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Table 4 Evidence and interpretation of moderation by personal proximity

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

Relationship Illustrative evidence and interpretation
Indirect effect of personal proximity “Knowing each other personally helps to make the collaboration go smoother and better. There are also some collaborations where we did not know each other that well on beforehand, but you were put together by coincidence, and find out that it works well.” (Interviewee TUE2A-2)
Interpretation: Personal proximity enhances the collaborative process. Also when it develops during the course of the collaboration
“…you can make clear what he does, how it affects you and why you are not liking that. So it becomes a boundary condition for him and he can adjust himself. […] I had one guy who also understood this very well […] but if that is not the case I simply do not want to have the collaboration.” (Interviewee TUD2A-2)
Interpretation: Mutual understanding about acceptable behavioural patterns of one another
“The key element is working with people whom you know, trust and respect.” (Interviewee TUD3A-2)
Interpretation: Being familiar with the collaborator and respecting the person is important to the collaborative process
Personal proximity moderating the effect of cognitive and/or organizational proximity “I think the quality of output has to do with the real scientific expertise of the other. I think it is very important to have a high degree of personal understanding, because then you can solve all kinds of problems. But for high quality output you need the expertise and then when it becomes important to collaborate with somebody—yeah, simply said—who you do not like, or don’t like so much, but you know what that person does is really high quality…then you had better listen to him content wise.” (Interviewee UT3A-2)
Interpretation: Illustrates how cognitive proximity has a direct effect and how personal proximity may indirectly enhance its impact
“You take on a responsibility. It says nowhere in the responsibility: “Oh, you don’t have to do that because you don’t like the people.” No, that is not part of the responsibility, the responsibility is to get the job done. You accept the funds. Sometimes you discover after a year that the chemistry is not great. But that’s okay. Everybody is professional. You behave like a professional and you get the work done.” (Interviewee TUD3A-3)
Interpretation: Goals are interdependent because of requirements set by funding organization. Yet, personal proximity may hamper the collaborative process, leading to eventual discontinuation once goals have been reached
“We were enthusiastic about the options on both sides. There was a good personal connection which is based on trust. He grows things that not many people in the world grow, so he makes special materials. I have a special tool. So together we can do something that is, again, rather special.” (Interviewee TUE3A-1)
Interpretation: Collaborators depend on their cognitive complementarities to attain a special goal. Their collaboration is possible because they ‘click’ on the personal level
  “We never had problems in giving feedback to each other. But of course it is always in a way that you respect each other. That’s very important. […] If you do not respect each other, you cannot collaborate. Collaboration is a win–win situation on both sides […] it should be beneficial for both partners otherwise it is not a real and successful collaboration.” (Interviewee UT2A-2)
Interpretation: Interviewee identifies most with collaborators who are respectful in their feedback. Hence, personal proximity may enable to exploit potential win–win situations where organizational goals coincide
“The first would still be technical closeness, but it should be a bit dissimilar. It should not be exactly the same. The first thing is that you need to be able to do something together. For me it is not much use to work with somebody who is into philosophy or high energy particles, because these are not my areas. I will not collaborate with them, even if they are my biggest friends. So, having some kind of mutual interest is important. I think the second thing is that for me it is important to know the person a little bit. Of course I can collaborate with people that I don’t know that well, but usually it helps to know a person.” (Interviewee TUE2A-3)
Interpretation: Cognitive proximity is required up to a certain extent. Personal proximity may increase the likelihood of collaborator selection and help collaborators to exploit cognitive proximity
“I was tipped by a colleague to talk to him, because he was a theorist. He made the system on which we were working experimentally. So in that conference we had a discussion, we arranged the meeting. It was very clear that we were more complete together: I had the data he wanted, he had the calculation I needed. So there was a perfect match. It turned out that there were more levels of connection, different subjects on which we were working here. He became a very valuable colleague for me. And he is also a personal friend. We visit families over. (When asked about repeated collaborations:) Absolutely. Since 2003, we meet at least 4 times a year either in the US or here. Apart from that we meet at conferences. He was here 2 weeks ago. [Later in this interview:] Just to be friends is not enough. I try to consider my collaborators as scientific friends.” (Interviewee TUE3A-2)
Interpretation: Cognitive proximity and organizational proximity are the fundament of this collaboration. However, personal closeness has developed and helped to sustain the collaboration
  “[After having explained the cognitive complementarity found in a particular collaboration:] It often boils down to having a bit of a personal click, as into what extent it is fun to collaborate, and of course posing original ideas, that helps as well.” (Interviewee TUD2B-2)
Interpretation: Show that the interviewee values being able to get along with cognitively close collaborators
“He wanted to collaborate with me because I had developed this special technique […] and I wanted to collaborate with him because he was well-informed about crystals theoretically. […] The click I have with [Collaborator’s name] is completely different from the one I have with (Names of two other collaborators) though. The ones from (University’s name) are really my scientific parents or fathers. (Collaborator’s name) is a friend of roughly the same age.” (Interviewee UT2B-1)
Interpretation: Motive to collaborate is cognitive and organizational in nature, personal proximity (derived from different sources) comes into play as well
“[When asked for his motives for engaging in a particular collaboration:] That is content, mutual expertise, mutual facilities that may be complementary. Somewhat of an overlap in research interests and also a little of a personal click. […] Well, with some people you get along well on the personal as well as the scientific level and I am more likely to go and talk to those people and see where that takes us.” (Interviewee TUE1B-1)
Interpretation: Cognitive and organizational proximity are requirements, personal proximity then guides the choice between alternatives