Comparative case study of two biomedical research collaboratories

Titus K.L. Schleyer, Stephanie D. Teasley, Rishi Bhatnagar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

10 Scopus citations


Background: Working together efficiently and effectively presents a significant challenge in large-scale, complex, interdisciplinary research projects. Collaboratories are a nascent method to help meet this challenge. However, formal collaboratories in biomedical research centers are the exception rather than the rule.Objective: The main purpose of this paper is to compare and describe two collaboratories that used off-the-shelf tools and relatively modest resources to support the scientific activity of two biomedical research centers. The two centers were the Great Lakes Regional Center for AIDS Research (HIV/AIDS Center) and the New York University Oral Cancer Research for Adolescent and Adult Health Promotion Center (Oral Cancer Center).Methods: In each collaboratory, we used semistructured interviews, surveys, and contextual inquiry to assess user needs and define the technology requirements. We evaluated and selected commercial software applications by comparing their feature sets with requirements and then pilot-testing the applications. Local and remote support staff cooperated in the implementation and end user training for the collaborative tools. Collaboratory staff evaluated each implementation by analyzing utilization data, administering user surveys, and functioning as participant observers.Results: The HIV/AIDS Center primarily required real-time interaction for developing projects and attracting new participants to the center; the Oral Cancer Center, on the other hand, mainly needed tools to support distributed and asynchronous work in small research groups. The HIV/AIDS Center's collaboratory included a center-wide website that also served as the launch point for collaboratory applications, such as NetMeeting, Timbuktu Conference, PlaceWare Auditorium, and iVisit. The collaboratory of the Oral Cancer Center used Groove and Genesys Web conferencing. The HIV/AIDS Center was successful in attracting new scientists to HIV/AIDS research, and members used the collaboratory for developing and implementing new research studies. The Oral Cancer Center successfully supported highly distributed and asynchronous research, and the collaboratory facilitated real-time interaction for analyzing data and preparing publications.Conclusions: The two collaboratory implementations demonstrated the feasibility of supporting biomedical research centers using off-the-shelf commercial tools, but they also identified several barriers to successful collaboration. These barriers included computing platform incompatibilities, network infrastructure complexity, variable availability of local versus remote IT support, low computer and collaborative software literacy, and insufficient maturity of available collaborative software. Factors enabling collaboratory use included collaboration incentives through funding mechanism, a collaborative versus competitive relationship of researchers, leadership by example, and tools well matched to tasks and technical progress. Integrating electronic collaborative tools into routine scientific practice can be successful but requires further research on the technical, social, and behavioral factors influencing the adoption and use of collaboratories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere53
JournalJournal of medical Internet research
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomedical research
  • Collaboration
  • Collaboratories
  • Community networks
  • Information technology
  • Interdisciplinary research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics

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