International cooperation in a research project

As the first outputs of the Cowork4YOUTH project are getting finalised (two review papers and the project’s baseline study will be available by the end of the month), this can be a good time to share some initial thoughts on the importance of transnational cooperation in a research project for pursuing the project’s goals either on EU level, or even on a strictly national one.

International cooperation as a means of gaining and sharing knowledge is indeed a well-established practice. For the European Union the need to foster cooperation and coordination among member states became more urgent following the 2008 crisis, and it has been further highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In the field of unemployment in particular, this need often takes on an institutional character, like for example the establishment of the European Semester, or the Public Employment Services (PES) network. It is also expressed in the specifications of programmes such as the Youth Guarantee or the Framework for Vocational Education and Training, which -along with their main goals- aim to develop a common ground in which the Member States can exchange knowledge and learn from each other, when making good use of the concept of best practices.

The idea of international cooperation, however, can also have significant positive impact when expanding beyond policy designs, to involve non-governmental organisations (either for- or not-for-profit) from different countries. This explains the emphasis placed on this concept by funding schemes such as Horizon Europe, applied to the fields of technology and innovation, as well as social and economic research. This is also true of the EEA & Norway Grants for which international cooperation is a key element in treating regional disparities in the European area.

In the field of research and policy analysis, which is  the main subject of the Cowork4YOUTH project, the collaboration of research institutions from different countries has a twofold effect. On the one hand it provides great opportunities regarding the final outcome: the combined expertise and insight of each research partner concerning their own country creates an excellent framework for the production of comparable results. When trying to gain a comprehensive understanding  of an issue such as the  NEET phenomenon, which appears in different forms among countries and regions within a complex system such as the European Union, comparability is key. It is also crucial for avoiding the trap of a counterproductive introversion that occasionally hampers national policies.

On the other hand, international cooperation in research is also beneficial for the research design and methods. The divergent experiences -formed by each country’s contextual particularities- that each partner brings to an international research consortium can illuminate sides of the issue under examination that were not clearly visible in the context of other countries. While this entails some difficulties, it does provide the opportunity to uncover hidden dynamics and grasp and explain the problem in a more complete manner.

Cowork4YOUTH’s first outputs, mentioned above, have already demonstrated these advantages. Focusing on four countries (Greece, Ireland, Italy and Spain) and on two kinds of peripheral regions (in energy transition and tourism-dependent) the outputs that will be available within the next few weeks have been designed exactly to provide a cohesive image of the youth employment situation in such regions. The data presented and the analysis conducted provide the foundation for a comparative understanding. An example of this is the project’s Baseline Study: adapting the design to the project’s objectives, the study offers detailed information on the conditions of representative regions from each country. This methodology has proved fruitful for recognising national policy patterns as well as contextual factors (e.g., state of the economy; centralisation or decentralisation of political power), that in turn inform the analysis and evaluation of policy design, implementation, and outcomes. This effective combination of secondary data and analysis for different regions is a vital step for shedding light on the issues of youth unemployment and NEETs, and the suggestion of appropriate, tailored solutions.

To sum up, international cooperation can be a key factor in tackling issues of national as well as international scope. In the context of research in particular, it provides a framework conducive to overcoming the barriers that naturally exist between different contexts. Since experience has proved that copying successful policies to a different context seldom is a good idea, in-depth comparable analysis is one of the best ways to grasp and resolve the issues within the given regional particularities.


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