Finding Collaborators: Toward Interactive Discovery Tools for Research Network Systems

Borromeo CD, Schleyer TK, Becich MJ, Hochheiser H.  Finding Collaborators: Toward Interactive Discovery Tools for Research Network Systems. J Med Internet Res 2014;16(11):e244 DOI: 10.2196/jmir.3444 PMID: 25370463

Background: Research networking systems hold great promise for helping biomedical scientists identify collaborators with the expertise needed to build interdisciplinary teams. Although efforts to date have focused primarily on collecting and aggregating information, less attention has been paid to the design of end-user tools for using these collections to identify collaborators. To be effective, collaborator search tools must provide researchers with easy access to information relevant to their collaboration needs.

Objective: The aim was to study user requirements and preferences for research networking system collaborator search tools and to design and evaluate a functional prototype.

Methods: Paper prototypes exploring possible interface designs were presented to 18 participants in semistructured interviews aimed at eliciting collaborator search needs. Interview data were coded and analyzed to identify recurrent themes and related software requirements. Analysis results and elements from paper prototypes were used to design a Web-based prototype using the D3 JavaScript library and VIVO data. Preliminary usability studies asked 20 participants to use the tool and to provide feedback through semistructured interviews and completion of the System Usability Scale (SUS).

Results: Initial interviews identified consensus regarding several novel requirements for collaborator search tools, including chronological display of publication and research funding information, the need for conjunctive keyword searches, and tools for tracking candidate collaborators. Participant responses were positive (SUS score: mean 76.4%, SD 13.9). Opportunities for improving the interface design were identified.

Conclusions: Interactive, timeline-based displays that support comparison of researcher productivity in funding and publication have the potential to effectively support searching for collaborators. Further refinement and longitudinal studies may be needed to better understand the implications of collaborator search tools for researcher workflows.

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Borromeo CD, Schleyer TK, Becich MJ, Hochheiser H