Social Sciences Research at NCRC Publishes First Report

November 28, 2012

NCRC was one of the three sites for a two year study funded by the U-M Office of the Vice President for Research, the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), and the U-M Medical School to assess collaboration and physical proximity.

For the study, the research team conducted surveys of 172 faculty and research staff members in three U-M buildings, and also used extensive administrative data. The conclusion is that when researchers share a building, and especially a floor, the likelihood of forming new collaborations and obtaining funding increases dramatically.

"Our analyses clearly show that there are benefits to co-location,” said Jason Owen-Smith, an associate professor of sociology and organizational studies. Researchers who occupy the same building are 33 percent more likely to form new collaborations than researchers who occupy different buildings, and scientists who occupy the same floor are 57 percent more likely to form new collaborations than investigators who occupy different buildings.

“This study gives insights into the benefits that such research brings and how interdisciplinarity, which is now at the forefront of scientific enquiry, is supported by such hubs as the North Campus Research Complex that brings researchers from many different disciplines into contact,”
said Stephen Forrest, U-M vice president for research.

Owen-Smith and colleagues found that linear distance between labs and offices was less important than overlap in daily walking paths, thus developing the concept of zonal overlap.

ISR study image

Social Science Based Research Zone Overlapadd caption here

The research team found that for every 100 feet of zonal overlap, collaborations increased by 20 percent and grant funding increased between 21 and 30 percent.

"With roughly 30 buildings of differing sizes and layouts, NCRC will especially benefit from the application of zonal overlap -- because it is robust to the effects of spatial layout -- to calibrate the impact of space on collaboration and innovation processes," said Felichism Kabo, a co-author of the report.

Other members of the study team are U-M researchers Felichism Kabo, Margaret Levenstein, Richard Price, Gerald Davis, Yongha Hwang and Natalie Cotton Nessler. A full report of the study is here and a link to the ISR news release.