Twice during the workshop, the participants were divided into four breakout groups, with each group assigned to one of the four tracks that focus on research and agreements affecting the areas listed below. Each group was assigned a rapporteur, also listed below, who moderated the discussion and summarized the group’s comments:
- People/Human Subjects – Barbara Mittleman, Vice President for Immunology at Nodality Inc.
- Environment and Natural Resources – John Carfora, Associate Provost for Research Advancement and Compliance at Loyola Marymount University
- Science, Engineering, and Manufacturing – Richard Selby, Director of Engineering at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems
- Agriculture and Animal Issues – John Hickman, Director of Global University Relations at John Deere
The task for the participants 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. To structure the discussions, the working groups were given a set of questions (see Appendix B). Prior to the final two plenary sessions, the rapporteur from each of the four breakout groups each presented a 10-minute synopsis of the results of those examinations. This section also includes the concluding remarks which were presented at the end of the workshop.
Barbara Mittleman reported that the working group examining the people/human subjects track had a far-reaching discussion thanks to the wide range of expertise in the group, including two social scientists who had the vocabulary and theoretical background about culture to provide a good framework for these discussions. The group talked about the fact that any collaboration will comprise one or several cultures in a manner that is highly context-dependent and fluid.
Two definitions of culture—that it is the manmade part of the environment and that it is software for the mind—provided a valuable starting point for discussion. Software, as opposed to hardware, has a particular function that can be reprogrammed, she noted, while the manmade part of the environment encompasses many stable and inflexible structures that are neither agile nor adaptable, even when responsiveness is required. This working group also commented on the relationship of culture to education and media, emphasizing that culture is not a fixed attribute and can change or evolve with education and media exposure. This evolution can lead to the development of multiple cultural registers that can be accessed and used. The multiplicity of cultures and cultural registers can enable individuals to bridge constituencies and to pivot from one to another. Several working group members noted that the bridging function is critical to facilitating understanding across cultural boundaries and enables negotiation and agreement in determining the initial goals, objectives, and structure of the research plan. Bridging cultures is also necessary for conflict resolution and communication throughout the execution of the research plan. Because this function is indispensable, those who fill the bridging role can be called “indispensables.”
The working group talked about process being important and the fact that a process often begins much earlier than is usually appreciated. It is important to involve the right people—again, the “indispensables.” The group also considered that identifying the “indispensables” could be an iterative process that repeatedly checks to make sure that the right people for each phase of the project are involved in a collaborative research project. That collection of right people should include those who represent both implicit and explicit knowledge of the culture and the actors involved.
The working group also discussed issues of cultural mistrust and cultural imperialism, and a constant theme throughout both breakout sessions was the need to listen and to be open to identifying differences and similarities. The discussion identified many different ways to do that, all based on an attitude of respect and openness in order to reach agreement. These accords are more than just agreements, however, several group members said; they are representations of the values of the cultures involved and of the value of the agreements to those cultures. If the parties to an agreement are not getting value out of the agreement it is not going to be worthwhile. Mittleman said that many in the group felt that there is a need to articulate the risks and benefits to the parties and recognize that to at least some extent the rewards, motivations and value systems were going to be highly culturally determined. The “indispensables” are important here as well; they help to frame the articulation of the risks and benefits so that they are understood by all sides involved in the agreement. This issue goes beyond language translation to an issue of sufficient trust that disagreement or misunderstanding can be communicated with sensi-
tivity, with the relevant parties insuring that agreement is reached and maintained, that face is not lost, and that all parties benefit. Communicating the behavioral and attitudinal aspects of the agreement and execution of it are far more difficult, since the underpinnings of business and academic/clinical ethics, interpersonal relations, expressions of respect and regard, management of conflict, and notions of the roles of age, gender, race and class are all highly culturally determined. The “indispensables” would be responsible for the communication of these more subtle messages as well.
