Edge of Networks: success factors in virtual collaboration and networking for research-policy linkages

Led by: Damir Simunic, Edge of Networks, WA Research SA, Switzerland

This workshop introduced the Edge of Network (http://edgeof.net); a new concept describing important success factors in virtual collaboration and networking. It has emerged from seven years of trial and error work in virtual collaboration in a number of large international organizations and non-profits including WHO, UNAIDS, UNHCR. The workshop went beyond the theory and introduced concrete success factors, important for brokering research and virtual collaboration in general.

What do you do when you need a simple way of sharing files with many partners and other collaborators but don’t want to give them access to your sharepoint or intranet or other systems that are for your department or organisation only? Enter the ‘Edge of Networks’ idea

Damir Simunic, who ran the workshop described how he’d worked with various UN organisations, including UNAIDS, WHO and UNITA, which needed to expand their collaboration platform by creating an internet system for sharing files and experience.

The Edge of Network approach recognises that within a given group there are insiders (such as the members of an organisation) – a cohesive group that understands how the people within the group work, who are able to communicate and share files using their organisation’s intranet or sharepoint, and outsiders that the group needs to link with but do not have the same level of trust or understanding with.

Although an increasing number of free networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn can, in theory, provide a service for linking collaborators, they are inappropriate because it’s difficult to transfer an organisational platform onto a social networking site, which mainly works on an individual-to-individual basis. Nominally organisational sites, such as DGroups, Google groups and Development Gateway, are nowhere near as popular as social networking sites and each group is relatively small, as after a point it’s difficult to coordinate big groups. Other online services do not work because they tend to only facilitate one-way communication or else require long hours, negotiation and input from the IT department of an organisation, which is another advantage of ‘the Edge’: once set up it is very much a ‘do it yourself’ self-service operation – no need for going knocking on the door of your IT department like a technologically-challenged orphan!

What is this seeming wonder tool? The details weren’t too clear but some useful features include a system that is completely integrated with email, so although a website supports and archives all communication, uploading multiple files, keeping track of documents with the latest changes and so on can be done entirely via email. The webpage, if one does visit it, has many of the typical features (e.g. searching function) but is able to organise and archive information in all sorts of useful ways. It also allows you to easily look at data on usage and email bounces, and has a range of functions that can be added or removed according to what you feel is useful.

If none of this is making sense, this very useful website: http://edgeof.net takes you through the details with much more clarity than I can manage – it’s worth taking a look.

Freida McCormack, IDS

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