The Role of Trust in University-Industry Research Partnership Performance

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Academia and industry both report benefits to forming and maintaining collaborative research partnerships. As organizations come together to participate in these partnerships, each brings their own set of operational norms and strategic goals. Some of these norms and goals are complementary, but others can be conflicting. University-industry research partnerships (UIRPs) in particular are susceptible to conflicts for at least four major reasons: 1) there are strategic differences in the purposes of industry and academia that can result in misalignment of goals and unrealistic expectations; 2) each organization has different operational norms and discord can arise from misunderstandings among participants; 3) many UIRPs function as virtual teams and are susceptible to miscommunication that arises when face-to-face communications are missing; and, 4) UIRPs are knowledge-based organizations meaning that their primary purpose is to translate research into applicable technology that is a largely intangible process and therefore, difficult to manage. The conflicts that can arise from these misalignments, misunderstandings, miscommunications, and mismanagement can deteriorate trust and can become detrimental to a partnership. Trust has been cited as being a factor in adequately addressing conflict and reducing the potentially detrimental effects of each characteristic. This makes the need to proactively cultivate trusting relationships in UIRPs critical. The purpose of this study was to empirically investigate the role of trust in university-industry research partnership performance. The study was designed as a convergent parallel mixed methods research design utilizing an online questionnaire administered to boundary role spanning academic and industry UIRP participants for the quantitative study and interviews of the academic-industry leadership teams for the qualitative study. Following independent analyses of each study, an integrative discussion of the results of both studies more holistically described the role of trust in UIRPs. The research results enhance our understanding of the role of trust in UIRPs and suggest empirically-based guidelines for managing trust and sustaining positive, long-term UIRP performance.

Inter-organizational Trust, University-Industry Partnerships, Organizational Performance