Several group members noted that most collaborative research agreements are simply the usual kind of formal or legalistic definition of what needs to be represented when two parties agree with one another. However, there will likely need to be additional language that would represent some of the differences between the cultures as a means of sustaining a strong relationship between the collaborators. Mittleman said that the working group kept coming back to the word “relationship” in that these kinds of cross-cultural issues were going to be highly relationship-based. The memorialization of that relationship in agreements is important, but the relationship was more important than the document itself. It is also important to pay attention to the formal standards, whether international, regional or national, but also cultural norms that might be more informal or unstated and as a result might be harder to identify.
The “right people” to negotiate research agreements would include authority figures as well as elders, community leaders, and others who have the moral authority or voice that is respected by the community, group members said. There is also a recognized role for champions who will push forward the acceptance of a research agreement. It is important, Mittleman said, to conduct a continuous process of self-examination to ensure that the right people stay involved over the course of a project, as well as built-in redundancy to enable sustainability and durability of the agreement, even with the inevitable change in the individuals that will be involved in the initial stages of an agreement.
The working group’s discussions raised the point that notions of science management, leadership, and administration are not necessarily going to be clear to everyone and that there may be a need to address this issue so that the latter stages of an agreement are able to proceed. Several participants emphasized the need for a mechanism that can adequately monitor an agreement and oversee its activities, and to ensure that the outcomes from the agreement are in fact as they ought to be. The working group also discussed the use of available tools for cultural diagnosis in organizational management, to identify things that could facilitate or enable the making of agreements. Not only are tools for cultural diagnosis lacking, but where they do exist, they may not be familiar to those working in fields other than anthropology or international relations. In addition, culturally informed metrics of success are also generally
unavailable. As such, it can be hard to know if culture is being adequately considered in international research agreements, their outcomes, or their end products.
The working group discussion pointed out the importance of defining the negotiable and non-negotiable parameters that could undermine an agreement, an exercise that has a big element of truth-telling. Several members noted, though, that developing a candid relationship and candid communication processes was not necessarily going to be easy and that even asking if someone was the “right person” for a particular agreement could in fact be insulting and scuttle the agreement before it could even be formulated. This echoed earlier discussion about the need for: trust, a strong set of relationships, champions for whom the success of the research activity is important, and the “indispensables” who can bridge the cultural divide, leading to the development of a strong document and a likelihood of success.
One point of discussion was the need to share benefits of a collaboration, particularly when there are significant power inequities. This includes identifying what the benefits of the agreement are, who is going to get them, and how they will be distributed equitably. It was noted that equitable does not necessarily mean equal, but something that would be useful to all of the parties. Some of the potential benefits that are important to consider are capacity building and publication. There was discussion, too, of the need to return biological specimens to their donors in some cultures so that the samples could be buried with them at death—this is not something that the head of a typical biospecimen-based project in the developed world would consider being an issue.
Finally, the group talked about the need for culturally appropriate ceremonies or public acknowledgment of engagement and the multiple kinds of values that they can have. International research agreements have the potential to yield a variety of benefits to the individuals and the societies represented in them, and by taking culture sensitively into account, greater success and benefit can be realized.
John Carfora reported that this working group started its discussions by noting that there are many environmental factors that transcend national and international borders, and scientists need to consider a larger context when putting their work together—one that goes above and beyond the science. There are different ways of relating to nature across countries and within countries. Factors such as geographic scale, temporal dimensions (e.g., short-term vs. long-term considerations), gender, views on the role of people in the envi-
ronment, and others can play an important role in how partnerships are formed and proceed.
Several working group members emphasized the need to recognize the type of knowledge that indigenous peoples can bring to a project. Indigenous cultures can have information, experience, and insight that they have collected over generations. The group discussed the need for cultural sensitivity when training students, recognizing the importance of education and the fact that “students” may include the indigenous people with whom researchers will live and work when doing in-country studies. Given the role that culture plays in how humans interact with and are affected by their environment, it is important to involve social scientists in these collaborations.
Some time was spent discussing agreements themselves. Often, research agreements are quasi-legal in many ways in that they have budgets, timelines, deliverables, and statements of work. They do not often incorporate cross-cultural or even community-based questions, with those being left up to the principal investigators to manage. This group considered whether research agreements themselves could or should address more of the cultural dimensions.
