Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann and Marjorie Bequette on Fostering Successful Collaboration across Multiple Sites

Hello, we’re Elizabeth Kunz Kollmann from the Museum of Science, Boston and Marjorie Bequette from the Science Museum of Minnesota, two of the co-PIs for the study Complex Adaptive Systems as a Model for Network Evaluations (CASNET).

As a part of CASNET, we’ve coordinated meetings, document sharing, and data analysis across team members located at the University of Minnesota, Science Museum of Minnesota, Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and Museum of Science, Boston. Creating a functional team across sites can be difficult and requires extra work. For example, we’ve all probably experienced some aspects of an awful conference call, like “A conference call in real life”. However, over three years of CASNET, we learned ways to make our nationwide team more effective, and we even still like each other! 

Lessons Learned:

  • Meet regularly. Even if each institution has individual tasks, it’s best to meet on a regular basis to check in about the status of everyone’s work and ensure everyone is up to date on current and pending assignments.
  • Create structure. Have an agenda and meeting leader, even for a brief meeting. This lets you avoid awkward phone silence with everyone trying to think about what else needs to be discussed.
  • Encourage chit-chat. Allow time (but not too much) for chit-chat, especially when new team members join the group and don’t really know who is who on a call. Use people’s names frequently, and encourage individuals to introduce themselves when they speak.
  • Facilitate document sharing. Sharing documents in multiple ways can be helpful. Some of our team members preferred email attachments while others preferred document sharing websites, so we used both.
  • Use a common analysis software. Using shared data analysis software is vital in allowing for analysis across coders at different sites.
  • Meet in-person for big topics. Having in-person meetings when making important decisions can help you work through big issues such as determining study findings. It’s worth the additional expense.


Rad Resources:

There are many paid and free sources available to help facilitate communication and sharing across nationwide teams.

  • Conference calls are great, and you can set them up through free services such as FreeConferenceCall.com. Take advantage of virtual meeting mechanisms such as Skype and Adobe Connect which allow you to see other meeting participants and share documents.
  • File sharing. There are a variety of websites available to share documents across sites. Google Drive and Drop Box are free options while Basecamp is a paid option.
  • Data analysis. For qualitative research, there are now many ways to do collaborative coding with researchers in different locations. Two that we’ve used, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, include Dedoose and NVivo Server. 

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org . aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

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