Goldilocks and the research management systems

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Kathryn Smith

Kathryn Smith asks: how do we find one that’s just right?

Successful procurement is built on excellent requirements that really reflect the needs and priorities of your organisation.

Knowing exactly what you need for your research will pay off later with a successful procurement of a system that meets your needs.

Research management systems, such as current research information systems (CRISs) or repositories, are complex systems used to manage a research project, and they affect many stakeholders, so requirements can be challenging and time consuming to put together. 

Some systems may serve one need but not another, but how do research staff find the one that’s just right? Here is a step by step guide to get you, and your research, started.

Understand the problem

  • Before you start, make sure you really understand the problem you are trying to solve with the new or replacement system.

  • This sounds obvious, but often different people and teams are starting from different assumptions. For example, the library, the research office and the research team could all have different perceptions of the purpose of a CRIS.

  • Remember that although all universities have similar needs when it comes to managing their research, all institutions are still unique and have different priorities. This is not a one size fits all situation. 

  • Make sure all the key stakeholders agree about what the current situation is, why this needs to change and what success looks like.

  • Everyone should agree about what functionality is, in and out of scope, and be realistic about what any system changes are likely to achieve.

Understand your user needs

  • Make sure you consider the needs of all the users and stakeholders who will be using or are affected by the system. Once you start mapping them, there’s always more than you think. Assess what these users and stakeholders are trying to achieve from their point of view. Ideally this would involve speaking to users directly but, where this is not possible, you can use existing knowledge to put yourself in their shoes.

  • Once you know the needs of all the stakeholders, determine what system specification will allow them to be met.

  • You could use personas or user stories to organise these needs into a structure that will help create the perfect system to achieve your research goals.

Understand your priorities

  • The list of system requirements based on user and stakeholder needs is likely to be very long and it is unlikely that any one system will be able to meet the entire list. This is where you need to be very clear about your priorities as an institution. Is the most important element to showcase your research? Or is the core use case more about internal research information management?

  • Decide which requirements are absolutely necessary for the system to meet your core needs: these should be your pass/fail criteria.

  • Rank the remaining requirements from most to least important and use this ranking to determine your weighting for each requirement.

By taking a collaborative, informed and systematic approach to developing the requirements for your research management system procurement you make it much easier to choose between systems and give yourself the best chance of selecting the right system for your organisation.

At Jisc, we’re hosting a webinar to discuss the challenges experienced by institutions when trying to procure new or replacement research management systems such as a repository or current research information systems (CRIS). The webinar will cover what the challenges are, strategies that institutions can use and how Jisc can help, including supporting institutions to develop their requirements and making the procurement process more efficient using the research management system dynamic purchasing system (RMS DPS). Come along to join the discussion and ask any further questions you have.

Procuring a research management system: why is it so hard?, will take place on 16 July 2024 at 10:30am. Research professionals can sign up here.

Kathryn Smith is product manager for research management at Jisc