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The Oncode Community Platform: Connecting researchers to create impact

Maria Hayat Support Staff

Oncode Institute is a mission-driven research effort that goes beyond the competitive model of science. Within Oncode, researchers are strongly encouraged to work together because we need all available talent to outsmart cancer and impact patient’s lives. Oncode has co-created a digital tool with the research community that should help researchers find the expertise they need.

The mission of Oncode is to drive innovation through collaboration, based on the idea that we can only hope to outsmart cancer and impact lives, if we work together. As Oncode is a virtual institute, the Oncode team decided they needed to develop a digital tool that will foster collaboration across the 11 partner institutes where Oncode researchers work. Senior Oncode Researchers are more likely to know each other compared to PhD-students, postdocs or junior researchers. Oncode researchers will meet up at events, conferences, training sessions and theme-meetings, but can Oncode supercharge its networking-capability?

As a first step, the team at Oncode established a User Board consisting of young enthusiastic Oncode researchers. In the first brain storm session they dug deep to identify drivers and barriers for collaboration. The key issue turned out to be the inability to easily find relevant researchers.

Marten Hornsveld, (postdoc at LUMC) was a member of the User Board and summed up the problem: “For scientists, collaboration is at the core of getting exciting ambitious scientific ideas into reality. But finding the right collaborators and state-of-the-art tools to make it work within the foggy mazes of institutional websites is just a pain.”

The problem: long process for necessary information; The solution: Direct connection through the community platform

The decision was made to create an Oncode Community Platform where researchers can easily find each other and relevant expertise. The Oncode team also decided to co-create the Community Platform together with the User Board in a series of sprints, working completely agile. After an intensive process a vendor was selected and the race was on to build a ‘Minimal Lovable Product’, a digital tool that has the essential functionalities so we can test it in real-life but which is also cool enough to be ‘loved’ by the users. At the Annual Conference in November the prototype was unveiled for the Oncode community.

Currently all Oncode researchers have received an activation link that leads to the website: community.oncode.nl. Here, researchers can set up their profile, fill in their current research interests and tell a bit more about themselves in the ‘About me’ section. Furthermore, they can select or enter their area of expertise, from Types of cancer(s) they are working on, to biological processes, favorite genes, expertise in technologies and more. The Oncode team has developed an existing database for most of these so all the researchers have to do is select from the drop-down menu and then submit.

Now let’s suppose a researcher is working on a project and is looking for more expertise on cell lines. They can just go to community.oncode.nl, and search for that, which yields the result:

Drilling down with the use of another key-word or filter should lead an Oncode researcher to the person within Oncode with the required knowledge. Researchers are encouraged to send them an email or contact them on LinkedIn, ResearchGate or PubMed and set up a meeting to discuss ideas or potential collaborations. It really is that simple.

“This Oncode Community Platform) will breach the walls of our single institutes, as connecting with the right people, tools, equipment, companies, funding & events required to spark your project will become easy, fast and boundaryless!” – Marten Hornsveld, Oncode Researcher

When Irene Kanter-Schlifke (Program Manager at Oncode, and project owner for the Community Platform) is asked to reflect on the project she says: “It took the first meeting for everyone to find their role, but in all the ensuing sessions, the level of engagement from the researchers involved (User Board), and their valuable feedback on the real functionalities of the platform was a consistent highlight.”

Robin Kool (Oberon), who was heading the project from the vendor’s side agrees. He recollects that the process went by rather smoothly. And though decisions had to be made on what ideas could possibly be included, he stipulated that the researchers were able to shape not only the ontologies but the functionalities as well, such as including equipment and relevant experts as well as researchers and their expertise on the platform.

What’s next?

Oncode plans to continue adding improvements and useful features: registration for events and trainings will also be made available in the platform. Researchers should be able to see which other colleagues are interested or attending, as well as register with just one click.

The Oncode team is looking forward to see how Oncode researchers will connect and start new collaborations or learn from each other. There are more smart people outside of your own institute than inside, no matter what institute you work at.

Do you want to connect to the Oncode community? Send us a request at research@oncode.nl, and we will send you a link which you can use to create your login and password. Welcome to the Oncode Community Platform!

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