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Information Manager Extraordinary Teleconferencing: An ET Moment

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Issue: 
Spring 2010

Karen Baker (PAL, CCE)

The use of video-teleconferencing (VTC), a relatively new coordination mechanism called the ‘Virtual Watercooler’ by the LTER information managers, was reported on earlier by Linda Powell, Nicole Kaplan and James Williams (Databits Fall 2009). Use of VTC expanded last month with scheduling by IMExec of an ‘Extraordinary VTC’. Organizationally, the VTC arrangements followed what is now a community tradition: the use of ‘doodle’ for sign-up and the conduct of two calls on separate days/times to accommodate the rather large group with a variety of schedules and geographic locations. The calls were chaired by IMExec co-chairs Don Henshaw and Margaret O’Brien.

The April Virtual Watercooler was extraordinary for two reasons. First, it was in addition to the now quasi-routine monthly calls. Second, the call was scheduled as a rapid response to notification that funds were available for site supplements. The supplement itself was remarkable in that it specifically delineated options to apply for funds targeting information management totaling up to $30,000. NSF program managers worked with IMExec to detail a range of topics and tasks that provided a descriptive account of information tasks. Such description is often left unexpressed or frequently lacks a vocabulary for describing the diverse data management requirements of a site that is a member of a scientific network. The VTC and collaborative planning provide an example of what it means to network. The usefulness of these funds was evident; a list of potential activities and/or specific projects appeared for discussion immediately. At short notice, every site had tentative plans in mind by the time of the VTCs.

The process that unfolded involved collaboration, task packaging, and timely dialogue. It resulted not only in individual site engagement but also in identification of joint interests early in the planning process. In terms of site engagement, the open forum discussions, the subsequent email exchanges, and wiki postings of text provided examples to participants who had heretofore not been part of site project formulation or preparation of proposals and budgets. The VTCs opened up discussions for those not aware of particular activities or approaches. Topics of shared interest arose naturally. Informality and inclusiveness for the watercooler was established by a ‘round-robin’ site reports format introduced and facilitated by meeting hosts. Each participant occupying one of the “LTER-Hollywood Squares” summarized tentative plans for the IM portion of their site supplement. For both VTCs this involved fourteen sites including several individuals participating by phone, from ‘Virtual Squares’ so to speak. The order of report giving was self-organized, guided by an initial suggestion to volunteer to give your report when an activity at your site matched an activity reported by another site.

From left-to-right: C. Gries (NTL), D. Henshaw (AND), M. Gastil-Buhl (MCR), H. Garritt (PIE), I. SanGil (LNO), K. Baker (CCE/PAL - taking photo), J. Brunt (LNO), J. Porter (VCR), K. Ramsey (JRN), K. Vanderbilt (SEV), M. O'Brien (SBC), N. Kaplan (SGS), S. Remillard (AND), Y. (LNO)

Topics of shared interest that emerged related to the development of web-enabled metadata forms, unit registry, GIS, workflows, and meta-data enabled websites using Drupal as well as the development of new data models with an emphasis on making the development work transparent. Another item of interest to many site participants was the idea of support for travel for professional development opportunities as well as for participation in working groups in a variety of pertinent venues, i.e. site-site, site-network, and multi-site working group meetings.

The rapid response making use of the Virtual Watercooler served to highlight two aspects of the LTER IMC: the community ability to coordinate and its recognition of the benefits of a collaborative planning approach with the advent of new resources. The combination of a well-framed supplement call and the Extraordinary-Teleconferencing created a noteworthy ET moment that demonstrated how LTER Information Management community participants carry out the ‘work’ in network.

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