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Open Source CMS offers great benefits to scientific collaborative research

by Nicolas Bossut last modified 2007-05-25 00:58

Researchers need a platform to support transnational scientific collaboration. Paul Henning Krogh explains how collaborative software as Plone brings outstanding benefits to EU research projects.

Interview of Paul Henning Krogh (University of Aarhus, Denmark), ECOGEN project coordinator, published in "The Parliament Magazine – Research Supplement 2007"

« We have implemented IT research infrastructures based on Plone, an open-source Content Management System (CMS). It has enlightened us about the potential of collaborative software for research. We have realized that a re-usable and generic open-source platform might have great benefits for European science». Paul Henning Krogh

Our experience with participation in EU funded projects has led to reflections on how we would like to see future research collaboration realised.The FP7 itself now stresses the cooperative aspects of research by naming the largest programme to be "Cooperation" and including many fruitful ideas in the program on how this should be approached. Scientists are very much aware of the necessity of the free flow of knowledge in research communities and industry but for international research projects this would need to be fuelled by ICT infrastructures.

What is the nature of research in an EU project?

EU projects require extensive management and communication to satisfy the partners and the EU sponsor. Even at the proposal preparation stage describing the project includes basic recurring elements such as Gantt and Pert charts and project scheduling prone to be addressed using common software shared with the Commission. Indeed, the lack of physical proximity leads to an intense presence of virtual teams supported mainly by e-mail and repositories for electronic documents with annual or semi-annual face-to-face work-shops and meetings.The participants also have a work-flow of dissemination activities during and after the project to groups of end-users and stakeholders.

What do researchers need in an EU project?

As researchers we need new research project tools that are better suited for support of our teams and properly aligned with existing reporting formats and administrative requirements as well as existing tools already in use, to avoid dissimilar sets of project information for internal and external use. Moreover, we need a single point of access to relevant information and services, efficient mechanisms to manage scientific content, and the possibilities to communicate and establish contacts within the research network. If these needs are met they will greatly facilitate the adoption of new tools.We would gladly contribute to the formulation of such tools and participate in projects pursuing this objective.

What is our experience?

We have valuable experience on the perspectives of implementing IT infrastructures in EU supported projects such as ECOGEN, TARGET and NEWCOM . Although every project has different research goals and topics, creating a platform to support scientific collaboration and project management is a common and essential need. Based on open-source content management systems (CMS) such as Plone, we have implemented IT research infrastructures, which have enlightened us about the potential of collaborative software for research. We have realised that a re-usable and generic open-source platform might have great benefits for European science. However, it will need the Commission’s support to reach a critical mass of users engaged in EU projects and to make a lasting impact on future ICT infrastructures.

Support of FP7 research project infrastructure

For FP7 we propose to bridge ICT and Research by joining forces with groups from these two scientific worlds in actions that will create benefits for :

  • project management
  • visualisation of project structure
  • internal project collaboration
  • competence management
  • experience transfer
  • facilitation of group processes
  • relations with the Commission’s administration
  • project reporting
  • integration with existing software to improve accessibility
  • dissemination.

The outcome of these actions will subsequently enable the Commission to offer tools for funded projects which are well suited from the very beginning of the life of a project i.e. at the project proposal phase, during the project and eventually after project termination when results should be made permanently accessible. At the proposal preparation phase it is paramount to establish a working infrastructure where participants have their first collaborative encounters, real as well as virtual. A re-usable framework avoids multiplied efforts and lets projects concentrate on scientific content rather than on re-inventing the wheel by creating new IT-infrastructures from scratch.

Krogh, P.H., Munkvold, B.E., Bohanec, M., Džeroski, S., Heymans, X., Amaikwu, E., Davies, M., 2007. Collaborative systems for EU research projects. In: Research - European Research & Innovation Review. March 2007, DODS, Issue 1, p. 4.

Ecogen was funded by FP5, Quality of Life and Management of Living Resources.

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