Culture Collaboratory grew out of the research project Sammlungserschließung. The aim of this project was to better understand the intellectual and logistical processes at play in the indexing and researching of collections of cultural artifacts and to develop a digital workspace to support interdisciplinary collaboration. During the 3-year term of this project, a team of interaction designers observed and analyzed the research methodologies used by art historians, conservators and material scientists in studying a sample collection of paintings.
The design research revealed that in order to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration – and thus the efficiency and efficacy of research – a tool was needed that both reflected and supported disciplinary processes, work flow, and setups while integrating them on a shared interface.
Existing software does not offer satisfying solutions for collaborative work as observed during the research phase. Instead, a wide range of digital tools aims to address the needs of one discipline or the other. Existing databases often function as digitized archives where data is stored rather than research platforms on which data can be shared and discussed and where knowledge is advanced. Neither does existing software allow for open access to research data to make it available for future re-use in the research community and/or the general public.
The software design of Culture Collaboratory follows a radically different path. Its object-centered approach employs the physical artifact as a mental model that helps to bring together the various disciplines and their respective methodologies. The digital recreation of the artifact provides the interface on which all disciplines can map their data and research findings and attach notes, images, and comments. Locating data on the artifact helps to provide the context for other disciplines to understand, interpret, and re-use their colleagues' data for their own research. It also insures that the relation between the artifact and the data abstracted from it remains intact and that the research is replicable.