Encourage research collaboration by overlapping daily walking paths

Lots of academics are talking about interdisciplinary research and teaching and a new study helps point the way forward: make sure different groups have overlapping daily walking paths.

Researchers who occupy the same building are 33 percent more likely to form new collaborations than researchers who occupy different buildings, and scientists who occupy the same floor are 57 percent more likely to form new collaborations than investigators who occupy different buildings, he said.
One of these assumptions is that passive contacts between inhabitants of a building—just bumping into people as you go about your daily business—makes it more likely that you’ll share ideas and eventually engage in formal collaborations. This assumption is based on the work of ISR researcher Leon Festinger, who studied the friendships that developed among dormitory residents in the 1950s.
Owen-Smith and colleagues examined the relationship between office and lab proximity and walking patterns, and found that linear distance between offices was less important than overlap in daily walking paths. They developed the concept of zonal overlap as a way to operationalize Festinger’s idea of passive contact. “We looked at how much overlap existed for any two researchers moving between lab space, office space, and the nearest bathroom and elevator,” Owen-Smith said. “And we found that net of the distance between their offices, for every 100 feet of zonal overlap, collaborations increased by 20 percent and grant funding increased between 21 and 30 percent.”
Owen-Smith and colleagues also found that the likelihood of passive contacts can be more simply assessed by using a measure of “door passing”—whether one investigator’s work path passes by another’s office door.

This sounds like a more small-scale study but it ties into the broader concept of compulsion of proximity. Put people in spaces where they are more likely to run into each other and they are more likely to interact face-to-face. This would go for making friends on a dorm floor in college (random assignments lead to college long or life-long friendships), finding marriage partners through social networks , and apparently works for researchers.

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