Trust was a topic of long discussion, as was the importance of including metrics for attaining success in a way that reflects the sensitivities of all of the involved parties. While they agreed that cultural competence is needed, it was difficult for working group members to identify efficient methods of training for cultural competence. It can take a lifetime to develop a cultural competence that includes knowing the questions to ask, the ways of entering and exiting a culture, and how to bring research into a culture.
Carfora noted in his summary that this group spent time talking about the challenge of incorporating relevant perspectives and knowledge from the humanities into the training of scientists and engineers so that they are better prepared for international collaborations. While there is a need for a highly technical education for students, the standard academic calendar leaves little time for the necessary acculturation to take place in a formal educational setting. However, university students spend much of their time outside of class, and informal networks of cultural engagement can be very useful.
The working group spent some time talking about cultural competence. Several members observed that one of the first steps to developing cultural competence is for each individual to first recognize his or her own culture. Americans bring their culture to the partnership, in that they tend to focus on outcomes, focus on similarities, and can be preachy. In the United States, for instance, being a scientist is a specific culture filled with people who are rational and who understand scientific concepts and numeracy. However, there are other Americans who do not share those values and essentially form a different culture. Another way that culture plays out is that American scientists look at
success in terms of accomplishments, but in many cultures success is measured by the relationships that form over the course of a negotiation or a project.
In the broad domain of environment and natural resources, many group members commented that peoples’ relationship with the land, water, and animals can be highly variable, even within a country. It is important then to understand how various groups of people relate to the environment and natural resources as individuals and collective groups and how those relationships have changed over time.
Richard Selby, Director of Engineering at Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, reported that this working group identified aspects of research agreements to explore in six different categories: leadership and governance, risk, human rights and gender, funding, outcomes, and levels of protection for intellectual property and export controls. For each of these categories, the group developed a list of questions that could be asked to spur the right kind of thinking in order to form better international research agreements. Selby presented a few examples of those questions for each category.
In the case of leadership and governance, questions included:
- To what extent have you formulated the overall common goals and interests?
- What does every partner want and how can you be sensitive to those stakeholder roles?
- To what extent are the stakeholders committed to the research agreement? For example, are they going to put staff onsite in the country? It is a significant financial commitment?
- To what extent have safety and liability issues been considered if students are going to be working “in country”?
- How have you structured a leadership and decision making approach that takes into consideration the sensitivities of the different cultures? For example, who is in control? Is there a steering committee? Is there a rotational approach?
- Will communication be in person or electronic?
- If there are in-person meetings, do they rotate among the different sites?
Regarding risk, the working group discussed the complexity of international research agreements and the merits of using a traditional risk manage-
ment approach. Addressing risk in this manner involves asking questions about the kinds of risks and to what extent an agreement defines risk mitigation strategies to anticipate the things that could go wrong and what preventive measures will be taken.
Risk also involves the concept of risk versus reward, and determining that involves asking each stakeholder what they want from an agreement and determining how that information is taken into consideration and balanced with regard to the potential upside of the rewards. For example, some group members identified falsification of data as a major risk, in which case it would be necessary to address ahead of time the steps that would be taken to prevent this in a way that strengthens trust between the partners. Other countries may be more comfortable with a detailed, written approach to risk management plans. In either case, it is important to understand the overall tolerance for risk in partner countries and what success means in that culture.
Dealing with risk means having to put in place mitigation strategies and clarifying the assumptions being made by each partner. Conflicts of interest can also create risk, several participants said, particularly when working with smaller countries in which there can be many layers of relationships that compromise independence. Understanding those relationships ahead of time can help mitigate risk. Dispute resolution mechanisms are an important part of risk mitigation and it is important to ask questions about mediation, jurisdictions, and how to wind down a project if a dispute cannot be resolved successfully.
The third category, human rights, is particularly important in the manufacturing sphere as this has become a broad concern throughout the world. Many group members said it is important to ask to what extent the partners have considered the human rights of the people involved, whether they are the direct parties of the research agreement or other people that could be affected. There can also be gender-specific barriers in different countries that need to be considered, so it is important to ask how partners are going to be sensitive to that concern to ensure the success of all parties involved.
