CDE Working Paper #99-30

A Cooperative Mode of Organization for Social Science Computing

Thomas S. Flory

Nancy J. McDermott


Decentralized computing units have proliferated at many universities where there is also a presence of a large centralized computing unit. These smaller local units emerge for many reasons not the least important of which is in response to a perception that local computing and user support needs were not being adequately met by the central computing unit.

This paper examines a unique organization of a local computing unit at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This unit, called the Social Science Computing Cooperative (SSCC), provides computing resources and user services for several social science departments and research institutes on campus. What makes the SSCC unique is the way it is funded. The SSCC does not get lump-sum payments from its sponsors that it can spend out of its own accounts. It gets no direct financial support from the university or the college. Nor does it operate a charge-back system for recovering costs as they occur.

This paper also looks at the relationship between the SSCC and the campus's central computing unit called Division of Information Technology (DoIT). In the provision of services like training, documentation, and help desk, which DoIT offers, it has proven beneficial for the SSCC to provide for itself to a great degree. On the other hand, in the provision of other services like software licensing, PC repair, and dial in modem pools, SSCC relies on DoIT.