Information Management for Collaboration

Key questions and our favourite apps for information management in collaborative projects. 

by Anne Bergen

All of our Knowledge to Action Consulting projects involve managing and sharing information, within our team and with others. Sometimes there is a lot of information to manage. One current project has generated 3.19GB of data and 697 files in just over two months (lots of interviews, lots of audio recordings), along with ~2300 messages.

Weekly messages in Slack. Some days are busier than others.

Weekly messages in Slack. Some days are busier than others.

The apps and approaches we use for information management differ from project to project. We share and archive information differently, depending on the needs, capacity, and resources of project stakeholders.

Although great shared systems could successfully evolve over time with little forethought, it’s better to plan ahead. At the beginning of a project, take the time to create an information management plan

Consider the following questions with your internal project team and with project stakeholders more broadly:

  1. What do people know and use already (e.g., Google docs, Dropbox)?
  2. What is people’s level of comfort with learning and using new systems?
  3. How and when would people prefer to share and receive information about the project?
  4. What are organizational IT restrictions? Can people install software? Can people access external storage like Dropbox?
  5. What kind of information needs to be shared? How long does the shared information need to be stored?
  6. Is there a budget for subscription services? For a project website? For database customization?
  7. Are there any specific security/privacy needs (e.g., confidential research data, personal health information, etc….)?
  8. How many people need to access the system? Will everyone have access to the same information?
  9. Who will have administrative access during and after the project?
  10. What is your plan for naming and version control of documents?
  11. Who is responsible for cleaning up the shared space? How and when is the shared space backed up?
  12. How will project information be archived and for how long?

Revisit your information management plan regularly. Remove what’s not working and build in new supports as needed.

If project stakeholders aren’t sharing information and using shared online spaces as expected, learn more about why. Don’t leave this up to one person to fix. As a group, consider how to reduce barriers to knowledge management and consider planning some “min specs” that everyone on the project can agree to.

I’m so happy that none of my current projects involve a badly managed Sharepoint.

Picking the right system for a given project is a combination of experience and luck. Sometimes it’s necessary to use something kludgy and broken because someone in the distant past made a decision that can’t now be changed. Sometimes a formerly great solution loses support, withers, and disappears. As apps gain and lose features, preferences change.

At the moment, the Knowledge to Action team is using the following apps and approaches for communication and information management in our projects. Everything on the list below has free access options (although we’ve paid for expanded space in a few of them).

  • Email (communication default)
  • Slack (for team messaging)
  • Zotero (for shared reference lists & literature reviews)
  • Dropbox (for file sharing)
  • Google forms (for quick surveys)
  • Google docs (for shared meeting minutes, for documents that need simultaneous editing)
  • Google hangouts or Skype (for video conferences)
  • Evernote (for shared notes and documents)

Although we’re fairly happy with these solutions, we’re always keeping an eye out for better options. If you have any ideas, get in touch!