Moving Forward Multidisciplinary Collaborations for Sustainability at Lund University
Our sustainability challenges require urgent and profound action, supported by the knowledge and collaborations developed by academia. Yet, current organisational and knowledge structures do not adequately support boundary-crossing collaborations. In this workshop, participants discussed the challenges of collaboration at Lund University, and provided solutions and suggestions to create meaningful multidisciplinary interactions.
Speakers and participants of the SRA Workshop on 7 April 2022 discussed the need for collaboration to address our sustainability challenges, especially combining perspectives to think critically and systemically. With so many possibilities at Lund University – events, networks, research infrastructures, calls for funding, and awesome colleagues – the clear message was to take advantage of opportunities to attend events as well as network beyond our institutions in order to jumpstart collaborations.
However, individual initiative is required to navigate some of the challenges and opportunities for collaboration at Lund University. Participants collated several tips for colleagues to make the most of these opportunities, attempting to overcome the challenges that we face within academia.
The hybrid workshop is one of a series of workshops, arranged by the Strategic Research Areas (SRAs) and Sustainability Forum at Lund University, aimed at creating a venue to share experiences, discuss collaboration, and foster deeper reflection on sustainability.
Challenges of Collaboration
In breakout sessions, participants discussed their biggest barriers to collaboration at Lund University, which are likely similar among other universities. Time was consistently mentioned as a massive barrier to develop and foster meaningful collaboration, with the lack of time a symptom of so many other challenges: too many deliverables, too little administrative support, too much focus on metrics. Thus, colleagues report it is difficult to prioritise their work. Multidisciplinary collaborations may also require more time. For example, participants raised challenges to coordinate with a greater number of stakeholders, to communicate across disciplinary boundaries, and to work towards a common vision.
Other participants shared that they find it difficult to keep up-to-date with the latest news, events, and calls for proposals. While time is certainly a factor, another challenge raised was the lack of central communication structures, with ambiguous responsibility falling between the University, faculties, departments, research groups, and individual researchers.
To overcome many of these challenges, the University may allocate additional resources to improve communication and provide training of skills to foster collaboration. Leadership, and the example set by leaders, is important for colleagues to prioritise collaborations. Thus, as supervisors, principal investigators, lab leaders, and management, we all must do our part to ensure academia addresses some of the more systemic challenges that prevent collaboration. For example, promotion criteria tend to prioritise the quantity of publications and citations; collaboration and sharing of resources is impeded by competition among scholars and institutions for financing; and inter- and transdisciplinary projects may be hampered by conventional calls for funding.
Tips for Collaboration
Speakers at the workshop presented resources and showcased best practices at Lund University. With so many good suggestions, it was clear that it is possible to secure funding and develop meaningful collaborations to advance sustainability, although the process may take several years. Among the tips shared, participants suggested prioritising people and projects, practising collaboration skills, and pursuing funding calls for collaboration.
Prioritise people and projects
Collaboration requires communication, trust, and a shared vision. Thus, collaboration is inherently people and project-centred. Speakers suggest that the most successful initiatives stem from relationships among people that work well together. Therefore, build your collaboration projects from your existing network, and expand your network by attending events as well as identifying enablers that may unlock new contacts. These relationships will develop from shared interests and common goals, so don’t be afraid to be authentic by sharing your passions and asking for help.
Practice collaboration skills
Collaboration is an integral part of research and education, yet as a skill collaboration is taken for granted. Thus, speakers suggest experimenting and practising related skills of communication, facilitation, and project management. These skills help to set budgets, discuss authorship, and achieve the overarching goals of the project. Interpersonal skills also support collaboration, like self-awareness, open-mindedness, and adaptability. The Lund University Cooperation Office can help researchers to foster collaboration, for example, building consortia, identifying research funding, evaluating collaborative initiatives, and supporting interdisciplinary research projects.
Pursue funding calls for collaboration
There are both internal and external calls for funding designed to promote collaboration, which is essential to address our sustainability challenges. First, it is important to identify the available funding calls in advance to provide enough time and direction to develop a successful proposal. To get an overview of available calls, you can sign up for the newsletter provided by LU Research Services or visit the database Pivot-RP using your university account.
Several specific forthcoming calls were presented at the workshop:
- Lund University will finance projects that promote collaboration amongst the Strategic Research Areas (deadline 15 September 2022)
- Lund University is once again opening the call for thematic collaboration initiatives between researchers and external organisations (deadline mid-September 2022)
- University-wide funding is available through the Agenda 2030 programme (deadline 25 November 2022)
- Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies at Lund University has recurring calls for Themes and Advanced Study Groups, which provide funding for time and access to their building for multidisciplinary collaborations (deadlines recurring)
When it comes to writing proposals, be aware that there are occasionally grants available to apply for funding, thus providing time and resources to develop a collaborative project proposal. Also, an easy suggestion is to write the proposal together, thereby ensuring a sense of ownership among all involved. From this, projects can commit to meet, work towards interim goals, and ensure transparency among actors.
This workshop was an initiative by the Strategic Research Areas (SRAs) and Sustainability Forum at Lund University, co-organised by MultiPark, eSSENCE, EpiHealth, and StemTherapy.