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ORCID pilot tests nuts and bolts of implementation in universities

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The unique identification of researchers has long been a challenge for those trying to manage and use research information effectively, making it difficult to link publications, data and other research activities to the right researcher, say Verena Weigert and Rob Johnson

In this context, ORCID (Open Researcher and Contributor ID) emerged as a potential solution which has gained significant traction both in the UK and internationally; it has been widely endorsed by major UK funders, sector bodies and professional associations representing research management, library and IT staff in higher education (HE). Building this consensus has been an important first step on the way to improving the integration of systems and processes that underpin the research lifecycle through the embedding of ORCID identifiers.

Then, just over a year ago, in a bid to understand how ORCID could work most effectively for UK universities and their researchers, Jisc and the Association of Research Managers and Administrators (ARMA) launched a project in which eight HEIs implemented ORCID identifiers in their systems and workflows: we have interviewed stakeholders, monitored universities’ progress and have now published a report that details their experiences, identifies difficulties and successes and suggests some practical first steps for others to follow.

Our eight participating HEIs – Aston University, Imperial College London, University of Kent, Northumbria University, University of Oxford, Swansea University, University of Southampton, and the University of York – each took their own approach to implementing ORCID, securing senior management support and employing cross-institutional teams typically involving staff from the library, research offices and IT, with input from HR and legal teams to ensure that any personal data processing was lawful. All eight reported that senior managers were easily persuaded about the benefits and also that there were surprisingly few technical issues with implementation.

How to implement ORCID in a university?

Several key questions arose during the pilots. For example, should researchers be required by their universities to register for an ORCID identifier and, if so, how and when? Approaches varied: at Northumbria University, first year postgraduates need to include an ORCID identifier in the university’s student portal e:Vision  to receive project approval for their PhD. Continuing students at the university must do so at their annual progression point. The University of York found it valuable to illustrate the degree of institutional support for ORCID via a university policy – its policy on publication of research now requires authors to use a persistent author identifier such as ORCID when submitting author details for a publication, where this option is available. Others, including the University of Oxford, are using a lighter touch and advocate that researchers should obtain their ORCID and link it to the local single sign-on infrastructure.

Secondly, should institutions bulk-create ORCID records for researchers and staff to claim or should researchers take the lead? Findings from the Jisc-ARMA pilot and also the Sloan Foundation-funded Adoption and Integration Program in the US have shown that there is a trend away from institutional creation of ORCID identifiers. It is now standard ORCID policy to promote a slightly different process called ‘create on demand’ in which the university facilitates the creation of ORCID records and provides a tool for researchers to link their ORCID identifier to a local system. As part of this workflow, an ORCID record is not created and populated with information until a researcher actually clicks on a button in a user interface or email. This approach should avoid unclaimed records, unintended duplicates and issues around consent.

Researcher caution

It was often a harder task to convince individual researchers of the advantages of using ORCID identifiers. Confused in part by the ways in which elements of ORCID overlap with aspects of open access (OA) and the Research Excellence Framework (REF), some academics saw it as just another layer of time-consuming bureaucracy, meaning each pilot institution had to invest significant effort in effective communications and ongoing advocacy. Each developed its own communications plan to cope with scepticism and misunderstanding; several noted their belief that ORCID will become an easier sell as take-up increases.

All plan to continue to encourage their researchers to use ORCID identifiers and to implement a sustained programme of advocacy and communications after the end of the pilot. The long-term benefits that they can achieve from ORCID implementation will depend on the extent of its adoption across the sector.

Cost benefit analysis

In the meantime, we have undertaken a cost-benefit analysis that will help institutions to make their business case for ORCID implementation. The pilot projects have demonstrated that ORCID can be successfully implemented in institutional systems within a period of six to nine months, at an average cost of £12,500 – most of which relates to the cost of time spent by existing staff members. The incremental cost to the pilot institutions of adopting ORCID was found to be minimal, being limited to the annual cost of ORCID membership, and a small amount of travel and promotional costs.

We estimate that it would cost the UK HE sector £2.1m over the next five years to progressively implement ORCID at 120 institutions (roughly equivalent to the number of institutions that made submissions to the 2014 REF).  While the benefits of ORCID are difficult to quantify so soon in the process, feedback from the pilot shows that universities expect to see measurable efficiency improvements, especially in internal data quality, streamlining of publications management and enhanced reporting to funders approximately two years from implementation, with benefits increasing steadily over the following three to four years.

These improvements would need to deliver a saving of only 15 minutes per researcher and 10 per cent of an administrative staff member per institution, per year, in order to recoup the investment of £2.1m by 2020, which the pilot institutions considered to be eminently achievable. It’s also very important to emphasise that ORCID enables a wide range of fundamental improvements to the scholarly communications ecosystem.

While the pilot work did not attempt to attribute a financial value to these, many stakeholders consulted saw these as more important than administrative efficiencies.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

At the same time, momentum is building and ORCID identifiers are increasingly being requested both during publishing and when researchers are applying for grants. The Wellcome Trust, for example will require lead applicants for funds to provide an ORCID identifier when submitting a grant application from August 2015.

To make ORCID as cost-effective as possible for universities and to enable and encourage implementation by funders in their systems and processes, Jisc is about to launch a UK-wide ORCID consortium membership to enable participating HEIs to benefit from significantly lower ORCID membership costs and from an enhanced level of technical support. This support will be dedicated to accelerating the speed with which universities can get on board with ORCID and this should also help to minimise the learning curve.

It is only when ORCID identifiers are seen as a key element of a researcher’s toolkit (and institutional, publisher and funder systems must embed the identifiers and connect with the ORCID registry) that we will truly reap the benefits of this approach. The Jisc-ARMA pilot project and the UK consortium that came out of it are key staging posts on the journey towards more effective and efficient research systems, delivering future savings and benefits for universities and their researchers across the UK and beyond.

Verena Weigert is senior technology manager at Jisc; Rob Johnson is the founder of Research Consulting