, although there we were also dealing with the modelling of dynamics. The proposed project thus offers a new approach to the study of mechanisms for the establishment and maintenance of scientific ties, and will further provide new insights and set new starting points for further research. b) The study and comparison of the mechanisms and factors for establishing and maintaining ties at the individual (co-authorship publications of researchers in Slovenia) and institutional (project collaboration of institutions within the EU) level By combining the theoretical knowledge of macro and micro factors and the empirical study of co-authorship and inter-institutional project networks, we aim to identify those mechanisms and factors that are common to both network dynamics, as well as those that are specific to each network. We will study the co-authorship networks in the framework of Slovenia, and the institutional ones in the framework of the project collaborations of institutions in the EU. We presuppose that the mechanisms and factors differ when a new collaboration is being established (e.g. the first joint publication, the first joint project) or if an already established collaboration is being maintained (e.g. a new joint publication with the same authors, a new joint project with the same partners). This differentiation will also enable the identification of good practices that promote collaboration at the level of individual (national) researchers and at the level of institutions from different countries in the framework of the European project collaboration. The goal of our study is also to inform the public R&D policy-makers in Slovenia with the aim of promoting a more effective participation of Slovenian researchers and research institutions in the international scientific environment. The individual level In previous projects we have already investigated the factors influencing the scientific co-authorship collaboration among researchers in some depth. In the proposed project we will focus on the analysis of the mechanisms and factors that influence the establishment and the maintenance of already established ties between the collaborating researchers, since our previous investigations have devoted more attention to the study of micro factors, here more attention will be given to the analysis of macro factors that influence the establishment and maintenance of ties in co-authorship. In the theory of social networks, the micro factors that promote collaboration pertain to the personal reasons and motives of researchers directed at expanding their expert knowledge and gaining special skills, gaining access to resources and equipment, to the knowledge of other researchers in order to achieve interdisciplinary ties and breakthroughs, gaining scientific reputation (e.g. Bozeman, Corely 2004), higher productivity, greater visibility and more acquaintances with other members of the scientific community (e.g. Bozeman, Boardman 2014). Other micro factors, such as language skills and the availability and use of information and communication technologies, also have a significant impact on the probability of collaboration (e.g. Aytaç 2010). This set of factors can be influenced by the individual researcher at least to a certain degree. In contrast, the macro factors of collaboration represent the geographical, economic, political and other social conditions of the wider framework of scientific collaboration, and are often outside of the direct control of an individual researcher or institution. Among the macro factors experts list, inter alia, the information policies of individual countries or transnational organizations (Aytaç 2010), the intermediate structures (Bozeman, Corely 2004), the geographic distance (Abramo et al. 2011), etc. The importance and influence of individual macro factors varies according to the context. For example, some of these factors are more important in explaining collaborations among researchers with regard to disciplines, while others are important with regard to the collaboration of researchers within individual countries, again others with regard to the collaboration with researchers from other countries (see Luukkonen et al. 1992). Within the study of macro factors we will thus proceede from the assumption that it is possible to establish their division into groups with regard to their role in the different stages of scientific collaboration. Some factors have a greater influence on the establishment of ties between researchers, leading to collaboration, others again on the duration of collaboration, still others on the maintenance that goes beyond the formal fixed timeframe for achieving a common research goal (the publication of a co-authored scientific publication). In addition to this, it is possible to talk about the positive or negative effects exerted by individual macro factors. In the empirical study of macro factors that influence the establishment and maintenance of scientific ties in co-authorship networks we will employ both quantitative and qualitative type of analysis. The institutional level In the qualitative study of broader social, political and economic macro factors that influence the formation of joint scientific collaboration networks in Europe, we will follow a multi-level approach. Regarding the formation of structural characteristics of scientific networks that are established (and maintained or not) within the framework of European projects, the role of each level of analysis is of extreme importance. (1) The first level represents the workings at the EU level. This framework is dictated by the European Commission with various public policy measures which have different effects on the functioning of national, regional and local R&D policies. Encouraging the spread of pan-European principles, including the most general principles, such as "Integrated European Science" or "European Added Value of Science", is located at the core of all the instruments of the R&D policy of the European Commission. Seen as a whole, the European R&D policy is formed by a series of objectives, sub-objectives, guidelines, directives etc., all of which together comprise the "philosophy" from which the idea of a "common European Research Area" emerges in practice. (2) The second level is the national level. It relates to the operating conditions in national contexts from which