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iSGTW Feature - Role of e-Infrastructure in creation of global VOs

Feature - Global virtual communities: opportunities versus barriers

Image courtesy of cybersociology.com

With over a decade of development, the vision of a global research community connected through a distributed computing infrastructure is increasingly becoming reality. But what makes this research environment, called e-Infrastructure, and these communities, called Virtual Organizations, successful? And to what extent do scientists from diverse communities experience this transition and contribute to it?

Addressing this question is the goal of eResearch2020, a newly launched collaboration between the University of Chicago/National Opinion Research Center, the Oxford Internet Institute, the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland and empirica Communication and Technology Research (Germany). Tasked by the European Commission, Directorate General Information Society and Media to complete its assessment by the end of the year, the study will propose strategies to enhance e-Infrastructure uptake and use in different fields of science.

The emergence of virtual organizations (VOs), culminating to date in grid technology and the broader e-Infrastructure framework, is a direct outcome of our increasing ability to work over distance. These organizations may offer social scientists fresh clues about the uptake of-and barriers to-new technologies. An earlier study conducted on the adoption of e-Infrastructure technologies in the social sciences and humanities revealed a number of challenges in adopting e-Infrastructure technologies across different domains, in particular as it clashes against cultural and organizational barriers.

Perceptible barriers.

Image copyright of Lyn Topinka.

These results have increased our appetite to compare the operations of more mature virtual organizations in different domains and to identify the barriers and opportunities their members perceive. In addition, we consider the virtual community a fascinating experiment of new organizational modes. Understanding how scientists collaborate, from diverse areas of expertise, from different geographic regions and across organizations, may also suggest insights about potential forms of collaboration to business communities, as well.

While most previous studies of e-Infrastructure relied on a single case study, eResearch2020 pursues a two-stage comparative analysis. Taking into account such factors as geographic range and the research domain, we will carry out an in-depth examination of about twenty organizations in the first stage of the study. Interviews with e-Infrastructure providers and participants in VOs will provide the data for this stage. In stage two later this year, based on our analysis of stage one results and using input from our informants, we will launch a short Web survey, to which we will invite participants from VOs around the world. The detailed qualitative case analysis and the quantitative results will enable us to furnish policy makers with strategies that would better leverage e-Infrastructure toward the creation of global virtual communities.

We encourage VOs and e-Infrastructure providers interested in participating in the study to contact us this month. We will release results from the study by the end of 2009 on the project's Web site.

-Zack Kertcher, University of Chicago

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