polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Collaborative Research and Development Online

by Neema Kudva

In conversations with students, I've found that they often face significant time and budgetary limitations to their field-work, especially when it involves domestic or international travel. So when I came across the Thesis Chronicles initiative on CoLab Radio and Polis, I thought it could be a great opportunity for students to collaborate and expand upon the options available when working alone. Peter Sigrist and I spoke about this and decided to write this post.

Students can share information about their work on blogs through series or brief synopses, making it accessible to people working on similar projects. They might collaborate on research methodology, sharing contacts, locating necessary resources, and even analysis. We imagined a collaboration in which one student (John) lives in the place where another student (Kayeesha) wishes to do field-work on the effectiveness of a particular housing program. John wishes to work on the same project, and they decide to work together. John does most of the interviewing, data collection, and coding, while Kayeesha takes on building a database, creating maps for spatial analysis, and doing initial rounds of analysis. John and Kayeesha are each responsible for their own thesis to fulfill their degree requirements. They might eventually collaborate on writing articles and disseminating their work. This could extend to bringing in people they worked with. The process isn't always easy, but it expands individual capabilities and prepares students to skillfully manage collaborative work in the future.

This is one of many ways that initiatives like Thesis Chronicles can help promote sound planning and development. And this doesn't have to be limited to academia. Anyone working on a local project can benefit from connecting with potential collaborators online. Organizations such as Ioby (In Our Backyard), Kickstarter, Meetup, Open Architecture Network, OpenPlans, and SeeClickFix have set up innovative web platforms to facilitate collaboration on grassroots development. Global Action Research Center has been building a sustainability solutions database. It would be interesting if such initiatives could somehow align, allowing concerned citizens of all kinds to share and coordinate their work with others.

We encourage students to get started right away. In addition to reaching potential collaborators, it keeps your work on track, hones your ability to build research networks, and showcases your process for future employers. It helps you benefit from the suggestions of others as your work becomes more accessible and well known. These benefits are very much worth the effort.

To share your research on Polis or CoLab Radio and begin connecting with like-minded researchers, we welcome you to contact us at info@thepolisblog.org or colabradio@mit.edu.

Neema Kudva is a professor in the Cornell University Department of City and Regional Planning. Her research focuses on the effects of international urbanization at local and regional scales, as well as institutional structures for equitable planning and development.

Credits: The opening photo is from the MIT CoLab photostream.