Engineering solution offers elegant communication 

By Karen Herland

Engineering is based on problem-solving – when it’s broke, fix it.

So, when computer science and software engineering professor Bipin C. Desai realized the inefficiency of the lengthy and resource-heavy preparations needed to hold an annual conference with peer-reviewed papers, he wanted to do something about it.

“In the old days (and by that I mean ten years ago) we started with a submission of three or four hard copies of a paper,” he recalled. “We had to mail the papers to three or four reviewers, wait for their comments via email. It took four or five months for the whole cycle. Which was fast for a conference.”

The challenge was to develop an electronic way for the authors and various reviewers to communicate the information they needed, while maintaining absolute anonymity.

The solution, developed a decade ago and first put into practice in 2002, was ConfSys.

The system can work on a global network. Once papers are submitted, they can be forwarded to appropriate reviewers, matched by field and area of expertise. The reviewers communicate via usernames. “You may know you’re talking to Firebird, but you don’t know who that is.” Besides general terms to match reviewers and material, the system also ensures that colleagues who work closely with each other (and might recognize each other’s communication patterns) are not matched on projects.

Although there are commercially available programs like this, Desai said a big advantage of ConfSys is that communication is triple-blinded. Not only do reviewers not know authors, nor authors reviewers, but reviewers do not even know each other.

“Each time, we are bound to have some important researchers and new investigators. We don’t have to worry that someone big is intimidating another professor, everyone can comment directly on the work.”

The software has been through four iterations since it was first developed. Desai’s students often take on problems that need streamlining as research projects.
Most recently, a master’s student took on the task of adapting ConfSys for journal development.

“We thought it would be good to publish a journal with Confsys, there is no need to publish in print,” said Desai.

The new variation can allow back-and-forth comments and clarifications between authors and reviewers. Although an editor can moderate the conversation, it allows the two parties to communicate directly, and anonymously so that authors can seek clarification on the input they receive.

Those interested in trying out the software can contact Desai.


Concordia University