One output of research is data - massive amounts of it. As well as the data created from conducting research, significant volumes are also created through the process of managing research.
Research is a highly ‘visible’ activity, with data available about research collaborations, publications, open peer review practice, citations, participation on panels and at conferences, grant awards and doctoral supervision, as well as advisory groups and research assessment processes.
A range of information about research management is available as open data, meaning it can be freely used and distributed. Not all data is fully structured with licences for use, but can all be subject to sophisticated analytical approaches, including linkage and machine learning.
We have the opportunity to view research management data as an asset, offering insights and supporting decision making, supporting a healthy research culture. Indeed, the government’s Research and development (R&D) people and culture strategy, places significant emphasis on the need for data to be brought together to support its ambitions.
However, there are ethical concerns. Primarily among them is the general data protection regulation GDPR, but there are also concerns about trust in terms of system design. There is a need for integrity and ethics to be designed into any use of technology in this area, to convince the research community of their sound applicability.
Research analytics would benefit from sector-owned approaches, which focus on the whole system of research management, and are ethical and responsible. But data and analytics are different things. Above all, I think research analytics should focus on open data where possible, as an important step, mirroring the open data revolution in local authority settings, open corporates and across government, building critical mass and providing a sustained basis for ethical analytical approaches as they develop.
Jisc has provided data and analytics services related to research for some time, from the Journal Usage Statistics Portal (JUSP) and IRUS-UK services that give insight about the use of journals and articles, to dashboards helping universities understand security threats to their research networks.
Jisc also provides a range of data and analytics services. For example, it delivers the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data analytics services, participates in the UK Data Service, and runs a learning analytics service. With increasing capacity and expertise in the analytics field, Jisc recently provided the dashboards for Research England’s Knowledge Exchange Framework.
Jisc held a roundtable at the Research Impact: Exploring the Roadmap event in November 2021 which explored the idea of a national research analytics solution and the role Jisc could play in that. My view is that exponentially upgraded analytical capacity is needed to build the strategic capabilities of UK research.
As interest in the responsible usage of research analytics grows Jisc aims to work with the sector to shape a sector-owned open data footprint. We will be launching an Open Data About Research (ODAR) portal focused on unlocking the value of data about research management later in 2022. We are also exploring options for a new UK research analytics platform and service.
The approach also offers the opportunity to reduce bureaucracy though highlighting the potential of new connections and data efficiency, reducing duplication and improving data quality and utility.
There is potential for an inclusive, more comprehensive approach to the development of research analytics. This way it will be possible to ensure that open data about research management becomes increasingly robust, accessible and reliable, as open as possible and as secure as necessary, all supporting effective research analytics.
For further discussion about the use of data in research, book your place at the Data Matters conference on 25 January 2022.