By Marian Dörk
Effective research relies on cross fertilisation of ideas between different researchers. Considering the likelihood of researchers with different backgrounds working on similar or related problems in a research institution, it is unfortunate how often they may cross paths without knowing about each other or their research. Meeting around the proverbial water cooler may simply not be an option for researchers in different departments, based in different buildings.
This recipe, developed through conversations with Graham Earl, proposes a dynamic technological visualisation of the spatial and academic dimensions of co-located research activity. The visualisation juxtaposes researchers’ changing interests and locations on the campus. It reveals commonalities among people in their research topics, problems, and methods, prompting ad hoc brainstorming meetings, coffee breaks, and beer outings. Apart from helping people find each other, the visualisation can also be used to stay aware of the changing research landscape – both digital and physical – at a large institution.
Researchers willing to
- Engage in interdisciplinary collaboration
- Share changing research interests and efforts
- Learn about colleagues’ research
- Technology and software that will support this, e.g.
- Inspires software – see Hensman (2012)
- Researchers within an organisation are asked to electronically share their current research interests, methods, and problems in keywords and short phrases.
- Researchers then view the visualisation, either in a shared screen in a common area or in the privacy of their own monitor, to see if they could find a research friend.
- The visualisation pairs up researchers that might want to consider having an informal chat together. This should be carried out with the lowest effort and expectation possible on behalf of the researchers. The invitations should be seen as primarily for interesting conversations and potentially for fruitful collaborations. By sharing one’s own interests, the visualisation reveals those locations (offices, studios, or cafes) that have a high density of people with similar or complementary research interests.
- An interest map of a campus could help researchers to steer towards possible collaborators – or avoid them to have a proper break!
- An alternative, less dynamic, approach could be based on recently submitted or published papers. While this could serve as a robust way to identify those with similar interests, it is by default always a bit out of date, as academic publications mainly represent research results, not research in progress.
To gather the necessary data (either weekly keywords or published articles), a beautifully designed visualisation could invite researchers to share their work in order to see their research effort in the context of their colleagues’ efforts.
University administrators should be careful not to turn this visualisation into a leader board or even the basis for evaluation, as this may impede staff relations and the desired collaborations.
BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from: