According to the work of Loucks-Horlsey and others (1996) concerning professional networks, successful collaborations share common implementation requirements. To initiate and sustain collaboration successfully, several requirements must be met:
Clear Focus of Activity. Collaboration needs purpose. As researchers seek collaborators, the individuals involved need to know why they are joining and what the purpose of the research is. The focus of the network might be broadly defined at first, giving members the opportunity to fine-tune the purpose later. New interests and more complex relationships may emerge through collaboration. There is, however, a need to retain the initial focus or to declare openly that the purpose is changing in response to a new condition.
Size and Logistical Requirements. The strength, longevity, and effectiveness of collaborative research are often directly related to the project's lack of complexity and the low cost of active participation. Although some electronic networks may be able to handle large numbers of participants, networks that rely on in-person interactions and prompting from a trained facilitator must be a reasonable size to allow for adequate interaction among all participants.
Communication Mechanisms. Whether the research collaborators hold in-person meetings, attend local or regional association meetings, or meet electronically, their networks must have effective mechanisms for promoting communication.
The increased use of the internet in higher education has helped researchers conduct collaborative research and enabled faculty to provide opportunities for students to work collaboratively in their courses. Murphy and collaborators (2004) use online collaborative documents for conducting research and for learning collaboratively via the internet. Collaborative documents are dedicated online workspaces that allow individuals or groups to use the internet to share their reports with others, edit them, and finalize them. Real-time chats, computer conferences, and email may be used to support collaborative documents but differ from collaborative documents according to the definition in that they are not dedicated workspaces. Groupware allows working groups distributed in time and space to conduct computer-support collaborative work. Various internet tools have enabled collaboration across distance for both research and coursework.
Monitoring Progress and Impact. Effective collaborative research pays attention to the needs of members and how they can improve the project design. The collaborators must assign responsibility for monitoring the progress of the network. Because participants' needs change over time, it is important to keep a record of whether all members of the network are keeping pace. Asking members to comment regularly on their satisfaction with the network and to suggest ideas for improvement can keep research strong and vital.