Organizing for Inter-and Transdisciplinary Collaboration in Science: The Role of Autonomy vs. Control

Susanne Beck, Marcel LaFlamme, Marion Poetz

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearchpeer-review


Academic scientists are increasingly expected to conduct their research in an open and collaborative manner, crossing disciplinary, organizational, and even functional boundaries to increase the productivity and impact of their research. Yet, such inter- and transdisciplinary collaborations bear multiple risks for the scientists involved including career threats if projects fail or get delayed. At the same time, a progressive trend toward managerialism in scientific research organizations such as universities or research institutes is enmeshing organizational priorities with individual researchers' agendas and workflows. This raises the question of whether and how scientific organizations can act as facilitators for implementing collaborative research practices on the part of individual scientists. We shed light on how organizational design choices Æ related to exercising control vs. granting autonomy Æ influence the scientists’ engagement in inter- and transdisciplinary research collaborations. We investigate this question by exploring two in-depth case studies of scientific organizations in Europe with a total of 63 interviews with scientists, 4,129 pages of secondary material, and field observations. Our analysis shows that control-related design choices are 1) more frequently applied than those related to granting autonomy but 2) also bear the risk of (unintendedly) blocking or deterring scientists from collaborating at all, in particular when scientists’ norms and values are not sufficiently considered. 3) Interestingly, granting scientists autonomy in their collaboration activities seems to predominantly encourage collaborations with close (compared to distant) collaborators and lead to collaborations with low levels of decision rights on the side of the collaboration partners. Our findings contribute to the literature on the organization of science and hold meaningful implications for research policy and managers of scientific organizations.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2022
Number of pages42
Publication statusPublished - 2022
EventDRUID22 Conference - Copenhagen Business School, Frederiksberg, Denmark
Duration: 13 Jun 202215 Jun 2022
Conference number: 43


ConferenceDRUID22 Conference
LocationCopenhagen Business School
Internet address


  • Organization design
  • Organization of science
  • Scientific research
  • Scientific organizations
  • Control
  • Autonomy
  • Managerialism

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