the partners involved in European research projects originate. In the contemporary processes of globalization national space represents more than just a closed geographical area where individual researchers, research groups or institutions operate. It is often the first and most important factor in establishing scientific collaborations that are directed outward beyond national borders. The extent of the potential internationalization of science in a country thus depends mainly on the orientations of national R&D policies. (3) The third level will touch on the characteristics of the institutions that are involved in European research projects. They are characterized by extreme heterogeneity in terms of sectoral (e.g. R&D institutions, small and medium-sized enterprises, NGOs, etc.) and disciplinary affiliation. Overall, the collaboration in projects within the EU Framework Programmes (EU FP) represents an especially complex process, which also includes, irrespective of all the "rules of the game" imposed by the European Commission, many coincidences and unpredictabilities that result from the large number of the partners involved, their diversity and the geographical environments to which they belong. The diversity of the project types in the EU FP opens up the possibility of a more comprehensive study of their structural properties. In the context of our planned analyses we will be interested in finding out which are the key factors that have led to the establishment and the temporal duration of these types of scientific collaborations as well as their potential maintenance beyond the formally defined length of an individual project. We will be especially interested in the question of whether, in the case of the so-called geographical factor (collaboration among scientific institutions from individual countries with the goal of creating and disseminating new scientific knowledge), the structural characteristics of networks that are associated with the structure of small worlds form first, or whether they are proceeded by the structural characteristics of networks associated with preferential choice. Numerous studies of scientific collaboration that have been conducted in the scope of the EU FP up to now have shown that the structure of scientific networks that have formed as a result of such collaborations, depends heavily on the role of the (central) actor in these European projects (e.g. Protogerou et al. 2013 ; Roediger-Schluga, Barber 2008). Individual actors are placed in a strategic or central position within the networks. Due to such a position, they can importantly dictate the type of relationships within the whole scientific network for the duration of an EU FP project. Based on social network analysis and the simultaneous qualitative analyses of contextual assumptions, we will try to ascertain which are the key factors that determine such central position. Is this a consequence of the engagement of individual institutions/actors in the research topics of EU projects that exceed the temporal duration of each project, which creates the effect of cumulative advantages? Is this a consequence of the fact that the partners in the network possess, independent of their engagements within the EU FP, the character of Centers of Excellence within the European scientific "public"? Is it maybe the result of externally imposed circumstances (politics, the economy, geostrategy, etc.), which from the outset determine the hierarchy of ties between the centers of science and its periphery within an otherwise common European (research) space? The theoretical analysis of this issue will start from some insights from the classical sociology of science that pertain to the problem of the relationships between the so-called scientific center and the scientific periphery. Classical works in the field of the sociology of science have already pointed out - and this well before the onset of contemporary globalization and the formation of a common European Research Area - the necessity of the careful empirical study of the phenomenon of the center and the periphery in science (see e.g. Ben-David 1962; Schott 1987). Here, we will be particularly interested in the position of actors given the size of the country. The criterion of the size of the country from which institutional partners in the EU FP originate is also interesting for Slovenia. In the framework of the European research agenda Slovenia, with its limited scientific research potentials, operates already almost in the way a "miniature" country. In this context, we are planning a more detailed analysis of the institutions from Slovenia (an example of a peripheral country) and the United Kingdom (an example of a central country) that have participated in the EU FP. The factors influencing the collaboration and the practices of operating in the wider European area that emerge from it, and are tied to this criterion, are especially interesting for Slovenian science policy. 1.2. Hypotheses 1. The social mechanisms and factors that influence the establishment of scientific collaboration differ from the factors that influence the maintenance of scientific collaboration. 2. The mechanisms and factors have different influences on the maintenance and on the establishment of collaboration in the context of co-authorship collaboration among individual researchers and in the context of international project collaboration at the level of institutions. 