Improving our understanding of the role researchers play in forming collaborative networks, can allow for more effective
administration of the network to maximise research benefits. This includes the increased integration of knowledge across disciplinary
boundaries, increased research productivity and innovation.
A study conducted by Brent Abrahams (C·I·B PhD student) and supervised by Prof Karen Esler
(C·I·B Core Team Member) and Dr Nadia Sitas (Centre for Complex Systems in Transition) at Stellenbosch University, made use of
social network analysis to identify and explore the roles of researchers in shaping collaboration networks and associated research outputs
funded by the Working for Water Programme (WfW) since the 1990�s.
The study found that research co-funded by WfW is authored predominantly by a handful of core researchers. These core
researchers are typically at the centre of a network or community and are highly connected — a result of their sustained research
contributions, leadership and establishment in their fields. These core researchers typically benefitted from accumulative advantage — a
phenomenon also known as the Matthew effect, where ‘the rich get richer’. They often possess status, privileged social and technical
insights that are desirable to newcomers seeking access to this information and acquire recognition within their field. Core researchers
therefore gain greater productivity and credibility in their field, by forging new and reinforcing older collaborations. How they use their
advantageous position can impact both the advancement of research and the careers of newcomers to the field.
Core researchers can leverage social and other resources (such as financial, technical, equipment, and expertise) in a way
that could either encourage or inhibit integrative research and innovation. Established researchers therefore play a role, not only in
building a knowledge base, but also in facilitating the integration of new knowledge and new collaborators. The value of highly connected
researchers in boundary spanning activities between disciplines and in linking subgroups of researchers in collaboration networks has been
shown in several disciplines (including socio-ecological, natural resource management, research administration and organisational science). Such
individuals can facilitate the integration of information across a large knowledge base. Through an in-depth knowledge of specific disciplines
and understanding of where certain expertise is held within their network, these individuals can mobilise collaborative efforts to achieve
However, invasion science, like even the purest of sciences, is a ‘social field’ — with its own distribution
of power, its monopolies, struggles, strategies, interests and profits. As such the scientific field is a locus for competitive struggle amongst
researchers and institutions for scientific authority. This competitive struggle has the potential to drive innovation, but also stall it —
should it come at the expense of sound science.
“If leading voices in invasion science and management are oblivious to the need for, or unwilling to participate in
collaborative activities, they may knowingly or unknowingly stall any progress made in the discipline. This both in terms of research and capacity
building,” explains Brent Abrahams.
Read the paper
Abrahams, B., Sitas, N. and Esler, K.J. 2019. Exploring the dynamics of research collaborations by mapping social networks in
invasion science. Journal of Environmental Management, Volume 229: 27-37.
For more information, contact Brent Abrahams at firstname.lastname@example.org
Blue nodes represent core authors, green- newcomers joining during and after 2011, red- authors left network before
or during 2011, and yellow- authors with once off involvement in 2011. Link colour represents when links were formed. Wider links are indicative
of a higher frequency of co-authorship. Black links were established between 1997-2004, grey- 2005-2011 and red- 2012-2017. Triangular nodes
represent continuant authors in the 2004 peak. Links between red nodes and their neighbours represent ties that were established and then
severed over the 1997 to 2011 period. The more articles co-authored by an author the larger the node
(see Abrahams et al 2019).