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Evolution of Collaboration in Ecology

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Issue: 
Fall 2010

Karen Baker (PAL,CCE) and Eda Melendez-Colom (LUQ)

Review: 'Evolution of Collaboration in Ecology' by W.Michener and R.Waide. In Scientific Collaboration on the Internet. G.M.Olson, A.Zimmerman, and N.Bos (Eds). The MIT Press, Cambridge, 2008. ISBN-10:0-262-15120-0

This book chapter by Michener and Waide describes the Long-Term Ecological Research program and “how collaboration has evolved in a like-minded community of ecological scientists”. The 20 chapters in the book are grouped into those relating to the notion of collaboratories (collaborative science at-a-distance) and those about the sciences that are subgrouped into sections on physical sciences, biological and health sciences, earth and environmental sciences as well as the developing world. The earth and environmental section includes chapters on:

  • NCEAS (Ecology Transformed)
  • LTER (Collaboration in Ecology)
  • GEON (Organizing for Multidisciplinary Collaboration)
  • NEESgrid (Cyberinfrastruture Development)

The LTER story is told by interleaving LTER history with general impacts of agency funding for LTER as well as NCEAS, SEEK, KNB, and NEON as well as with increased communication and coordination. Six metrics of success of LTER and nine lessons learned about collaboration are presented in this chapter. The nine lessons learned in the LTER evolving culture of collaboration are summarized as:

  1. Establish or identify a common vision and common objectives

  2. Provide support for face-to-face communication
  3. Invest in developing and adopting standards
  4. Support cyberinfrastructure and information management
  5. Be flexible and engage stakeholders in the process
  6. Recognize the value of incentives and oversight
  7. Look beyond your normal comfort zone for ideas and collaborators
  8. Learn from your predecessors
  9. Leverage

The examples of LTER collaboration presented will be of interest to information managers who have gained experience with the work of articulation and openness, providing communication across multiple levels, infrastructuring at the site-network interface, engaging participants within the network, and taking long-term - even historical - views of a multiplicity of successes and failures. 

A set of metrics are also given as evidence of the LTER as “a major scientific success story”. Listed as one of the lessons learned in association with cyberinfrastruture, the development of the role of information management at both the site and network levels is not included as one of the metrics for LTER success. There are many kinds of metrics including quantitative measures as well as identifiable performance milestones. The notion of collaboration and the concept of metrics of success provide, therefore, an important prompt for all participants to mull over their own LTER experiences while asking: what is uniquely effective about the LTER Network configuration for synthetic scientific research, and how can it be captured as a milestone?