”Thinking beyond National Borders – Research and Funding across boundaries” was the topic of this year’s Research Forum conference in Hanover, hosted by VolkswagenStiftung in the beautiful environs of Herrenhausen Palace.

The conference served as a space to listen to the various perspectives on the processes of international research from researchers, funders and institutions alike, discuss the various issues, aims and objectives that this research and collaboration create, and then delve into the very reasons why international research is conducted in the first place.

The two day conference, moderated by Quentin Cooper, brought together 16 speakers, from across the international research spectrum, to deliver presentations to, and engage with, an audience of individuals and colleagues within the sector with the aim of delving into the issues, complications and objectives of the titular topic of research and funding across national borders. 

The first day opened with a debate on international collaboration in research as a phenomenon in itself and saw Arjun Appadurai and Marek Kwiek, both present from different standpoints on the benefits and prevalence of international collaboration in the research community. The mainstay of the day’s discussions, however, would centre on the different perspectives on international collaboration from researchers and funders, and would feature a wide spectrum of diverse speakers from both different professional, and cultural backgrounds. With this diversity in backgrounds a not unexpected key lesson seemed to emerge; keep it simple. Complicated processes make for difficult and complicated relationships and this puts a strain on both collaborative efforts and the trust needed to maintain them and in time puts up barriers to potential projects and actual projects alike. Furthermore, while working together towards a common goal was universally acclaimed as beneficial for those involved, it is critically important to ensure this is not at the expense of diversity in research, ideas and ownership.

Many participants recognised these lessons and themes and delved deeper into them throughout the day in workshops, group tasks and discussions over coffee breaks. This appetite to collaborate and share experiences was indicative of many of the points raised during the presentations about the need to cultivate the human aspect of international collaborations and the utilisation of bottom-up approaches to these initiatives rather than top-down was seen as key to producing fruitful, long lasting and sustainable professional relationships and collaborations.

The second day followed on from the first day’s discussions but with the perspectives of those working for international institutions such as the European XFEL project and the International Science Council. This was supported with the final set of speakers illuminating the role these international collaborations can play in science diplomacy, both in the past and present with projects such as the post war CERN or IIASA, especially poignant considering the discussions fell on the 65th anniversary of the Allied bombing of Herrenhausen. 

The conference ended with Wilhelm Krull, of VolkswagenStiftung and Alberto Anfossi, of Compagnia di San Paolo, delivering closing remarks on the enlightening discussions and lively debates that had occurred over the previous two days. 

For more information on the Research Forum please contact Jennifer Fitzsimons

To see more images of the event visit the Flickr album.