The Brain Project – Building and & Innovation Community

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The Brain Project


Building Research

Background



Part of JISC Virtual Research Environments (Phase 3) Programme



Based at Coventry University with Leeds University as partner

Project Context



The Institution incorporates one
of the largest university enterprise

organisations
in
Europe


research is business and community focused

with a cross
-
disciplinary approach

Basic aims



To harness the collective intelligence of the Institution by building a Community of Practice for Research
and Innovation involving the University and external academic and other partners and developing and
providing the appropriate tools and services to support this



To provide benefit to the wider academic community through the project’s experiences and outputs

Methodology



Find
out
and analyse what researchers and partner businesses and organisations
are doing and
identify
requirements and
issues



Extensive user engagement
-

over
100 people
interviewed so far, several ongoing focus groups, documented use
cases, direct involvement in research and business projects




Internal and External Advisory Groups



Analyse process (including research support and business development), identify good practice



Develop and deploy tools and services, implement process and system improvements, facilitate
communities



Interact
,
Evaluate,
Embed,
Evolve


an iterative user
-
focused RAD based development approach



What do researchers want?


Key
Requirements



Finding and Matching

-


Who knows
what?



“How do you find the person you want to talk to?”



“How do I find who's done something similar?




Connecting requirements, expertise, interests,
capacity, funding etc.

Discussions and Networking



“How do you suggest and discuss good ideas?”



“We need a

common place and common events to
meet at. Space and time to talk.”



“An intelligent notice board ...”



“Networks of networks …”



Integrated physical and virtual networking




Everything connected



API’s, Mashups etc.



Varied requirements
-

Asynchronous/Synchronous,
Audio/Video,
Integration with collaborative working

Collaborative Working



Documents, Graphical content etc.



Collaborative design/visualisation/thinking/creativity
tools



Shared information and resources using feeds etc.



Flexible and unified access control and security



Tagging, rating and feedback tools


What do researchers want?


Key
Issues

Process



Collaborative systems must integrate with existing
workflows



An integrated knowledge infrastructure is needed to
derive the full benefit from diverse sources of
personal and other data



“The frustrating thing is being asked for the same
information several times in different forms”


-

Reuse and repurpose

Usability



“It’s a great system


but nobody can use it.”



More is less


avoid information and feature
overload



Benefits and costs


perceived benefits to the user
of a system must exceed costs (in the widest sense)

Barriers to collaboration



Time/Resource


especially in the initial stages



Siloing/Organisational Divisions


Administrative
and Financial regulations and policies often mitigate
against collaboration (
“It’s the devil's own job to
create something that crosses boundaries.”
)



“Cultural” differences


e.g., between academia
and business
(“I don’t really have much idea what
goes on at the University.”
)


and Innovation Networks

Finding Connections

The project has developed tools to find connections

between researchers, to search for expertise that

could meet specified requirements, to map locations

of business partners to identify clusters etc. This

required putting together and analysing information

from many sources which had often never been

linked before.



Building and Supporting Physical and

Virtual Networks

Several networking events have been organised by

the project and virtual systems developed to support

these, as well as provide discussion, collaborative

working and other facilities for specific research areas,

as well as for more general requirements. External

events linking research and business have also been

supported, integrating several systems.


Systems and Tools


The experience of the project supports the conclusion that different solutions are needed for different requirements
and the fundamental approach to VRE development needs to be about facilitating connectivity and interoperability.
The project has used a number of platforms and its main system is itself based on an integration of
Wordpress/Buddypress with Mediawiki and other tools. This has been linked to the main University Sharepoint
system and the project is also using Liferay. Integration with the existing infrastructure was a major challenge and
the Brain system is the only system at the University which combines internal and external authentication.


Tools to facilitate making links and connections have a key role to play in facilitating collaboration and even the
prototype systems developed by the project have proved effective in practice and are in active use by researchers
and business development staff at the University. The project is developing more sophisticated and flexible tools
that can also find connections with external researchers and businesses. The project has worked planned with a
number of Universities for collaborative activities based on tools like this and hopes to extend this with others.

Approach & Methodology


An integrated approach
-

including process and organisational culture as well as technology needs to be taken
when building VREs.


The project has found that user requirements are often not adequately met and tend to be shoe
-
horned into
existing categories such as Blogs, Wikis etc
-

where a more flexible approach is required. User interfaces are also
sometimes poor and the project has been prototyping front
-
ends which are more intuitive for users.


Concepts sometimes described by the terms “Science 2.0” and “Research 2.0” have stimulated discussion about
new methodologies for research related to developments in Internet technologies. Promoting collaborative
research, especially across disciplinary boundaries, also raises many important and difficult issues about how
knowledge and practice can be shared and connected. These questions need to be considered seriously and the
project is using a pattern language
-
based and semantic web approach to facilitate this both for the research areas
it works with as well as for the project itself and the VRE community it is part of.


The project has been encouraged and inspired by the people and groups it has worked with. For example, one
business working with us included the project in a bid to the Heritage Lottery fund without us initially knowing! Once
the benefits of collaborative research and innovation and how the work of projects like the Brain project could
facilitate this were understood by them, they became enthusiastic proponents of its work. The national and
international VRE initiatives have a vital role in taking research and the economic and other benefits which come
from it forward.







Jim Hensman, Coventry University, j.hensman@coventry.ac.uk



Conclusions and Ongoing Work