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Science of Collaboratories
Workshops : Comparative Investigation : Final Summary


Collaboratories, according to William Wulf in a 1989 NRC Report are centers "without walls, in which the nation's researchers can perform their research without regard to geographical location." Today in the Science of Collaboratories (SOC) project, we have redefined the concept to have more specific components. A collaboratory is "an organizational entity that spans distance, supports rich and recurring human interaction oriented to a common research area, and provides access to data sources, artifacts and tools required to accomplish research tasks."

A number of collaboratory projects have been developed since then, each one nearly independent of the other. Since these projects are expensive, it is important to take stock of the collection of collaboratories to date and collect lessons learned, in order to develop principles that will ensure more success in the future. The specific goals of the SOC project are to:

  1. Perform a comparative analysis of collaboratory projects through invitational workshops that bring together collaboratory researchers from around the world,
  2. Develop of a Collaboratory Knowledge Base which includes technical and social data and detailed findings from existing collaboratory projects,
  3. Develop general principles and design methods with broad community participation, and
  4. Test these principles on new collaboratories. There are many projects that are still active or in early start up phases, that will be helpful in validating and refining our findings.

There were two previous workshops. The first was on the social and organizational issues pertaining to collaboratories (June 4-5, 2001). One of the extensive discussions surrounded the refinement of the definition of a collaboratory, resulting in the definition above. We also spent considerable time considering how to measure the success of collaboratories. Of course success can come at a number of different levels including "collaboratories have totally revolutionized a particular field" or "some efficiencies were obtained, or some things happened more quickly than would have otherwise, or some different types of collaboration emerged, or certain people worked together who wouldn't have worked together otherwise". Although likely no current collaboratory has yet revolutionized their field, there are many success stories. A third major discussion highlighted the social and organizational processes at play within and surrounding a collaboratory's formation, use and evaluation. We believe that these are at least as important as the technical issues, as the social and organizational issues play a big role in whether collaboratories work or not. (Social Underpinnings workshop report)

The second SOC workshop addressed the technical issues surrounding collaboratories (July 19-20, 2001). During that gathering the group did an extensive survey of the tools and technologies used in collaboratories. There was also an elicitation of the capabilities needed by collaboratory users, and it finished off with a discussion on the technology issues facing collaboratories. (Technical Underpinnings workshop report)

The goals of the third workshop were to

  1. present the SOC researchers' empirical analysis of existing collaboratories, including both a broad overview and four in-depth analyses,
  2. review the two-part strategy in this investigation, and
  3. get feedback on our approach and future plans.

The empirical investigation has followed a two-part strategy. In the first part we are surveying collaboratories that have and do exist. We have collected a small standard set of facts about these collaboratories, summarizing each in what we call a "Collaboratory at a Glance," or C@G. (View the C@G report)

In the second part of the empirical analysis we have conducted focused, in-depth studies of a small number of selected collaboratories. Here we have collected a deeper analysis of more details involved in the development, management, technologies and social factors involved in the collaboratory.

In the case of the C@G, the information came from publications, websites, brief email and phone interviews. The "in-depth" studies involved more extensive investigation into the work processes of the collaboratories. We went out into the field and did interviews, talking to evaluators, developers and users.

    The four in-depth analyses included:
  1. Upper Atmospheric Research Collaboratory (UARC, 1992-1998)/Space Physics and Aeronomy Research Collaboratory (SPARC, 1998-2002)
  2. Great Lakes Regional Center for Aids Research (GLR CFAR)
  3. Bugscope
  4. Environmental Molecular Science Lab (EMSL)

Our final session was a discussion of cross-cutting themes raised by these in-depth investigations.

We invited to this workshop a selection of users, developers and/or evaluators from each of the four collaboratories to provide the group with further insight into and testimony on their collaboratories. We encouraged the participants to think about their evaluation of the SOC projects and the approach to its investigation.

For most of the sessions in this workshop, there was a presentation, commentary from some of the participants, several designated discussants, to get some discussion going about the topic, and then open discussion. We closed with a discussion of next steps. The links above take you to more detailed reports of the various sessions.

Workshop Organizers
     Tom Finholt
     Gary Olson
     Judy Olson
     Stephanie Teasley

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