Engaging with commercial partners is increasingly required by public science funding agencies and encouraged by government officials. Reasons for this shift include alleviating the strain on government science budgets and opening up possibilities for scientists to secure jobs in private companies. Universities have also begun to advocate for strategies and policies that facilitate commercial collaborations. Similarly, there is interest—although still scattered in Portugal—among the business sector to look for “something different” in order to prepare for the complex problems that await in an uncertain future. This essay addresses the process of gaining entrée to a major Portuguese food retailer by making use of the metaphors of flirting and dating. The slow process of engagement with this retailer is described, in particular a two-day “backstage” visit of its food retail operations. During these interactions the challenges of commercial–science collaborations with regard to differing expectations and objectives—in areas such as trust issues; confidentiality agreements; integrity of scientific objectives versus the pressures of market-driven organizations; the different nature and uses of information—are unveiled. The disparate conceptions of time and output delivery, together with the different rhythms of making business and making science, are discussed. To conclude, the “dating” and “flirting” stages of the relationship between social researchers and food retailers reflect a slow process that involves diplomatic skills, open minds, and the constant juggling of “familiar” and “unfamiliar” ways of thinking and doing.

This content is only available via PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.