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International collaboration protocol QAS

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QASlogo.png This page was developed by the Queen's University Applied Sustainability Research Group. QASlogo.png

This page discusses how to run an international collaboration on scientific and engineering research in applied sustainability.

It includes links to software and services and provides an example project: Open source solar spectrum project

The design of an international collaboration will be divided into categories related to the development of an engineering project.

Project Scope and Description Definition

The first and most important step of the project is the clear definition of project scope. This will allow for the proper allotment of resources (both human and physical) to the varying aspects of the project, and will ensure that project completion is possible. Especially in an international context, it is important to ensure that the scope and description of the project is well understood, and is achievable with the resources available at each location. In order to ensure full comprehension by all parties, the project scope and description should be written down and sent to all parties in the project. In the case of a modification of scope or description, these modifications should similarly be written and distributed.

Assignment of Roles and Responsibilities

The assignment of roles and responsibilities is required in order to provide a framework which can be used by members of the project to determine their expected contribution. In an international context, this is also very crucial when responsibilities are shared across borders in order to ensure that both groups are building off each other's work, and not re-creating it.

In addition, it is recommended that each group has a team leader, who is responsible for communication and organization within their group. In a project where a large portion of the collaboration exists over teleconferencing, having one speaker from each group can streamline communications and ensure that important points are being conveyed. It is important that all group members are present and contributing at each teleconference, however it should be the team leaders responsibility to ensure that they get a chance to speak, and a clear time in which to do it.

Definition of project time lines and goals

The project time line allows for the co-ordination of teams around specific goals. A time line should be laid out which clearly defines project goals and milestones, and every attempt should be made to follow this time line. Similarly to project scope, the project time line should be a written document distributed to all project members. If a change in the time line or project goals is required, a new time line should be developed and distributed to all members. Again, in an international context this is important to ensure that the responsibilities of each working group are known.

Progress tracking

Regular meetings should occur in order to track the progress of the project and to ensure that all working groups are on track. In addition to meetings encompassing the entire project team, individual working teams focusing on specific projects should interact on a more regular basis to ensure proper task co-ordination.


Project completion

Useful software packages and best practices for use


Skype is a free software package which allows high quality voice and video calling over the Internet. In addition, it has limited functionality for written "chat", and the ability to screen share, which can be valuable when attempting to convey complex topics.

In order to share the screen of a local computer with participants in a video chat, follow the following steps :

To start sharing your screen:

  • Make a voice call or video call to the person that you want to share your screen with.
  • Click the icon on the call toolbar at the bottom of the calling pane.
  • Choose whether to:

Show your current display - shows whatever you have on your screen.

Select window - allows you to choose which window you share.

  • Bring up the window that you would like to share so it displays on your screen, make sure that it is highlighted in blue, then click Show selected window to start sharing.
  • When you want to stop sharing your screen, click Stop sharing.

The benefit of screen sharing is that it is possible to 'show' what you are talking about and can also double as an on-line PowerPoint presentation viewer which will work globally.


Dropbox is a free software package which allows automated syncing and backup of files between computers and into the cloud. This facilitates the sharing of project files, and ensures that only one, up-to date version of a file exists. Dropbox should be the sole method used to share files, as it ensures traceability of files, and reduces confusion around the correct version.

In order to set up dropbox, it must be installed on a local computer. Once installed, a Dropbox folder will be installed in the users My Documents folder. This folder is automatically synced between online cloud storage, and any computers with which it is shared. Any files which are modified, added or deleted from this folder will be automatically updated in all linked folders on other computers. If a mistake is made, a file can be retrieved or reset to is original state as much as a moth previous.


open+pario is a project hosting environment featuring task & time tracking, wikis, blogs, file upload, workflows, forums, decision making tools and more.

The goal of the site is to create a platform that allows users to manage projects in an open fashion so as to foster a collaborative workspace. In the spirit of open source software, all information posted will be freely open to the public, from which other users may draw off of and contribute or start their own projects.More about this site.

The primary focus of the developers is open design & development of engineering projects (such as open source hardware) but is open to anyone looking for these sorts of tools.

Gantt Project

GanttProject is an open source project which provides free project management software. GanttProject allows for the creation of project Gantt charts along with human resource allocations and completion tracking. It is an ideal method for creating project timelines and milestones in a way that can be easily visualized and edited by members of the project.

The Gantt chart produced in GanttProject can be exported to: Image files (jpeg,png), HTML, PDF or Microsoft Project. An example Gantt chart for the installation of a data acquisition system is shown below.


Google Software

Google Documents ,Gmail Chat, Google Calendar, Google SketchUp are all part of the google software package and can be a powerful tool in online international collaboration.

Tools like Google Calendar and Google Docs have powerful collaboration tool built in and allow for the sharing of documents and calendars between multiple people and allow for real time multi-person editing. It is possible for 10 people around the world to sit down at their computer and see what changes and edits someone else is making in real time. Google Calendar also allows for multiple people to share their calendars together and make scheduling time simple.

Google has other tools like Google SketchUp which is a 3d Modeling program. It is a free program and can create complex models in 3 dimensions allowing for the design and mock up of complex projects.

Outline of Collaboration - Example and lessons learned

Teams are responsible for:

  • In week 1, students choose a format for communication in both asynchronous (recommended: email, Dropbox) and synchronous (recommneded: skype) situations in private. You enable your advisors to see what is going on....(e.g. Emails are cc'd, blogs passwords are provided).

We found that for the synchronous communication Skype worked the best, especially being able to offer text based chat, live video chat as well as audio chat. We found some issues regarding the internet and is stability but for the most part was very good.

  • In week 1, create a Gantt chart of tasks and the individuals that will be responsible for them

In order to use and make a Gantt chart effectively we decided it would be beneficial to use a site called Open.Pario. This site has many great functions one of which being an online, automatically updated Gantt chart which is tied into all of our assigned tasks.

  • Use a logged weekly full team meetings(voice)(private).

Part of the benefit of using these Skype and Open.Pario based communication is that there is a physical log of all communications saved online to view later if necessary.

  • Use a design journal/idea blog/chat room/wall, which is logged?(private).

On the Open.Pario Site are many ways of sharing information. We tended to use the built in Wiki for most of our important issues as well as a task based system where anyone could start tasks and assign them to different people of time lines.

  • Share design iterations shared on Appropedia [project] and Thingiverse [designs] (public) – history file will track contributions.

Most of our design iterations were shared over dropbox with our shared folders. This allowed for our changes to quickly show up in their designs and vice versa. The only thing to worry about is the fact when you share a folder anyone can delete or move any file. You have to be careful about file management and file changes.

  • Building and testing the devices, with publishing full instructions/protocols.

See Open source solar spectrum project

  • Develop method of sharing data access between universities and the public. See for example Pachube or consider ftp protocol – whatever is going to work.