Funding is a crucial issue in any agreement and it is important to ask questions about the hierarchy of money, wherever the resources are coming from. If money is coming from several sources, some members asked, how is that going to be administered and how will decisions be made? How will the money flow? It is important to ask whether people are investing their own money above and beyond the pool of resources and if there are other direct investments being made in the same project. Since most funding organizations have rules that specify how their funds are used, it is important to understand how those rules are factored into the broader scope of the overall research agreement.
Questions about the infrastructure that exists to manage the money were also identified. Selby explained that if a partner has operations in various
locations around the world, they might have local or regional mechanisms to administer funds specific to the project at hand and ensure that they are used for the intent of the research agreement.
In terms of outcomes, several working group members noted that it is important to determine at the start of a project just what the outcomes or deliverables will be, that is, if they will include publications, data, prototypes, models, and patents. How to attribute credit is a key issue relating to outcomes, particularly when large groups are involved in a project. If there is going to be a whole series of publications, it is important to define in advance how attribution will occur across the sum total of the publication output. Elements of prestige are extremely important, and culture is a central part of prestige. It is also important to determine mechanisms for distribution of physical products such as prototypes or software designs.
The final category—levels of protection for intellectual property and export controls—brought up questions about the extent to which partners have considered the different intellectual property approaches that would be appropriate for different countries and different participants. These issues should be addressed in advance. Group members noted that if there is technology of any kind developed as part of an international agreement, it is critical to know about country-specific regulations regarding export controls.
In his report on the discussions in this final track, John Hickman, Director of Global University Relations at John Deere, noted that there are about 3.5 billion people living in rural areas, many of whom are associated with agriculture and many who live in distinct cultures. Given that situation, this group started its discussions by talking about the uniqueness that exists culturally in agriculture—the traditions, the religious practices that may be involved, the local factors such as family or village hierarchy, how seeds are treated, how animals are treated and how breeding is done, the staple foods of that culture–and how those cultural practices have been carried out over time.
This group identified culture-based gender differences as an important issue which is prominent in agriculture. Women and often children play large roles in manual labor in agriculture around the world. Also, agriculture, unlike the other tracks, can involve differences in nomadic versus sedentary practices. In some cases, cultures may not even have land that it calls home, just an area. Language differences loom large when involved in agricultural agreements involving multiple cultures.
This group then discussed technical areas that would be unique to agriculture, some of which may be impacted by culture, education, or isolation. Projects spanning multiple countries or multiple isolated regions within a coun-
try can involve many cultures and varying levels of technical sophistication to be addressed when considering how to structure collaborations. Multi-country projects can also encounter difficulties from material transfers between countries, particularly when a transfer is repeated between multiple countries in succession.
Biodiversity can be an issue in agricultural research agreements, particularly with projects aimed at mining the genetic diversity of plants across geographical regions. A number of group members observed that agreements enabling this type of project need to consider local ownership of those genetic resources, the value that indigenous people place on that genetic resource, and how those resources can be shared while returning value to the local population.
The group discussed the lifecycle of agreements. Often, international collaborations start when conversations between scientists identify projects on which they might collaborate. Though informal, cultural awareness informs these conversations from the start. Next comes the formal process for creating an agreement, and it is here that culture plays a major role. As an example, some group members noted that U.S. agreements often go into great detail regarding possible problems that might arise, and this can offend many people around the world and complicate the approval process, which is the next step in a project’s lifecycle. Culture can play a role both in terms of how long it takes approval to occur and what happens when it is time finally to sign the agreement: Is there a quick handshake and then everyone gets to work, or does there need to be a full-blown ceremony and celebration? The group noted that agricultural projects can be unusual in that they often have a post-project phase that includes education on how to use and disseminate the output of the project. This post-project phase often requires accommodating various cultural practices and language differences.
Mittleman concluded the workshop by noting that much of the information shared was either new to the participants or more broadly applicable than they realized. She explained that cultural issues are relevant to and transcend a variety of domains. “Many interdependent and interdisciplinary scientific domains embody culture in ways we didn’t anticipate,” she said. The workshop helped participants to understand how to examine cultural differences and understand how to consider culture in a broader context.