The case for a connected research ecosystem

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Catherine Williams examines the creation of the Ohio Innovation Exchange (OIEx)

The challenge of how to introduce new opportunities and make the most of expertise within our existing research systems will not be an unfamiliar concept to many across the scholarly space. Knowledge-transfer programs, academic-commercial partnerships, and cross-industry collaborations are increasingly the norm at institutions around the world.

Extending this beyond the lab, department, or organisation remains fraught with technical and social obstacles: how do you connect the right people, ensure the information is discoverable, and create the kind of culture that promotes (and encourages) this sort of activity?

Taking the initiative

Faced with wanting to improve the opportunities to develop and build on expertise and resources within its research universities, the Ohio Department of Higher Education joins a growing number of government and other non-profit organisations looking for the best way to add value within this increasingly complex landscape.

Driven by the idea that university-developed innovation can become a significant source of economic growth, and with the aim of fostering economic development and intellectual advancement across Ohio and beyond, the Ohio Innovation Exchange (OIEx) was born. This new initiative will provide business and industry leaders with a direct connection to industry-focused faculty, equipment, and research at Ohio’s universities. At launch, the portal will provide free access to more than 5,000 faculty members and 900 resources from campuses and laboratories around the state. This is anticipated to grow over time to incorporate profiles of up to 13,000 faculty members, with additional institutions joining the OIEx to further expand its scope.

Ohio is not alone in its determination to realise greater visibility and reach for its research assets. Groups of universities have come together with local government in The Netherlands as well as New Jersey, Florida, California, Texas, and Arizona (to name a few) with the goal of increased collaboration and developing a more comprehensive understanding of the outcomes and impacts of their research.

From research partnerships, intellectual property, and technology licensing opportunities to business development and even student internships, the opportunities afforded by the approach of the OIEx program and the technology platform that underpins it are substantial - a significant step forward in collaboration and efficiency that other programs are now looking to follow.

Learning from the past

Ohio is clearly not alone in embarking on a public-facing portal to foster innovation and support growth in the region. The many organisations and groups that have already taken on such a project speak to both the potential of the portal and  the difficulties involved. Recognising this, the OIEx team conducted a detailed analysis of what was learned from previous projects, with the aim of identifying where a better approach could be taken.

The study produced key recommendations, including early establishment of the platform’s true goals and its core audience. Beyond this, determining a longer-term strategy around funding, data (and data ownership), and appropriate staffing levels would help pave the way for later success.

Connecting academia and commercial organisations

The process of forming such a network would not be possible without the commitment of all parties involved, in this case, the Ohio Technology Consortium and the six inaugural institutional partners: Case Western Reserve University, Ohio University, The Ohio State University, the University of Cincinnati, The University of Akron, and Cleveland State University.

Developed in collaboration with technology company Digital Science and due to launch in late September 2018, the OIEx platform will play a critical role in developing connections and making Ohio research, resources, and faculty more discoverable.

Underlying the OIEx is Symplectic Elements, an established research information management solution and a robust system of record for university reporting needs. Elements enables the team managing OIEx to capture, link, and enrich data about research activities, building up a collection of rich accurate data that can be used for many purposes, including populating the OIEx portal.

Once data has been consolidated from the extensive array of external and local data sources,  the data are curated within Elements before being passed to research insights tool Dimensions, which processes and further enriches the data using a series of automated data analysis and labelling tools. This enrichment process enhances the discoverability of the data to ensure that visitors to the OIEx are presented with relevant results and rich, interlinked data.

In practice, this means that, whether seeking assistance with initial product research, development, or commercialisation, industry now has a go-to resource to find academic partners to assist  with its work.

Having enriched data is a critical part of not only making this unique platform possible, but also ensuring its long-term success. Such a step forward represents great potential for the launch partners and the state of Ohio as a whole.

Future opportunity

With the OIEx platform set to launch in late September, a unique approach for driving cross-industry collaboration and bringing new growth to a region will be realised. Publicly available, the platform will enable others to see what can be done with the right stakeholders and an openness to new ideas.

What this will mean in practice for the state of Ohio and its researchers is yet to be determined, but the future is looking positive.