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Lessons and Recommendations

The WG strategy and iGov Institute stimulated individual creativity, scholarly productivity, and professional networks, while broadening appreciation for internationally important research involving multidisciplinary and multicultural teams. All these effects enhance the quality, versatility, and creativity of future digital government researchers. The literature on international research collaborations usually measures success solely in terms of tangible scholarly outputs such as papers, articles and research grants. These experiments show that carefully designed, low-cost collaborations can produce similar results, while also forging lasting networks of relationships as well as long-term career benefi ts that should continue to return both kinds of dividends. In short, they create a pipeline into international research that is accessible, affordable, diverse, and lasting. This kind of pipeline seems especially valuable in fi elds where social and political culture are relevant variables in the research, but the general lessons can apply in any fi eld of study. We offer the following lessons and recommendations for the future.

FROM THE INTERNATIONAL WORKING GROUP STRATEGY

Modest structural requirements create a supportive framework for both scholarly productivity and professional development. The WG proposal requirements provided both incentives and benefi ts to the participants. Diverse nationalities, disciplines and career stages, and periodic face-to-face meetings in different countries all had benefi cial effects. In addition, the fact that each person had to fi nd some level of resources in order to participate put everyone on a more equal footing and motivated active engagement. Without dedicated funding for research activities or salaries and regardless of topic or group characteristics, scholarly productivity was high in terms of preparing journal articles and book chapters, developing conference panels, or securing grant funding for additional collaborative work. In addition, members forged long-lasting personal and professional connections through dissertation committees, joint curricula development, and long scholarly visits that allowed them to work intensively in each other’s work settings and cultural environments.

The Working Group strategy and iGov Institute stimulated individual creativity, scholarly productivity, and professional networks, while broadening appreciation for internationally important research involving multidisciplinary and multicultural teams.

Face-to-face engagement is essential to success. Reinforcing the findings of earlier studies of distributed research teams, the majority of participants (60 percent) reported that they would have been unlikely or very unlikely to have engaged in these productive collaborations without the working groups. These opportunities for short term immersion in relevant local settings, the chance to meet with local scholars as well as local government professionals, and the informal activities that accompanied most meetings were shared personal experiences that strengthened professional relationships. Contrary to conventional wisdom, online collaboration tools offered little benefi t, and only in combination with opportunities to meet in person.

Scholars at all career stages benefit but junior scholars confront special risks and rewards. Participants ranging from provosts to endowed chairs to tenured and untenured faculty to doctoral students engaged fully in the working groups. They all reported highly positive experiences regardless of rank or amount of previous DG or international work. They rated highly the value of working with ideas outside of their own fields and having an opportunity to examine practical DG challenges fi rst hand in the different locales in which they met. Junior participants (untenured faculty and doctoral students) were especially positive: they appreciated these early career opportunities for international and multi-disciplinary research, as well as mentoring relationships and sustained personal interactions with experienced senior scholars, some of them leaders in their fi elds. However to receive these benefits, untenured faculty had to make some risky career tradeoffs, using time and resources to participate in the working groups that would otherwise have gone into traditional tenure-track publications.

Modest funding for face-to-face engagement can generate substantial scholarly results and network effects. Each working group spent less that $75,000 to support travel for the participants from US institutions. However, that small amount, combined with the legitimacy of the peer review process and the NSF “brand” helped others acquire enough resources to participate as well. Once the groups formed, the structural requirement to meet fi ve times over three years helped cement the group together and keep it moving toward specifi c goals associated with these milestone events. The three-year time period seems to have been sufficient to create incentive and sustain momentum. It also set a shared expectation about a defi nite end point for either completing their work or moving it to the point where it could be sustained by the network of relationships and access to other funding sources.

The basic international working group strategy is readily replicable as a way to build international research communities. By combining a mixture of simple basic requirements, a reasonable length of time, and modest funding directed at creating opportunities to engage faceto-face across boundaries, the working group strategy is readily replicable. Our findings suggest that this low-cost package of design elements creates an environment for encouraging collaboration, discovery, and innovation across national boundaries regardless of topic. It provides a simple structure which can accommodate many different disciplines and participants pursuing any type of substantive effort. The core lesson is to avoid over- designing the experience, but instead to stress a handful of important structural elements to encourage collaboration across diverse individuals and interests.

The international working group strategy can stimulate and enhance research partnerships and results, but it is not a substitute for direct research funding for international investigations. While the three groups were motivated to fi nd new funding or to use existing resources in innovative ways, the need still remains for research sponsors to lessen the institutional barriers to international research collaborations. The working group strategy brings individual scholars together to build relationships that are ripe for collaboration, but their ability to work together in a sustained way is still limited by the separate (and different) rules and routines of the sponsors in their home countries.

FROM THE IGOV RESEARCH INSTITUTE

Brief but intensive immersion in a realistic setting introduces students to novel approaches to scholarship Students were overwhelmingly positive about the immersion in a real place and its specifi c public problems and governmental and civil society organizations. Site visits and discussions with practitioners generated many ideas for the small group projects and vividly illustrated the research-practice connection, which is seldom emphasized in traditional doctoral programs. In addition, many had their fi rst experience working closely and informally with very experienced senior faculty.

Learning-by-doing teaches cross-cultural and crossdisciplinary collaboration. The small group assignment represented an opportunity to choose and investigate a topic with new-found colleagues. Students found this both daunting and exciting. Some found the freedom uncomfortable. However, as the junior faculty mentors guided them through a group formation process, they learned to draw on the variety of skills and perspectives in the group to produce two kinds of results: learning to approach a complex problem from multiple disciplinary and cultural perspectives and building a diverse research team in which individual differences could be focused simultaneously on a joint effort.

Positive motivations and career effects hold steady or increase over time. iGov’s positive impact on students’ career development, interest in international research, and international awareness has a sustained positive infl uence that actually increased over time. This fi nding suggests that the experience occurs at an infl uential point in their scholarly and professional development. For example, students reported that the iGov Institute continued to increase their awareness and ability to conduct international investigations and to include multi-cultural aspects in their research and teaching in the one to two year period after they attended. For those unable to act on these motivations immediately, the underlying interest sparked by the experience appears to remain active in stimulating their future plans for teaching and research.

Manchester, 2008
iGov Institute, Manchester, UK, 2008.