Background information

Andrea Frank studied North American studies at the University of Bonn and Mount Holyoke College (USA) and additionally holds an Executive Master of Public Management from the Hertie School of Governance. In addition to her achievements, she worked as a lecturer for the Robert Bosch Foundation at the Pécs University in Hungary from 1999 to 2000. Later, between 2000-2006 she worked for the German Rectors’ Conference in Bonn and Berlin as the Head of Section on issues in national and international higher education policy. She was responsible for higher education projects in South-eastern Europe (Albania, Montenegro, Kosovo). Here, she also worked for the International Department (focus on North America and developing countries) and developed projects in support of the national study reform (“Bologna-Process”). In 2006 she joined the ‘Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft’ (a joint initiative of German industry for the promotion of Science and Humanities) as the Head of Programmes Transfer, Research Science to Society. In 2019 Andrea took up the position of Director of Science and Research. Since 2022, she is Deputy Secretary General and member of the Executive Management at Stifterverband

Andrea’s role as a Spanning Boundaries Agent

Andrea has been very active in establishing and facilitating joint research projects and she is one of the founders of the association “network science management”, where she participated as a member of the extended board for 8 years. The association brings different professions of science management together to reach the goal of developing scientific institutions and contributing to the overall success of science.

Andrea’s main motivation

Andrea’s studies shaped her path and motivated her to work in an interdisciplinary way. Her professional life has significantly broadened her horizons as she has worked in varied cultural contexts. To move projects forward and push beyond barriers, she learned to ask the right questions and to think across boundaries, bringing together the right people for the right topic. She considers ‘learning by doing’ as most efficient for her work and is driven by her motivation to work collaboratively.

How important is it to have specific knowledge, skills, or traits?

Given Andrea’s role as a facilitator of collaborations, she highlights the relevance of soft skills such as the moderation of discussions, active listening and being able to summarise intermediate results. She considers these skills to be of high importance and perhaps even more important than technical know-how. These skills can be learned and constantly improved through ‘learning by doing’.

In this regard, she highlights that for effective collaboration, it is helpful to have knowledge of different organisational contexts. It is useful to have insights of politics or business by working or engaging with these domains. This insight can help one to understand the structure and process of different stakeholders.

During collaborative work, you need to be solution-oriented, especially in debates on fundamental principles. Working together with others also requires the ability to experiment and explore, and to understand that not everything will work out the way you expected it. In this sense, it is important that you are open-minded and open to alternative routes.

It is important not to lose sight of your goal and hence to also be assertive. You should keep in mind, “Who do I need as a partner for this project to become a success?”. And therefore, you remain aware of the constellation of your project, your partners, and your own organisation, and manage accordingly.

In addition to this, project management is an important skill to have, and specifically a change from classic to agile project management should be observed. At the same time, you need to be empathetic to each situation and the different stakeholders involved, to understand which approach to take.

Networking is another essential skill of an effective collaborator. You need to able to exploit, expand and develop your network to find the right people for your collaboration. This involves the previously community building but additionally involves the ability to map different partners based on their needs and their abilities to be able to match for a successful collaboration.

Drivers and key success factors for cooperation

Although resource scarcity can be a problem, it might also create a chance for a collaboration; sometimes a certain level of pressure pushes people to search for a solution that can be achieved through cooperation. Stakeholders may not have the internal expertise and competencies to approach a given problem by themselves, and thus this motivates them to look externally. Besides that, international networks can help to push certain topics forward and develop new approaches with a broader scope. In addition, it is important to identify and be sensitive to windows of opportunity. This involves identifying trends and understanding how the needs or pressures of organisations may shift in response to these trends. A current example would be the digitalisation of teaching; discussions around this topic were boosted significantly due to the effects of the Corona virus pandemic, which opened new opportunities for collaboration as a new system had to be constructed in almost no time.

And a more recent driver, counterintuitively, is that the crisis changed the way we communicate. Indeed, our (digital) communication has become much more unrestricted and immediate, and mental and geographical distances are suddenly easily overcome. Therefore, low-threshold digital communication has driven new forms of collaboration.

Sandra Fleschhut (Interviewer) is an academic worker at MUAS.

Edited by Mario Ceccarelli, Project Officer at UIIN