Syracuse iSchool researchers improve United Nations group’s online collaboration
Researchers at Syracuse University’s Center for Research on Collaboratories and Technology Enhanced Learning Communities (Cotelco) partnered with the United Nations Global Alliance for Information and Communication Technologies and Development (UN-GAID) to develop an online collaboration strategy. The strategy assists the alliance’s main committees in communicating and working effectively despite the geographically diverse locations of the committee members.
Under the leadership of Syracuse University School of Information Studies (iSchool) associate professor and Cotelco Director Derrick L. Cogburn and research associates Endri Mataj G’10 and Ankit Banbah G’10, both students in the iSchool’s Telecommunications and Network Management program, the Syracuse team has successfully completed two of the five phases in the project. So far, the plan includes Internet-based collaboration tools and interactive techniques that are turning the committee into a successful virtual organization.
The project began in fall 2008 with initial work being conducted by Cogburn’s “Distributed Collaboration and Emerging Technologies” (IST 500) class. The students integrated the theoretical, practical and evaluation elements into a comprehensive plan and working prototype for a geographically distributed collaboration strategy for real organizations, including UN-GAID.
After gathering basic data in September 2008, the Syracuse team conducted two preliminary interviews with Cogburn and iSchool professor John Mathiason, members of the high-level panel of advisors of UN-GAID, followed by several meetings with the representatives of UN-GAID Secretariat. These meetings laid out the general culture of international organizations and established the functional and communication structures currently used by the alliance.
Students used this information to better visualize the way UN-GAID operates and collaborates among its main committees and distance partnerships. Based on this understanding, the students developed a better approach to facilitate the use of Internet and online collaboration tools that improves the workflow and knowledge sharing in the geographically dispersed UN alliance.
So far, the students’ work has led to significant improvements to the UN-GAID website, and the alliance now uses a Web conferencing tool suggested by the Syracuse team to run its monthly meeting. The Syracuse team is also helping the group transition gradually from its old tools to the more effective new ones.
“Since the beginning of the project implementation, UN-GAID officials strongly appreciated and supported the strategies we’ve proposed,” says Mataj, a Fulbright student who is managing the project.
The Cotelco team also assisted in helping set up remote participation at the UN-GAID Global Forum on ICT and Education that was held in Monterrey, Mexico, Sept. 2–4. The event in Monterrey brought together IT leaders and the development community under the umbrella of the global alliance for a focused dialogue on emerging issues and challenges in the field of ICT for development, particularly in the areas of education and innovation, and to foster cooperation among governments, the private sector and civil society.
In addition to Cogburn, Mataj and Banbah, the Cotelco team includes iSchool students Ashley Christopher G’10 and Mark Huff G’10, and School of Education Ph.D. student Gomang Seratwa Ntloedibe-Kuswani.
UN-GAID is an initiative approved by the secretary general of the United Nations, launched after worldwide consultations with governments, the private sector, civil society, the technical and Internet communities, and the academic world. Its mission is to facilitate an inclusive global forum and platform for cross-sectoral policy dialogue on the use of information and communication technologies (ICT).
Cotelco is a social science research center in the School of Information Studies (iSchool) at Syracuse University and is organized to explore the socio-technical infrastructure required to support geographically distributed collaboration and knowledge work, particularly between developed and developing countries. Cotelco is also an affiliated center of the Burton Blatt Institute (BBI): Centers of Innovation on Disability.