Collaborative Research Across Disciplinary and Organizational Boundaries


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Type of work: Article (academic)


Human & Social Sciences | Information Society | Participation


Scientific and engineering research increasingly involves multidisciplinary collaboration, sometimes across multiple organizations. Technological advances have made such crossboundary projects possible, yet they can carry high coordination costs. This study investigated scientific collaboration across disciplinary and university boundaries to understand the need for coordination in these collaborations and how different levels of coordination predicted success. We conducted a study of 62 scientific collaborations supported by a program of the United States National Science Foundation in 1998 and 1999. Projects with principal investigators (PIs) in more disciplines reported as many positive outcomes as did projects involving fewer disciplines. By contrast, multi-university, rather than multidisciplinary, projects were problematic. Projects with PIs from more universities were significantly less well coordinated and reported fewer positive outcomes than projects with PIs from fewer universities. Coordination mechanisms that brought distant researchers together physically slightly reduced the negative impact of collaborations involving multiple universities. We discuss implications for theory, practice, and policy.