2. METHODOLOGY 2.1. Operationalization At the individual level, scientific collaboration will be measured as a co-authorship network between researchers in Slovenia. The operationalization of the collaboration of researchers as co-authors is based on joint publications of scientific works. The researchers are represented as nodes in the network, and the joint publications as the ties between them. To each link in the network is attributed the publication year of the scientific work, on the basis of which the tie is defined. In the co-authorship network the maintenance of ties is represented by a joint publication of bibliographic units in two examined consecutive time periods. Among the scientific publications are included original and review scientific articles, short scientific articles, scientific publications at conferences, monographs parts or whole scientific monographs, research or documentary films, audio or video recordings, completed scientific databases and patents. The criteria of the definition of scientific works were summarized from the classification of scientific works produced by the Slovenian Research Agency (ARRS). Within the analysis of the dynamics of social networks, the establishment or maintenance of ties in the co-authorship network, which appear in the form of relational matrices, is treated as the dependent variable. The dynamics of the network is influenced by various factors, which will be defined according to the theoretical background and can be, according to the needs of modeling, roughly divided into internal factors (the network properties) and external factors (the personal characteristics of the actors in the network that are measured as classic variables). According to the hypotheses, we will also calculate different structural network characteristics which will be used for statistical analysis and modeling. The obtained results will be substantiated and interpreted using qualitative approaches, which are described below. At the institutional level, scientific collaboration will be measured by the partnership of institutions within the implementation of EU FP projects. At this level, the nodes in the network represent institutions, and the collaboration on the implementation of the project defines the ties between them. The maintenance of the tie between two institutions in a partner network is defined by the start of the implementation of a joint project in two examined consecutive time periods. Data about the projects that connect individual institutions offers a wide range of content (key words) and quantitative (e.g. EU financial contribution) information about the ties between the participating institutions. In addition to the network data, we will also calculate various network characteristics of the actors (their position in the network, centrality measures, etc.), our analysis will also include the data on individual institutions, their size, their country of operation, their type (small company, research institute, an NGO, etc), the financial resources available for their operation, etc. 2.2. Data The individual level The study of scientific collaboration at the individual level is based on the data containing the personal bibliographies of all authors, who have in the past possessed or who currently posses a researcher's ID at the SRA. The publication data will be obtained from the COBISS bibliographic system. The focus of our research will be on the co-authorship networks of researchers working in the selected scientific disciplines, as classified by the SRA, grouped into six scientific fields. The proposed project will include bibliographic units that have been published from 1996 to 2015, which will allow us to verify and upgrade the analyses of changes in time, conducted in previous projects. In addition to the bibliographic data, the analyses will include data on researchers, organizations, programmes and projects, which will be obtained from the information system on research activities in Slovenia (SICRIS). The institutional level Networks at the level of institutions will be based on the research collaboration of institutions in the framework of research projects on the sustainable development theme in the period between 2008 and 2014, funded by the 7th EU FP. A list of all projects with basic information is available in the CORDIS repository. The database that we work on with Pablo Lucas from the University of Essex, UK, contains the data on 3498 projects, with around 3500 different participating institutions from a hundred different countries. Additional data for participating institutions from the UK and Slovenia on their financial performance on a yearly basis that are available on the AJPES website or its UK counterpart, will also be collected. In addition to the data on scientific collaboration, we will collect as many characteristics as possible for individual researchers and institutions that are consistent with the research hypotheses. 2.3 Research methods The quantitative approach The quantitative analysis of the factors that influence the establishment or maintenance of ties in the network will be conducted with different statistical approaches and social network analysis, especially with the use of stochastic methods for the analysis of the network dynamics. Currently there are globally two approaches to stochastic analyses of structure and dynamics in networks: the first includes a stochastic modeling of the operation of individuals in the network (SAOM), implemented in the RSiena package, and the second, which will be used in the proposed project, includes Exponential Random Graph Modeling (ERGM), specifically, the implementation of this type of modeling adapted to the analysis of temporal networks tERGM (temporal Exponential Random Graph Modeling), which is a part of a computer program with the same name. There are some important differences between the two approaches, while the key feature of tERGM is that it can be used to model separately the establishment and the maintenance of ties between actors. The relatively new approach, developed by Krivitsky and Handcock (2012), will be upgraded and adapted to the needs of the project in collaboration with the co-author of the programme Carter T. Butts of the University of California - Irvine (USA) and our participating colleagues from the company EKTIMO. We will upgrade the analyses above with a web survey among a selected number of institutions from the UK and Slovenia, which participated in the EU FP and will be merged with the database we are jointly preparing with researchers from the University of Essex. For the web survey we will use the system 1KA (, and invitations to participate in the survey will be sent to the representatives or contact persons of the institutions. The selection of representative institutions will take into account their organizational type and other characteristics. The qualitative approach The qualitative research will be conducted in two stages, which will contribute to a better understanding and differentiation of factors and mechanisms that influence the establishment and the maintenance of scientific collaboration. 