Research information management
Research information refers to administrative information about research projects, researchers, research outputs, funding, and so on. Here is JISC's, and others, work in this area.
Universities need to manage information about the research they host, in order to inform strategic decisions about that research, to ease reporting to external stakeholders such as funding councils and research funders, and to offer useful services to those within and beyond the institution’s boundaries. There is a lot of work at the moment in this area in the UK, complementing that in other countries. In both the Netherlands and Denmark, for example, universities use a common system to document core information about research (METIS and PURE respectively). Both of these systems are based around the CERIF data model, as are other systems in use such as Converis and the publications-oriented system Symplectic and national systems such as HunCRIS (in Hungary) and SICRIS (in Slovenia).
In the UK, JISC, HEFCE, the Research Councils and others are funding a range of work to help the sector better manage information about research, covering institutional infrastructure (joining up institutional systems), national infrastructure (building services and interoperability to share research information), as well as providing guidance, support and opportunities to share experiences and work together. JISC is funding a significant strand of work during 2009-2011 that aims to do exactly this. The programme definition document for the JISC work is available.
Universities typically have in place a range of systems and processes that manage information relevant to the conduct of research. These may include the HR systems, finance systems, staff directories, grant management systems and repositories. A service-oriented approach should enable such systems to work together much more effectively to meet internal and external reporting requirements. This is the model that has been proposed by the HEFCE-funded ‘Shared Service’ feasibility project on a 'Research Management and Administration System' (RMAS). RMAS has developed a detailed set of requirements for such a system and is currently consulting with potential suppliers with a view to the possible creation of a shared service during 2010-11. The JISC Flexible Service Delivery programme is home to projects and a community exploring the use of a service-oriented approach to developing institutional infrastructure, and RMAS is engaged in that community.
JISC has also funded some specific projects that explore and implement technologies to improve the ways in which existing institutional systems support strategic management information needs. These can serve as exemplars and sources of key lessons for universities considering investment in this area. Work has been done at the Universities of Leeds (EVIE project using portal technologies), Glasgow (Enrich project), Oxford (BRII project) and Bristol (CIP and ResearchRevealed projects), the last two universities using semantic web technologies and access management to enable effective sharing of research information. Furthermore, of course, JISC has been very active in supporting the establishment of institutional repositories that hold, among other things, outputs relating to research grants. A forthcoming report details the reasons why, and extent to which, repositories and institutional research management systems interoperate.
The Research Excellence Framework, in which bibliometric indicators will play a role, will be introduced by HEFCE to replace the Research Assessment Exercise over the next few years. It is likely that, as with the RAE, universities will be asked to submit structured information about their research. A specification for this information will be available in 2010, but universities are already planning to meet this anticipated requirement. Research funders are also revising the way they collect, manage and share this kind of information. Most Research Councils have a ‘Grants on the Web’ database, and three (ESRC, NERC and MRC) have processes and systems to collect details of research outputs. A feasibility study has been completed into such an approach across all the Research Councils, this is the Outputs and Outcomes Collections Service (ppt). In addition, of course, the Research Councils new Shared Services Centre and Joint Electronic Submission System (Je-S) together form part of an emerging national research information management infrastructure. A group of funders including MRC, Wellcome and the British Heart Foundation collectively support UK PubMed Central, which holds outputs related to specific grants from these funders. Beyond the UK, of course, there is some research information held by systems such as CORDIS in Europe, RePEC in economics, as well as bibliographic databases such as Web of Science, Scopus and the International Bibliography of the Social Sciences
Together with institutional systems, these national and international systems provide a foundation for a coherent infrastructure of technical systems, policies and practice that will enable research to be better managed, with less burden on the researcher. However, each part only holds some of the jigsaw, so this infrastructure needs to be made to interoperate effectively. At the technical level, JISC has funded a project to investigate whether a single exchange format can be agreed for information about research, which will report in November 2009. A mailing list has been set up for this. Working closely with that is a second, repositories-related project called Readiness4REF which is developing a profile of the CERIF data model that should enable the data that will be needed for REF to be shared effectively. One strand of this project is also developing software to enable common repositories to make effective use of the new technical interface for the Web of Science data; another project is doing the same for another repository system, again enabling sharing across systems and organisations. An international project (more detail here) co-funded by JISC will report in January on metadata schemas for exchange beween CERIF-based Current Research Information Systems and Open Access repositories.
One key challenge in building this infrastructure is in unambiguously naming people, universities, funders, projects and so on. This is both important and difficult; there are many sources of information about these entities on the web, each of which may be more or less authoritative. JISC has funded the NAMES project specifically to develop a prototype service to enable people to join together different sources of information about themselves on the web. The Sherpa/Juliet service, which lists funders’ policies with respect to research outputs, can act as an authoritative list of funders, though further work may be needed to ensure that. A JISC ‘rapid innovation’ project at the University of Southampton is developing a technical solution using data from Research Council and institutional systems that will resolve name co-reference issues between the different sources of information.
Advice, guidance and planning
Some advice is already available to the sector, for example from the bodies named above, from UCISA, the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, and from JISC Services such as JISC infoNet, who host structured guidance on information management and digital repositories (the latter also supported by the Repositories Support Project). JISC has just funded JISC infoNet to expand its role specifically in relation to research information management, building on its work supporting the REF bibliometric pilots in 2008-9.
Two meetings have been held in 2009 where key bodies in the sector have come together to discuss this area and coordinate their planning. Bodies represented have included HEFCE, Research Councils, Higher Education Statistics Agency, JISC, the Association of Research Managers and Administrators, Research Libraries UK, REF Stakeholders Group, UK Council of Research Repositories, as well as many of the projects noted above. It is likely that this group will continue to liaise closely over the next year or two.
For further information, contact Neil Jacobs