Online Collaboration

Collaborating on the Web

Collaboration is a word more often associated these days with online services than with public policy. The two, however, can be linked in several ways. There are tools available through web browsers to help collaborative groups share virtual workspaces, simplify communication, facilitate project management and conduct real-time meetings. The explosive growth of offerings includes many types of services:

  • Virtual workspaces for collaborative projects with tools for asynchronous communication, joint document preparation, shared calendars, scheduling, task management, visualization of information and many other needs.

  • Visual interfaces to supplement teleconferences by providing real-time sharing of presentations and other materials as well as chat facilities for private discussions during meetings.

  • Video and audio capabilities for meetings that allow participants to view and speak directly to one another through the web.

An important subset of these online tools may be especially useful for achieving collaborative public policy goals. These have been specifically designed for the convening of mediation sessions, dialogues, workshops and even large conference events. The question is just how effective are these methods for achieving results in the public sector? Can they meet their claims of reducing or eliminating the need for in-person events and so help cut travel costs while permitting more frequent exchanges.

CrossCollaborate will offer reviews of these systems as a regular feature. Online communication is still in its early stages and, given the enormous investment now being made to improve such services is likely to become technologically more sophisticated and to offer more potentially useful features.

Each week we will discuss a different web-based collaborative service in order to gain a sense of its effectiveness and relevance to the public policy field. We will also consider difficult questions associated with online events in relation to legal and practical constraints unique to government sponsored events. These include the impact of such factors as these:

  • Open meetings laws

  • Demands for greater public access and involvement

  • The Federal Advisory Committee Act

  • Requirements for full accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act and related statutes

  • Public records acts

  • Management of confidentiality and security of information

In addition to analyzing these tools, we’ll also seek out the opinions of facilitators and experienced participants in online meetings on the effectiveness of this new medium for collaboration.

Please let us know if there are particular services you have worked with and what your reactions have been about the results.