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How international research teams respond to disruption in their mobility patterns

Olivier J. WaltherRafael Prieto-CurielErica Odera
Nov 2023
Combining social network analysis with personal interviews, the paper examines how the social structure and internal composition of three Africa-focused international research networks contributes to their resilience. It shows that research networks are structured around a small number of highly influential coordinators. This structure facilitates information exchange and trust between countries and across fields. The study also suggests that the surveyed teams tend to exchange information or trust each other irrespective of their social and professional attributes, indicating that diversity is key to understanding their responses to major shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic. In a second part, the paper analyzes how the spatial constraints imposed by distance and borders affect their ability to function internationally. It shows that the probability of exchanging information, trusting each other, and co-publishing decreases considerably with distance and that research communities are more likely formed inside the same country than internationally. Interviews reveal that teams responded to travel bans and border closure by emphasizing what they already did best, suggesting that resilience should be considered as an evolutionary attribute of a system.
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