Just before Christmas, my colleagues from the WorldFish Geospatial Community of Practice and I had very limited time to write three proposals for a project call. We wanted to make proposal writing as easy and efficient as possible and decided to give Google Docs a try.

Most of us already had a Gmail account so signing in proved quite easy. Once everyone was granted permission, we all worked on the same document and gradually, three proposals were born in a collaborative and speedy manner within less than two weeks!

The great thing about using Google Docs is that this tool is absolutely free and available to anyone with internet access. The application automatically saves your edits and stores changes in an archive so you can always go back to previous versions if something is erased.

Changes are stored online and if your computer crashes, your edits will not be lost. Like most Google applications, Google Docs is really intuitive to use, so you won’t have to spend a lot of time and trouble getting to know the application.

BUT Google Docs is not perfect. There will be glitches. It is not as powerful as MS Office. This is a very important aspect to keep in mind when you start using this in your everyday work. The trick is making this tool work for you. In most offices buying expensive licenses for similar software is not possible. So if you familiarize yourself with a free tool like Google Docs, you will be much more independent from high cost software packages for which you have to buy multiple licenses, extensions and updates.

We have also started using a very expensive commercial  collaboration tool and surprisingly, people aren’t really warming up to it. Actually, in one of our test projects many aren’t using it at all, which surprised me because people were really open to using Google Docs.

Google seems to be a powerful name people can relate to and which most people use every day, so I am assuming they are less reluctant to give it a try. And collaborative editing of just one document has many people jumping for joy, even if there may be some minor challenges.

So what are some of the practical tips and tricks that helped us in our proposal development?

Stay away from simultaneous editing. We had problems when more than 3 people worked on the document at the same time, although none of the edits went missing, the screen would sometimes jump to different locations in the .doc.

• If you open the document and someone is editing it already, their name will appear on the upper right hand side. We decided that whenever someone else is already editing, we would close the document and wait until this person is done.

• We encouraged people to close the document whenever they were not working on it.

• Since there is no track change, the proposal coordinator should assign a text color to each collaborator. The color for the final version should be black. There is also an archive, so any older documents/edits can be retrieved.

• We assigned one person to go through the comments and change remarks and inputs into the final text color – black.

In order to make this tool work best, we need everyone’s input and best practice ideas. Google is still perfecting this application so new features should come along regularly.

Despite some of the minor flaws, this is a very powerful tool and will definitely be a huge advantage in your future work. Through the ICT-KM setup, we have the chance to collect and view everyone’s tips and tricks (KS Tools), let’s try to use this platform to perfect our collaboration and make our work more efficient so we can spend less time with our inboxes and more time on science.