Collaboration with external partners: Why? How? What are the consequences?
As academics, we are still ‘touching the waters’ in matters of collaboration with external partners. Collaboration is a logical and, perhaps, an inevitable scenario in contemporary research. But how do we tune it up? How do we turn collaboration into a well-oiled engine that can guarantee us a long-lasting, smooth, and mutually satisfying ride? This year’s RMeS annual networking event was dedicated to debunking these complex and highly relevant questions. The invited speakers Prof Dr Tamara Witschge, Dr Amanda Paz Alencar and Professor Melissa Wall shared their rich experiences and unique perspectives. In this blog entry, I will provide brief snapshots of presentations and discussions that took place at the workshop, as they can be handy for our fellow PhDs who could not join the event.
The idea and importance of collaboration with external partners has been actively penetrating and circulating in the academia-related discourse. When organizing this year’s annual networking event, the PhD Council of the Research School for Media Studies (RMeS) decided to tackle the topic and debunk the issue with the help of the invited experts. Council members and RMeS Board are very grateful to the experts for their time and unique insights. We also thank all of the participants for joining us, for asking important and challenging questions and for sharing their own experiences.
Why collaborate with external partners?
The workshop opened with a critical take on the very nature of collaboration with external partners. Workshop participants were challenged to think about what is lacking in current approaches in order to formulate a coherent and multi-perspective understanding of the importance of collaboration. Who are these partners, what are their interests, backgrounds, perceptions?
Participants were encouraged to critically assess their own position and presentation when approaching new actors. Partners beyond academia can be a crucial source of information and a source of access to the field. Moreover, they can inform and assist us in constructing the ‘right’ questions in the early stages of our research when we explore the topic. Here it is important to note some of the challenges associated with exploratory site visits. For instance, justifying such visits to ‘the other side’ can be a difficult task.
As academics, we have a voice and a desire to make a meaningful impact through our research. Collaboration with external partners presents unique opportunities for getting our analysis and arguments ‘out there’ and into ‘the real world’. In the broad sense, the WHY question can be summarized as getting access, ensuring connectivity, being informed, informing, contributing and participating.
How do we establish collaboration?
When organizing events, we should be conscious of opportunities to invite external partners. Workshops and academic conferences can be fruitful grounds for mutually beneficial connectivity and exchange between academia and external partners. Social media is another important and handy domain where we can approach, connect and maintain contact with actors we are interested in establishing a collaboration with. Social media is also a space where we present our projects and ourselves; therefore, we should be savvy and strategic about personal presentation. Realistically speaking, a lot has to do with ‘who you know’ and ‘who you can get to know’ through your own network. So, be proactive!
The dangers and conflicts of interest in collaboration with external partners
The workshop’s second half was dedicated to addressing the more challenging sides of collaboration with external partners. Some of the addressed topics included financial questions, ethics, project ownership, personal and collective aims, etc. When it comes to finances, we tend to think that collaboration can help us fund research and financially aid those who decide to collaborate with us. In reality, things are more complicated and our project members are increasingly more often expected to pitch-in financially.
As far as finding research partners is concerned, there are over-researched sites and over-partnered institutions, which may further make it difficult to identify and approach potential collaborators. The workshop participants were encouraged to think strategically and critically about whom to approach and why. There are cases where the approached partners have had a negative experience with academics in the past, it is important to be aware of such instances and to work out your own strategy for approaching such actors. Furthermore, it is important to keep considering the motivations to collaborate – not only the motivations of our collaborators but also our own. How do we ensure ethical and mutually beneficial collaborative partnerships in which both academic integrity and the greater good are served? Neither academia nor external partners are homogeneous entities. Thus, we need to think about how alternative voices can be heard.
To avoid any potential misunderstandings and contestations over project trajectory and ownership, it is important to get the expectations out at the very early stages of establishing a collaboration. We should always be pragmatic, strategic, and true to ourselves and our partners.
Collaboration with external partners can be a wonderful and mutually beneficial experience. If you ask yourself the right questions before and during the collaboration, your chances for a satisfying and successful experience will rise. I hope that this brief snapshot from the workshop will come in handy for you! Best of luck in your approaches to collaboration and please share your success stories with us on this blog! Stories of ‘not so successful’ collaboration are also welcome. We hope to see you at the future RMeS events.
Wagemans, A., & Witschge, T. (2019). Examining innovation as process: Action research in journalism studies. Convergence. https://doi.org/10.1177/1354856519834880
Rashid Gabdulhakov is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Media and Communication of Erasmus School of History Culture and Communication.
Supervised by Dr Daniel Trottier and Professor Susanne Janssen, Rashid is investigating vigilante acts in the digital domain as part of the ‘Digital Vigilantism: Mapping the terrain and assessing societal impact’ project funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO)