Collaborative research brings with it the need for the sharing of information, documents and data, in a controlled, organised and managed way, often across several organisations or institutions. This can be challenging if it is not properly managed. The requirements of researchers for a collaborative environment are typically:
- storage and sharing of documents and data files
- the ability to organise documents and data files into folders
- an access control system which allows authentication and authorisation to be easily managed
- version control of documents and data files
- file locking to prevent users from simultaneously working on the same file
- ideally, a discussion platform utilising a forum or wiki format
Available options for setting up a collaborative research environment are:
- an institutional or departmental drive where secure access can be provided to external researchers, for example, a share accessed via a virtual private network (VPN)
Advantages: one institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control. Disadvantages: access control is difficult to manage and there may be resistance to allowing people external to the organisation access.
- a secure file transfer (SFTP) server
Advantages: one institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control. Integrated access control independent of the institutions Active Directory. Disadvantages: possible reluctance to allowing external people access.
- a Virtual Research Environment (VRE) or portal environment, such as Basecamp, Huddle, Clinked or MS Sharepoint
Advantages: secure workspace, with customisable content management system. Disadvantages: Basecamp, Huddle and Clinked are web based.
- cloud-based file sharing services such as Dropbox, GoogleDocs, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, SpiderOak, Mega.nz or Tresorit
Advantages: easy to set up and use. Disadvantages: limited storage, security concerns over where the files and backups are kept.
- a data repository such as DSpace, Fedora, Eprints, CKAN or cloud-based figshare
Advantages: one institution responsible for setup, storage, backup and access control. Disadvantages: lacks full customisation.
For file transmission, the UK Data Service uses a locally hosted SFTP server. Files containing sensitive or personal information should be encrypted before upload, ideally using PGP.