Dear lazyweb, my engineering education research group's infrastructure is driving me nuts, and I'd like to fix it.

We're qualitative researchers, and we do a lot of interviews - for instance, talking with faculty who teach open source (me) or engineers on interdisciplinary teams (Robin and Tiago) or people who mentor minority STEM students (Joi). Whenever we do an interview with someone, we always send them their transcripts and our writeups on them afterwards to catch mistakes and make sure they're okay with what we're saying about them in our papers. Privacy and confidentiality are vital.

And that's the problem. Security is in ZOMG mode, so we can't simply stick these up on Google Docs, which was one suggestion - creating individual password-protected posts on our Wordpress instance was another, which I instantly flinched at and nixed. For similar reasons, Dropbox was a no - not to mention I had nightmares of how that would (not) scale. Having one person email every subject is a nightmare, even if we use a separate group email account; inboxes are not made for workflow management, let alone collaborative workflow management.

And so I turn to you, o internet, for any ideas you might have. It's safe to assume everyone involved has email and internet access. It's also safe to say they're probably not computer geeks and that any solution needs to be web-based or cross-platform. We can get hosting space and stand things up ourselves, but don't have a dedicated professional sysadmin (I'm the closest thing we've got) and don't have much budget - if we have any at all - to throw at services. I may be able to beg IT to do something for us if they already have instances of that software running for other people, but there are no guarantees.

What would you do? Here's what I've thought of.

  1. Drupal. With customization, you can have any content workflow ever known to mankind. That's a ton of customization, though - and we'd need to make unique logins for everyone, which is a pain (we don't want to force our interviewees to acquire Yet Another Web Login if we don't have to). IT will know what Drupal is, but I'm not sure they'll want to babysit something so heavily customized.
  2. Etherpad. Opens up the option of collaborative transcript editing and easy viewing of a writeup's edit history, which might be handy especially for remote (phone, but sometimes videoconferencing or text chat) interviewees. Security is sketchtacular, though; you can protect each pad with an unique password, but whoever knows the password can read the pad. And I am pretty sure that if I asked IT about hosting an Etherpad instance for us, they'd laugh at me (fairly enough - it's not the easiest thing in the world to maintain).
  3. Request Tracker. Track each interview as a ticket, which preserves email exchanges with interview subjects for future researchers on the team. Use RTFMs (premade text snippets for quickly composing common replies) to standardize and semi-automate responses. We can assign tickets (interviews) to specific projects and set per-project and per-ticket permissions, and our interviewees only see the email-based interface which makes it easier for them. IT knows RT (I'm pretty sure they use it themselves), and we need something very close to plain vanilla, so they might even do it on our behalf. This is my favorite option so far, but it's pretty... culture-shock inducing for non-software people (which is everyone else in my research group).