The IAEA has long been a champion of the concept and use of professional networks to advance best practices in diverse areas of nuclear technology. Through inter-departmental initiatives, the Agency has set up a number of networks to encourage experts to contribute and share their knowledge and resources with peers, as well as with other professionals with limited resources.
Seven Networks are currently being sponsored by the IAEA and managed by the Department of Nuclear Energy, with support from the Technical Cooperation program and funding from the European Commission. These networks range from nuclear knowledge management, implementation of nuclear technology, radioactive waste management, decommissioning and environmental remediation across the globe.
To further enhance these centers of collaboration, the IAEA has built a web platform that inter-connects these networks and their participating institutions and experts. Known by the acronym CONNECT, for Connecting the Network of Networks for Enhanced Communications and Training, this platform uses new media and web technologies to enable increased participation from individuals and organizations involved.
CONNECT is essentially a web-platform with a professional networking system that acts as a gateway for interconnecting existing and planned IAEA networks; increasing the participation of individuals and organizations involved in them; and making available additional sources of information which complement existing training.
From 19-23 March 2012, some 14 participants from 14 different countries visited IAEA headquarters to attend a workshop on the content and timing of the rollout of CONNECT. This workshop included, among others, a demonstration of the web-platform and discussions on its implementation plan.
"CONNECT is a natural extension of the Network concept," explains John Kinker, who heads the CONNECT project within the IAEA Department of Nuclear Energy.
"CONNECT helps to unify all of the current International Communities of Practice on a single platform, making the operation, presentation, and governance of these networks more consistent. It opens up the networks to many more participants than can currently be accommodated by traditional methods, such as meetings and workshops, and allows all participants access to a much wider amount of material than would be available in a single network," he said.
Because of the inherently high degree of institutional and personal involvement afforded by the online CONNECT portal, and the ability of individuals to interact directly and whenever they want to with peers without the direct involvement of the IAEA as an intermediary/facilitator, the entire system should become self-sustaining. Also, the materials and information to be provided over the portal is to come primarily from Member States' institutions involved in the project.
The Agency provides the infrastructure on which these interactions occur, as well as guidance and training on how to produce these materials to maximize their quality and effectiveness. The IAEA will also provide governance for the portal to ensure that it is used fairly and only for the purposes intended.
By leveraging of new media and internet technologies, CONNECT will be able to provide instant access to training and reference materials already used for face-to-face trainings and workshops. Once completed, the system itself is expected to have low operational costs. Long-term financial commitment to sustain the CONNECT platform and project is expected to be minimal, particularly when compared to the cost of the more traditional means of outreach, facilitated interaction, and training.
At the same time, the ready and easy availability of the eLearning and experiential materials available through CONNECT are expected to greatly enhance face-to-face workshops and training.