International research projects: Five must-haves for successful collaborations

Posted on: 21/02/2022

The GCRF AgriFood Africa Innovation Awards are all about connecting people and organisations in the UK and Africa so they can collaborate and fast track their innovative research.

All of the projects that received an award involved UK universities and African research or business partners, working together on research addressing AgriFood challenges in Africa.

Collaborating across continents often requires stepping outside your comfort zone, especially now that travelling to meet face to face is less commonplace.

We’ve spoken to many of the organisations who have been working on these projects to find out how remote collaboration actually works in practice. Here are their five key lessons.


1. Start building the relationship early on

One of the biggest lessons from the project teams was to start building the relationship between partners before a funding call comes out. This means you can take the time to have introductory meetings and build trust before you commit to a longer project together.

Once a project has started, setting up a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) or a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) early on can help with open communication and trust between partners. If you need help with finding the right people to connect with for a future project, Innovate UK KTN can help you.


2. Flexible communication is key

Finding out what works for each organisation is key to communicating effectively. Usual communication channels might be different from one country to another so it’s important to be flexible, even if it means using an app you wouldn’t usually use in a work setting, like Whatsapp. Many projects found that using Whatsapp to keep in touch worked well. Most projects also emphasised the importance of meeting regularly through Zoom or Teams.

Many of the researchers needed mobile data to be able to collect data and join online meetings when out on the field. It’s important to include allowances for mobile data and equipment that will make communicating easier in your budget.


3. Collaborative tools speed up progress

Setting up a shared folder from the start will make it easier to collaborate on documents and outcomes. Using Google files or sharing photos can be really useful to help explain complex ideas and enable you to work together to solve problems. Using online tools like Mural also makes remote collaborations easier.


4. Face to face still has value

All of the projects agreed that despite managing to deliver outcomes and build collaboration without travel due to Covid-19, there continues to be value in meeting in person when possible. As we all aim to reduce travel for sustainability reasons, thinking carefully about maximising the value of trips is crucial. But the benefit of meeting face to face when it comes to new collaborations shouldn’t be forgotten.


5. Discussing ethical considerations is important

UK universities have specific approval processes when it comes to the ethical considerations of data collection. Organisations in other countries might have their own approval processes or guidelines too. When working on research projects internationally, make sure you discuss the guidelines around data collection and handling for each organisation. This is especially relevant if you’re conducting surveys or interviews.

Collaborating remotely often means working with partners to deliver parts of the project. Having clearly defined roles and approaches will ensure that ethical considerations are well thought through and meet the highest standards.


If you’re working on an innovative AgriFood project and would like to collaborate with the UK or Africa, get in touch with Joanna Scales to discuss how we could support you.

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Joanna Scales

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Joanna Scales

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