The tension between competitive and collaborative forces in agricultural research: Impact on knowledge sharing within a public sector organsiation

The aim of this paper is to explore social, cultural and environmental factors that affect the collaborative production of agricultural knowledge within a public research organisation, as part of the wider research system. In order to effectively respond to the current, complex problems presented by society, collaborative interdisciplinary networking has become a crucial element of scientific practice. For this reason, fostering knowledge‐sharing is an important concern of research organisations. The related literature indicates, however, that efforts to maximise knowledge flows within a research organisation might fail if sociocultural aspects are overlooked. The research was conducted using a single case study design that involved a Brazilian agricultural research organisation, with qualitative data gathered through in‐depth interviews with twenty‐six agricultural researchers and three information and knowledge professionals. Data analysis followed an inductive thematic coding approach, with support of the software Atlas‐ti. It was found that the policy and organisational imperatives for collaboration in agricultural research is juxtaposed with competitive forces that emanate from the wider research system. In particular, research funding schemes, systems of resource allocation, quality control mechanisms, and performance evaluation and rewards. Competitive practices arise not only in relation to material resources, such as grants and research facilities, but also in relation to intangible resources, such as reputation and priority over ideas. These interrelated phenomena have a direct influence on the ways in which agricultural researchers relate to one another, creating intense competitiveness that acts as a barrier to knowledge flows. In turn, this results in cross‐disciplinary synergies being under utilised and limits the formation of cross‐departmental partnerships.