The main aim of the paper is discussing the exchange processes in collaboration ego-networks among scientists. On some fundamental level, we can think of scholars as actors possessing, or controlling, various types of resources. These resources can be roughly grouped into the following categories: human capital resources including skills and knowledge; social capital resources including social status and social connections to other researchers; financial capital resources including access to and control of research funds. Desirability and uneven distribution of these resources between different scholars create opportunities for collaboration that take the form of exchange. Previous research has developed general rules for exchange: behaviour is motivated by the desire to increase gain and to avoid loss, exchange relations develop in structures of mutual dependence, actors engage in recurrent, mutually contingent exchanges with specific partners over time, valued outcomes obey the economic law of diminishing marginal utility. However, it does not take into consideration types of resources, which are substantial for understanding scientific collaboration networks. Based on 30 IDI conducted with Polish scholars we show what resources are a subject of exchange; what are the motivation to initiate and engage in exchange; what are the norms regulating the exchange of different types of resources?
The second wave of qualitative interviews focuses on ego-networks. We have decided to collect information in the traditional manner without using any dedicated software. There are several reasons behind it. Firstly, interviews are conducted on the field, which means that we may not have access to electricity, internet connections, and conditions to display the ego-network on the computer screen or tablet. Secondly, respondents vary in their digital skills. It might unexpectedly influence how many collaborators they would mark and how they connect them. Thirdly, available cloud solutions, although very portable, would leave beyond our control important information disclosing who our respondents are.
Therefore, we use the simple technique based on post-it cards, drawing pins, rubber bands, and cork pin-boards. We also experimented with pencils and paper; however, it was messy, and respondents were discouraged with hands covered in colourful ink. It even looked like they were trying to hide it after realising they were dirty.
During the second attempt, we used post-it cards, drawing pins, rubber bands and cork pin-boards. We let respondents to pin all the names and relations. However, one needs some skills and experience to do it dexterously (e.g. know how flexible the rubber bands are), and it took too much time. We came to the conclusion that it would be the most efficient to leave it to interviewers.
Eventually it is the interviewer who is responsible for managing cards, drawing pins, and rubber bands on the board with the instructions from respondents, although the general idea behind the corkboard often catches quickly and interviewees tend to actively help with proper reflection of their collaboration network. Such networks also facilitate the talk and allow us to obtain additional qualitative information.
Two examples of ego-networks reconstructed during the interviews below (egos are in the middle; names of collaborators are hidden):