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This paper proposes a model to analyze joint R&D projects from a systemic approach. We argue that joint R&D projects are an economic and organizational reality that can be studied through their two principal aspects: from the perspective of the process developed to fulfill the objectives of the project and from the point of view of the network of partners constituted to undertake the project. We define the joint R&D project as a sociotechnical system in interaction with its environment and explain it through three subsystems: technological, structural, and governance. Using a sample of 202 European institutions involved in a wide range of joint R&D projects, this study provides empirical evidence to explain joint R&D projects through the separate study of each subsystem and their characteristic variables. Our results show interrelatedness of subsystems and the factors that determine the structure and governance of joint projects, including practical implications that may be useful for their running and management.