In an increasingly interconnected world, science and technology research often transects international boundaries and involves researchers from multiple nations. This model provides both new opportunities and new challenges. As science and technology capabilities grow around the world, U.S.-based organizations are finding that international collaborations and partnerships provide unique opportunities to enhance research and training. At the same time, enhancing international collaboration requires recognition of differences in culture, legitimate national security needs, and critical needs in education and training (NRC, 2011).
To examine international research collaborations in a systematic way, the Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (GUIRR) launched a Working Group on International Research Collaboration (I-Group) in 2008. Sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine, GUIRR serves as a forum for dialogue among the top leaders of government and non-government research organizations. GUIRR and two organizational affiliates, the Federal Demonstration Partnership (FDP) and the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership (UIDP), seek to advance relationships between the sectors.
I-Group was formed to examine international research in a systematic, practical way. The goal of the I-Group is to work with stakeholders to develop a more structured approach to international collaborations and help organizations deal with various cultural, administrative, and legal complexities in undertaking them. According to its Statement of Purpose, I-Group “engages in dialogue and discussion to facilitate international collaborations among academic, government, and industrial partners by: (1) identifying policies and operations that enhance our ability to collaborate; (2) identifying barriers to collaboration—policies and operations that could be improved; (3) developing a web-based resource or other compendium of successful strategies and methodologies; and (4) suggesting how barriers might be addressed” (NRC, 2011).
An important means for the I-Group to carry out its work are workshops that will bring together subject matter experts from universities, government, industry and professional organizations in the United States and other nations. The I-Group’s intent with the workshop format is to be as inclusive as possible, bringing together the appropriate parties to the table around meaningful discussion and solutions. The National Research Council formed a Planning Committee to organize an initial workshop titled “Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration” and held on July 26-27, 2010 in Washington, DC. The goal of this first workshop was to enhance international understanding and diminish barriers to research collaborations. A workshop summary was published and released after this initial workshop (NRC, 2011).
To expand on one of the themes explored in the first workshop, a new Planning Committee was formed to organize a second, follow-on workshop on July 29-31, 2013 in Washington, DC, to address how culture and cultural perception influence and impact the process by which research agreements are made and negotiated across international boundaries. The Planning Committee was assisted by GUIRR staff and volunteers from numerous GUIRR member organizations in arranging this follow-on event.
In this workshop, “Culture Matters: An Approach to International Research Agreements,” representatives from around the world and from GUIRR’s three constituent sectors—government, university, and industry—gathered to provide input into four specific meeting tracks or domains. The tracks focused on research and agreements affecting or involving:
(1) People/Human Subjects
(2) Environment and Natural Resources
(3) Science, Engineering, and Manufacturing
(4) Agriculture and Animal Issues
The task for the experts involved in each track was to examine the domain under discussion and the role that culture and cultural expectations may have in the forging and implementation of international research agreements. In addition to the domain tracks, the workshop featured a set of six plenary sessions, each of which addressed topics of a cross-cutting nature and that engaged all of the workshop’s participants: (1) Designing Projects with Culture in Mind, (2) Conducting Research in Developing Countries, (3) Language, (4) Urbanization, Ecological Sustainability, and Social Resilience, (5) Intellectual Property, and (6) Change and Drivers.
Following the workshop, the rapporteurs prepared this summary, which reports the main themes that emerged from the workshop presentations and discussions. The goal for the workshop and the summary is to serve as an information resource for participants and others interested in international re-
search collaborations. It will also aid the I-Group in setting its future goals, priorities, and activities.
In her opening remarks Barbara Mittleman, Vice President for Immunology at Nodality Inc., noted the importance of culture in working through the mechanics of international research agreements and the lack of suitable tools for thinking about culture. As a result, the process becomes very impressionistic. One of the goals of the workshop, she said, was to discuss the many cultural issues that need to be considered and addressed in developing international research agreements.
National Academy of Engineering President C. D. Mote, Jr. commented on the number and different types of organizations or groups that each person belongs to and the distinct culture2 that characterizes each of those groups. Culture, he said, reflects the attitudes, values, goals, and practices of any organization or group. Referring to Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahneman, 2010), Mote described two ways of thinking: slow thinking, which is rational and cognitive, and fast thinking, which is reactive and instinctive. Most people think fast and cannot act rationally, and as a result, organizations and groups of people, such as countries, cannot act entirely rationally. More importantly, fast, reactive thinking is “very much controlled by the culture you come from.”
To illustrate one impact of culture, Mote noted the key finding of a National Research Council study that he chaired on the science and technology strategies employed by six countries (NRC, 2010). “The number one issue in terms of whether those countries would achieve their science and technology goals was their culture,” he said. “It was not how many engineers were in the workforce. It was not their expenditures on research and development. It wasn’t always these socioeconomic indicators that the economists tell us are so important for predicting what your R&D operations are going to do. It was the culture of the country.” In particular, he added, what was important was how much a country could align its culture with the goals that it had for science and technology. This result was a complete surprise to everyone on the study committee.
1In this section and other sections summarizing presentations, views and opinions are those of the presenter unless stated otherwise.
2Although “culture” can be defined in countless ways, for the purpose of this workshop, the planning committee adopted the following definition: Culture is the learned and shared behavior of a community and is created by perceiving, interpreting, expressing, and responding to the social realities which affect that community. This definition is based on two publications, Human Organizations (Useem, 1963) and Preparing for Peace (Lederach, 1995).
