About this challenge
Researchers continue to push the boundaries of research, throughout the research lifecycle, using the latest tools and technologies to support their work. We asked the community whether the time has come to define what a next-generation research environment should look like and if modular solutions might satisfy the increasing demands of researchers.
Read more about this challenge
Researchers often use common web tools and services and look beyond their organisation for storage facilities and increased processing power to satisfy their increasing demands. Tailored web-based environments have been developed to integrate tools, applications and access to data, but these are often for specific projects or domain specific solutions.
These solutions are often described as science gateways, virtual research environments or e-lab notebooks. The time is ripe to look at the very definition of a research environment and determine what a next-generation research environment should look like.
A solution is required to support the increasing needs and demands of research throughout the whole research lifecycle, from idea to collaboration to outputs and re-use. We need to move beyond the domain-specific environments and develop modular solutions that can satisfy the increasing demands of researchers.
A sustainable environment that encourages openness, but is secure and trusted, that links the research process to research outputs, that shows the provenance of research and enables its reproducibility, that breaks down the barriers across disciplines, institutions and nations, that enables collaboration and sharing - such a next generation research environment will ensure that innovation prospers and research flourishes.
Questions for you to consider
- When a researcher starts work what will they see and what do they want to be able to do in an environment that supports their research?
- What are the important features and conditions that need to be part of a research environment to support researcher work practices, research integrity and innovative research?
- What do we want researchers to be able to achieve that they can’t do now within a research environment?
- What is the positive change we want to enable by supporting researchers in a next-generation research environment?
This prompted an interesting discussion that had overlaps with the research skills and next generation learning environment challenges. The main themes that emerged were:
- It’s unlikely that one research environment could satisfy the needs of multiple disciplines and time should not be spent trying to develop an inter-disciplinary solution
- Researchers like the flexibility of using their own tools so a modular approach is preferred, although balanced against the security demands of an institution
- Policies and processes are often the main barrier rather than technical ones and harmonising various policies should be considered
- Any solution must integrate with existing workflows
- Flexibility and adaptability are important to allow flexible learning and research
- Cross-institution and international collaboration is an important feature of any research environment as is a social element
The general message that came across was that this was an area that it was important to tackle but that we are at a very early stage of understanding the problem and the potential solutions. We think Jisc can help with that so suggested the following idea:
Feedback has shown that it is difficult to build cross-disciplinary environments and one size does not fit all. The focus should be on developing modular solutions that support the requirements of researchers across the research lifecycle. There needs to be integration across, and interoperability between, systems.
This requires a standards-based approach and the use of persistent identifiers to link research outputs. Access to external or institutional computing resources, as well as virtual machines, should be made easier by any research environment.
Jisc will bring relevant experts together to identify what is required from a next generation research environment, assess existing systems and investigate whether a modular solution can support researchers throughout the whole research lifecycle.
There are a number of initiatives across the globe on VREs, science gateways, virtual labs and electronic lab notebooks (commercial and non-commercial) produced for particular domains of research. We will undertake a landscape study and review of existing systems to determine if these can satisfy the requirements for a next generation research environment. If not, what elements are required to enable the building of modular solutions to satisfy the needs of researchers?
Thank you to everyone who voted.
There is obviously a strong demand for a research environment from researchers and research managers but still a huge amount of questions over exactly what shape this should take. We will take some time to explore these questions in more depth with experts to develop an understanding of an outline for a research environment that Jisc can help develop.
- Read our blog about the results of the voting stage (February 2017)
- Read our blog with the latest updates on the priority areas (June 2017)
Get in touch
Catch up on the discussion on our research data blog.