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Collocation and Scientific Collaboration: Evidence from a Field Experiment

by Ina Ganguli (with Kevin Boudreau, Tom Brady, Patrick Gaule, Tony Hollenberg, Eva Guinan and Karim Lakhani), Harvard Business School Working Paper 13-023

We present the results of a field experiment conducted within the Harvard Medical School system of hospitals and research centers to understand how collocation impacts the likelihood of scientific collaboration. We introduce exogenous collocation and face-to-face interactions for a random subset of biomedical researchers responding to an opportunity to apply for a research grant. While the overall baseline likelihood of any two researchers collaborating is small, we find that random collocation significantly increases the likelihood of pair-level coapplication by almost 70%. The effect of exogenous collocation on subsequent collaboration was greater for previous coauthors, pairs including a woman, and pairs researching similar clinical areas. Our results suggest that matching between scientists may be subject to considerable frictions—even among those in relatively close geographic proximity and in the same organizational system. At the same time, even a brief and focused intervention facilitating face-to-face interactions can provide information that impacts the formation of scientific collaborations.

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