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The need for sound strategy based research cooperations

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The article gives insights in how applied research and development worked in the early days when science-based public research institutions where created around the globe, how it works nowadays with an increasing diversity of R&D actors, which R&D breakthroughs are needed in agri-food research and how potential solutions could look like, why cooperation and a sound research cooperation strategy is vital and how it is developed including an evolutive strategy development approach, and how important it is to respect the human factor while developing a cooperation strategy particularly in public applied research institutions.
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>The need for sound strategy
based research cooperations
Lukas Bertschinger and Michael Weber
Applied research and
development in the early days
Science has been a driver of success of mod-
ern societies and in particular of agriculture
over the past 150 years. Research became the
tool for achieving the scientific understand-
ing of problem contexts and for problem
solving. Justus von Liebig’s book “Organic
Chemistry in Its Applications to Agricul-
ture and Physiology”, published in 1840,
represents the dawn of the development
and exploitation of agricultural science for
boosting productivity in agriculture. Indus-
try took care of market rewarded aspects
of this development, while governments
across the world established national insti-
tutes for applied agricultural R&D to address
aspects that were not taken care of by the
private sector and institutions for funda-
mental research. Private and public institu-
tions achieved remarkable breakthroughs
with their intra muros R&D. Horticulture was
always at the forefront and a driver of this
development, often because horticulture is
producing close to market with comparative-
ly little regulation from governments, and
because problem-solving pressure was, and
still is, particularly high in horticulture due
to challenging quality standards of fresh and
processed produce. For decades and until
the middle of the 20th century, the existence
of these institutions per se was an achieve-
ment and an important driver for adapting
fundamental ground-breaking innovations,
e.g. in plant nutrition, soil fertility manage-
ment, crop protection or plant breeding and
selection, to meet regional requirements.
Often, visionary leaders were at the head of
such institutions, with a remarkable foot-
print of their leadership at the national and
international level. Only two examples of
the many outstanding, pioneering research
personalities of these days are mentioned
here: Hermann Müller-Thurgau, a plant
physiologist, breeder, phytopathologist and
microbiologist and the first director of the
Swiss Federal Research Station Wädenswil.
He was the breeder of the grapevine cultivar
‘Müller-Thurgau’, which is worldwide still the
most widespread modern cultivar for white
wines, but also a driver of alcohol free bever-
age research. Another such example is Nihat
ùevket Οyriboz, founder and first director of
the Turkish Plant Protection Institute at Izmir
Bornova and later Minister of Agriculture,
who was successful at introducing and using
parasitoids against insect pests in the early
20th century, e.g. in figs.
Diversity now!
The institutional setting of science, and par-
ticularly of applied R&D in agriculture, has
changed dramatically in the last three to four
decades. The above mentioned development
allowed for a stunning increase of food pro-
duction. However, negative impacts on the
environment and the need for a more holistic
view of agriculture than the principally tech-
nology driven approach mentioned above
has led to the creation of further private,
non-industry driven R&D institutions since
the middle of the 20th century. Globalisation
and digitalisation led to a further diversifica-
tion of the agri-food R&D landscape, thanks
to an increasingly knowledge-based society
and to increasingly affordable emerging
new technologies, Small and Medium-sized
Enterprises (SMEs) and non-governmental
organisations engaged in applied R&D. While
knowledge and technologies became increas-
ingly specialized and developed increasingly
rapidly, the science community got into dif-
ficulties in communicating effectively with
the public and with decision makers. New
types of science are emerging nowadays, e.g.
citizen science, intending to deliver outputs
to the public, with a simple and objective
vocabulary, for reinforcing the collaboration
between public and research actors (Brito
et al., 2012). Eventually, the institutional
landscape of R&D actors and approaches
became very diversified, dynamic and com-
plex. Government funded national research
institutions have in many countries lost their
role as the almost exclusive provider of prog-
ress-relevant knowledge and innovation. In
the dynamic evolution of problem-related
contexts, they compete or collaborate with
other sources of new knowledge and inno-
vation in delivering solutions for pressing
challenges of the horticultural sector.
