Selected Papers on The Science of Science

Cummings, J. N., & Kiesler, S. (2005). Collaborative research across disciplinary and organizational boundaries. Social Studies of Science, 35(5), 703-722

Scientific and engineering research increasingly involves multidisciplinary collaboration, sometimes across multiple organizations. Technological advances have made such cross-boundary 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.

Cummings, J. N., & Kiesler, S. (2007). Coordination costs and project outcomes in multi-university collaborations. Research Policy, 36(10), 1620-1634

Multi-university collaborations draw on diverse resources and expertise but they impose coordination costs for bridging institutional differences and geographic distance. We report a study of the coordination activities and project outcomes of 491 research collaborations funded by the US National Science Foundation. Coordination activities, especially division of responsibility for tasks and knowledge transfer among investigators, predicted project outcomes (e.g., producing new knowledge, creating new tools, and training students). However, more universities involved in a collaboration predicted fewer coordination activities and fewer project outcomes. A statistical mediation analysis showed that insufficient coordination explained the negative relationship between multi-university collaboration and project outcomes.

Cummings, J. N., & Kiesler, S. (2008). Who collaborates successfully? Prior experience reduces collaboration barriers in distributed interdisciplinary research. Proceedings of the ACM conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, (November 10-12), San Diego, CA.

Two recent studies of over 500 interdisciplinary research projects have documented comparatively poor outcomes of more distributed projects and the failed coordination mechanisms that partly account for these problems. In this paper we report results of an analysis of dyadic data from the most recent of these studies. The question we asked is, "Does prior experience with a collaborator reduce the barriers of distance or interdisciplinarity?" Analyses of 3911 pairs of collaborators found an answer: "In part, yes!" A prior project with a collaborator predicts greater strength of a current collaborative work tie. Prior experience also reduces the negative impact of distance and disciplinary differences. We discuss the implications of these results for CSCW, given the lack of evidence that today's technology eliminates collaboration barriers in distributed research.