Creating a Thriving Knowledge-Sharing Network:

Launching the CCGHR’s Virtual Platform Laboratory Project

by Dave Heidebrecht

CCGHR Research Officer & Principal Investigator

The creation and maintenance of virtual platforms for online communication, collaboration, and knowledge mobilization is a central challenge for international development organizations.  As a Canada-based global network that connects people, ideas and expertise, the Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research is proud to announce the launch of a “Virtual Platform Laboratory” to explore these issues.  Funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and part of the CCGHR’s Networking Program, the Virtual Platform Laboratory is exploring how focused dialogue, information sharing, and engagement can encourage better collaboration and partnership building both within Canada and between Canadian and low and middle-income (LMIC) research partners.

What is a Virtual Platform?

In short, Virtual Platforms are online tools used in combination to support knowledge-sharing and communication between a group of people.  In his report on the IDRC’s 2012 Canadian Learning Forum on Virtual Platforms, Dwayne Hodgson shared the following comprehensive definition:

“Virtual Platforms are online tools and systems that are designed to facilitate knowledge sharing, management and collaboration amongst geographically dispersed actors. International development organizations increasingly see these VPs as a means to connecting far-flung staff, partners, participants and supporters to document, compile and make sense of their collective learning to enhance real-world, “off-line results”. Moreover, for organizations that work globally, VPs also offer the advantage of reducing the costs, inconvenience and pollution associated with international travel; and as more and more people in the global South are connecting to the Internet via mobile phones, the potential to reach new constituencies and to support collaboration between local, national and international actors is exciting, but also potentially overwhelming for staff charged with starting up and facilitating the use of these platforms.” – Hodgson, D., Report on the IDRC 2012 Canadian Learning Forum: Virtual Platforms, Knowledge Management & International Development. 2012, Learning Cycle.

The Coalition’s Virtual Platform Laboratory

Building on the lessons learned from the IDRC’s 2012 Canadian Learning Forum (click here for the forum report), the Virtual Platform Laboratory (VPL) project is testing how development organizations and project teams working on a global level can use easily-replicable, open-access technology to achieve better outcomes in their work.  The VPL is piloting seven trial platforms, including:

  • The Coalition’s Public Website ( Sharing resources and blogs on global health research issues with both CCGHR members and the general public using internal communications, email, and social media.
  • Zambia-Canada Research Partnership: Building partnerships between Zambian and Canadian researchers engaged in health research in Zambia.
  • Cameroon-Canada Research Partnership: Building partnerships between Cameroonian and Canadian researchers engaged in health research in Cameroon.
  • CCGHR University Advisory Council: Helping liaisons of the CCGHR’s twenty-two institutional members (representing Canadian universities from coast to coast) work together on policy and capacity-building issues of common concern.
  • McMaster-CCGHR Network: Facilitating capacity-building and policy influence activities amongst members at one of the CCGHR’s institutional member organizations.
  • Mining and Health Research Network: Developing a network of researchers based both in Canada and globally who are engaged in health research around the impacts of mining and resource extraction.
  • CCGHR Student Network: Fostering our next generation of global health researchers through mentorship and capacity-building.
A screenshot of the CCGHR's Virtual Platform Laboratory project site.

A screenshot of the CCGHR’s Virtual Platform Laboratory project site.

A combination of strategic emailing, basic websites built on the open access WordPress platform, cloud-based information-sharing, and social media will be used to measure and evaluate effective online engagement practices.  The vision of the project is as follows:

“The CCGHR’s knowledge platform is the hub of a thriving knowledge-sharing network of global health researchers and knowledge users.  The network is inclusive, equitable, and easily accessible.  Network members connect with each other and share knowledge in efficient and innovative ways, resulting in improved communication and greater ties between the production and use of knowledge.  Network connections support the ongoing development of South-North research collaborations, strengthen existing partnerships and lead to the cultivation of new ones.  New knowledge is shared with its relevant users, who in turn incorporate this knowledge into policy and practice, ultimately contributing to improved health outcomes. These outcomes are, in turn, communicated throughout the network, best practices that encourage ongoing learning and capacity-strengthening at individual, institutional, and systems levels. As a result of this strategic online communication—both at the broader network level and within specific research groups—knowledge is managed and shared much more efficiently than in the past.  The result is a thriving GHR network that supports new partnerships and collaborations, creating a community of producers and users working together to address the global health challenges of the day.”

Sharing Our Learning

Lessons learned over the course of 2014 will be incorporated into the creation of Open (Public) and Closed (Private) virtual platform guides. Designed to be useful for individuals, small research teams, larger working groups, and organizations, guides will be built in module format, explaining how to plan, build, and maintain virtual platforms.  These will be part of a larger VPL Online Learning Centre that will serve as an open access online learning tool housed on the CCGHR’s public website.

Interested in Learning More?

Do you work in the field of global health research, international development, or any other field that involves managing or facilitating geographically-dispersed groups or networks? If so you may want to visit our project website.  It has been built using the same template that our trial platforms are using and contains more details on the project, including our growing Online Learning Centre.

We’ll also be sharing quarterly updates on the project via this blog, and if you’d like to be added to a mailing list for future updates please contact CCGHR Research Officer Dave Heidebrecht at  If you have any other questions, comments, or feedback based on your own experiences/challenges in this area, we’d love to hear from you.  Feel free to comment on this blog post or send Dave a note at the email address above.

The Canadian Coalition for Global Health Research would like to thank all of the dedicated members of the Virtual Platform Laboratory project team for their commitment to this project.  We would also like to thank the International Development Research Centre for their ongoing support of this important initiative.


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