in Collaboration, Digital Science, Overleaf

Understanding the existing and emerging trends in global research collaboration – as it happens

This post is based on my introduction to the recent report on The Connected Culture of Collaboration [1], published in March 2017 by Overleaf and Digital Science and featuring a combination of data analysis and curated pieces.

Collaboration Network Animation

Visualizing the network of real-time collaboration in The Connected Culture of Collaboration report.

As a species, we are naturally drawn to form communities and social groups, building up our wider ‘family’ of friends and co-workers. Indeed, this need is so ingrained that the effects of isolation on the human psyche have shown that we humans are “dramatically affected by perceived social isolation” [2], and that it “is a risk factor for, and may contribute to, poorer overall cognitive performance, faster cognitive decline” and many other negative traits. In other words, it’s important not to be isolated.

One might imagine that in a world where vast numbers of the population are connected through both social media channels and the widespread adoption of mobile phones to replace traditional communications infrastructure, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, studies have shown an increase in social isolation corresponding to this increased connectedness [3], and the precise details of the relationship still under much active research [4].

As researchers, we form lasting mentor-apprentice relationships throughout our early career; beginning as the apprentice and moving on to mentoring as we develop our skills and experience. I expect we can all name our early mentors and our first apprentices. But how do our wider collaborations – especially the larger projects that span national and international boundaries – fit into this community picture? This is not a simple question to answer, and is beyond the scope of our initial report, but one that is important as global collaborations continue to grow and our research connections correspondingly move to the international stage.

The following gives an overview of the four articles in the full report, which is freely available online via figshare.

In our first piece, Liz Allen explores how science values collaboration, and how this relates to the increasingly global, large-scale, and inter-disciplinary nature of such collaborations. As Liz discusses, collaborations – which involve scientists each performing a variety of tasks and each providing a unique set of contributions – are increasingly considered crucial to address global challenges and complex scientific problems. Yet, the current incentivisation structure focuses heavily on the author list of the publication describing the results of the research. Should we be moving to instead recognising the different contributions made by authors, and if so, what next steps can we take?

Daniel Hook and Ian Calvert then report on their analysis of the Overleaf collaboration data which forms the heart of this study. In their initial analysis, they focus on the network properties of the Overleaf data, to provide insight in collaboration patterns on national, state and institution-level scales. Whilst the US perhaps unsurprisingly emerges as the largest collaboration hub, it is noteworthy that the EU-28 countries are highly collaborative, and that the US and the EU are broadly similar sized in terms of number of institutions.  Interestingly, the level of collaboration between the EU and the US is not as large as might be expected and while the US is highly collaborative overall, the long tail of collaborative relationships in the EU is impressive.

Collaboration networks between US states

A visualization of the collaboration networks between US states, taken from The Connected Culture of Collaboration report.

At the institutional level, one university which features highly in the collaboration analysis is Stanford, and this leads onto our next piece, where we hear from Helen Josephine of Stanford University Libraries. Helen describes the changing nature of the university library, and the shift to providing expertise in tools, services and best practices in research and research communication. At Stanford, Helen organizes their annual “Gear Up for Research” event, an extension of their outreach programme to staff and students, which helps promote and encourage adoption of new collaboration tools on campus. Helen notes that the early adoption of new tools tends to be organic and bottom-up, with staff and student use of such tools helping to guide the library in determining which ones are providing real added-value on campus.

In our closing piece, Sam Burridge looks at how the growth of open access to research is a facilitator for increasing collaboration. In the past three years, open access outputs have increased by 16%, and the systems used to create, deliver and disseminate scholarly works has seen some significant new innovations [5]. The continued development in these areas will encourage and continue to facilitate new and deeper collaborations than ever before, building a platform for the next generation of researchers in an international world.

To finish on a personal note:

When writing the introduction to this report, I realized that this is my first contribution to a research paper for over four years; my first since Overleaf (then called writeLaTeX) was conceived and I left the world of driverless cars to build a scientific start-up. Since then, collaboration has been at the heart of how Overleaf has grown, both organically, through authors creating documents on Overleaf and sharing them with their friends and peers, and deliberately, through the early partnerships we formed within the LaTeX community and the publishing industry.

Hence I’m delighted that my first research contribution in four years is a report on collaboration, featuring both an analysis of the data from the platform we built, and with contributions from four of our early supporters and partners: Faculty of 1000, whose innovative publishing platform F1000Research was the first to accept submissions from Overleaf; Digital Science, a pioneer in the industry and our lead investor as Overleaf has grown into the company it is today; Samantha Burridge who was Managing Director of Open Research at Nature Publishing Group when we first launched our link with Scientific Reports; and Stanford University, our first full institutional partner who adopted Overleaf in January 2015.

I hope you enjoy reading the analysis and articles in the full report; they represent the first glimpse at how we can now start to understand research collaboration as it happens, in real-time – an exciting step forward that I’m proud to be part of.

Download a free PDF copy of the full report.


[1] The Connected Culture of Collaboration Report, Liz Allen, Sam Burridge, Ian Calvert, Laurel Haak, John Hammersley, Daniel Hook, Helen B. Josephine, figshare (2017)

[2] Perceived social isolation and cognition, John T. Cacioppo, Louise C. Hawkley, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Volume 13 , Issue 10 , 447 – 454 (2009)

[3] Social Isolation in America: Changes in Core Discussion Networks over Two Decades, Miller McPherson, Lynn Smith-Lovin, Matthew E. Brashears, American Sociological Review Vol 71, Issue 3, pp. 353 – 375 First published date: June-01-2006 

[4] Core networks, social isolation, and new media: How Internet and mobile phone use is related to network size and diversity, Keith N. Hampton, Lauren F. Sessions, and Eun Ja Her, Information, Communication & Society 14.1 (2011): 130-155 

[5] See e.g: 101 Innovations in Scholarly Communication – the Changing Research Workflow, Bianca Kramer, Jeroen Bosman, figshare (2015)

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