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International Collaborations in Behavioral and Social Sciences: Report of a Workshop
Workshop participants expressed frustration with many journals’ insistence on a single format to which all articles must adhere, including implicit rules on the mode of argument as well as explicit rules about punctuation or grammar that are not internationally standard. Such rules generate obstacles that prevent international research from being shared and exclude collaborators who are unable to successfully navigate the maze of implicit and explicit rules required to have a submission accepted for publication.
Study results also need to be made accessible to interested audiences beyond the academic or scientific community. This task is more challenging for international collaborations because of the multiple audiences across different nations—policymakers, health care providers, educators, and local communities. Workshop participants were clear that they were not trying to formulate policies themselves but thought it was important to make socially relevant results available to the widest extent possible, recognizing the challenges of doing so across multiple contexts and venues.
It is important to plan how study methods and results will be communicated to the public since the activities of foreign researchers can raise suspicions or be misinterpreted. For example, when Charles Nelson was conducting research on institutionalized children in Romania, the research team was accused of trying to identify children for sale on the black market for adoption. Mark Nichter observed that if a researcher does not provide information and an interpretation of the study and its findings, someone else will. International researchers need to be particularly sensitive to how they are perceived in another country or at the local study site. Effort needs to be devoted to explaining a research project to various salient publics, not only at its conclusion but during study initiation and data collection.
In summary, the numerous tasks involved in the formation and conduct of international collaborative projects extend their scope well beyond that of many domestic projects. Substantial differences will arise within a diverse research team, from relatively benign but sometimes problematic variations in practice to significant asymmetries of power between researchers from countries with different levels of research resources. The bureaucratic entanglements and cultural inappropriateness of ethics approval procedures, embodied in U.S. IRBs, are another serious hurdle. International collaborations raise important challenges for data management. Publishing and disseminating results will require extra effort and attention. Nevertheless, workshop participants were clearly convinced of the importance of conducting international research and the invaluable contributions that research can make to understanding human behavior.