Defining common goals
Our research has demonstrated that one of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration between CSOs and academic researchers is conflict arising between different expectations or visions of the project direction. It is therefore essential that the relevant partners come together to define common goals at the start of the project. This process is also beneficial for the project more generally: the interaction should lead to a deeper understanding of different perceptions concerning the problem definition, research context and the desired outcomes. In addition it should lead to a joint vision on how to proceed.
The key question then is: how to organize the interaction in such a way that meaningful exchange of knowledge and expertise between scientific and non-scientific groups can go on effectively?
A first step is for all project partners to appreciate that diversity of views is likely, and even beneficial to the project. Being aware that the other parties will approach the problem from a different perspective is important in being able to work together to reach a compromise. The project team can then identify any differences in approach, in particular regarding the aligning question and whether there are any issues with the definition of the overarching problem description – or not. This aspect is anything but trivial. Our evidence demonstrates that if a project is successful in clarifying and combining the various views on the problem description, it normally will be a success with regard to the overall goals.
Another important early discussion point is a clarification of the relevant expectations and objectives related to the project. As there are normally differences between researchers and CSOs it is absolutely important to look at the specific expectations and to define a research framework addressing the differences articulated and to transform these into research questions.
In practical terms, a modified Delphi technique or similar facilitation tool may provide a useful way of garnering opinion and reaching consensus.