Breakthroughs needed
and potential solutions
The agricultural value chain is confronted
with several megatrends, all of which have
their particular importance and expression in
specific national and regional contexts. Pop-
ulation growth and demographical changes,
changing societal demands and consump-
tion patterns, climate change, increasing
pressure on natural resources, increasing
food demand and food waste, globalisation,
fast technical developments and increasing
systemic risks are such megatrends among
others. An exemplary, very comprehensive
and recently published report on the chal-
lenges of agri-food research (The National
Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medi-
cine, 2018) defines nine future key research
challenges, two of which relate to animal
production, while horticulture is related
directly with the following seven: 1) increas-
ing nutrient use efficiency in crop production
systems; 2) reducing soil loss and degrada-
tion; 3) mobilizing genetic diversity for crop
improvement; 4) optimizing water use in agri-
culture; 5) early and rapid detection and pre-
vention of plant and animal diseases; 6) early
and rapid detection of foodborne pathogens;
A topic stimulated by the XXX International
Horticultural Congress (IHC)
The motto of the XXX International Horticultural Congress (IHC2018) from August 12-16,
2018 in Istanbul was ‘Bridging the World through Horticulture’. Congress colloquia
were to bridge industry with research and production and form a platform to share
experiences from different disciplines and actors of society to envision the future.
One of the colloquia had the title: “Technologies for meeting the challenges of the
future – the role of a research cooperation strategy”. Its key message: in public applied
research institutions, strategy-based cooperation development and implementation is
a vital “technology” to meet the up-coming challenges particularly in technology and
knowledge intensive, sustainable horticulture. This colloquium motivated the present
C h r o n i c a H o r t i c u l t u r a e
and 7) reducing food loss and waste through-
out the supply chain.
These challenges seem to ask for the impossi-
ble: produce more food quantity and quality
with fewer resources while not impairing the
environment, increasing biodiversity, avoid-
ing losses and paying the price needed to the
agri-food sector for covering cost and improv-
ing rural livelihoods! Luckily, an increasing
number of studies provide further clarity:
solutions are at hand, the potential for break-
throughs exists! The chosen production sys-
tem makes a big difference in terms of land
use, deforestation, pesticide use, water use,
greenhouse gas emissions, N- and P-surplus
and other indicators. Sustainable production
methods may feed 9 billion people by 2050,
but only if consumption patterns change
(Muller et al., 2017). This is supported by fur-
ther studies on how food’s environmental
impact may be altered through producers’
and consumers’ behavioural changes. Inter-
estingly, many horticultural foods can con-
tribute beneficially to lowering greenhouse
gas emissions and to reducing land use,
terrestrial acidification, eutrophication and
scarcity-weighted freshwater withdrawals
(Poore and Nemecek, 2018). However, no sin-
gle measure, such as dietary change towards
more plant-based diets, improved technolo-
gies and management, or reductions in food
loss and waste, will be able to keep negative
effects within boundaries that define a safe
operating space for humanity. A synergistic
combination of measures is needed (Spring-
mann et al., 2018).
Agriculture and more specifically horticul-
ture will play an important role in feeding
the world sustainably while addressing the
above mentioned challenges, if we want to
meet the following goals: 1) improving the
efficiency of food and agricultural systems;
2) increasing the sustainability of agriculture;
and 3) increasing the resilience of agricultur-
al systems to adapt to rapid changes and
extreme conditions (The National Academies
of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine, 2018). To
address these three goals, convergence is
needed, i.e. an “approach to problem solving
that cuts across disciplinary boundaries for
achieving the necessary breakthroughs”, as
the report states. Consequently, the principal
breakthrough that is required is applying a
systems approach, based on the understand-
ing of the nature of interactions among the
different elements of the food and agricul-
tural system, which then can be leveraged to
increase overall system efficiency, resilience,
and sustainability. In terms of research meth-
odology, such systems approaches, involving
transdisciplinary science, are recommended
as priorities in solving agriculture’s most vex-
ing problems.
This is easier to identify than to effectively
practice it. What does this mean specifically
for a scientist? How do I practice a systems
approach with transdisciplinary science?
Progress in this respect will depend on how
well we succeed in developing robust and
simple protocols for coping with such a sys-
tems approach. While still many questions
remain open, it is evident that an individual
researcher or a single institution or a single
research discipline will not be able to deliver
the expected progress. That’s where coopera-
tion, between scientists and institutions and
disciplines, comes in!
A cooperation strategy is vital
Cooperation is particularly indispensable for
a public applied research institution. They
are operating in a complex stakeholder envi-
ronment and are implicitly and explicitly con-
fronted with many divergent expectations
from this environment. They need to deliver
solutions to science-based problems in a way
that often goes beyond their competence
and capacity. A prioritization of problems
to be addressed and decisive collaborations
needed is unavoidable in being able to devel-
op useful solutions based on the institution’s
limited competences and capacities, com-
bined with those of the cooperation part-
ners. In other words: a cooperation strategy
is needed.
