How far does knowledge about your university’s research reach? What have you heard about research going on elsewhere? How would you know if you are missing out on something really important?
These are seriously important questions. It’s vital that researchers, teachers and learners have unfettered access to the best new thinking, and it’s critically important that funders and higher education institutions have accurate information as competition for research funding becomes ever stronger. And don’t forget additional external pressures such as the requirements of Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation.
University data collections
The newly formed Higher Education Data & Information Improvement Programme, or HEDIIP for short, has recently taken steps to help in gathering together information about data collections, by publishing the first detailed inventory of data collections from universities. Most of the data listed does not relate to research, however. We are one of several bodies working on short to medium term solutions that will help research managers handle the increasingly complex reporting requirements imposed by funders and other stakeholders. Two examples of work currently under way are:
- The Research Councils are presently undertaking a study to consider the options for streamlining the data collected by their Research Outcomes System (ROS) and ResearchFish, and also the functionality of it. This study is due for completion by the end of September 2013.
- Jisc is working in partnership with the seven Research Councils, through dedicated projects and an international standardisation initiative, to ensure any agreements reached on data definitions are fit-for-purpose and lasting.
Open access vocabularies
There is also a great deal of activity specifically to agree how we describe open access research outputs. This is not as straightforward as it might seem; what actually counts as ‘open access’, for example? We are currently consulting about some vocabularies that might help in this area and working internationally to ensure the UK doesn’t settle on a solution that is out of step with the rest of the world. It is a similar story with the ways in which institutional repositories – highlighted in the HEFCE REF proposals and in the recent BIS Select Committee Report – share information. We have previously helped develop standards and software here too, to help repositories be more effective at sharing information about research.
Managing the information flow
All of this standardisation work is like the plumbing that lets information flow in a managed way. Here is some more detail on the plumbing and what we’re doing to improve it.
But if we want people to be able to turn the taps on and access the flow, first we will need to build reservoirs to supply the information. Currently there are two that are particularly worth a mention.
For the first, we are working with the Open University’s Knowledge Media Institute to enhance its existing service to act as the UK’s central aggregation of repository contents, which users can tap into in different ways, for example to build fantastic new search interfaces.
And, in the second, we are building on the Research Councils’ Gateway to Research. Funded by the Government, the Gateway to Research integrates the Councils’ information about the research they fund into a single entry point with a simple search facility so that research is easier to find and to re-use.
Turning on the taps
If the technical standards are the plumbing, and the Gateway to Research is a reservoir, then the Jisc project Gateway for HE, or G4HE, tools are the taps. These will allow research managers to access the information flow and produce tailored management reports, so universities can identify other institutions with research interests similar to their own.
We are currently working on creating three types of report: one on the collaborations in which your university is involved; another on collaborations excluding your university that might be of interest to you because they are in a specific subject area; and a third enabling users to benchmark their university (or a group of academics within it) against others.
The tools are in beta at the moment, and can be found on our website. Several of the features aren’t fully operational yet and we still have more work to do to make sure the data are complete and accurate. We welcome feedback on these, and the ways in which the management reports will operate, so please get in touch with me to share your views at: email@example.com. The management reports will be fully operational at the end of November.
The Research Councils are also inviting feedback prior to the final live launch of the Gateway to Research system at the end of 2013, find out more on the Gateway to Research website.
You can also find out more about G4HE and our other work to help universities and colleges make better use of their data in this blog post.
I certainly hope that, now that some of the plumbing is being put in place, we can focus in closer detail on making sure the sector gets what it needs in terms of better taps, showers, baths, hosepipes and sprinkler systems.