For the purposes of this discussion, collaboration tools are defined as software or hardware that enables the connection of people united in a common goal: to deliver a winning proposal.
For many investigators, collaboration on a proposal can be easily achieved through a simple phone call or stroll down the hall. However, as networks increase in complexity and size, we’re finding that more often than not, we need to connect using electronic tools to draft a proposal.
Available tools are dynamic. This ever changing environment usually works in your favor, as the best tools usually percolate to the top of everyone’s list. It is important to ask around, search online, and most importantly – TEST (repeatedly) – potential tools over time, at scale, and for different projects. Also, be open to a combination of tools.
As you proceed to identify and try collaboration tools, consider the following:
- The desired outcome should drive which collaborative tool you employ (e.g., whitepaper, proposal, contract, pre-solicitation discussion). A traditional proposal that requires draft reviews, document collection requires more up front face to face discussion followed by content generation.
- Consider existing infrastructure, technology policy, and culture. Must documents and discussions be confidential or otherwise secure? Will collaborators tend to provide more information in written or oral form? Will collaborating institution have firewalls that prevent certain platforms from being effective?
A sample (not exhaustive or inclusive) of collaboration tools I have used and a quick review of how they work:
Adobe Connect: Allows for connecting via video (depending on the bandwidth), recording a meeting for distribution, live sharing of documents (all formats), but doesn’t allow for documents to be associated with the meeting post-event. At ASU, you must request an account. You should also be prepared with a teleconference line as an audio back up.
Box.com: A webbased platform that allows for sharing documents and discussions on those documents. Document folders and documents can be managed for security, however, this is done through individuals signing up for an account to use the service. Navigating the email alerts is challenging, especially if you have more than one project going at a time. The platform relies on applications (many are third party) to expand it’s services. There isn’t a calendaring function with individual accounts.
SharePoint: Requires an enterprise level commitment. Some ASU departments have adopted the platform, but not all. External partners find it somewhat challenging to access. The look and feel is not optimal, but it provides calendars, task lists, document version control, and discussions.
DropBox: Downloaded locally, free, and provides adequate space for documents. Does require a version control system to be designed and imposed by users. Useful for documents only.
GoogleDocs: Allows for calendaring, concurrent editing of documents, it’s ubiquitous, user friendly, but collaborators must have an email account to be added (usually not a problem), security isn’t high, and participants must go to the site to participant (as opposed to receiving updates in their inbox).
LinkedIn: Creating a group in LinkedIn is one way to include professional networking as part of the collaboration experience. Groups can share documents and create active discussions. Information is delivered daily or weekly to a member’s email inbox. Document sharing is limited however.
What collaboration tools do you find work well and why?