Characteristics of a productive research environment: Literature review

Carole J. Bland, Mack T. Ruffin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

226 Scopus citations


What environmental factors stimulate and maintain research productivity? To answer this question, the authors conducted an extensive review of articles and books on research productivity published from the mid-1960s through 1990. This review revealed that a consistent set of 12 characteristics was found in research-conducive environments: (1) clear goals that serve a coordinating function, (2) research emphasis, (3) distinctive culture, (4) positive group climate, (5) assertive participative governance, (6) decentralized organization, (7) frequent communication, (8) accessible resources, particularly human, (9) sufficient size, age, and diversity of the research group, (10) appropriate rewards, (11) concentration on recruitment and selection, and (12) leadership with research expertise and skill in both initiating appropriate organizational structure and using participatory management practices. Some of these characteristics are not surprising, although some findings were unexpected, such as that participative governance correlated consistently with research productivity. The differential impact of each of these 12 characteristics is unclear. It is clear, however, that the leader has a disproportionate impact through his or her influence on all of the other characteristics. Yet, an overarching feature of these characteristics is their interdependency. These factors do not operate in research groups as isolated characteristics. Rather, they are like fine threads of a whole fabric: individual, yet when interwoven, providing a strong, supportive, and stimulating backdrop for the researcher. The authors conclude that while at a distance the productive research enterprise looks like a highly robust entity, upon closer inspection it is revealed to be a delicate structure highly dependent on the existence and effective working of numerous individual, organizational, and leadership characteristics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)385-397
Number of pages13
JournalAcademic Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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