Improving transparency and collaboration in research using collective intelligence tools

A new electronic lab notebook concept from the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence offers a focus on collaborative research strategy and decision making.

He’s been talking for 10 minutes straight. 

Your research team is in their monthly checkpoint meeting with advisors, colleagues and external stakeholders to review your recent progress and key challenges. The meeting has already been a disappointment as half of the research specialists you were hoping to connect with couldn’t make the meeting time. And now even the ones that have made it haven’t been able to say much of anything because one person has hijacked the conversation. In addition to the time your team is already losing today, your team also spent a good part of the day yesterday prepping for today’s meeting. You shake your head thinking about how much time is being taken away from core research for so little value created. You know that transparency and collaboration with your peers are important, but you have to believe there is a better way.

If this sounds even vaguely familiar, you’re not alone. Research is a race against time and situations like this can be very frustrating. We are working to accrue as much useful knowledge as possible within tight resource constraints. There is never enough time – or funding. Endless meetings – on Zoom or in person – are a drag on the amount of “real work” that can be done. Not only that, but despite all this meeting, not everyone is able to contribute, we get sidetracked easily and we leave far too many meetings without a complete picture of what was decided and why.

Yet there is no avoiding the fact that we have stakeholders to align and colleagues with whom to collaborate. Any advantage that would enable us to structure this collaboration to create more value from fewer resources could make a huge difference. 

One potential answer showing promise is a new breed of collaborative lab notebook developed at the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence called HiveWise. This digital collaboration tool has been used by research labs around the world including the NASA FDL and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health. So what is it and how does it work?

Traditionally, lab notebooks have long existed as a primary record of research. Researchers use lab notebooks to document their hypotheses, experiments and initial analysis / interpretation of these experiments. Today, there is a whole industry of electronic lab notebook (ELN) software promising to help scientists wrangle large amounts of data. Yet, they are often expensive and complex to learn and start using. And crucially, they aren’t designed for stakeholder transparency or strategic collaboration. 

This is where HiveWise comes in. Rather than a focus on data management, this platform uses a collective intelligence approach to organize collaboration around research strategy and decision making from hypothesis definition to analysis and interpretation. 

The Structure

Where common social-media style chat tools lack any kind of structure, HiveWise organizes all input in an analytical format. Participants identify the key questions that need to be answered, submit possible answers, and develop evaluations in the form of ratings and pro/con arguments. As opposed to a long stream of consciousness messages that result from chat tools, the by-product of the HiveWise framework is a clear, organized map of the collective ideas and analysis created by a scalable group of people.

As simple as this sounds, this light structure is quite powerful when used in a research context. Let’s go back to our starting example and see how it might be different using a digital lab book like HiveWise – specifically designed for structured collaboration. 

  • At the beginning of the week, you as the research team leader identify the most important questions that are facing the team. 
  • Either synchronously or asynchronously your team works to submit different answers and evaluations related to each question. They support these evaluations with attachments and/or links back to specific data sets to support their arguments.
  • The original questions spur new questions the team works together to evaluate as well. 
  • Meanwhile, the entire group of peers and advisors has access to the HiveWise lab book. As they have time they are able to check in and review the team’s progress, quickly identify the areas they can add value and provide their thoughts. 
  • Specific questions and points of analysis can be proactively sent to peers and colleagues as needed to draw their attention to specific areas they can add value. 
  • The result is more meaningful collaboration from a larger group of participants who aren’t constrained by the limitations of added in-person meetings. 
  • Likewise, the lack of complexity and straightforward organization of HiveWise means that even non-expert stakeholders can quickly stay informed without the need for hour-long ppt presentations.
  • Finally, your team benefits from staying focused on key issues, timely peer collaboration, and reduced time lost preparing for and running special meetings specifically to get everyone on the same page. 

Proof of Concept

So how do you know if a collaborative lab notebook approach is the right direction for your team? HiveWise has a “try before you buy” program that will enable you to see the platform in action for yourself. With no training required or software to install, running a proof of concept is a low risk and potentially high reward path to making this evaluation for yourself.

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