Stepping across disciplinary and organisational borders – stories from a university’s collaboration initiative

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Corporate Communication
The complexity of the world’s problems has led to an increasing call for interdisciplinary research collaboration, and collaboration across disciplinary borders has received a prominent role in the strategy of universities today. However, the silo structure, which is typical for universities, does not support this development, and more solutions are needed in order to initiate research collaboration across the disciplinary and organisational borders of universities. The objective of this research was 1) to examine how the initiation of collaboration is enabled or hindered in university efforts to initiate collaboration across disciplinary and organisational borders and 2) to develop suggestions for supporting the initiation phase of research collaboration in universities. Despite scholars’ increasing interest in interdisciplinary research collaboration, there is still no coherent literature on the process leading to the formation of research collaborations. In this thesis, I develop a new framework for the initiation process of research collaboration across disciplines, where the researcher’s decision to engage in collaboration is situated as a central element. This framework focuses on research collaboration within the university context and connects the drivers and barriers of interdisciplinary research collaboration to a stage model for practices of interdisciplinary research. Applying an ethnographic approach, I examined a collaboration initiative of Aalto University from an insider’s perspective and investigated how actors taking part in the initiation of research collaboration enable and hinder the initiation of collaboration across disciplinary and organisational borders. Data was gathered from various sources during the planning and execution of the initiative. As a result of a thematic analysis, nine factors that enable the initiation of collaboration were identified. I describe these factors through ethnographic stories that shed light to the events affecting the initiation phase of collaboration. The findings of this study emphasize the role of interaction in the initiation of research collaboration and suggest that the organisers of a collaboration initiative create an arena where the participants and presenters of the initiative interact and construct enabling factors for the initiation of collaboration. Based on the findings, I formulated practical recommendations for the university’s organisers of collaborative initiatives. The findings contribute to the scarce existing literature and understanding of the process leading to research collaboration and indicate future avenues for research.
Thesis advisor
Kähäri, Perttu
Pälli, Pekka
research collaboration, initiation of research collaboration, interdisciplinary research, drivers of interdisciplinary research, barriers to interdisciplinary research
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