Setting up a collaborative research environment
Collaborative research brings with it the need for the sharing of information, documents and data, in a controlled, organised and managed way, often across several organisations or institutions. This can be challenging if it is not properly managed.
Below is a list of typical requirements for researchers working in a collaborative environment.
- Storage and the sharing of documents, plus data files.
- The ability to organise documents and data files into folders.
- An access control system, which allows authentication and authorisation to be easily managed.
- Version control of documents and data files.
- File locking to prevent users from simultaneously working on the same file.
- Ideally, a discussion platform utilising a forum or wiki format.
Available options for setting up a collaborative research environment
- An institutional or departmental drive where secure access can be provided to external researchers – for example, a share accessed via a virtual private network (VPN).
Advantages: One institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control.Disadvantages: Access control is difficult to manage and there may be resistance to allowing external people to have access.
- A secure file transfer (SFTP) server.
Advantages: One institution responsible for set-up, storage, backup and access control. Integrated access control independent of the institutions Active Directory.Disadvantages: Possible reluctance to allowing external people access.
- A Virtual Research Environment (VRE) or portal environment, such as Basecamp, Huddle, Clinked or MS Sharepoint.
Advantages: Secure workspace, with a customisable content management system.
- Disadvantages: Basecamp, Huddle and Clinked are web-based.
- Cloud-based file-sharing services, such as Dropbox, GoogleDocs, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, SpiderOak, Mega.nz or Tresorit.
Advantages: Easy to set up and use.
Disadvantages: Limited storage, plus security concerns over where the files and backups are kept.
- A data repository, such as DSpace, Fedora, Eprints, CKAN or cloud-based figshare.
Advantages: One institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control.Disadvantages: Lacks full customisation.
For file transmission, the UK Data Service uses a locally hosted SFTP server. Files containing sensitive or personal information should be encrypted before upload, ideally using PGP.