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Communication and Dissemination for European Projects (#1)

Communication is often considered a structural pillar in several domains.
Of course commercial domain makes wide use of any kind of communication “tool” (e.g. social networks, communication techniques as “story telling”, or the old well-known commercial ads) in order to engage users and – in the end – increase profit.
However the importance of Communication has been recognised as relevant also in the field of science, and in particular of the Science Projects funded by the European Community.

Documents like Communicating EU research and innovation: guidance for project participants demonstrate how serious this issue has been taken by the EU.

In addition, almost all EU projects I’ve come across, include a Communication Working Package.

This issue – or better this challenge – needs at least two ingredients to be properly tackled:

  1. a good Communication Plan
  2. the know how and technical tools which are, in the end, the substance of the communication itself. They include all the technical tools (e.g. teleconferencing tools) and best practices which must be used to carry on an effective communication based on the communication plan.

In this post I’ll deal with the second aspect, reporting the experience we had in the context of the EPOS european project and providing some thoughts, guidelines and – most importantly – our experience about the creation of  all the tools we needed to set up an efficient communication.

We called it Communication & Management Toolkit. 

 

HEADER IMAGE Di Sceptre (Opera propria) [Public domain], attraverso Wikimedia Commons

What is a Communication and Management Toolkit?

We consider a communication toolkit as the bundle of technical tools and approaches to properly deal with the Communication  – and sometimes Management – of a European project.

Communication is intended both as internal communication (among project’s members and stakeholders) and project’s communication with external stakeholders, also known as dissemination and outreach.

We defined three different modules to establish an efficient communication:

A) Internal Communication Tools
B) Communication Activities
C) Website

Although the website is somehow included in  the communication activities, it deserves a special place, especially when such services are required to private companies needing details and clear view  about the  IT tools to be set up (BTW it will simplify also the drafting of the quotation).

In the following sections, we will describe the three modules.

A. Internal communication tools

For internal communication, what is basically needed is a collaborative area, a so called “intranet”, where:

  1. All relevant information for project’s members only are shared (e.g. important dates, internal documents, internal discussions)
  2. Communication to and from specific groups of the project internal members is simple and straightforward
  3. Usage is simple enough so that also non skilled users can take advantage of it

Some commercial tools exist already. Some examples are active.collab, Asana, Basecamp and many other.
When I was using and testing them, the main feeling was that they were shaped on the commercial domain and could work well for a company. However when working with scientists, who (rightly) do their work without dealing with (and without caring about) all the complex tasks / activities / deliverables and whatsoever mess of organizational things, those tools hardly work. Users (scientists) simply go on using mailing list and sending around word documents.
Some update has been done with the advent of Google Docs (Google Drive), but the bulk of the users do not want to loose too much time with complex IT tools.

..and so..?

So one of the best approach seemed – so far – to create an ad-hoc integrated environment with all the tools that scientists are used to (and that already use as single ‘apps’: for example skype, mailing lists, shared google docs repositories etc.) with a single sign-on which give access to the bundle of tools in a simple way.

Here comes a selection of the minimal set of tools to integrate in order to carry on an effective communication:

  1. Mailing lists & Forums: they are intended to facilitate the communication to and from groups of project members (e.g. within a Working Package, among WP leaders, etc.). Forums and mailing list can be interlinked so that any message in the mailing list is redirected to the forum and vice-versa. IN this way also later-added users can have track of all the messages (with attachments) so far.
  2. Files and images repository: a common area for uploading/downloading files and exchange them with members and stakeholders. It is also a fundamental tool to store and categorize images and other dissemination material. download
    This tool should support permissions
    (some pages should be available to the general public without writing rights). According to the community needs (number of envisioned files, average size of each file etc), this tool may require a good amount of starage space (e.g. 3 Terabytes).
    Examples: Owncloud, Pydio are the 2 interesting candidates to manage this.
  3. Shared calendars: to keep track and disseminate relevant events for project members. Possibly linked to Google calendars which are often in use in many projects.
  4. Wiki: this can be used as a place where information are organized and simple to discover. This tool should support permissions (some pages should be available to the general public without writing rights). Example: Mediawiki software is the de-facto standard in this realm.
  5. Events organization: this is a tool to organize meetings, events and conferences. It should handle all the aspect of a conference/meeting: program, user registration, deadlines, document submission, dissemination of relevant material etc.
    Example: Tools like Indico (done by the guys from CERN http://indico.github.io/ ) seems to do the job greatly.
  6. Teleconferencing tools: For this purposes some good quality tools (Screen sharing, multi-user, document exchange, private chat etc.) are available, for instance Adobe connect or Webex. Needed features are Screen sharing, 10+ active participants, public, unrestricted viewing stream easily embeddable in HTML pages, document exchange, private chat, auto-recording of conference. Given the above feature set, Webinars can also be managed.
    After some year of experience, good choices seems to be: 1) Adobe Connect: works well but little bit expensive (2 hosts, up to 25 participants: c.ca 1000€ per year), 2) Web Ex: works well but somebody reported some issues (25 participants, 500 € per year), 3) Google Hangout: works well but somebody finds it a little tricky (15 participants, ridiculous price – c.ca 100€ per year).

As said, this is just a minimal set of tools to enable internal communication.
Your project may require special additional tools. For instance, if your keyword is organization, then some tool to keep track of the deadlines, tasks, activities etc. could be very useful (the latest – Luca thanks! – I stumbled upon is wrike.com).
Or, if you focus on training and interactive teaching experiences for internal members, tools like Moodle could do the job.

In the next post we will explore the other two components of the Communication & Management toolkit: Communication Activities and Website.

 

 

 

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