Camilleri, A. F., Barak, N., Burgos, D., & Ullmann, T. D. (2010). Engaging the community in multidisciplinary TEL research: A case-study from networking in Europe.
The STELLAR Network of Excellence was launched in February 2009 with the explicit intention of Sustaining Large Scale Multi-Disciplinary Research in Technology Enhanced Learning. So as to support this aim, the network has defined a number of different activity tracks, aimed at building capacity amongst senior-level researchers/decision makers, mid-level researchers and junior researchers/PhD students as well with a separate track dedicated to building community level capacity. In the abstract, the ‘community’ around any research study might usually be defined as the subject of the research. However, the focus of the community-capacity building activities of STELLAR, considers the role of the community as object of the research – a main consumer of the products of research, and having a stake in setting the research agenda itself. Thus, on the one hand, the STELLAR consortium needs to inform its actions and activities based on needs and wishes of stakeholders, while at the same time it intends to mobilise the same stakeholders, to forge common policy positions with respect to future development of TEL in Europe. This paper takes these activities as a case-study in structured social-network design, and considers the impact such activities may have on the field of technology enhanced learning in the coming years. The data is based on the first year of activities of the network, which are intended to last 40 months and are designed around the overlapping activities of connecting, orchestrating and contextualising stakeholders. The paper describes the elements of the stakeholder engagement plan as deployed by the STELLAR network in TELeurope, the activities conducted so far, and the plans for the future. It explains the consortium’s approach to stakeholder analysis, particularly the adaptation of existing methodologies, to produce a numerical ranking of stakeholders, by ‘alliance potential’. With regards to TELeurope, an emerging social platform being deployed by the STELLAR consortium so as to help this process of networking, it explains the current state of the affairs and plans for development of the platform, while referencing the work of Svensen & Laberge, and adapts the work of Bryson to contextualise these activities within a broader theoretical framework. Finally, the paper considers the quality monitoring elements and evaluation approach of the consortium, and makes recommendations as to how the networking strategy can be further energised, and as to how the process of evaluation can be improved. It concludes that the TELeurope strategy shows a high potential for stimulating engagement of stakeholders, subject to a number of caveats, which can be avoided through judicious policy choices within the next year.