A strategy is a plan of action designed to
achieve a long-term or overall aim (English
Oxford living Dictionaries, 2018). Coopera-
tion partners usually change dynamically for
each research project, while also, for certain
research topics or disciplines, some comple-
mentary cooperation partners may be iden-
tified for a long-lasting strategic alliance.
The plan, i.e. strategy, shall define which
partnerships are to be built up in the coming
years, while some existing cooperation part-
nerships should be consolidated.
To avoid dissipation of resources and efforts
and make efficient use of the often shrinking
resources of public applied research insti-
tutions, a sound cooperation strategy is a
decisive success factor, particularly in the
above mentioned challenging context. The
strategy-based management of partnerships
may be understood as “technology” needed
for success, like any other technology. This
applies, not exclusively, but particularly to
highly specialized technology and knowl-
edge intensive horticulture. However, what
are the important earmarks related with a
successful cooperation strategy?
The cooperation strategy
development process
– a success factor
How to develop a strategy? And what is a
strategy? In the present case we define the
term strategy as a plan of action designed to
achieve a long-term or overall aim. It provides
guidelines and orientation for management
and scientists to move toward a defined
aim in the increasingly complex environment
of national and international research and
research cooperation. A simple and classic
strategic planning approach may be used to
develop such a research cooperation strate-
gy (Figure 1).
The figure shows the three basic steps of a
strategic planning process. Before launch-
ing a strategy development process, a clear
statement of purpose and overall goal
should be defined and approved by the man-
agement board. This is of great importance
in making sure that the strategy will be sup-
ported by the institution and may create
and Selection
Metrics and
Creation of
Policies and
Annual Goals
of Long-Term
Statement of
Feedback Loop
1. Formulation
2. Implementation
3. Evaluation
QFigure 1. The strategic planning process. Source: Slezak (2018), adapted from Bryson and
Roering (1987).
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impact later on. The first step then is an inter-
nal and external analysis, meaning that the
internal and the external environment of the
institution are studied. Classically, a SWOT
analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportu-
nities and Threats) can be the result of this
step. It makes sense to involve the perspec-
tives of internal and external stakeholders.
Furthermore, the expected purpose and
goals of research cooperation represented
in the strategy under development have to
be defined.
Compellingly, the strategy for research coop-
eration must be deduced from, and harmo-
nized with, the general strategy of the organi-
zation. The first step also includes the devel-
opment and evaluation of different strategy
options. It leads to the selection of the pre-
ferred strategic option for cooperation and to
the choice of cooperation partners.
In a second step, an implementation plan
is developed and the needed resources are
allocated. The implementation plan may be
documented as a road map with action lines
(e.g. management of the strategy, building
strategic alliances, etc.) that are specified
with work packages that define aims, fore-
seen actions and the team involved.
Because most research organizations act in
an environment with proliferating internal
and external complexity, the content of the
strategy for research cooperation can’t be
set in stone for years. That’s why the third
step comprises the evaluation of the results
of all actions undertaken. This evaluation is
the basis for a feedback loop for adjusting
purpose and overall aim of the strategy, if
appropriate, representing the next iteration
of the strategic planning process. Typically,
there is an evaluation of the strategy and
revision every year or every second year.
Traditional vs. evolutive
strategy development process
The ambiguity of future developments leads
to the necessity to diversify the responses to
the various strategic risks. Hence, it’s recom-
mended that a portfolio of different strategic
actions be pursued, not just one single direc-
tion of action. These different actions may
be smaller but broader (portfolio of strategic
action lines/pilot schemes). This might not
be the most efficient way to implement the
strategy, but it is the most resilient and there-
fore successful one, with the advantage of
absorbing more potential risks that emerge
unexpectedly and enabling the institution
to reacting in a timely and appropriate way.
Malik’s visualization of traditional and evolu-
tive problem solving represents well the above
mentioned approach (Malik, 1996) (Figure 2).
Defining and implementing a strategy for
research cooperation has several advantag-
es, as long as it is based on an iterative pro-
cess that involves management board and
selected key actors of the institution:
it’s a guideline for management and for
scientists of the organization;
it strengthens a deliberate focus on
important partnerships and avoids
unnecessary dispersal and consequently
dissipation of efforts;
it is a reference and guideline for
positioning project ideas on the
it has a steering effect and thus allows
for relieving the system from unnecessary
it leads to less “micro-management” and
less administration.
