UKRISS: making the case from the institutional perspective

Dr Rosa Scoble, Acting Director (Planning), Brunel University
Monique Ritchie, Research Librarian and Copyright Officer, Brunel University

Earlier UKRISS posts have talked about the technical and theoretical work involved in developing and validating models which pull together data fields and vocabularies in multiple research information systems. We’ve also talked about the business case for harmonising research information reporting systems, and recently a post on the BL science blog summed up what the taxpaying public stands to gain from the project.

The three UKRISS university partners, King’s, Exeter and Brunel have a diverse range of research specialties and use a range of research information reporting systems, between them being broadly representative of the sector. So what’s in it for HE institutions? To answer this, we first need to look at what’s wrong and where UKRISS comes in.

What’s wrong with the current situation?

The present lack of harmonisation in research information reporting systems at national level means institutions currently invest in a number of different systems to coordinate and manage research information and reporting which simply do not talk to each other, or do not very well. Systems need expertise to implement, manage and maintain, with associated training and staff costs. This all adds up to a significant investment.

Researchers themselves may have multiple systems they use, and other data sources and records, which are not in places which allow data to be imported or scraped easily from one place to another. Their data and systems may also be invisible to institutional research managers, who have no idea what the big picture looks like and are therefore not able to be as effective as they could otherwise be.

HEIs are therefore haemorrhaging efficiency, by having to duplicate work that someone has done somewhere, sometime, as there is no way to easily import or export research information for repurposing. A waste… and one which, if institutions gave it some thought, they would jump at a chance to bin – pun intended.

UKRISS to the rescue

The UKRISS project aims to make it easy for those who design and develop the range of systems HEIs use, to improve their interaction and is based on real world systems. The team is finding common ground by mapping fields and vocabularies of key systems, building and testing models which demonstrate their interoperability in theory. System developers might use the UKRISS project output to refine existing products, or design new ones to add on to existing systems to get them talking to one another.

What’s in it for institutions?

The institutional perspective is complex, as there are multiple stakeholders in any HEI: from research support departments to researchers themselves, all with different needs, and different systems to manage or interact with. The project’s impact will therefore be felt in different ways. Nonetheless, the benefits could be significant.
The current HE climate is particularly challenging, with more competition for reduced research funding, and more demands on an institution’s finite resources. HEIs need to reserve as much funding as possible to invest in conducting research itself, otherwise they could end up having lots of expensive systems and few researchers to use them. Far better for developers to design systems that will make a difference to HEIs, who will make time, resource and efficiency savings.

Researchers and their institutions are required to report key research information to funders, particularly important for publicly funded research. To be frank, most institutions find it very difficult to fully comply and meet funder and government requirements. Researchers find reporting onerous, especially with increasing workloads and pressures to cope with. They also struggle with knowing exactly what information they are being asked for, as systems are often riddled with ambiguities or are unclear.

Much research information is first inputted by researchers themselves, naturally, but centrally, institutions often do not have access to this information, and have no record of it, unless the researcher makes it available. Invisible information means that the institution therefore does not have a full set of data and it’s possible that there are many missed opportunities for collaboration as a result.

Key benefits:

  • Standardised information reporting and recording means research information can be easily reused
  • Better and more complete institutional data capture and management allows improved access to research information for research support teams
  • Repurposing information for internal and external institutional reporting will become more efficient reducing duplication of effort
  • Institutions will be better able to manage research portfolios, gauge research impact and identify potential collaborators for success, earlier and more strategically
  • Complying with funder and government research information reporting requirements will be easier for researchers and institutions

Despite the significant benefits, it will be of no use if the project findings aren’t used to inform product design and interoperability of systems – this is something the UKRISS team cannot hope to control, only influence. System developers, vendors, funders, researchers and their institutions must engage with the work being done, and work together to design and implement systems that make recording, managing and reporting research information simpler for all. Our workshop (November 2013) aims to bring all these stakeholders together to begin to think about doing just that.

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