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Augmented serendipity

Augmented serendipity

The best solutions to complex problems are often the simplest ones.

So, when wanting to know who was working with whom, on what and how within Otago’s Business School Dr Brian Spisak (Management) and Dr Sander Zwanenburg (Information Science) simply connected the dots.

“Understanding what we all do, who we are collaborating with and on what is fundamental to good organisational management,” Spisak says. “This makes us more relevant within our networks and better able to leverage existing relationships.”

Zwanenburg says collaborations are often serendipitous – the result of chance conversations, for example. “We decided that if we could map all our research interests, collaborations and networks within the Business School, the wider University and then outside the University, we, as an academic community, can unlock a lot of untapped potential.”

Their solution is deceptively simple. They have designed the Network for Engagement and Research (NEAR), a user-friendly, open-source software application that provides all of this information through “explosions” of interconnecting, colour-coded nodes (or dots). Hovering over each dot reveals scholars’ research fields, internal and external relationships, research methods and sustainable development goals.

NEAR helps connect people at the individual level, enabling them to work in a more co-ordinated way. It also supplies information across specific areas of capability and thus provides greater agility in putting together teams for research, funding and external engagement opportunities. It is also valuable as a teaching tool.

The software application is currently in a trial phase across the Business School and the researchers are seeking funding to develop it further.