1. The first stage will include the theoretical study of key strategic and public policy documents of international, foreign and domestic organizations, which define the predominantly external (macro) factors or frameworks of collaboration mechanisms, especially at the institutional level. In this stage, we will conduct: 1.1. a discursive and content analysis of the relevant public policy R&D documents of the European Commission and other sources, related to the participation of institutions in the European research framework programs, with emphasis on the 7th EU FP; 1.2. a comparative content analysis of (national) R&D policies of selected EU Member States from which the partners in European research projects originate, with the aim of studying the mechanisms and instruments that either accelerate or inhibit participation in European research projects, whereby the comparisons will be carried out with regard to the situation in Slovenia; 1.3. a content analysis of a selected number of (academic or non-academic) scientific institutions, at least partly inspired by case studies, which have had the status of Centers of Excellence in the framework of European projects. 2. The second stage will include a qualitative empirical study of external and internal (micro and macro) factors of collaboration at the individual level and at the level of institutions, both in Slovenia and abroad. In this stage, we will conduct: 2.2. in-depth interviews with representatives of institutions in Slovenia, whose actions (strategy, funding, evaluation system, etc.) have a decisive influence on how or whether at all Slovenian science is becoming appropriately internationalized and integrated into the common European Research Area. The questionnaire will be constructed mainly by taking into account the results of the analysis of the key public policy documents at the European and the national level, as well as other research segments. The sample of interviewees will include representatives of the main science policy actors in Slovenia, such as the SRA, the University of Ljubljana Rectorate, the Ministry of Education, Science and Sports, etc; 2.3) qualitative research in the context of focus groups. The research questions for the focus group will be composed by taking into account the relevant literature, previous research and other research segments. The sample of participants will include a suitable range of researchers from different scientific disciplines who are included in the SICRIS system and meet the criteria of collaboration in co-authorship publications.

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BACKGROUND: Researcher collaboration is one of the fundamental principles of modern science. The collective nature of the research work in modern science represents the driving mechanism of contemporary scientific advancement. It is a complex phenomenon, which is studied at the level of individual researchers, research institutions and national or global networks. In the proposed project we will investigate which are the factors that influence short-term collaborations and which are those that influence long-term, in-depth collaboration at various levels. PROBLEM DEFINITION: The study of different types of scientific collaboration, both of co-authorship networks (as an expression of the internal cognitive developmental needs of science), and of those emerging from inter-institutional collaboration projects (mosty dictated by external political and other strategic frameworks and objectives), will enable new insights into the dynamics and structure of mechanisms for establishing or for maintaining scientific collaborations. The factors that lead to the establishment or maintenance of ties in co-authorship and inter-institutional networks will be studied at the micro and the macro level. The macro factors refer to economic, political, geographical and other conditions, and the micro factors to the expectations of scientists and institutions about direct or indirect benefits that cooperation can bring. RESEARCH OBJECTIVES: The objective of the study is to explore the macro and micro factors and mechanisms for establishing or maintaining scientific collaboration in two contexts: the context of co-authorship collaborations among Slovenian researchers and the context of inter-institutional collaborations in the implementation of projects on sustainable development funded by the EU Framework Programmes (EU FP). By combining the theoretical knowledge on macro and micro factors and the empirical study of co-authorship and inter-institutional project networks, we aim to identify those mechanisms and factors that are common in both contexts, as well as those specific to each context. Such a differentiation will, inter alia, enable the identification and evaluation of measures that are the most effective for promoting collaboration at the level of individual researchers in Slovenia, as well as at the level of institutions from various countries that operate in the environment of the European project collaboration. METHODS: Quantitative and qualitative methodologies will be used. Co-authorship networks at the individual level will be generated based on the COBISS bibliographic database, at the institutional level based on the CORDIS database (EU FP). The focus groups, in-depth interviews and a web survey will serve to collect additional information on the factors influencing the establishment and duration of collaboration on both levels. The analysis and visualization of co-authorship networks in time will be conducted with methods, implemented in the PAJEK programme. The network dynamics will be analyzed with models implemented in the tERGM package of the Statnet programme. RELEVANCE AND IMPACT: This is an innovative interdisciplinary study. The results will make an important contribution to understanding the dynamics of scientific collaboration and the trends of different origins that drive the modern system of science. In addition to contributing to basic science, it has also applicative value: the results can form a basis for the formulation of strategies and measures within Slovenian research policy. ORGANISATION AND FEASIBILITY: Data on collaboration networks will be obtained in collaboration with a partner organization from existing databases, thus a strong emphasis will be on qualitative data collection and the development and application of appropriate methods and models. For latter case we have formed a partnership with the company EKTIMO.

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