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Table 3 Evidence and interpretation of relationship between cognitive and organizational proximity and collaborations

From: Personal and related kinds of proximity driving collaborations: a multi-case study of Dutch nanotechnology researchers

Relationship Illustrative evidence and interpretation
Cognitive proximity as a motive for collaborator selection “It is a joint programme between him and (Collaborator’s name), that’s the mathematician, and myself (computational catalysis) on complexity science issues with neurons in the brain.” (Interviewee TUE1A-1)
Interpretation: Mathematics and computational catalysis intersect in complexity sciences
“This was a group that had an extensive experience in this area. Working in a medical environment. There are research labs in the university but we wanted biology and medicine. This group was the best fit for the things we wanted to do.” (Interviewee TUD3A-1)
Interpretation: Selected a collaborator from a group with experience in biology (like the interviewee) as well as in its application in medicine
“(Collaborator’s name) is a professor in my field in (City’s name) and is, let me say, the young star. He came to the Netherlands, he is from (City’s name), in 2001 or 2002 or so. And I consider him kind of my…he has a kind of position I used to have in the past in the Dutch catalysis scene. So he also participates in high level discussion with the government on scientific issues, industry is involved. He is a great scientist, also got a Spinoza grant.” (Interviewee TUE1A-2)
Interpretation: Adjacent or similar reputational standing within the knowledge field
  “It was good fun for once, running the analyses I thought a few things were interesting, other things were not really down my alley. […] we wouldn’t initiate a follow-up project. (When asked whether the interviewee avoided follow-up because of the cognitive content:) Yes, because of content, because other than that he was a nice fellow to talk to. Just different methods, different possibilities, and other perspectives.” (Interviewee TUD2B-1)
Interpretation: Experienced cognitive distance causes interviewee to refrain from collaboration
“No, it was put to halt for the time being, because we now focus on materials instead.” (Interviewee TUE3B-1)
Interpretation: A change in expertise of the researcher’s group created cognitive distance and, thus, led to (temporary) withdrawal from the collaboration
Organizational proximity as a motive for collaborator selection “This is a European consortium. There is a consortium agreement which says that everyone is the owner of its own development, but as soon as you co-develop things then you have to agree on what you do with the results. That works very well together. It is a little bit easier in an institute like (European consortium involving universities and public research organization) than with a company. Because a company is really focussed on intellectual property. Also these institutes are a little less secretive. It is a little easier to cooperate.” (Interviewee TUE2A-1)
Interpretation: Organizational structures and goals of universities and PROs integrate more easily than those of universities and firms
“Well, because of this we have been able to publish a couple of very nice papers and conduct truly exciting scientific research. In my view, the sum of the collaboration is more than either of us could ever do individually.” (Interviewee UT1A-1)
Interpretation: The shared organizational objective of wanting to publish good quality papers and be on the frontier of science is what motivates these collaborators to work together
“What is very important is that should also realize that there should be added-value for both sides. You cannot start collaboration only out of your interest, it won’t work. So you have to realize what the added-value is for the other.” (Interviewee UT2A-1)
Interpretation: Importance of added-value
Cognitive and organizational proximity driving collaborations “[Collaborator’s name] has been extremely instrumental to confirm that a couple of times […] On the other hand, it turns out that this is not a collaboration where we have something and they merely confirm it. They have their own questions as well, where their technique indicates some unique stuff is going on but the materials are unsuited to really shed light on the phenomenon. So, we can basically tweak the properties of the material in our laboratory—tinker with the molecule, if you will—to expose this unique property. In that way, we have found a really lovely collaboration, because well, it is not only of my interest that he does measurements […] but it is also interesting for him and his group to seek collaborations with me and my people. We can offer them materials that are unique to the world.” (Interviewee UT1A-2)
Interpretation: Cognitive proximity as one collaborator is able to do measurements and the other is able to alter properties of one material. Organizational proximity because the activities by help the other’s progress and vice versa
“I would say it has partly to do with the content. We were building certain (high technology prototypes) and then you are glad when somebody comes along and says he needs it. Because the (technology) on its own is interesting in terms of physics, but it is a little bit academic. There is always an extra satisfaction if you see that other people like what you do for non-academic reasons. For example, for potential applications and solving other types of problems that I have never thought about. So that was content-based attraction.” (Interviewee UT3A-1)
Interpretation: Content-based attraction (cognitive proximity) and interdependent goals (academic and non-academic goals are complementary; organizational proximity)
“My story was that I knew that exotic field and I knew that I didn’t have clue how to work on it and then I heard his name […] So that led to informal chat and then a sort of flash that it will be something good for the project. I saw a sort of connection between what I knew and sort of an opportunity.” (Interviewee TUD2A-1)
Interpretation: Cognitive proximity as one has basic knowledge of a field and the other somewhat more advanced. Organizational proximity because of the perceived opportunity to collaborate to the benefit of an ongoing project