Alfred P. Sloan Foundation

Northeastern University Library awarded Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Grant to study collaboration among decentralized research teams

The Northeastern University Library was recently awarded a $892,936 grant by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to study and develop effective practices for collaboration and communication by researchers distributed across multiple locations, as is increasingly the case in Northeastern’s expanding global campus network.

The grant will focus on Northeastern University’s “impact engines,” interdisciplinary teams that span two or more of Northeastern’s campuses and research locations throughout the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. It will fund two new library staff positions who will onboard and assist these research groups as they attempt to surmount the challenges associated with working together while physically distant.

The grant will also fund an independent project analyst who will collect data and survey information about the performance of the groups to determine which types of communication technologies and collaborative behaviors improved their work.

“Despite many researchers having to collaborate virtually over the past two years, we’re still figuring out hybrid and remote work on an ad hoc basis,” says Joshua Greenberg, director of the Sloan Foundation’s technology program. “We are excited to see what this focused investment in collaboration support for impact engines can reveal about the tools and best practices that best foster collaboration between staff on different campuses, and how those findings can be used to enable great research.”

The project will eventually produce:

  • A website containing detailed analysis on different communication techniques and collaborative models
  • Recommendations for setting up and supporting decentralized researchers
  • A formal peer-reviewed paper that provides details on the collected data and methodology
  • Multiple presentations of results at major conferences

“The Northeastern University Library is thrilled by how this grant will help us to synthesize research across our campuses, and grateful to the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for its generous support of this endeavor,” said Dan Cohen, Vice Provost for Information Collaboration and Dean of the Library. “We also expect this project to provide helpful advice to other research teams and universities who seek to support similar distributed work using new technology and staff roles.”

The importance of this project was made evident in recent years, when the COVID-19 pandemic created the need for colleagues to work collaboratively in a highly distributed state. By studying the best ways to navigate these hurdles using technology and library support staff, decentralized research teams will ideally become more cohesive and productively collaborative.