Niagara Adapts Case Study: An Interview with Dr. Jessica Blythe
What qualities or ingredients are most important for collaboration to succeed?
Inclusion, trust, and mutual respect are critical for successful interdisciplinary collaboration (Blythe & Cvitanovic, 2020). Research is showing that these feelings are essential for building effective interdisciplinary research teams and organizations (Ledford et al., 2015). Critically, qualities of trust and respect are vital for nurturing innovative solutions (Blythe et al., 2017). In general, people do not feel safe sharing innovative ideas unless they are among trusted colleagues.
Strong leadership is another essential quality of successful collaboration. This quality can be closely linked to the first. For example, in reflecting on more than a decade of collaborative water research, Brown et al. (2015) attribute successful collaboration to leaders who nurtured empathy and respect between team members. Female leaders may be particularly well suited to fostering collaborative environments built on inclusion, trust, and mutual respect. For example, Nielsen et al. (2018) recently found that gender diversity can drive scientific discovery. They attribute the boost in innovation to the cognitive diversity associated with gender balanced teams. They describe cognitive diversity as the varied ways in which women frame problems, which can drive creative solutions for complex challenges (Nielsen et al., 2018).
Finally, clear and shared goals are essential for successful collaboration. Joint framing of the purpose and objectives of a partnerships enables a successful process (Lang et al. 2012). This phase can consist of the co-identification and description of the real-world problem, the joint formulation of research objectives, the co-design of a conceptual and/or methodological frameworks, and the building of a collaborative research team (Lang et al., 2012).
What qualities or ingredients cause collaboration to go horribly wrong?
Managing expectations is very important. Without clear and shared expectations or expected outcomes, partnerships may be set up for disappointment. You can mitigate these risks by transparent about all aspects of the partnership. For example, clear memorandums of understanding (MOUs) can be a useful tool to manage expectations. Before beginning a partnership, conducting a survey with partnerships about expectations can be another useful way to understand what each partner is hoping to achieve. Plummer et al. (2021) identify four essential inputs for partnerships: financial resources, human resources, motivations for partnership, and transparency. These attributes are a useful touch point for avoiding miscommunications or conflict associated with poorly managed expectations.