SPARC stands as a pro-active, smart and context-relevant assistive software application designed for the identification of potential collaborations through the matching of actors with intersecting, complementary interests across Cardiff University, as well as external potential partners.  Drawing upon LawLab expertise around cross-disciplinary collaboration and ‘connective knowledge’, a substantial amount of research has been undertaken to explore the potential of, and justifications for a socio-technical platform that can help a range of actors to initiate novel and innovative research connections. This latter point is significant – the aim is not merely to connect – given that multiple platforms already fulfil this function. Rather the aim is to connect in novel ways, by linking up researchers working in sometimes distant domains, as well as driving connections between actors across higher education, in industry and in the wider community. Central to SPARC is the aspiration to drive the kinds of connections that we otherwise struggle to make. The platform as envisaged, can be thought of as a kind of Tinder or Grindr for academics and broader actors. This is quite a simplification – as it masks the social scientific/behavioural and technological challenges which such a prospective socio-technological development entails, but it highlights the aims and aspirations of SPARC nicely.

LawLab has developed an exciting collaboration with scholars and students from the School of Computer Sciences and informatics as well as Cardiff’s National Software Academy. Working with both Dr Hélène de Ribaupierre and Dr Wendy Ivins from Cardiff’s National Software Academy to develop a student-friendly version of a broader draft business proposal, the LawLab and Nicky Priaulx sought students with technical expertise who could help with the development of a “proof of concept” prototype. The protoype was developed in June 2018, and some members of the team presented the results at the annual meeting of the Studies of Expertise and Experience, in July 2018 (Priaulx, N, Morris, C, Ivins, W, and De Ribaupierre, H, ‘The SPARC prototype: Towards a sociotechnical innovation designed to create collaborative connections between experts’, SEESHOP, Studies of Expertise and Experience, Cardiff, UK (7-9 July 2018)).

This LAWLAB project in the next stage seeks to push the boundaries of connectivity in higher education. The team will be exploring the integration of semantic technology, alongside a series of work packages that involve extensive ‘user’ input around how collaborative connections are formed, using insights and input, as well as the design of novel investigative work with Priaulx and other actors from the social and behavioural sciences. In these respective fields, the work that underpins this is extremely novel and path-breaking. Our aim is to develop an assistive tool with the aim of pushing and expediting the conditions for collaboration to occur. SPARC stands as an ergonomic tool that builds our connective capital faster, and drives ‘serendipity’. With an accessible, user-friendly interface, the application requires a range of end-users to use simple language to ‘nudge’ our communication practices in a different direction. SPARC has the capacity to completely revolutionise contemporary research and promises to constitute a tool for unleashing our ‘connective capital’ in the UK and beyond.