Know your collaboration partners, clients and funding bodies

When entering or renewing an agreement, it is important for the researcher or project manager involved to be familiar with the background of the foreign partner organisation or client. What is the institution’s scientific reputation? Who exactly will be involved in the project? What about the costs involved? In this context, it is important to consider knowledge security as well.

You do not need to be a security expert to do this: alertness and open sources can go a long way. It calls for keeping a sharp eye out for signs that something may be amiss. Your institution’s security coordinator can provide assistance in retrieving this type of information. The following are a few examples of factors to be considered: 

  • Is the partner affiliated with the government? Examples include state-operated companies or institutions.
  • Do sanctions apply to the partner?
  • Does the institution have a demonstrable reputation in the relevant discipline? If expertise is lacking or if it is unclear how the intended collaboration relates to the partner’s usual activities, this provides cause for alertness. 
  • Does the partner give vague answers to questions about the intended application of the research findings?
  • Do agreements contain excessive confidentiality provisions? 

Clients and research funders

The same cautions apply for clients and research funders as for research partners. In principle, the type of funding body does not matter, it could for instance also concern gifts from donors. There are a number of fundamental questions that you can ask yourself. For example: where does the money that the partner wants to invest come from? What are the partner’s motives for funding this research? Does the funding body have economic or political interests in a particular outcome of the research? The following are a few examples of factors to be considered: 

  • Little or no information can be found on the client or funding body.
  • The entity being used for funding is atypical for this type of research. 
  • The client or funding body makes exceptionally large sums of money available or proposes particularly favourable funding conditions and hardly asks anything in return. 
  • The client or funding body does not want the research results to be published, imposes exceptionally strict intellectual property requirements or stipulates confidentiality with regard to end-users and specifications.