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IBM Publishes Sawyer's Collaborative Networks Research Report

By: Diane Stirling
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    Steven Sawyer
The IBM Center for The Business of Government has published research findings by School of Information Studies (iSchool) Professor Steven Sawyer regarding how multi-organizational networks can collaborate to address complex public challenges.

The report is entitled “Designing Collaborative Networks: Lessons Learned from Public Safety.” IBM characterizes it as offering “practical advice to public managers and political leaders who are addressing complex public challenges through multi-organizational networks.”

Sawyer, who also is Associate Dean for Research and Doctoral Programs at the iSchool, was a principal researcher on the project along with Jane Fedorowicz, Ph.D., of Bentley University. Also on the project team as research associates were iSchool graduate student Robert Schrier, MLIS; and iSchool adjunct instructor Joseph Treglia, who has a background in law enforcement and criminal justice. The study was supported by grants from the National Science Foundation.

IBM executives Jonathan Breul and George Cruser, in the report’s introduction, note that while the use of collaborative networks of organizations has matured in the past decade, developers “face political, organizational, and technological challenges in a world accus¬tomed to the traditional, hierarchical approach to problem-solving and accountability.”

Key goals of the research were to help agencies realize the value of joining together to design, develop and deploy information and communications technologies to support policing, criminal justice, public safety and homeland security, the authors note. The research examined two main questions about cross-agency communications and information sharing; why collaborations occur in some places and not others; and what makes public safety collaboration successful.

Five major recommendations are offered by the authors as policies to guide the development of collaborative networks. They include involving all stakeholders in the network’s design; assuring that stakeholders will value, use and participate in the networks developed; and pursuing all options to find funding to develop the network. In addition, the authors suggest having diverse performance goals to guide ongoing network operation.

They also recommend six actions that can be taken to leverage technology as a means to advance the development of a collaborative network. These include: designing modular, flexible information technology elements; ensuring that data custodianship remains with the data’s owners; using standardized security and access approaches for design and governance processes; and planning to incorporate legacy technologies. Implementing processes and technologies that support routine use as a means to increase system usage, and emphasizing the need to focus on the reliability and stability in system design in order to boost its usage also were recommended.

The outcome of recommendations along with additional action steps was something planned from the beginning, according to Professor Sawyer. “When we started the project eight years ago, the goal was to do something academic, and also to give something back to the practicing professionals who work so hard in the field,” he noted. “We wanted to give them guidance, but also some real concrete evidence that we could turn over to people who do this for a living, and say, ‘Here’s what you can do; do this and it will get better.’”

Next steps for the project are publishing additional academic information and more detailed analyses; applying for the next round of funding; and making the educational materials more available, such as case studies that can be used in classrooms, according to Sawyer.

IBM’s announcement of the report is on its “The Business of Government” web site at:  http://www.businessofgovernment.org/blog/business-government/lessons-designing-collaborative-networks-0

A downloadable pdf of the report can be found at: http://www.businessofgovernment.org/report/designing-collaborative-networks.

The Public Safety Networks Study, which provided the basis for the findings, is online here: http://www.publicsafetynetworksstudy.org/.

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