Is collaboration the new competition?

Datum: 29/09/2017

The saying that “collaboration is the new competition” is heard more and more at network gatherings and presentations during seminars and conventions. This is a useful method for the organisation of work and innovation and we no longer look at it as a management hype.

Our species, Homo sapiens, was able to conquer the world in a relatively short period of time because we are the only species on the planet that can collaborate flexibly on a large scale. Professor Yuval Noah Harari explains this in this book Sapiens: a brief history of Humankind. Mankind’s talent for abstract thinking is the foundation of our ability to collaborate. Religion, currency, putting a man on the Moon and dissecting the human body are all results of exchanging ideas and sharing labour. By being open to what we do not know, we can develop knowledge, prosperity and wellbeing.

Collaboration in biomedical research

In the world of biomedical research, collaboration is also the foundation for progress. Of course, there is plenty of competition between nations, institutions and individual researchers. Man’s need to compete with one another is probably just as ingrained into our being as the desire to collaborate. The trick is to keep communicating and develop a relationship based on mutual trust. However, it is not easy to realise effective collaboration. We all experience this in our own organisations. In fact, this kind of interorganisational collaboration has a 50-75% chance of failure.

The digitisation of our work has created a new dimension. It is easy to come into contact with each other, but how can we develop relationships of trust when our work is largely digitised? Can I trust other people with my data? Are their security measures up to par? What can and cannot be shared? How can I know what data was modified in what way and when? Is that last modification still accurate? What are my reference points?

Quicker and more secure collaboration

Luckily, there are plenty of websites that offer tips for successful collaboration when conducting research. There are also organisations that strive to promote collaboration in the research world and have been looking for answers to the aforementioned questions for many years. For example, SURF has been working hard for years to stimulate collaboration between its members and the outside world. It all starts with properly facilitating this backend infrastructure and organising the research community. Furthermore, researchers can access their virtualised workspace, where they are free to decide – within the institution’s framework – whom to invite and how to make their data available. At RSRCH, we believe that bringing together more expertise and data will lead to better insights and quicker results. Our goal is to realise this in a manner that is as secure and user-friendly as possible.

Fierce competition has negative consequences

Building on someone else’s work or confirming its importance are highly socially relevant. Fierce competition and a desire to be credited with the next major discovery result in a rat race with all kinds of negative consequences. This is the way of the past. An indicator of the positive changes that are taking place is the fact that papers are being published that were written by several different authors. In the world of biomedical science, it should be just as important to a researcher to equal or surpass their colleagues as it is to verify or enrich existing findings.

An oft-overlooked aspect of this is the reuse and improvement of existing datasets. The use of a Data Life Cycle Model allows researchers to optimise the quality of existing and new datasets in an iterative manner for themselves and national and international colleagues and institutions. This is a growing field in the research world that deserves our attention and encouragement. All this is detailed in Clinical Data Reuse or Secondary Use: Current Status and Potential Future Progress, which was of course written by a highly varied group of researchers!