The human factor:
particularities of public
applied research institutions
Public applied research institutions are
so-called “expert organizations”. These are
generally characterized by some particular
characteristics (Mintzberg, 1983; Egloff and
Bogenstätter, 2016) that must be taken into
account for the strategy development to be
successful. Such organizations are based on
the knowledge and skills of well-educated,
often self-reliant research experts with a high
intrinsic motivation. A high recognition in
such an organization is often based on pro-
fessional technical competence. Experts have
QTable 1. Incentives to engage in research cooperation for scientists and research managers in public applied research institutions.
Summarized from Beaver (2001), Bertschinger (2017), Bozeman and Corley (2004), and Seongkyoon et al. (2014); adapted from Guimon (2013).
Incentives Externally controlled factors
Attractive objectives
New knowledge and skills set, novel instruments, tools and
Additional resources
Attractive collaboration and project type
Attractive research support services
Incentivising policy instruments being part of the innovation
and R&D policy of public and private bodies (e.g. grant design,
matching grants, tax-incentives, innovation vouchers, reward
systems, technology transfer offices (TTO), spin-off facilitation)
Cooperation instruments Internally controlled factors
Mutual visits and colloquia
Researchers’ exchange
Participation in conferences and research group activities
Seed money
Performing cooperation support
Advocacy and policy influencing
Establishing a powerful research cooperation support
Management briefs on innovation and grant policies
Consequent fund raising and cooperation policy
QFigure 2. Methodologies of problem solving (adapted from Malik (1996)).
C h r o n i c a H o r t i c u l t u r a e
much autonomy at their own command in
their daily business. The project organization
is based on technical criteria, with a manage-
ment structure that is usually quite flat.
These characteristics are of great impor-
tance for the success of the development
of a cooperation strategy. The involvement
of researchers in the strategy development
process is mandatory. It is an inevitable bot-
tom-up-component that ensures an immedi-
ate connection to research community and
on-going research activities, while the inevi-
table top-down-component comes from the
management of the organization. To launch
the development of a cooperation strate-
gy, management needs to define a mandate
with clear objectives. This will ensure that
the research cooperation strategy is embed-
ded properly into the general strategy of the
organization and also other relevant par-
tial strategies (e.g. infrastructure strategy or
fundraising strategy). Both components are
essential. The bottom-up and bottom-down
processes ensure the necessary quality of
the process and its results. It’s not the fastest
way to define a research cooperation strat-
egy but it’s the best way to ensure suitable
and relevant results, particularly if effective
implementation of the strategy is needed.
Such a process may be seen in an expert orga-
nization as a change process. Expert orga-
nizations have their own terms (Egloff and
Bogenstätter, 2016) that need to be respected
to ensure a productive strategy development
process (adapted from Häfele (2009)):
clear setting in terms of timing, resources
and expected results;
mutual respect among involved actors;
participatory process involving researchers
and management;
coherent process design with regard to
involved human and organizational actors
(goals, interests, potentials);
building on strengths instead of
circumventing weaknesses;
continuous learning attitude (learning
The win-win-win needed
Another aspect to be respected when devel-
oping the strategy is the fact that this pro-
cess must be of mutual benefit, i.e. for the
institute’s management, for its administra-
tion, as well as for the researchers. To make
this happen, the strategy development must
not only be motivated by a management
decision and a participatory process (see
above), but also needs to offer incentives for
the involved actors (management, admin-
istration, researchers). The strategy must
be seen as something supportive to those
who must eventually implement it. Incen-
tivising the implementation of the strategy
strengthens the strategy’s impact.
Scientist and research managers are encour-
aged to engage in research collaborations
for various reasons. It is recommendable to
build on these when developing an imple-
mentation plan for the cooperation strategy
and to allocate the necessary amount of
Table 1 summarises, from several sourc-
es, how scientists and research managers
may be encouraged to engage for research
To cope with the demands of future societies
in a healthy environment, horticulture needs
breakthroughs in agro ecology, mitigation
and adaptation to climate change and the dig-
italization of its value chains. Nowadays, the
institutional landscape of R&D actors is very
diversified, dynamic and complex. A steadily
accelerating technological and cost intensive
innovation process is an important driver of
the knowledge-based economy. Nowadays,
R&D institutions need resilient and flexible
cooperation with competent complementary
actors for impactful science-based problem
solving. In public R&D institutions, such coop-
eration must be based on a sound cooper-
ation strategy to invest the often shrinking
resources efficiently and effectively.