Culture comes into play in international research agreements because each country involved in a negotiation has its own culture that determines the rules for creating an agreement and how an agreement is carried out in practice. These cultural differences can be as complex as the legal framework under which agreements are formulated or as simple as the meanings attributed to a particular word. For example, in some contexts an American will take “yes” to mean “I agree,” while someone from Japan in the same context might take it to mean “I understand,” two entirely different meanings.
The essential ingredient for a successful international research agreement is trust, Mote stated. “Trust is the most important issue because things will never go exactly as they are written down and you have to trust the other person that you’re going to work together to make this partnership work,” he explained. “No agreement should be signed or even contemplated until you have a level of trust, because it will be a bad experience otherwise.” Trust, he added, is rooted in culture, yet it is almost unheard of in the United States to consider culture when it comes to developing international research agreements.
Presenter: Mathew Burrows, Counselor with the National Intelligence Council in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence
To provide additional context for the workshop, Mathew Burrows, discussed the highlights of the most recent Global Trends 2030 report issued in December 2012 (NIC, 2012). This publicly available report, issued every four years by the U.S. Office of the Director of National Intelligence, is intended to stimulate thinking about the rapid and vast geopolitical changes characterizing the world today and possible global trajectories over the next 15 years. Like the previous Global Trends reports, the report does not seek to predict the future, explained Burrows, but instead provides a framework for thinking about possible futures and their implications. He noted that this report is used by the “thinking slow” part of government.
The main thesis in the Global Trends 2030 report is that we are at a critical junction in human history that could lead to widely contrasting futures, and as a result, the future is not set in stone but is malleable. The report identified four megatrends that are already ongoing and will influence the future under any imagined scenario, and six game-changers, which are important trends that currently have no clear outcome. The most important megatrend, said Burrows, is individual empowerment arising from the fact that the majority of people in the world are joining the middle class, that the gender gap for education and health is shrinking, and that the widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies is continuing unabated. While this mega-
trend is overwhelmingly positive, it does have a less appealing side, since individual empowerment is also empowering crime and harm by individuals and small groups at a level that was once reserved for nations.
The second megatrend is the diffusion of power that results from changing global demographics and the rise of the non-state state. This megatrend will result in power shifting to networks and coalitions in a multi-polar world. The third megatrend, demography, refers to the aging of the world’s population. The fourth megatrend involves the nexus between food, water and energy and the demand for scarce resources as the world’s population continues to increase, even without considering the impacts of global climate change.
Of the six potential game-changers, Burrows noted the potential importance of a gap in governance capabilities. It is unclear, he said, if governments and institutions—both domestically and internationally—will be able to adapt fast enough to harness change instead of being overwhelmed by it. He also highlighted the potential impact of new technologies on the world’s ability to boost economic productivity and solve the problems caused by a growing world population, rapid urbanization, and climate change. While the outlook for technology’s impact is largely positive, there are potential negative impacts that arise as technology reduces the need for human employees in various industries. “I think more importantly the message here is that technology is just not going to be the savior for all these problems that we talked about without governments stepping in and helping the process,” said Burrows.
In his final comments, Burrows briefly discussed four potential “alternative world” scenarios. In the most plausible worst-case scenario, the risks of interstate conflicts increase as the world’s economy stalls, triggered by the United States and Europe turning inward and losing interest in sustaining their global leadership. In this bleak future, which Burrows considers unlikely, all players on the world stage do poorly. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the most plausible best-case scenario occurs as high-level cooperation between the United States, Europe, and China actually increases and a technological revolution helps both emerging and developed economies to benefit substantially. Another alternative world, the genie-out-of-the-bottle scenario, is a world of extremes, with inequalities dominating within many countries, while in the non-state alternative world, non-state actors—nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), multinational businesses, academic institutions, and wealthy individuals—as well as sub-national units such as megacities flourish and take the lead in confronting global challenges. The result is an uneven, patchwork world in which some global problems get solved when networks manage to coalesce and some cooperation occurs across state and non-state divides. Security threats pose an increasing challenge as access to lethal and disruptive technologies expands, enabling individuals and small groups to perpetuate violence
and disruption on a large scale. This world is more stable and socially cohesive than in the “genie-out-of-the-bottle world” (NIC, 2012).
In the open discussion that followed his presentation, Burrows noted that when the Global Trends 2030 report was presented in countries around the world, one common comment was that while the liberal, fair order that the United States established after the Second World War has largely benefitted the world, the United States does not always seem interested in other countries rising as fast as might be possible. Having said that, he added that there is a real growing interest in democracy, even in China. “It may be a different kind of democracy than we would have, but certainly those kinds of values are widely shared. There is no alternative order out there,” said Burrows. In response to a question about the importance of the United States remaining engaged with the rest of the world, Burrows said that this was a point that everybody outside of the United States talked about, with the Chinese being one of the most emphatic about it. “You can look at this as a transition period,” said Burrows, one in which economic power is changing but in which only the United States has the ability to manage this transition in terms of getting coalitions together to deal with the world’s major problems.
Daniel Kahneman. 2010. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
NIC (National Intelligence Council). 2012. Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. Washington, DC: National Intelligence Council. Available at www.dni.gov/nic/globaltrends (accessed 3/21/2014).
NRC (National Research Council). 2010. S&T Strategies of Six Countries: Implications for the United States. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
NRC (National Research Council). 2011. Examining Core Elements of International Research Collaboration: Summary of a Workshop. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.