Table 2

Tensions encountered by consortia and strategies adopted

TensionIllustrative quoteConsortia strategies
Consortium AConsortium BConsortium C
1. Individual or collective interests‘You are dealing with different people, different backgrounds with different resources and you always have this fine line to find between the interest of the group and each one’s interest… If you are not careful, you will break the group’ (consortium C, lead institution, R1).
‘A very dramatic example… We said, “what level of training should we focus on for researchers, postdoc, PhD, Masters, interns?” And of course, different people seated around the table, representatives of different institutions, had their views… One of those would even bang the table to say, "we are not interested in postdocs first of all, because we don't have PhDs… that’s not our priority. If our institution is to move forward, we want Masters training”, with a bang on the table. And you can see that was an interest driven by the peculiarities of the institution’ (consortium B, lead institution, R2).
Common goal
  • Individual training of researchers

Two-level goals
  • Collective+partner-specific

  • Individual+institutional

Tailored goals
  • Partners select goals from a range based on need

  • Individual+infrastructure

2. Efficient programme delivery or effective capacity strengthening‘Should we go for second-tier, third-tier, or first-tier universities? Should we go for universities that have a lot of funding and resources or should we go for universities which have nothing? We spent a lot of time in identifying our partners’ (consortium A, lead institution, R2).
‘It is a tricky situation because you want to present a proposal that is competitive against others and so you are debating… if you want a very competitive application, take the best institutions. Of course, everything else remaining equal, those are likely to be winners… But when you start bringing in other considerations, you want to bring the weaker ones; you want to all move together; then the situation becomes a little tricky’ (consortium B, lead institution, R2).
Selection of partners with higher levels of capacity
Focus on one research capacity component—training individual researchers
Centralised partner management system
Selection of partners with varying levels of capacity
Focus on multiple research capacity levels and components—individual, institutional, technical, managerial
Decentralised partner management system
Selection of partners with varying levels of capacity
Focus on multiple research capacity levels and components—individual, institutional, technical, managerial
Decentralised partner management system
3. Excellence or equity‘The DELTAS always talk about excellence, and even at the onset, they wanted to start with institutions that were excellent. So, if we were to form the consortium in the spirit of DELTAS, then we probably would have a smaller consortium where we would just bring those who are already high up there. In our situation, we didn't want to leave people behind because they were not excellent’ (consortium C, lead institution, R1).
‘It’s clear that if you put too much in the weaker institutions, it’s not going to be absorbed easily. So, in the governance discussions… should we allocate equal opportunities finance-wise… should we say equal number of PhDs for different institutions? And arguments can go either way. The weaker institution will say we have a greater need therefore we should have more PhDs… it’s a valid argument’’ (consortium B, lead institution, R2).
Merit-based fellow selection with a cap on the number of awards per partnerMerit-based fellow selectionMerit-based fellow selection with regional and gender balancing
4. Shared power or greater control‘They [Directors] are quite influential in terms of making decisions… There are sometimes a bit of, what can I say, executive decisions being made. But again, you know when you think of any organization, if it’s completely 100% democratic, decisions are made very slowly, and sometimes there is not a lot of accountability. So, you need a bit of executive decision-making where the buck stops, and I’ve seen that happen in the management board’ (consortium A, partner institution, R5).
‘Everything relies on the PI [Director)… So, he still has some room to manoeuvre, which for me is good, it’s not bad. We cannot have more than one person being ‘responsible’ for stuff; then things will never get done’ (consortium C, partner Institution, R4).
Two-tier governance: Steering board and annual general meeting
Centralised management
All-inclusive steering board
Decentralised management
All-inclusive steering board
Decentralised management