Strategy-based cooperation development
and implementation may be seen as a tech-
nology like any other technology needed
for knowledge intensive, sustainable horti-
culture. The development of such a strate-
gy must meet certain prerequisites in order
to be successful: 1) the strategy must be a
sub-strategy of the institute; 2) a clear man-
date from the management board is needed
to launch the development of such a strate-
gy; 3) the strategy must meet the needs of the
institute’s management, administration and
researchers (win-win-win) and be developed
in a participatory process. Hence, a cooper-
ation strategy simplifies the management
of the organization. Actors from manage-
ment to the project level are provided with
a clearer orientation as to what extent a
specific cooperation is important and desir-
able for the organization from a strategic
point of view. A strategy allows a focus on
few actions and fostering strengths, while
not exclusively restricting the institution on
one sole aspect. It maintains flexibility and
the capacity needed for a resilient organiza-
tion, resulting in a focused, but nevertheless
broad portfolio. The strategy must provide
incentives for researchers and management,
as well as administration, since the support
of all three actors is needed in order to imple-
ment the strategy. Continuous questioning
of the strategy and flexible adaptation are
vital to address a changing reality. Strate-
gy development and implementation need
resources that must be considered from the
outset. Not taking them into account is a
common reason for lack of strategy imple-
> About the authors
Dr. Lukas Bertschinger is the delegate for
National and International Research Coop-
eration of Agroscope, Switzerland. He is
an agronomist with a PhD in plant pathol-
ogy, lectures horticultural sciences at
ETH Zürich and specialised in innovation
management and with a CAS in Interna-
tional Policy and Advocacy at ETH. E-mail:
Dr. Michael Weber is lecturer for Man-
agement at ETH Zurich, Switzerland,
and independent business consultant
(webermanagement, Wilen, Switzerland).
He has a long track record in strategic
planning in different industries and in
management of research institutions.
> Lukas Bertschinger > Michael Weber
V o l u m e 5 9 | N u m b e r 1 | 2 0 1 9
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Compares and contrasts six approaches to private-sector strategic planning within the context of a public-sector strategic planning process. Discusses the public-sector applicability of each of the private-sector approaches and explores the contingencies or conditions that govern its successful use in the public sector.- from Authors
International collaboration in research activities has been highlighted because it offers higher productivity and has a greater impact than non-international collaboration. Given the importance of international collaboration, researchers make strategic decisions on their collaboration modes in the light of their environments and the expected trade-offs, since long-distance research collaboration entails both costs and benefits. By using national data at the project level, this paper examines the possible factors in international collaboration in various research areas, mainly focusing on research activities by universities. Our empirical results suggest that substantial financial and attentional resources, academic excellence, individual motivation, and active informal communication play significant roles in accomplishing international collaboration. Additionally, this paper refines the understanding of the role of communication and policy in ensuring the most effective use of research resources, helping research managers to promote collaboration in an appropriate decision-making context.
“Scientific and technical human capital” (S&T human capital) has been defined as the sum of researchers’ professional network ties and their technical skills and resources [Int. J. Technol. Manage. 22 (7–8) (2001) 636]. Our study focuses on one particular means by which scientists acquire and deploy S&T human capital, research collaboration. We examine data from 451 scientists and engineers at academic research centers in the United States. The chief focus is on scientists’ collaboration choices and strategies. Since we are particularly interested in S&T human capital, we pay special attention to strategies that involve mentoring graduate students and junior faculty and to collaborating with women. We also examine collaboration “cosmopolitanism,” the extent to which scientists collaborate with those around them (one’s research group, one’s university) as opposed to those more distant in geography or institutional setting (other universities, researchers in industry, researchers in other nations). Our findings indicate that those who pursue a “mentor” collaboration strategy are likely to be tenured; to collaborate with women; and to have a favorable view about industry and research on industrial applications. Regarding the number of reported collaborators, those who have larger grants have more collaborators. With respect to the percentage of female collaborators, we found, not surprisingly, that female scientists have a somewhat higher percentage (36%) of female collaborators, than males have (24%). There are great differences, however, according to rank, with non-tenure track females having 84% of their collaborations with females. Regarding collaboration cosmopolitanism, we find that most researchers are not particularly cosmopolitan in their selection of collaborators—they tend to work with the people in their own work group. More cosmopolitan collaborators tend have large grants. A major policy implication is that there is great variance in the extent to which collaborations seem to enhance or generate S&T human capital. Not all collaborations are equal with respect to their “public goods” implications.