eXo Tribe Spotlight: How GESIS Institute uses eXo as a collaborative project management solution
Interview with Masoud Davari, research associate and Tribe member
Masoud is an owl by night and a Research Associate and Developer by day. Along with three colleagues at the GESIS Institute in Cologne, he oversees a project based on eXo Platform’s community edition. The project aims at helping 163 social scientists from 44 European countries to conduct the current wave of the European Values Study (EVS 2017).
Tell us about you and your work
I’m a Research Associate / Developer at the Department of Knowledge Technology for Social Science (WTS), Leibniz Institute for Social Science situated in Cologne, Germany. We do research in computer science, with a focus on information retrieval, information extraction and semantic technologies. We also provide services for social scientists everywhere in Germany. We have been using eXo Platform for one such service in the last few years – a project aimed at helping social scientists with their data collection via a project management and collaboration platform. I act as the main developer in this project, on top of my own research. You can find SMaP with more activities here:
My team was tasked to find a platform to support social scientists. The project was funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program and supported by the European Values Study and the GESIS-Data Archive.
We started evaluating several software solutions and, after some testing, chose eXo Platform as it covers most of our requirements.
It was also clear to us that we can benefit from the scalability and extensibility of eXo Platform. We appreciated that we could develop our own features in addition to the existing native ones.
Tell us about your project development phase
It took us a year, from evaluating the platform to finishing our workflows.
We adapted the platform to our needs by developing our list of requirements using Vaadin framework and integrate the implementation into eXo. After that, we figured out which features we needed to add. We also worked on simplifying and customizing the platform. After the platform was set up, it took us some months to get it ready for the users. In that phase, we focused on the interface to give users a seamless experience and we built Quick Helps and FAQs so that users can get answers to their questions.
What did you like about our community edition?
During our selection process, we were frustrated with a lot of trials and errors with different platforms and tools. After we finished testing eXo, we discovered that eXo went beyond our needs and could be adapted to our usage. We discovered that the platform offered capabilities beyond mere project management, such as collaborative spaces, which we call ‘workspaces’. Using those spaces, we could give each group of people the freedom to communicate and engage. That capability was very helpful for us because in social services we have different researchers working on different projects. Several teams are working separately. The spaces facilitated the work of these teams and helped us communicate internally and externally.
What do you use eXo Platform for?
Our team was looking for a project management tool to help social scientists communicate with each other through a user-friendly collaborative platform. Social scientists get to collaborate with each other and try to solve the problems they meet in the survey’s life cycle. In particular, the data collection and data processing in a survey project is very important for the overall project and requires a lot of teamwork. And that is what eXo Platform made happen.
We packaged all capabilities of eXo, some to use later. It is great to have everything within one platform, rather than using several tools.
How did your project evolve over time?
Right now we have around 163 users who are using the platform with different intensity. We started about two years ago with a much smaller number.
Currently, each team has its own space and they can communicate and collaborate with each other. We also started to use the calendar and continued to discover other collaborative features.
We continue to adapt the features one by one to our needs and requirements.
How do you think we could improve our community edition?
Two years ago, I would have definitely say webinars presenting the new features and integration with other software. There might have been some but I couldn’t find them. I guess that would be an interesting thing to focus on.
Also, we missed some functionality in the task management system in the community edition. That could be improved too.
However, the eXo team was very helpful on the Tribe forums. It took some time to get answers, but when they got back to us they were quite helpful and provided us with thorough explanations and right-to-the-point answers.
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