Tool to bridge the communication divide

6 APRIL 2017

A CSU researcher has developed a tool to help multicultural research teams find the best ways of communicating with colleagues in developing countries.

A Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher has developed a tool to help multicultural research teams find the best ways of communicating with colleagues in developing countries.

CSU PhD Graduate Dr Wes Ward's research through the Institute for Land, Water and Society (ILWS) focused on agricultural research teams working in Australia and Lao People's Democratic Republic.

"International research teams usually include members from developed and developing countries, with variable levels of education and international experience," Dr Ward said.

"My research shows nearly all members of international research teams prefer face-to-face communication.

"But this may not be possible where members live in different regions, countries and time zones and can't meet face-to-face regularly with their colleagues.

"So there's a reliance on information and computer technologies (ICTs) to allow communication between members of teams collaborating in developing countries."

Dr Ward said that language, geographical distance, cultural differences, political and organisational structures, along with access to technology such as broadband internet can all be barriers to communication.

From the 30 interviews conducted mostly face-to-face, Dr Ward has developed a tool that can ask specific questions about an ICT to see how useful and relevant it would be for communication between members of a multicultural research team.

"My research shows no single ICT overcomes all the barriers to communication," Dr Ward said.

"I did find that email was by far the most preferred medium, especially by non-native English speakers.

"This flies in the face of traditional theory which decries email for not transmitting non-verbal cues, which is said may be particularly important for Eastern cultures.

"But I found email gave non-native English speakers time to craft their messages and get advice from colleagues as required, more so than instant messaging, Skype or even face-to-face communications.

"Skype has been hailed recently as a replacement for face-to-face meetings. But within international research teams, non-native English speakers in particular are concerned at the lack of understanding, trust and poor communication engendered when using it.

"Limited access to sufficient broadband and infrastructure also restricts the use of Skype in developing countries, as well as in parts of regional Australia."

In his search to find strategies to bridge the communication divide, Dr Ward also found answers over a cup of coffee in the Lao capital, Vientiane.

"Never underestimate the value of cultural intelligence," Dr Ward said. "I conducted many of my interviews over a cup of coffee and found that team members from Eastern and Western cultures often have differing attitudes to professional relations.

"Eastern team members often desire personal as well as professional relations with their Western counterparts.

"For Easterners, personal relationships help develop trust in teams, but such personal relationships can be a barrier for some Western team members who do not appreciate the importance of a beer and game of petanque after work each Friday."

Dr Ward was awarded his PhD titled 'Exploring in-person & technologically-mediated communication within international agricultural research teams' during a graduation ceremony in Albury in 2016.

Media Note:

For interviews, contact CSU Media.

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Charles Sturt University Research Computer Science ILWS International Science