Collaborative work on deliverables

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In my job, I often participate to multi-partners projects which get public (European or national) funding. In those projects, we are required to produce deliverables that show the progress of our work.

The final deliverable is edited by an editor (how surprising) who is in charge of coordinating inputs from various partners and make them consistent. This can be done in several ways. I will describe two of them.

The old-fashioned way

The editor sends a template, usually in a proprietary word-processor format, and participants fill in the template with what they’ve done so far. It is common to have people in charge of various subparts (such as work-package leaders). Then the editor integrates everything in a big document which is sent to all partners. Partners then submit their changes by modifying the master document and the editor tries to integrate them all into a new version.

Let’s face it: this is a nightmare. More than often, some changes are not integrated because they were lost during a document merge, and conflicting changes cause headaches to the editor who needs to talk with the authors and so on.

You have probably guessed that I don’t like that.

The improved way

I had to participate to the elaboration of a large document with several partners to propose a new project a few months ago. Luckily, the project leader is a free software shop that happens to develop a wiki named XWiki.

The project leader created a structure on the wiki and each partner edited his own pages. Each partner was also able to fix typos and obvious mistakes on other pages. Thanks to the history preserving features, no change was ever destructive and any version of any page can be retrieved if there is a need to.

At one point, the project leader, acting as an editor for the final document, asked all partners to read everything that had been produced and to make the final changes if any. Then he took the content from the wiki and produced the final document to be sent to the potential funding authorities.

Working this way was really pleasant. There was no need to exchange any document by email. Everyone worked at the same time without conflicts. By being able to see what other partners were doing, we ended up with a very consistent document with much less work than when using what I called the old-fashioned way.

The result? Our project was funded (link in French) and will begin shortly.

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