What is a Collaboratory?

A collaboratory is an organizational entity that spans distance, supports rich and recurring human interaction oriented to a common research area, and fosters contact between researchers who are known and unknown to each other, and provides access to data sources, artifacts and tools required to accomplish research tasks (Bos et al. 2007). William Wulf (1989) defines a collaboratory as a “center without walls, in which the nation’s researchers can perform their research without regard to physical location, interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources, [and] accessing information in digital libraries” (Wulf, 1989, p. 19). Bly's (1998) definition of a collaboratory is “a system which combines the interests of the scientific community at large with those of the computer science and engineering community to create integrated, tool-oriented computing and communication systems to support scientific collaboration” (Bly, 1998, p. 31). Rosenberg (1991) refers to collaboratories as “experimental and empirical research environments in which...scientists work...to design systems, participate in collaborative science, and conduct experiments to evaluate and improve the systems” (Rosenberg, 1991, p. 83)

A simplified form of these definitions would describe the collaboratory as being an environment where participants make use of computing and communication technologies to access shared instruments and data, as well as to communicate with others. However, a wide-ranging definition is provided by Cogburn (2003) who states that “a collaboratory is more than an elaborate collection of information and communications technologies; it is a new networked organizational form that also includes social processes; collaboration techniques; formal and informal communication; and agreement on norms, principles, values, and rules” (Cogburn, 2003, p. 86).


Scan of North American Collaboratories

The scan looks into the presence of identities that define themselves as ‘Colabs’ in North America. The term Colab is popular online—with over 400, 000 hits on Google—and has many meanings and applications. It refers to a community office space, and it is consistently associated with creativity, collectivity, and future-thinking, no matter what field it is trying to occupy. Many Colabs are self-described incubators, hubs, or tanks, with a shared vision of connecting multiple sectors and diverse groups of people. The majority are collectives of artists, business people, as well as students in these fields and others.

View the full table here.


Canada's Social Innovation Labs

Social innovation labs are sprouting up across Canada that efficiently combine multi-sectorial resources to solve wicked societal problems. Often supported by and housed in postsecondary institutions, labs foster collaboration between private/for profit, public/government, academic and nonprofit actors. But where are these labs located? How are they structured, housed, managed and financed? What are their successes and lessons learned? Our “Social Innovation Labs in Canada” project is an attempt to answer these questions using a sample of existing labs.

This map was developed from an internet scan by Dr. Gary Martin using various keywords (e.g. social innovation lab, urban lab, living lab, incubator, design lab, community engagement lab, etc). We zoomed in on labs that were attached to academic institutions as they are focussed on our dependent variable, societal benefits. As a first incarnation, this map is an illustrative resource that will grow over time.

To learn more about each lab, click on the blue nodes.